Football League 2015-16: BBC Sport's stories to follow

By Phil CartwrightBBC Sport
George Boyd, Steve Bruce, Jermaine Beckford, Neil Harris, Martin Allen, Benik Afobe, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, James Maddison
72 Football League clubs begin their 2015-16 campaigns this weekend

Just 74 days after Norwich City's Championship play-off final victory at Wembley, the 2015-16 Football League season begins on Friday, when Brighton host Nottingham Forest.

That is the first of 1,671 fixtures to be played across the second, third and fourth tiers this term, and we've picked out some of the key stories to follow over the next 10 months.

Sheringham in at Stevenage

Teddy Sheringham
Ex-England striker Teddy Sheringham retired from playing at the age of 42

Fifteen Football League clubs have appointed new full-time managers since the end of the 2014-15 season.

Some, such as Crawley's Mark Yates or Chesterfield's Dean Saunders, are old hands. Others, such as Marinus Dijkhuizen at Brentford and Carlos Carvalhal at Sheffield Wednesday, will be experiencing English football for the first time.

Former England striker Teddy Sheringham was Stevenage's choice to replace Graham Westley, who left the League Two club in May following their play-off semi-final defeat by Southend.

Sheringham excited by Stevenage job

Vastly experienced and highly decorated as a player, the 49-year-old is starting his managerial career in the quiet surroundings of leafy Hertfordshire.

When ex-Manchester United players decide to have a crack at management, questions about their legendary former boss are almost inevitable.

But Sheringham told BBC Three Counties Radio: "I can't try to be Sir Alex Ferguson.

"You only do what you've been taught. I've played for some fantastic managers. I'll take out the best bits of them and use them in my own manner."

From Real to the Rams

Paul Clement
Derby have not been in the Premier League since 2007-08 - can Paul Clement take them back?

Another new manager - apologies, head coach - to be appointed during the summer is Paul Clement.

Derby County looked almost certain to be promoted to the Premier League under Steve McClaren last term but, in one of the closest Championship promotion battles for years, they plummeted down the table and finished eighth.

Clement, 43, had assisted Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea, Paris St-Germain and Real Madrid before returning to England.

Clement impressed by Derby potential

"I'm willing to work at this level," he told BBC East Midlands Today. "I believe the club's got great potential. I want to work in the Premier League and I want to do it with Derby."

And, while his talent pool at Derby may not quite be of the calibre of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, Clement has been allowed freedom in the transfer market as the Rams look to recover from last season's late collapse.

The club broke their transfer record to sign Hull winger Thomas Ince, while Andreas Weimann, Jason Shackell, Darren Bent, Alex Pearce and Chris Baird have also been added to the squad.

After such an expensive recruitment drive, Derby are unsurprisingly among the favourites to win the Championship.

Boro's hometown hero returns

Stewart Downing
Stewart Downing won the last of his 35 England caps against Scotland in November 2014

Another Championship club expecting to be in this season's promotion battle are Middlesbrough.

They exceeded the expectations of many to reach the play-off final last season, only to succumb to a tame defeat by Norwich at Wembley.

Far from feeling downbeat about their narrow failure, Boro have made arguably the most eye-catching Football League signing of the summer.

Boro ambition swayed Downing move

Teesside native Stewart Downing turned down regular Premier League football to return to the club where his career started, joining from West Ham United for a fee that could rise to £5.5m.

And there is only one objective for the 31-year-old winger - finishing in the top two.

"This is a Premier League club and that's where it should be," Downing told BBC Look North. "If this was a team fighting relegation or in mid-table, it wouldn't be good for me to come back.

"They were very unlucky last season not to get promoted, and the manager's said if he can keep the squad together and add with the players he's looking to bring in, we'll be going for automatic promotion."

A season of stability for QPR?

Clint Hill
QPR finished bottom of the Premier League last season with 30 points from 38 games

In a division that can be so difficult to predict, who would be surprised if Queens Park Rangers were to challenge for promotion this season?

Because, let's face it, there's never a dull moment at Loftus Road.

Charlie Austin apart, they endured a torrid 2014-15 season in the Premier League, summed up by the 6-0 drubbing at Manchester City in May that confirmed their relegation.

"The meek way QPR tumbled out of the Premier League last season suggested that a long, hard rebuilding job was required," says BBC London 94.9 reporter Nick Godwin.

"After see-sawing between divisions in recent years, QPR need a period of stability and continuity.

"Last time they were in this position, two years ago, Harry Redknapp relied on experience and Austin's goals to get them back up. It just about worked.

"This time, Chris Ramsey doesn't have the same resources at his disposal and the signings so far have been modest.

"It looks as though Austin will be sold before the transfer window shuts and that could free up resources for further signings, but the club's attitude so far seems to be one of restrained realism."

New territory for MK Dons

Karl Robinson
Karl Robinson is the third longest-serving manager in England's top four divisions

As if a 4-0 home win over Manchester United in the League Cup wasn't excitement enough, MK Dons earned promotion to the Championship for the first time last season, pipping Preston to second spot on the final day.

Clubs going up from League One have performed well in recent seasons. Norwich (2009-2011) and Southampton (2010-2012) won back-to-back promotions.

Just last season, Brentford got to the play-offs, Wolves narrowly missed out on a top-six place and Bournemouth - in their second year in the second tier - won the title.

Can MK Dons follow that upward trend? Well, manager Karl Robinson has one of the smallest budgets in the division and has warned supporters not to expect too much from his team.

"People are likening us to Wolves and Bournemouth - we're not in the same hemisphere as these teams," Robinson told BBC Three Counties Radio. "We can't do what these teams have done.

"We're going into a Championship with a different way of doing it, but we'll do it our way. Our way is a way our fans know, and hopefully the football club can again turn one or two heads."

A new era at Wigan

Gary Caldwell
Gary Caldwell was an unused substitute when Wigan Athletic won the FA Cup in 2013

While MK Dons are experiencing new highs, Wigan Athletic find themselves down in League One just two years after winning the FA Cup.

Paul Rowley, who covers the Latics for BBC Radio Manchester, says: "This time 12 months ago, Uwe Rosler was contemplating bouncing back to the Premier League.

"But Rosler was gone within three months, Malky Mackay didn't last much longer, and chairman Dave Whelan stepped down after arguably the worst season in the club's history.

"When Whelan took charge of his hometown club in 1995, he said he wanted to see Wigan in the Premier League in 10 years. Most people laughed, but he achieved the task with bells on.

"A generation later, the mantle has been passed to his grandson David Sharpe - the youngest chairman in British football at the age of 24 - and Gary Caldwell, the Football League's youngest manager at 33.

"The task will be hard. None of the Wembley heroes remain. They've made 14 new signings but the wage bill has been slashed and attendances are expected to fall.

"However, with Premier League parachute payments still due for the next two years, the Latics will be better off than most at this level.

"And Sharpe has inherited the Whelan swagger. He told supporters during pre-season: 'I don't just want to win this league - I want to smash it and get 100 points'.

"Fighting talk, but is it realistic? Just remember, they didn't believe Dave Whelan 20 years ago and look what happened..."

Things can only get better for Blackpool

Blackpool pitch invasion
Blackpool were fined and handed a suspended points deduction for May's abandoned fixture

If you thought Wigan have had a year to forget, you obviously haven't heard the tale of woe from Blackpool.

Protests against the club's owners were frequent and culminated with a pitch invasion that forced their final match of the season against Huddersfield to be abandoned.

Fifty different players represented the Seasiders in the Championship. They equalled the lowest-ever points tally in the second tier and were relegated with six matches remaining.

BBC Radio Lancashire's Phil Cunliffe recalls: "This time last year, Blackpool were only able to name four subs for their opening fixture at Nottingham Forest. Manager Jose Riga's transfer plans lay in ruins.

"In contrast, new manager Neil McDonald has worked briskly, and kept a low profile, to recruit a completely new squad.

"It's hard to gauge if players such as Brad Potts, Colin Doyle and Jack Redshaw can halt the club's decline.

"But, just like his predecessor Lee Clark - another Wallsend-born former Newcastle midfielder - McDonald is strong-willed and determined to do well.

"When Clark succeeded Riga last October, he inherited a team that was resigned to losing every week. McDonald doesn't have that same problem and providing he can fulfil his aim of instilling a winning mentality, the Seasiders could do better than many people are predicting."

Getting to know you...

Paul Sturrock
Yeovil Town suffered relegation to League Two in Paul Sturrock's first game as manager

It's a manager's favourite threat: 'You're playing for your futures.' Well for Yeovil Town's players that has proved to be the case - with 15 new faces arriving at Huish Park during the summer.

"The last few games left a bitter taste in my mouth and it did cost a few people their jobs," Yeovil boss Paul Sturrock said of the club's relegation to League Two. "They showed a bad attitude and I couldn't stand for that."

All change at Yeovil Town

So how has Sturrock bonded his merry band of new signings? The answer - darts and dominoes.

The former Scotland international told BBC Points West: "When you sign 15 new players for the season, they don't know each other's names so it's quite important that they bond for team spirit.

"We took them to Columba for two or three days in a hotel there. We went to a charity night in my local pub and played darts and dominoes against the locals."

As well as trips to the pub, Sturrock has also turned the away dressing room into a games room, where his new arrivals have been getting to know each other.

"I'm working very hard on that side of it as it's important they want to play for each other as well as the club," added Sturrock. "Very few have played together before. Only five players were left at the club but it's been a whirlwind."

Listen to live Football League commentaries on BBC Radio 5 live, 5 live sports extra and BBC local radio throughout the season.

In addition, BBC Sport will be providing live text commentaries of selected Football League matches and written reports of every game in the Championship, League One and League Two.

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