By Jason McKeown
It is, traditionally at least, one of the defining moments of the close season. In one quick swoop, the publishing of the fixture list suddenly sees your weekend plans for 10 months pencilled into place. Compared to knowing that a season is going to start in August, but with no idea how it will be scheduled, a plan is suddenly in place that makes it all seem so much more real.
And it’s an exciting feeling. And now you can’t wait for it all to get started. And this break from Bradford City, which in truth had felt nice, compared to the stresses of the season, is one you wish would soon be over.
Gillingham away to start is no ones idea of a first choice fixture, in terms of attendance. And with City having lost on the opening day for the past three seasons, it’s also not the ideal match for starting the 2012/13 campaign on the right note. Indeed with City following that up with a visit from newly promoted Fleetwood Town – a more acceptable version of Crawley, but next season’s Crawley none the less – and then games with AFC Wimbledon and Rotherham, it suggests a very tough start. If City are still unbeaten by the time we travel to Accrington a week after the Rotherham match, we should be feeling very optimistic about our prospects.
Three of the opening four games are huge tests for sure, and the positive spin to place upon it is that it will offer a very quick measure of our promotion credentials and should ensure the team is switched on from day one. And if these tough fixtures don’t provide a high number of points for City, there will be no need to panic to the same level many did when the start of the 2011/12 season saw us lose three of our opening four games, to moderate opposition.
The games come thick and far thereafter – a later than usual start, and an earlier than usual ending of April 27 means a lot of midweek games – and we probably all have our favourite away trips to look up or home game dates that mean something (such as when our birthday is). Oxford away on 22 September and Rochdale away on 2 October are must-attend matches for me, while Burton (29 October) is usually good fun. The fixture gods have certainly been kind to City over Christmas, with back-to-back home games again, followed by a quick hop over to Morecambe on New Years Day.
What leaps out from reading through the fixtures, compared to last year, is the greater number of Northern-based away fixtures. It’s great to wave goodbye to your Swindons, Crawleys and Herefords in return for Rochdales, Chesterfields, Fleetwoods and Yorks. City’s trips to the two newly promoted clubs are on the 2 February and 2 March respectively. That said, there are few more geographically challenging fixtures, not least back-to-back trips to Devon – Plymouth and Exeter – in March. No doubt the team will base itself in the area for the week (hopefully with no repeats of a situation where Matt Clarke and Barry Conlon missed training), but for us supporters it will represent a logistical and financial challenge to watch both matches.
As Mark Lawn comments about City aiming for the play offs at least next season, the date of Saturday 18 May 2013 – the League Two play off final at Wembley – is one to also place in red letters in your diary. Because no matter what the next few weeks have in store in terms of player signings and contract negotiations, today is a day we should be able to allow ourselves to sit back and dream of experiencing 10 months of unbridled glory.
Bring it on.