The Madness of Pre-season

Pre-season friendlies are a terrible barometer of how the season will pan out but, win or lose, supporters still get carried away. By Will Strauss

OK, it’s time to lay my cards firmly on the table: I hate pre-season. There, I’ve said it.

Pre-season is important for players as they get to focus on fitness, tactics and getting to know their new teammates.

Supporters, unfortunately, get no such benefits. For us pre-season results in: two months of completely hypothetical and rhetorical conversations about transfer policy; inane discussions about the merits or otherwise of the new home shirt; totally unfounded predictions for the new season; and a string of ultimately pointless (pun-intended) football matches.

The latter are particularly galling.

Even if your club has arranged a glamour tie against a big Premier League team or a European footballing giant, the pre-season friendly is a fairly grim experience. Partly because most games are played at walking pace but mainly because supporters have to attempt to watch their team play without caring about the score or, to a certain extent, the performance. Which kind of takes away the whole point of a going to a game of football in the first place.

Chesterfield manager John Sheridan said this week: “I’ve played and managed teams that have won every game in pre-season and got off to a poor start, so the most important thing in my eyes is keeping everyone fit.”

I am a rational man. I know he is right. Yes I can’t help but look at the results and what they might tell us.

In the last couple of weeks Chesterfield have thrashed Staveley Miners Welfare and Matlock Town but failed to beat Telford and lost to Alfreton. On paper the results do not inspire confidence. But, at the same time, they’ve played some very encouraging looking attacking football, created loads of chances and scored plenty of goals.

So I now find myself worrying that the season is going to get off to a bad start. Which is totally insane because these are just friendlies. But I cannot help myself. This is why no good can ever come of pre-season.

Perversely, prior to these first few friendlies, I was desperately reining in my expectations.

Having been relegated last season I was hoping that they’d bounce straight back up. And, with the signings that Sheridan has made, they might do that. But such are the vagaries of pre-season that I now haven’t got a clue how they’ll get on.

With friendly results going awry I’ve even started comparing and contrasting the team with its potential opposition. I don’t usually concern myself with the fortunes of other teams until we get to about Christmas but that’s another curse of pre-season.

There are other clubs, notably newly promoted Fleetwood Town and local rivals Rotherham United, that are also bringing in interesting players and all three clubs have spent well when it comes to wages.

Chesterfield have signed five new players on free transfers and re-signed several more that were at the club last season. The impressive looking Sam Hird has arrived – despite Doncaster Rovers’ best efforts to keep the defender – as has midfield enforcer/water carrier Sam Togwell, a player that they could’ve done with last season.

The Spireites have also gone big on Marc Richards, the former Port Vale striker, reputedly paying him very good money in a division where the average wage is £747 a week.

At the same time Rotherham have signed 11 new players – again, all on frees – thanks, at least in part I would guess, to a wage budget bolstered by the income that will come from their excellent looking new stadium.

Fleetwood are famously wealthy and have made some interesting signings too including players that have previously earned a crust at a higher level such as Damian Johnson and Jon Parkin. According to recent media reports, they’re also going to sign Joey Barton. If that is true it would take them into a completely different realm from the rest.

With all three clubs upping the wages ante the League Two salary cap may play a part in deciding who comes out on top.

For the uninitiated, no club in League Two can spend more than 55 per cent of its turnover on employee wages. To police this rule, budgets are provided to the Football League at the beginning of the season. This information is updated as the campaign progresses and any club breaching the limit will be subject to a transfer embargo.

In my opinion it is an excellent ruling that stops clubs from buying their way to the title with money they don’t actually have but I can also see how it may cause problems if clubs get their strategy wrong.

According to the Sheffield Star “the annual player wages budget has been reached” at Chesterfield. This shows ambition. But what if Richards, on whose form and goals a lot rests, gets injured for example? Where do we go from there? Is there a contingency plan for a replacement? Presumably the answer is no, unless the club can increase turnover mid-season.

As you can see, this is the kind of hypothetical nonsense that is going on inside my head right now. Ultimately I am none the wiser for the last two months. Curse you pre-season. You’ve sent me mad again.

Perhaps we’ll know more once we’ve played friendlies against Huddersfield Town and Derby. But I doubt it. The football season proper cannot come soon enough.

By Will Strauss. As well as writing about his first love, Chesterfield FC, he is currently coming up with articles about freezer spares for the Leeds-based appliances company ASD.