By John Lyons
One of the reasons we all love football is the fact that it is so unpredictable – and the Football League is a prime example of that this season.
Perhaps League One is the best case. Ahead of the weekend programme, who could have realistically predicted that the top six at this, admittedly still early, stage of the season would be Burton Albion, Walsall, Bury, Gillingham, Coventry City and Rochdale.
The bookies, who usually know a thing or two, didn’t appear to fancy any of those teams pre-season. In fact, one ante-post betting coupon I saw rated those teams at 25-1, 33-1, 28-1, 28-1, 20-1 and 33-1 respectively to win the division.
In addition, one weekly London newspaper I read tipped Walsall and Rochdale as two of their picks for relegation before a ball was kicked, saying that the former had a ‘very thin squad’.
All credit to Saddlers boss Dean Smith for putting them among the pacesetters.
Heading into the international break, most people won’t be surprised to see last season’s beaten Championship play-off finalists Middlesbrough in second place and looking good for a promotion charge.
But did anyone see Chris Hughton’s Brighton leading the way with a haul of 22 points from ten unbeaten games? Certainly not me.
While the bookies rated Boro as 7-1 second favourites behind Derby County (6-1), Brighton were 25-1 shots. Steve Clarke’s Reading (28-1) in third and Gary Rowett’s Birmingham City (40-1) in fourth are also defying the odds.
In League Two, Plymouth Argyle went top by beating Crawley Town 2-1 last Saturday, while Wycombe Wanderers slipped to second after their surprise 3-2 home defeat by Northampton Town.
But despite meeting in the play-offs last term, neither Plymouth (18-1) or Wycombe (20-1) were expected by the bookies to be leading the pack.
Leyton Orient (12-1), Portsmouth (4-1 favourites) and Oxford United (9-1) were the clubs directly below them in the table pre-weekend and will be ready to pounce if the top two slip up.
Yet the play-off places were completed by Mansfield (40-1) and John Coleman’s Accrington Stanley (80-1). They were hardly expected to be in the frame.
Okay, we’re only just into double figures in games played and there’s a long way to go. Some of the favourites may yet charge through in the winter months to take control, but it’s certainly not going to be a walk in the park. And that’s what makes it so great.
Working on The Football League Paper means I’m usually in the office on Saturday afternoons.
That means getting out to midweek matches is my best opportunity to see live football.
One little appeal I’d make to clubs is to make sure there are at least two or three turnstiles available for people who want to pay on the day.
I know clubs like to sell tickets online these days and you often need to be a member, but there should still be room for the punter who makes a last-minute decision to go to a match.
I went to a game recently and missed the opening ten minutes as it was so difficult to simply buy a ticket.
And any supporter will tell you that there’s nothing worse than being outside knowing that the roar of the crowd for a goal could come at any moment…