Oh, Those Summer Ni-i-ights

By Pete H

As we moan about the summer heat we’ve waited months for, our thoughts are starting to turn towards Boro’s return to League One. It’s a strange one. Just recently, someone asked us if we were missing football. Now, this was only one day after the 2022-3 Champions League final. At the time, the 2023-4 Champions League was just 17 days away. So, our first thought was to say “no”. For many fans, it’s nine months of emotional turmoil and rollercoaster rides.

Not unlike a pregnancy, we can tell you.

So, it comes as a bit of a relief to have those summer nights in which to ease back with a tinto de verano. That said, we thought about it and the answer isn’t so black and white.

First, the promotion chase that delivered us to League One for the first time in nine years gave everyone around the club such a buzz. Off the back of three-or-so years of dreading the next matchday, we could look forward to Saturday and Tuesdays with big anticipation. In the deafening radio silence of the summer close season, what do we have to fill the gap? The Ashes? Yeah, that’s one potential. But an innings loss in the first Test might change all that.

Anyway, it leads us into the second factor – which is our momentum being put on pause. And, with it, comes the need to go all over again when the new term starts. It works both ways, however. While promoted clubs need to rediscover that winning habit, those teams coming down from the Championship have respite; a chance to sort out the factor(s) that borked them last term. Either way, you want to be able to hit the ground running.

A new-look squad taking shape

One way you’d think would help a team on the up to hit the ground running is keeping the nub of the squad together. We’re not sure if we’re out of sync with the consensus, but we’d expected to retain a few more lads than we did. Alex Gilbey was never ours to keep on our books by choice, but losing him and Jake Reeves (for example) took away two key men from the middle of the park. Up top, meanwhile, we lost Danny Rose and Luke Norris.

Before we panic, however, there are many reasons for why we decided to let players go. Or why some lads decided to chance their arm elsewhere. Let’s take Rose, for example. Off the pitch, his life is up north (down south to our editor) and a move to Grimsby made sense. It should also be remembered that signings are a-incoming. How can you not get excited with the news that Taye Ashby-Hammond is joining permanently for a start?

Of course, the question is undoubtedly whether we can sustain the changes to what was a close-knit squad. And can the newbies make a seamless transition into life at the Boro’?

The summer 2023 betting scene

Boro' were promoted from League Two in 2023, defying the early-season odds
Photo: Stevenage FC/Jim Steele

The form and momentum that can get a team promoted doesn’t always get reflected in the bookies’ odds. It doesn’t help that we’re a club with comparatively low resources compared to some of the bigger fish in the pond in which we now find ourselves swimming. But that’s not to say the odds are always right. Were we not 66/1 to get promoted – or something like that – last season? We think it came up in the occasional pre-match interview.

You can, however, take the position that not being fancied and not being talked about in a promotion context is a decent place to be. There’s no pressure on us. The best UK and Irish football betting sites will give you long, but attractive, odds on us to go up again. It’s a long shot when you think about the favourites. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Backing Boro’ for an unprecedented promotion in 2024 will bring with it a tidy little cash boost.

If you’re worried about how gambling makes you feel, get help. Be GambleAware.

Familiar faces, forgotten ‘friends’

Barnsley, Fleetwood Town, and Wigan Athletic are three teams we'll meet for the first time during the 2023-4 season.
Photo: Barnsley v Rotherham 27th Aug 2016 (9)” by Paige…, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

And what of the other clubs waiting for us after the summer; the bigger fish or the similar-sized? Out of the other 23 League One teams apart from us, just three are completely new: Barnsley, Fleetwood Town, and Wigan Athletic. You can also add Derby County because we only met them previously in a friendly. So, that means four new stadiums to visit – and an opportunity to make a bad first impression with our new adversaries.

Of course, there are some sides coming our way that we know more than most; Cambridge United being a notable example. And there are the teams against whom we haven’t played for a while. Burton Albion (under the guidance of Dino Maamria) haven’t been seen in our part of the world for a weirdly long time. And then there are the likes of Shrewsbury Town; teams who keep flashing through our crosshairs between Leagues One and Two.

Don’t forget – winter is coming…

Much to digest, lots to look forward to; the role of summer in the football world is to get things ready for the long hard slog through the colder months. But that’s healthy; giving supporters a reason to look forward to those wet and windy weekends in Fleetwood. Or bitterly cold Tuesday evenings at Port Vale. And, for a team like ours recently promoted, there’s the promise of the unknown and the lure of the challenge ahead.

So, do we “miss” football on those summer nights? Y’know, maybe we do. Roll on 2023-4.

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