Difficult Second Season Syndrome

A new season is almost upon us, and I don’t feel ready for it. It has been a short off season, and the first league game of the season is this coming Saturday, and we will still be in July. Furthermore, we are on holiday this week, and we haven’t been able to pick our season tickets up yet (if they are ready). It’s probably a good job the first game is away (Carlisle this year, they managed to find somewhere even further away than Hartlepool for the first away game this year).

And although the off season has been a short one, there has been a lot packed in. We have a new manager – Kevin Betsy – who came from coaching one of the Arsenal youth sides, and a new assistant manager.

There have been signings. Dom Telford from Newport County, last season’s League Two top scorer. Dion Conroy, the Swindon Town captain for the last couple of seasons. Travis Johnson from Crewe, Corey Addai from Esbjerg, Tobi Omole from Spurs, Jayden Davis from Millwall, Brandon Mason from the MK Dons, a couple from non-league clubs and James Balagizi on loan from Liverpool). And we’ve lost a similar number of players as well, but only Jordan Tunnicliffe was really a regular first team player last season. And that is as I write, there may well be more incoming as I speak.

The new owners haven’t been wasting time. As well as being busy in the transfer market they have been trying to build good relations with he fans, and went as far as holding a poll on which position the next signing should play in.

They deal in crypto. A lot of which, to be fair, goes over my head. I’ve heard of bitcoin, and NFTs, but that’s probably the limit of my knowledge. It was a surprise to me to find out that when clicking on an article on the BBC sport website entitled “Welcome to the internet’s team,” it was about Crawley.

When the article was published (twelve days ago now), we had already sold ten thousand virtual season tickets for the forthcoming season. It is likely to be a fair few more since then as well. The virtual season ticket cost 0.52 ethers (a crypto currency I’d never even dreamt of hearing about). Which, at the time of the article was the equivalent of £350. Three point five million pounds in virtual season tickets. The full ins and outs of which I don’t fully understand but think they can be traded, and the value goes up or down, or they can be converted for Crawley Town content.

These ten thousand virtual season tickets were an incredible number for me to see. Last year there were seven hundred season ticket holders, and the average home crowd (not included the away support at games at the People’s Pension Stadium) was around two thousand.

As with most clubs at our level we were losing money, and now, within the space of two months we’ve probably got as much money to spend as any club in the league.

The owners are ambitious. They want promotion by the end of next season at the latest and have vowed to put themselves up for election for the chairman if that isn’t achieved. They have also been mentioning the Premier League as a mid-term ambition.

Crawley finished last season at a bit of a limp, and we just about stayed in the top half of the table, finishing twelfth for the second season on the spin. With the signings made and the backing we now have it isn’t a stretch to say we should be doing a lot better than that this season.

The pre-season has gone well. There have been plenty of goals, and plenty of spirit in coming back from deficits to draw against Championship side QPR, and last season’s third placed team in the Scottish Premiership, Hearts. Yes, they are only preseason friendlies, but there are good signs.

I would say that automatic promotion should be achievable. At the very least we should be looking at a play off place. Imagine clinching promotion at Wembley. But money doesn’t always make it up out of this division easily. For several years Mansfield Town, and now Salford City have had big budgets and bigger expectations and have struggled. Other teams up their game against them trying to prove it isn’t all about the money. And I think we can expect the same this season when teams come up against us.

In the pre-season reviews in the football magazines, Bradford City (who our owners WAGMI tried to take over before moving on to us), AFC Wimbledon, Crewe Alexandra, Sutton United, and Stockport County fans have all specifically mentioned Crawley Town in a none too friendly manner. And the magazines haven’t rated our chances in the league very highly either. Four Four Two have us to finish fourteenth, whereas When Saturday Comes have us at a quite frankly insulting twentieth.

Hopefully, our style of play will be better on the eye than some of it was last season. And an improvement in home form would be a much-needed boost and should help us make that leap up the table into the playoff positions, which is where I realistically see us finishing. From there, in the lottery of the playoffs, anything is possible.

We were dreadful in the cup competitions last season, going out as early as possible in all three. I’d be happy with any improvement. But we should be able to get out of our group in the Papa Johns’ Trophy and negotiate the first round of the Carabao Cup. Much depends on the draws from there. The third round in both Carabao and FA cups would be a good haul, and a proper run at the Papa Johns Trophy could see us get to the final.

And for the first time, this season will see us head to some away games. We’ve already booked travel and hotels for the Harrogate game. Barrow away on Easter Monday is also a strong possibility as it can be worked in with a visit to relations in Morecambe. Sutton, Wimbledon, Gillingham, and Stevenage are all easy travel days as well as we look to extend our support as we move into our second season.

Come on you reds.

Season 102

Another NFL season is upon us, the 102nd, and hopefully it can be a damn sight better than last year. Last year was a strange Covid related season, the 49ers ended up having to play home games in Arizona, there was the hangover from losing the previous year’s Superbowl, and it was another injury plagued season. What many supporters were expecting to be a winning season, with another playoff run turned out to be a bitter disappointment and we limped to an uninspired losing season.

It’s been another long offseason, but at least there has been some kind of pre season this year. And that’s thrown up some interesting looks for the team for the season. With Trey Lance taken as the first pick by the 49ers in the draft (and trading up to do so) it brings about the possibility of a quarterback controversy as the season possesses. Although having both him and Jimmy G lining up in the backfield at the same time could lead to some very interesting play calls.

The first game of the season is tomorrow, and we are away at the Detroit Lions, a team that were an even bigger car crash than us last season, and one that have lost Matt Stafford (why to the Rams of all places), who has carried them for the last half dozen years or so, and look to be in a bigger mess than they were last year. But starting the season against the Lions has previously been a good omen for us, the twice we have played them in the first game of the season we have gone on to win the Superbowl, it would be a happy hat trick.

I was upbeat in my season preview last year, which as anyone who knows me will attest to, is most unlike me, I am definitely a glass half empty person. And yet I’m still optimistic for this year. Nearly as optimistic as last year. We have kept the core of a great defence, and we have players back from injury which should make us better than our very patchy season last year.

But, how optimistic? It’s difficult, there is little doubt that we are in the strongest division – certainly in the NFC. NFL power rankings have us in the top ten, but behind both the Rams and Seahawks. Lindy’s had us finishing second in the division, making the playoffs, and somehow from that second place in the division to getting through to the conference final. I’d be happy with any of that to be fair.

There aren’t going to be as many unknowns this season. Crowds are back for a start. There aren’t likely (touching wood and crossing fingers) to be any enforced changes of stadium for games. And (touching wood, crossing fingers, chanting warding spells and anything else that could help) we really, really, really can’t have another season with such a horrendous raft of injuries.

The regular season is going to be different though. From a nice even, well appointed schedule of 16 games; in what can only be seen as a money making idea, that schedule is thrown out by adding another random game into the mix and making it a 17 game season. (I’m still not sure which orifice they have dragged who the extra team to be played has been dragged out of, and I doubt I’ll have it sorted in my head before they change it again and go to an 18 games schedule.) It does mean than no team can now have a .500 season (OK, yes they could if they have a tie, which we all know, despite my pick six picks, is rarer than rocking horse shit, and even if they do they then have to go .500 for their other sixteen games. In summary, it’s not very likely.)

And speaking of pick six. I have taken a step back from active involvement in supporting the 49ers. I stopped running the pick six game for the NEGB, and de-admined (yes, I’m making words up at this point) myself in the group, didn’t join the fantasy league, and barely even got around to making my six picks every week. But, I’m back running the pick six this year, I’ve found a couple of scoring wrinkles to put into the mix and joined the fantasy league. Unfortunately I wasn’t around for the live draft, and although happy in most places, I have the (as Homer so elegantly put it), “the worst bunch of sucks that ever sucked” as running backs. I’ll need some free agency and waiver action going to even get enough active running backs to start a week’s action.

As for watching games, Sky have the NFL channel again, and I will imagine there will be a number of times the 49ers are shown live. Not that it matters, as I don’t have Sky Sports and as previously stated, I won’t be getting it, as it ties you in for years, screwing up your existing contract. If they stop putting RedZone on Sky Sports Mix though, there might be murders. And with the likelihood of numerous games on Sky then it probably means Game pass isn’t value for money either. Dodgy streams seem the most likely (again).

So, here goes, here’s the moment no one has been waiting for, the prediction. I think we will go into the season finale against the Rams needing a win to win the division, which we do and finish 12-5. Superbowl? Not quite, I see heartbreak in the NFC championship game. (Disclaimer, if the QB situation blows up, this could all go wrong. Rapidly.)

Which only leaves me with one thing to say before the season gets underway.

Go Niners!

Season 101

Another NFL season is upon us, the 101st, and what could be the strangest one of the lot. In a lot of ways, the off season has flown by. Covid-19 has made everything, including time, screwy. The fact that most people haven’t really been able to do anything or go anywhere makes it a surprise the new season is here already, but it has been a continuous turgid blur since the beginning of March. The draft wasn’t the same, and we’ve had no pre-season this year. Additionally, the football (as in association football) season hasn’t really started yet, we usually have a month of that before the football (American football) starts in earnest.

Of course, in other ways it has been the longest off season possible. When your team is leading in the Superbowl and there is six minutes of madness and they end up losing, it’s a terrible feeling to drag into a long off-season (there aren’t many sports where the off season is longer than the actual season). Being so close and yet so far away. It still feels like a crushing blow.

The first game of the season is tonight, and that makes it even worse; the 49ers aren’t playing until Sunday night. If they could have held out and won, then it would be us playing tonight and kicking the season off.

Granted, when I wrote about my hopes for the 49ers’ season at this time last year, there was an expectation that we could have an improved season, that we could break even, or even, with a following wind get a winning season. The reality of that was far better than the expectation. If I had predicted that we would finish with the best record in the conference and homefield advantage, and use it to get to the Superbowl, you would probably have told me to lay off the drugs.

So, how do I follow that and look at the forthcoming season? It would be easy to say we can do the same again, but win that final game and fulfil the quest for six. And I would love that to be the case. The team has managed to keep the core of the squad that got us to the Superbowl last year. Yes, some players have moved on, but we have made some good additions. A lot of the players are going to be another year into Lynch and Shanahan’s scheme of things.

Yet, there are going to be so many unknowns this season; along with other things to consider. The main one being, is everyone will see us coming this year. Nobody expected the 49ers to be so good last year, no one would have bet on them being the team at 8-0 at the mid-point of the season. There were signs in the second half of the season that teams were getting a handle on us. There were a lot of close games. Only for us to approach the playoffs differently and confuse the opponents, smothering their game plans at birth. Until that last quarter. I expect teams to play differently against us this season, and there will be those raising their game because they are playing us, something that hasn’t happened in nearly a decade.

The atmosphere at games is going to be vastly different. Without crowds (or certainly not capacity ones), homefield advantage won’t mean a great deal (unless it’s in Green Bay at minus twenty degrees). This may well suit us, as we were one of four teams to post a 7-1 away record last season. Some teams will feel the difference; how will the Seahawks cope with only having twelve men in the stands and not the twelfth man? It will be a similar story for the defending champions as well, as the Chiefs have the loudest fans in the NFL. It’s not as if they are allowed to pump in crowd noise either, the Falcons got heavy fines for that a few seasons back.

There is, of course, the danger that Covid may hamper the season, and not just from a crowd perspective. If the expected surge in cases happens as autumn and winter come on, then full lockdowns could reappear, and seasons suspended or cancelled.

On top of this there is the political spectre standing as a threat in the shadows. There are likely to be player protests during the season. The NFL have been making some of the right noises recently, but they are still ultra-conservative and may not live up to those words if pressure comes from the Idiot-in-Chief, something that he likes to do, and has done in the past. There is an election during the season, and it would be no surprise to see widespread disturbances and martial law regardless of who wins. It’s another danger to the population of the US – most importantly – and it will be a possible additional cause of sporting events getting shut down.

Now that I’ve sounded doom and gloom all around, onto the season. We start against the Cardinals at home (as if that matters at the moment). We did do the double over our divisional rivals last year, but we made hard work of both games. This is likely to be another close encounter, one which I think we will win, but whatever the outcome, it will likely indicate how we are going to do for the season. I expect it to be the first of many encounters which end up being a lot closer than they should be and one that will be no good for any followers with heart conditions or high blood pressure.

The away game against the Rams will be in their new “most expensive in the world” stadium. With or without fans, a new stadium is difficult to play in, and it should be a case of another stadium the 49ers have won in, at the end of that game.

We end the season against the Seahawks again, this time at home. This is likely to be a division decider yet again, as both sides go into the game with 10-5 records and we come out with an 11-5 one. We won’t have home field advantage, but we will have enough to make it through to the conference final. After that I’m not prepared to say.

As for watching games, Sky now have an NFL channel, and I will imagine there will be a number of times the 49ers are shown live. Not that it matters, as I don’t have Sky Sports and I won’t be getting it, as it ties you in for years, screwing up your existing contract. If they stop putting RedZone on Sky Sports Mix though, there might be murders. And with the likelihood of numerous games on Sky then it probably means Game pass isn’t value for money either. Dodgy streams seem the most likely.

Which only leaves me with one thing to say before the season gets underway.

Go Niners!