This is one of my favourite times of year. I say that not because of the scorching sun that's beating down on Britain as I write, but because the new English football season starts on Saturday. It's a time full of hope and anticipation, when every club's supporters can dream about the games to come and hope that this will be their team's year.
Of course, for many, that hope will seem distinctly shaky by Saturday evening, after the first 90 minutes of the campaign's harsh reality. But for now, the anticipation is akin to that you feel just before Christmas as a child, wondering what's in all those tantalisingly wrapped parcels under the tree.
This year, my pre-season rush of enthusiasm has led me to create a new resource for h2g2: The h2g2 Galaxy of Football. It's a kind of directory of links to all the Edited Entries on football, and all the useful unedited entries I could find. It's quite probable that I've missed some good unedited entries, since the h2g2 search engine can sometimes produce rather eccentric results. So if you know of entries that should be on there and aren't, please let me know and I'll rectify the omissions.
When compiling the page, I was impressed by the diversity of the football-related entries on h2g2. There are entries on English clubs
ranging from the mighty Arsenal to the slightly less celebrated Greenbank Wanderers, Sunday League Football Team.
Scottish football seems to be rather under-represented in the Guide, although there is a fine Edited Entry on Heart of Midlothian and a short unedited essay on the Scottish national team's travelling supporters, The Tartan Army.
Welsh football fares a little better, with a very informative Edited Entry on the Football League of Wales and a small but perfectly-formed Edited Entry on Bangor City's ground at Farrar Road. There's also a promising entry on Welsh International Football that remains frustratingly unfinished. The author, who has now 'left the building', said before doing so that he simply couldn't bear to think about the team's decline since 1980, let alone write about it. But with Wales doing so well in the Euro 2004 qualifying tournament, now would surely be a good time for more work to be done on the entry. Would anyone care to join me in completing the job?
There is just one entry on Football in Northern Ireland, but it's a good one: an Edited Entry combining a quick look at the Northern Ireland national team with information on some of the clubs in the Northern Irish domestic league.
Almost all the entries on football clubs concern UK teams, but one fascinating exception comes in the form of a 'Post' article on Beitar Jerusalem FC, which suggests that - in terms of their fans' political disposition, at least - Beitar are a kind of Israeli equivalent of Glasgow Rangers.
There's a more cosmopolitan feel to the section on individual players and coaches. Those honoured with Guide entries include Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer and the late Marc-Vivien Foé. There's also a very informative slice of football history in the story of Arthur Wharton - the First Black Professional Footballer, who began his playing career with Preston North End in 1886.
By some distance, the biggest piece of football writing on h2g2 is the University of Life project on The History of the Football World Cup, which contains entries on each World Cup from the inaugural tournament in 1930 until the 1998 competition in France. The 2002 World Cup was also thoroughly covered on h2g2, with a series of weekly World Cup Diary columns here in the Post and a subsequent, comprehensive Edited Entry on the Football World Cup 2002 - Japan and South Korea.
Lots of aspects of football culture are covered in the Guide. There's an erudite entry on Etiquette for Football Spectators and a fun collection of Football Terrace Songs and Chants. There are Edited Entries that tell of Being a Football Goalkeeper and Creating a Football Fanzine, and a great collaborative entry in which a number of Researchers remember their favourite Classic Football Moments.
The Guide also includes entries that face up to the tragic side of football. There are Edited Entries on The Heysel Stadium Tragedy, 1985 and the Hillsborough Tragedy. There's also a poignant tribute to Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight, the two Leeds United fans murdered in Turkey in 2000, with virtual 'scarves of remembrance' left by Researchers.
A couple of Edited Entries attempt to explain rules of the game that tend to baffle the uninitiated: the offside rule and the backpass rule. If that's a bit too serious and technical for you, there are several entries that capture the funny side of football, including a superb collection of Great Footballing Quotes. My personal favourite is Stuart Pearce's surreal claim: 'I can see the carrot at the end of the tunnel.'
If you feel that you know your football after reading some of the above, h2g2 now has two fantasy football competitions that give you a chance to prove it. Firstly, there's the original h2g2 Fantasy Football League, in which players try to predict the scoreline and the first goalscorer in a selection of matches chosen each week by League organiser GreyDesk. The competition's eighth great season begins next week, so now is the perfect time to enrol. Modesty forbids me to mention who was the champion in Season Seven...
Meanwhile, for those who prefer the more traditional form of fantasy football involving team selection, imaginary transfers and preposterous team names, a rival Phantasy Phootball League is being organised by Master B.
And finally, h2g2's home of football at The Virtual Supporters' Club is all set for a new season. Its pages still feature links to football sites from all over the world, and club links for every League team in England and Scotland. Come along, join the VSC squad and discuss whatever footie-related matters are on your mind. I hope to make further impovements to the Club pages soon - if I'm not feeling too depressed after watching my beloved Bradford City's first efforts in the new campaign, that is...