It should be the best moment of the football fan’s year - the point where you genuinely believe that anything is possible. No games have kicked off yet, nothing to dim the feeling of anticipation, excitement and the dream that, yes, this could be ‘our’ year.
Of course within a few minutes all your hopes could lie in tatters amid a half eaten pie and a brown sauce stained new replica shirt (if you’ve managed to get one yet) as you realise the challenges that lie ahead.
Football fans are fickle, not least in modern times whereby the debate that normally took place around a pub table, allowing the walk there to at least add a little cooling-off period, has been replaced by a twitter ‘hot-take’ and an angry/smiley-face emoji (delete as appropriate).
But now, a few days before the season kicks off you have the opportunity to look ahead to the end of the season, allow your mind to drift towards whatever glory your team’s expectations allow.
For both Sheffield teams those expectations are likely to be different, but given what United achieved last year, Blades are well within their rights to dream a little dream themselves.
The buzz is still hanging around Bramall Lane; their unexpectedly lengthy period outside of the Championship made the celebrations in May all the more poignant.
That wave of enthusiasm, brilliantly brought back to the club by the no-nonsense, heartfelt passion of Chris Wilder, can be ridden early on and provide a strong base by which they can adjust by the turn of the year. Do they just want to stay up? Is consolidation in the division enough after six years adrift in League One. Or are there ambitions on a higher level?
Right now, it’s something of a step into the unknown for United. They aren’t shopping in the same market from when last they were in the Championship and Wilder has spent this summer using the tried and tested method of bringing in men whom he feels he can be moulded into players that can compete in this division, with the added experience of a couple who know it well.
Wilder’s hands are tied in that respect, given the resources at his disposal, but even in this day and age, there’s a lot to be said for team spirit and togetherness, which the current United squad has in abundance.
This columnist’s opinion is that the quality is there to ensure they stay up with ease. A season like Barnsley had last year, built largely on momentum could happen, though the difference is, if United find themselves within touching distance of the play-offs as Paul Heckingbottom’s side were, you’d like to think the board would show at least some ambition to have a go at it during the transfer window in January.
Across the city, things appear a little more nervy.
Two successive seasons in the play-offs means that place is almost taken for granted. That should, indeed, be the case however the disappointments felt there have meant that a by-passing of that particular means of promotion has become their ambition.
At this stage just one addition has been made to the squad, albeit a fine one in George Boyd. The centre-backs that were promised haven’t as yet arrived meaning that, because of the strength in recruitment by teams who would be regarded as Wednesday’s challengers, Owls fans are largely looking at much the same team as last year, which you would expect will achieve similar results.
At the end of last season I felt that the top two was achievable and I maintain it can be, not least if they finally show what they are capable of from the start rather than take a month to get going.
However, the closer we get to kick off, it’s more difficult to envisage celebrations of automatic promotion in May. I guess they’ll just have to do it at Wembley this time.