EVEN without the summer involvement in a World Cup or European Championships (in the men’s game anyway), there has been plenty for North-East football fans to take in. Without a ball being kicked for the majority of the summer there has been criticism, praise, optimism and pessimism.

Which sets of supporters is in which camp does not require much working out. Now, though, the talk is over, the preparations complete and the new season is upon us. What do the next nine months hold for the region’s football fans?

One guarantee is contrasting fortunes. At whatever end of the football pyramid, there is no chance of all of the North-East’s teams doing well. That’s just a given, when does that ever happen?

But after a summer of change for many, and frustration for others, the challenges facing The Northern Echo’s clubs seem even greater this time around – and for different reasons. Let’s start at the top …

Newcastle United. If you have missed what has gone on this summer then where have you been? Rafa Benitez, the Spaniard everyone on Tyneside loved, has headed for the Chinese Super League riches having become frustrated with life under Mike Ashley.

The owner's decision to replace Benitez with former Sunderland manager, and boyhood-supporting Magpie, Steve Bruce didn’t go down well either, and now he faces having to make a blistering start to avoid greater tensions at St James’ Park.

How many fans will be at the first Premier League game of the season, with threats of boycotts hanging around, is unclear, but Bruce is desperate to succeed and he does tend to be well-liked by the players he has under his wing.

At Newcastle he has already had more money to spend than ever, smashing his previous record of £10m on Darren Bent when Ashley agreed to pay £40m for Brazilian Joelinton.

That will not be enough to keep Newcastle out of the bottom three, but Bruce knows how to keep teams up and with a little more tinkering on the transfer front then he might just be able to get his beloved Newcastle to perform better than some fans envisage.

And on to the Championship … Middlesbrough.

After seeing an end to the Premier League parachute payments, the club does have a similar feel to when Tony Mowbray took over. Money is tighter at the Riverside, so there is a change of philosophy and Jonathan Woodgate is the head coach responsible for implementing it.

There will be a younger and more adventurous feel about the way Boro play, but he has not had the money to bring in the sort of quality that his predecessors have.

It is largely last season’s squad with a sprinkling of fresh talent and the experienced heads of Stewart Downing and John Obi Mikel have been replaced by the likes of 21-year-olds Marcus Browne and Marc Bola.

It is a huge challenge and a big ask of Woodgate to take his first managerial post in such circumstances, but everyone has to start somewhere and he will have the backing from the boardroom and given the time to turn Middlesbrough around.

On another rung down the ladder, in League One, Sunderland’s summer didn’t go to plan initially either. The proposed takeover involving Mark Campbell didn’t materialise so the owner, Stewart Donald, was playing catch-up to secure Jack Ross the players he required.

In fairness, even if it took longer than Sunderland wanted, they have almost got there. Ross has been able to bring in players in the positions he wanted in the hope of making his team more solid at the back and dangerous in the final third.

Marc McNulty, before his move to Reading, was a goal-hungry striker capable of finding the net regularly and he will provide a strong alternative option to Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke.

Sunderland have not had much money to spend either, and the focus has been on moving on high earners Lee Cattermole and Bryan Oviedo.

Even if it might not seem exciting when big fees aren’t paid, Sunderland should still have enough within their ranks to secure a top-two spot at the second time of asking. This is an even bigger season for Ross, and with one year remaining on his contract that he can’t afford to start slowly.

These days you have to look down into non-league for more North-East football and Hartlepool United appear to be shaping up well for another National League campaign.

Craig Hignett, like Bruce, is always well liked by the players he has working under him and this summer he has changed the face of the Pools squad. They have looked bright in pre-season, possess exciting talents such as Luke Molyneux and fit-again Luke Williams, and should be capable of pushing for promotion.

Then another step down there will be County Durham neighbours Spennymoor Town and Darlington doing battle again in National League North, a division which also includes Gateshead, Blyth and title favourites York City.

While the Quakers have gone through change again after the appointment of former Middlesbrough striker Alun Armstrong, Spennymoor will be there or thereabouts again under the experienced and long-serving Jason Ainsley.

Armstrong will be looking for Darlington to gel quickly after making a number of changes, including bringing six players with him from Blyth, while Ainsley has a huge and strong squad at his disposal so will expecting another play-off place at least.