July is a tricky time to be a football fan.
On one hand, we’re not even close to being ready for everything a new season entails. The overdramatic Sky Sports trailers for Hull v Sunderland, Alan shearer's tight trousers while ‘analysing’ the first disputed penalty on MOTD, the return of Steve Bruce - but we're not completely disinterested in the impending circus either.
The Ashes, Open golf and Tour de France are great as casual summer flings: intense, occasionally memorable, but ultimately fleeting. And so the enormous shadow of the slumbering Premier League monster is looming once more.
Trouble is, while we gingerly start checking the football news again, there’s nothing to report. If July is tricky for us, it's far harder for the football journalist, forced to feed off scraps and rework the same half stories and rumours into something approaching news. Suddenly, Danny Graham’s impending loan deal with Hull City feels like a major scoop.
Save from spotting which players have had summer buzz cuts or ill-judged highlights, which ones have got the best Ayia Napa tans and keeping up with where in the Far East the Chelsea squad are flying into today there’s not much to grab onto. Hmm, is our club's away goalkeeper shirt now available in mauve?
So how do the sports writers respond to this dead zone? How do they get us interested in what amounts to little more than 6 weeks of industry staff recruitment?
The answer is by skilfully creating the transfer season as an overblown summer drama with an established language and plotline all its own.
Here's how a rundown of the clichés and key players in transfer season:
The key player in any close season is a manager lucky enough to be "armed" with a “transfer war chest” by his chairman has money to spend so will invariably have plenty of “targets”, maybe even a “hitlist” and will be looking to perform “raids” on other weaker and poorer clubs in the same division. His face will be a scowling presence on back pages from July to August
The Plucky Underdogs
Smaller clubs are forced to play the role of plucky underdogs, frequently “braced for a bid”, as others try to “prise” their best players away on “transfer raids”. Their hangdog managers are forced to humiliate themselves with statements like “xxxxx is not for sale at any price” which often means the chairman has just agreed a fee.
The Wantaway Player
A disgruntled big name player is the main protagonist of the piece. Often categorised as "wantaway" (a word so far unused anywhere other than in the context of football recruitment) he may go as far as to “slap in a transfer request” or worse, issue a “come and get me plea”. Ambiguous footage of the off-duty player holding a mobile phone to their ear are shown as proof of their dissatisfaction.
It is a fact of this time of year that a faceless football club executive will suddenly be brought into proceedings. Invariably they will cut short their family holidays to "seal a deal". It brings images to mind of their wife and young children forlornly waving their Dad goodbye from some holiday resort. “Sorry love, can't come to the beach today, I'm flying to Preston to wrap up the loan signing of Kevin Davies."
This is when things heat up and Sky Sports News journalists start camping out in club car parks. Bids are “prepared”, “sanctioned” and then “lodged” before becoming “official”, "representatives". However there are still plenty of column inches to be wrung from this drama yet.
To add tension, this is when clubs and players are reported to be “locked in talks” or worse the two clubs will be "at loggerheads" and, for added sub-plots, talk of failing to agree “personal terms”. Deals frequently "stall", or worse of all "sensationally collapse”. And blacked Range Rovers are shown pulling off at high speed.
Eventually, the inevitable happens and the player's beaming smile and obligatory photograph while signing on the dotted line and holding the club scarf while standing on the pitch gives us all the resolution we crave.
And it's only taken 8 weeks, 17 back page photos, and 36 variations on the same article. But somehow, despite the tedium, we'd miss it if it wasn't there. While football has changed dramatically in the last 20 years since the Premier League began, at least this annual merry-go-round remains reassuringly familiar.