Sun shines on Big Sam
There are only two days of guaranteed sun and a bright outlook in English football. Both the FA Cup final and the opening day of the league season always begin in short-sleeve order and full of cheer. While the former is usually a send-off into the summer, the latter is a time for fresh starts and new hopes before autumn and reality bite. For some teams, it never gets any better than those moments before the big kick-off.
Over in East London, a place just getting used to not being the centre of the sporting world, West Ham United were celebrating their regained status as a Premier League club while Aston Villa fans could cherish being under new management.
Paul Lambert was already etched in the good books for the mere achievement of not being Alex McLeish, his ill-fitting predecessor. The chequebook has hardly been opened wide by owner Randy Lerner but Lambert's chosen style of play is not the reductive tedium that McLeish too often employed in last season's narrow escape from relegation. That may be enough to buy Lambert time though a McLeish-ian result away from home, in which his team never looked like scoring, already leaves him having something to prove.
Villa Park last season was a cauldron of apathy and disinterest. Lambert's public pronouncements are hardly likely to be inspirational, as his is a studied dourness but his Norwich and Colchester teams played enterprising football. His successes in those Eastern reaches came through getting the best from players whose previous natural habitat had been League One; it was the case even last season with Norwich, so Villa, despite the club's recent period in the doldrums, represents a significant step-up in terms of personnel. This time, Lambert's task is to lift Premier League players to the levels they should be capable of. Should his group perform worse than last season, then the drop must surely beckon.
The early signs had been promising. "We're passing the ball, we're passing the ball, we're Aston Villa, we're passing the ball," sang the Villa fans in the first half as Lambert's team staged an impressive spell of possession football. Wherever Alex McLeish was - and one sighting had him in a pub in Fulham - his ears must have been burning.
Yet a neat passing game does not guarantee success, as Brendan Rodgers was finding out at the Hawthorns, and especially if it is not sustained. After weathering that aesthetic storm, West Ham's sheer muscle pulled them back into the game and soon gave them the lead. Kevin Nolan's strike was straight from the Sam Allardyce playbook. A back-post ball came off a Villa defender to Ricardo Vaz Te, and the skipper made a typical late run to score. Referee Mike Dean delayed the award but eventually overruled his assistant's flag. The evergreen Allardyce plan had produced its first goal of the season.
Allardyce did not begin 2012-13 with even nearly so much goodwill as Lambert, despite getting the job of promotion from the Championship done last season. The self-appointed Academy of Football has often been an uneasy fit for a manager who does little to hide his conservative methods. He may be a modernist deep into sports science but he can never quite shake the image of being a bluff Northerner - despite being raised in the Midlands - who prefers an agricultural style of play.
The idea that 'Big Sam' will never be a hostage to sweeping change is furthered by his reliance on regular lieutenants. Jussi Jasskelainen, at 37, began in goal to add to other graduates from the Allardyce finishing school in Matt Taylor, Vaz Te and Nolan in the starting line-up.
Solidity and reliability are key watchwords. Flair is low down the list. When last in the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers, Allardyce honed his art. Rovers made it to 50 points in his last full season, despite scoring few goals and rarely winning away. If any prediction is to be made at this early stage then it is that pattern that will be followed by this West Ham team. For how long that remains acceptable is the question.
Like Villa fans, West Ham want to be entertained. The uneasiness of the relationship between fans and manager is likely to persist even allowing for the garnering of a vital home win. And this is a club that has good PR in mind, and for a good reason too.
If the Allardyce brand of football is unlikely to make them media darlings, then the Hammers are sure to be in the news for some time to come. Beyond the Premier League, West Ham's is an Olympian dream. Visible from the top of the stands and from the tube when heading west to Upton Park is the Olympic Park in Stratford. After interminable wranglings over the last two years, their future tenancy is by no means secure but West Ham as a club are clearly keen to associate themselves with the Olympics. Rowing silver medallist Mark Hunter, whose on-screen tears had the nation misty-eyed a fortnight ago was introduced to fans before kick-off, while boxing gold medallist Nicola Adams' winning smile beamed out at half-time.
It was a reminder that there is a world outside football, a game cast into the shadows of late. Nevertheless, football is here to stay for nine months. In post-match, the old routines were being trotted out. "There were lots of positives to take from it," said Lambert. "You pick yourself up and go again."
"Delighted to be back," was the Allardyce verdict. And we will all be back for more.