There you are, resplendent in your team's new-season shirt and full of high hopes (well, most of you, anyway) for the forthcoming season. As well as the wealth of fanzines, football magazines and sports programmes on TV and radio, the internet features a vast resource of club sites and scores.
Perhaps the best place to start a trawl around the internet for interesting football websites is your team's official site. Here, very basically, you'll find the kind of views and information usually found in the traditional club programme.
Whereas you won't necessarily read wild transfer speculation and innuendo about the sexual misdemeanours of your rival team's manager, you might reasonably expect to see one of the slicker sites attributed to your club.
This is certainly true of the official Manchester United website (www.manutd.com), serving glory hunters worldwide with several nice little touches. A virtual reality tour of the Theatre of Dreams includes several views of a ground which, deep down in your (Hertfordshire) heart, you know you'll never visit.
The website allows you to see the stadium from such fascinating viewpoints as the boot room, the Old Trafford forecourt, the laundry, the apparently famous TV gantry and the penalty spot. This view includes the spiel asking us to "Picture the scene. 90 are gone, 0-0 is the score, and United are awarded a penalty. Can you send the 50,000 fans into delirium?"
As far as a virtual view from the penalty spot goes, conditions for scoring look favourable - the ref has apparently sent off the opposition to make it easier. Indeed, the only other people on the pitch are shadowy black figures around the centre of the pitch. A delegation of adoring referees or Dark Lords of the Sith? Whatever, best to mentally take the kick, run through the virtual megastore and get out of there.
Chelsea's official site (www.chelseafc.co.uk) looks very snazzy too, though I've neither the time nor the inclination to look very deeply into it. The official websites of Premiership football clubs are generally pretty slick, and far better looking than anything attributed to my club.
Still, I don't care. Much. No, because real fans don't rely on official sites anyway - we go to the sites which hold great worth in claims like: "Written by the fans, for the fans". There we read (and sometimes even write under pseudonyms) messages about who we want in or out of the team, the manager's office and the boardroom.
The sites that follow the fanzines
The unofficial sites are the natural successor to the football fanzine and, much like the fanzine, quality varies wildly. It might take some time to find a preferred site and, even if a site looks very pretty, don't be surprised to see that the latest news is a transfer rumour dating back to September 1998. You might also find the views and opinions expressed on the message boards quite disheartening.
Editorial control is often either deplorably lax or non-existent, so you'll often find tiresome arguments and insults traded between fans of your team and others, usually from members of the mob apparently preparing to destroy your ground/town next Saturday, or from the hated local rivals.
That said, there are some good sites around. Finding them might take a little patience, however, and will almost certainly involve looking through what might be dozens of 'fans' and/or 'unofficial' sites identified by your search engine.
A knowledge of sites dedicated to your own team may be all you want to know, but there are also loads of sites concerned with football in general. I seem to remember a few years ago that the half decent When Saturday Comes website (www.wsc.co.uk) was a nice looking collection of half hearted pages which seemed, not unsurprisingly, concerned chiefly with encouraging the reader to turn off the computer and go out and buy the magazine instead.
But these days, while the idea of purchasing the mag isn't exactly discouraged, the site is actually quite interesting in its own right. Pages covering subjects such as football pubs, food, dreams and books make for good reading, whereas some of the entries on the football poetry page verge on the sublime, with odes penned in honour of such luminaries as Iain Dowie and Edwin Stein.
The Guardian scores!
Another umbrella site of note is the Guardian's footballUnlimited.co.uk. The football related fun does indeed seem unlimited, with news and views and a game revolving around David Ginola and diving. Couldn't make head nor tail of it, but it looked like lots of fun.
Another ongoing benefit of the Guardian site is that it gives you the chance to subscribe to their daily round up of what's been occurring in the world of football. Called The Fiver, it can be emailed to you every weekday for free. Its "tea-time take on the world of football" is written in a humorous light and includes regular features such as The Rumour Mill and Quote of the Day, and has details of TV coverage on any particular day. It provides, in short, 110 per cent of the recommended adult daily dose of football-related literature.
These sites consider fun just as important as football (and if you can't have a laugh, then you're maybe already missing the point). However, if it's the latest scores, facts and figures and news that you want, then try www.soccernet.com - a very slick and user-friendly site with features about every club in the league.
It's much the same sort of format at www.footballnews.co.uk, with all the daily stories, managerial moans and transfer speculation you might expect to see on the back pages of the tabloids, along with a page for every club in the league.
News from the lower divisions
However, once you get down to club level (and even further down, to some of us unfortunates at Second Division club level), you're likely to find the news either amazingly brief or ridiculously out of date. In my own club's example, the Luton Town page includes the story that Lennie Lawrence (sacked over a month ago) has commended his players, while we're invited to a link telling us why George Best doesn't think England will win Euro 2000.
News is better updated at www.clubcall.com which obviously still suggests that the very latest stuff is available via the premier rate phone number.
Football365 (www.football365.com) doesn't even try and report from clubs lower than the 'First Division hopeful' category, although you might find an interesting poll: "By claiming he wasn't interested in signing Hasselbaink or Barthez, has Arsene Wenger proved he's a canny operator or totally bonkers?" Let's see. I think I'll plump for the exit site option.
If it's club merchandise you're after and your nearest Premiership megastore is out of reach, you could try a site like www.kitbag.com. Oh, and although the retro look has maybe gone out of fashion a little in the past few years, you might want to look at www.toffs.com which sells some very nice vintage-style shirts at up to the minute prices.
Prima donna, moi?
It can be fascinating to look into the websites of people who are often totally misinterpreted - like vastly overpaid footballers behaving like prima donnas. Chelsea's Marcel Desailly, for instance, on his Anglo-Gallic website (www.marcel-desailly.com), implores fans to wear his official website t-shirt. "No room for hesitation! Wear the official colours of your favourite site!" he urges.
Desailly goes into exclamation mark overdrive when writing about champagne. "I've recently tasted a bottle of Krug in really good condition: the champagne had been decanted!!!". Another of his great loves is watches. He started ("like everyone, I guess") with a Swatch before moving on. "I remained faithful to Rolex until 1993. I later took an interest in other, more prestigious brands." And before you argue that Desailly is out of touch with the normal fan, remember, he's a Chelsea player.
The relegation zone
So these are just a few pointers regarding the huge range of sites available, and with every visit to the web you'll always find something new. I like to look periodically on the Bohemians FC page (www.fc-bohemians.cz) just to check that they're still the worst team in Prague. (Don't forget to press the English language icon.)
I've also discovered - and I recommend this site wholeheartedly - www.lutonfc.com, a site which must surely be regarded as one of the finest, if only because it offers users the chance to download the view of the spiritual home of world football from the Kenilworth Road stand.
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