Fixture and frettings
One of the days I was dreading over the summer arrived this week.
No, not Sir Cliff with a microphone while some dotty middle-aged bints with tennis ball ear-rings totter back and forth singing 'Congratulations' (if the roof at Wimbledon's spared us anything it's that).
Not Peter Alliss name-checking every possible golf club he's ever wet his whistle in, bless 'im. Not the British sprint relay team performing the traditional baton-drop in the World Athletics Champs. Not even one more piece of post-op positivity from a hamstrung Freddie Flintoff.
No, it was the announcement of the fixture list for season 2009/10. That's the Championship fixture list, dammit.
There's Alex McLeish taking Birmingham City to Old Trafford where he'll meet up with his old gaffer for some incomprehensible banter. There's Burnley off for a glamour fixture at Stoke City - they'll hardly know they've left the Championship - and Wolves getting the Hammers at home.
Meanwhile there's Newcastle. The fixture list has thrown up a match against West Brom, which might convince the loyalist Toonster that they're still playing Premier League football. Boro have got play-off losers Sheffield United - a Yorkshire derby against another team with top-flight credentials.
Then, just in case you might think there are fixtures packed with prestige coming up, we've got Swansea away, Scunny away and Donny at home. Reality bites. No disrespect to them clubs - I mean I'm sure there's plenty of fans who don't fancy a night out in Teesside inhaling the fumes and the parmos and dodging the talent - but this is a new challenge for our lads.
The solace of the Geordie subsidence won't help either. The club's for sale for approximately £Ronaldo + £Tevez, and Michael Owen's agent is putting a glossy little brochure out to flog the bloke like he's a holiday development on the Costa del Sol.
I expect as with any real estate vendor, there'll be the usual blather in the sales pitch: Michael is 'deceptively spacious' 'chock-full of history' and 'ripe for redevelopment': in short it's a must-see for the 'discerning purchaser'. Some of us think the property lacks many of its original features, has definitely lost a yard, could go down rather too easily and needs a radical re-think over its price.
I don't expect Sr. Capello will be casting an eye over it in the foreseeable.
Nah, it's not a happy time. There's a right ugly column on this very website about football's slippery slope. That's what you worry about.
Boro and the Baggies have been well-run and reasonably prudent over the cash, but you might say the same for Charlton Athletic.
We should be OK with the parachute payments 'n' that. £11.5m you get. Alves cost £12m! We'll send Afonso on a sky-diving course and keep the parachute I reckon.
I'll still be casting begrudging eyes up towards the Premier League heights...
Phil Brown, who come August might be toasted to a colour that can't be found in a bottle, will be crooning 'I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea' to the travelling Tigers. Ancelotteri couldn't have wished for a comfier start.
In fact Chelsea have got the sort of opening fixture list that resembles their frequently cushy FA Cup ties: Hull, Sunderland, Burnley, Stoke and even Fulham away ought to be straightforward.
For the likes of the rested Drogba, Lampard and Essien it'll be so simple they'll be scouring the streets for candy-carrying toddlers in the hope that removing said treats will present more of a challenge. Expect Chelsea to be top with maximum points by the end of September.
Liverpool could be similarly placed but then they do make charitable donations to the smaller clubs early doors. Stoke home, Hull home: there's four points gone already.
I don't expect United to fly out of the blocks.
Ronaldo was ropey and ratty early last season but he's still a huge loss and whoever takes his place - and there'll be a hell of a lot more space in the home dressing-room at OT without all that gel and ego - will take a while to bed down.
There'll always be the team that shakes things up before the sediments settle and the rich, sickly, full-fat cream rises to the top, but it ain't going to be Burnley.
Stoke away is no fun, and when they've cleared their heads after having them Delapidated by Rory's mighty bungs, they've got United, Everton, Chelsea and Liverpool! Not so much a baptism of fire as a three-week holiday in a vat of boiling chip-fat.
I think Wolves will be the cat amongst the preening pigeons. Their trickiest game early on is at Eastlands and Lord alone knows who they'll be up against: Given, Ireland, Barry, but after that it could be anyone. It could be no-one.
The biggest name they've signed seemed to think he was somewhere else for much of last season, and sent out a useless twin in his stead for the away games, so it might just take a bit more than wads of cash to lure the biggest names in world footie out there.
I don't see the top four monopoly going next season regardless of FandAbuDhabi cash or the increasingly plucky efforts of Villa and Everton. Not that I'll be too fixated on all that.
Our run-in doesn't look nice: away WBA, home Cov, away Leicester... that would've been Premiership fare barely 10 years ago, wouldn't it? (The slippery slide six-pointer against the Geordie bottlers is on 13 March, by the way).
Oh man, enough of this! It's amazing how one poxy little computer print-out can fill you with so much dread.
I need distractions! Roll on the Lions and a Springbok barbecue. I'm not a rugby union man but when it's the Lions I make an exception.