Back in business just a little after everyone else, it’s the top division of non-league football in England, es ist der NATIONAL LEAGUE.
But speaking of business, Macclesfield Town are sadly out of it, with the club having folded mere weeks ago. Between this, their debts, and their stadium being on sale on RightMove, they’ve got some way to go to recover, but here’s hoping the fans can unite and rise from the ashes. I couldn’t find any information on a phoenix club or anything, but the wound is still fresh, and this club will ride once more, for Keith Alexander, for Steve Burr, and for all Silkmen, those seasoned, and those still to come. See ya soon.
So with a void, the National League commences with 23 teams, and it commences TODAY, the day of our lord Saturday 3rd October in the year 2020. Amid conflict and uncertainty, these lads and lasses will bring their clubs up to the altar of competition and do the only thing they know: play.
I’m sure they know how to do other things, actually.
BUT FOR TODAY, they won’t need to.
FOR TODAY, it’s all about the game.
TODAY, the marathon begins.
Who’s got what it takes to reach the Football League?
Let’s check ’em out.
Well, they’re top to start the season, but it’ll be a helluva task to keep ‘emselves there. The departures of Alefe Santos and their 19/20 player of the season Ethan Chislett will hurt them, but smart sales (the likes of Connor Shields) have given ’em a bit of moolah to play with. Josh Rees has come in with proven talent at this level, and Jamie Sendles-White brings football league experience, but bringing Ross McCormack in is a coup. The Scot has always known where the back of the net is and he could be vicious at this level.
They’ve replaced, but it’ll still be a grind; they’ll need to hope Ross can adapt with the likes of Mitch Walker and Mo Bettamer.
Keeping hold of Hulme and Hancock has been massive, and the only departure that royally weakens them is centre-back James Jones joining Barrow. The vastly experienced Ritchie Sutton will replace JJ, and he’ll be rocking up along with Matty Kosylo and Max Clayton, the former with bags of National League experience and skill for days, the latter with unfulfilled potential and just waiting to roar back onto the scene post-injury.
The Robins have been smart and have negated any damage well. They’ll gel and there’ll be no need to strive beyond survival for their first season back.
Lots of losses and lots of big losses at The Hive, not least their manager, Darren Currie, who’s been replaced by former Hereford boss, Peter Beadle. And he’ll need to serve this squad a big pick-me-up cos a lot of long-serving lads have shipped out. Akinola, Vilhete, Santos have gone, along with Sweeney, Tutonda, Sparkes, Coulthirst, McCallum, the list goes on. Signings have been shrewd (specifically Matt Preston), but without that Hive crowd behind them, The Bees are gonna be longer gelling without a real kick in the arse from the new gaffer.
Tall order to repeat last season’s play-off run for what is essentially a new team. Look out for a lot of youth players being given the chance to shine.
With the retirement of Ricky Shakes and the departure of Tyrone Marsh, Wood have lost two wingers who have lit up the National League in recent seasons. But even with them gone, Luke Garrard can still boast one of the strongest squads in the division. The likes of Zaine Francis-Angol and Shaq Coulthirst join Femi Ilesanmi and Kabongo Tshimanga, and with the brilliant Nathan Ashmore between the sticks, Boreham Wood have kept what’s made them great and added what’s gonna make them fantastic.
After years of being on the precipice, this lot could finally have all it takes.
A mid-table finish last time out didn’t see a lot of stand-out performances. That could be same again, but with a positive slant. Neil Smith can cultivate a real tight squad here, or it could just be fire-fighting. With the experience of Byron Webster and Liam Trotter coming down from the football league, they can shore up an inconsistent squad. Add in the underrated Kory Roberts as well as James Alabi (who has shown he can perform at this level), and existing players such as Frankie Raymond, Billy Bingham and Ben Williamson can move up a gear.
Shoring up takes a bit of time, so we can probably expect the same again here from The Ravens.
Years of hurt might be coming to an end off the pitch, but it’ll be a while before that translates to on-pitch. For every spark they’ve shown in their spell at this level, there’s been a douse to put it out. Case and point; Mike Fondop, responsible for a lot of their vim last season, has been released.
John Pemberton needs to galvanise this squad and get these players playin’ again, cos right now, even an improvement on last season’s 20th placed finish looks very optimistic.
DAGENHAM & REDBRIDGE
Disappointing season last time out for The Daggers, but with Daryl McMahon coming in and having a while to implement his style and ethos on the team, there should be a solidity. Their transfer activity has seen them weaken their immediate opposition, and the loss of Manny Onariase and Liam Gordon might hit them hard in terms of talent, but they have brought in reinforcements aplenty. With goals hard to come by last season (2nd lowest scorers in the division after bottom-placed Chorley), recent seasons all-star Paul McCallum should do the job, and with Darren McQueen (who was banging them in for near-promoted Dartford last season) also on board, goals should flow for McMahon’s men.
A solid restrengthening afoot, the bricks are back in from where they’d fallen out.
Last season’s close-but-no-cigar might be as close as they get to a cigar for some time. They might be lucky to get twos on a Richmond. The players key in last season’s ride have gone; that’s Inih Effiong, Kevin Lokko, Jai Reason, as well as the promising Nassim L’Ghoul. Meanwhile, key arrivals have been near nonexistent, leaving Andy Hessenthaler with a tiny squad that could easy burn out. Akheem Rose’s arrival could be a bright spark, if only for the reason that without him, they’d have just enough players for a match-day squad.
Busy players in times that don’t suit it could see their campaign go tumbling off the white cliffs.
They always come close to threatening, but rarely seem to actually threaten, bar their heroics in the playoffs a few seasons back. Ben Strevens has taken a few chances with signings from lower leagues, but the highlight will be Pierce Bird, the 21-year-old who had a very promising season for Notts County in the National League last time out. First choice ‘keeper Max Stryjek has gone, but with Ross Flitney still about and the signing of Joe McDonnell, The Spitfires can retain their strength at the back, especially if Joe Partington can continue to perform and Alex Wynter comes back.
Strength maintained, expect Eastleigh to push on, but perhaps not immediately up.
I dannae think many folk expected Pete Wild and his boys to do as well as they did last season. They might have fallen in the first stage of the play-offs, but the fact that they were there at all was a surprise to many. The achievements of The Shaymen are a real testament to Wild, who has clearly created an environment where these lads can blossom, and some of the thanks should go to his predecessor Jamie Fullarton as well.
They’ll be hoping for same again, but since they’ve essentially had to trade their whole eleven for another one, this might just be a season they’ll have to class as preparation, but even with the player change, the potential remains.
A lot of promise is promised each season by The Monkey Hangers, but I dun’t reckon they should make it this time round. A strong core remains, but a lot of departures will hit hard. Luke James and Gime Toure leaving for the Cumbrians in the football league dampen attacking prospects, and the replacements for them, in fact, replacements and additions in any position come with little fanfare. I’m sure some will prove us wrong (Rhys Oates and Mason Bloomfield specifically could excel), but ‘Pool will be heavily relying on the long-serving Ryan Donaldson and Nicky Featherstone to keep on serving.
Challinor’s lads could struggle to keep up.
KING’S LYNN TOWN
Champions of the National League North commence this season with a strikingly similar squad to last time out. Ian Culverhouse has kept a hold of all his lads, even re-signing Simon Power on loan from Norwich. The big retention from a glance would appear to be, and certainly is, Adam Marriott, the striker who bagged just under half of The Linnets’ goals last season. There’s plenty of experience in the squad, and Jamar Loza adds to a flourishing dynamicism that could surprise some of the more established sides.
There’s plenty to be optimistic about for the ten year olds, but if they ain’t tight, those rose-coloured specs are gonna be smashed from day dot.
Survival by a game is not something Alan Devonshire will want to repeat, though a downwards trajectory has looked likely season after season. The departure of Danny Whitehall, arguably last season’s only shine, hurts, and with a replacement in Nathan Blissett who hasn’t produced consistent form at this level, their frontline looks solvable. Their back line stands strong though; Manny Parry and Shaun Donnellan have signed from Woking, Dan Sparkes joins from Barnet, and they will join Seth Nana Twumasi and the re-loaned Taye Ashby-Hammond in a firm defence.
If it ain’t gonna be a repeat for The Magpies, that might be the worst news.
From one set of Magpies to another, and this is an angry, determined, dangerous flock. Whether it’s due to their financial status or just size as a club, they’ve been able to retain a lot of their players and have the largest in the division, still containing the stars of last season like Connell Rawlinson, Sam Slocombe, and Enzio Boldewijn (Alec, Stephen, Daniel, and William’s brother). The players that left were ones that they could spare and the players they’ve signed have quality of the National League and above, or promise from further afield. To bring in the likes of Adam Chicksen and Casper Sloth as squad players for your National League side is ballsy and displays intent that may prove killer.
Didn’t even mention that Neal Ardley was in charge. After two and a half seasons at Notts, he’s got a weapon.
Last season’s bright start petered out, and it led to the dismissal of Tim Flowers and the appointment of James Shan. Shan’s job now is to maintain the obvious quality of the squad, and the good running of the club goes a long way in helping. Retaining a number of the side from last season (Jamie Reckord is a big loss), Shan has added dangerously on both sides of the coin. Signings that could be dangerous, but are risky: Adam Rooney, Cameron Coxe, Stephen Gleeson, Joe Sbarra. They could all switch on at this level, but bar Rooney, have not had experience of it. If this was a video game it would dictate success, but the realities of adapting in the gateway to the football league doesn’t rely on overall and five-star skill moves.
A risk that could result in a similar finish via a different route.
Omitted from the play-offs last season only on PPG, The Hatters had plenty to build on. But the necessity to downsize hit them as much as any other. The reliable Elliot Osborne and Liam McAlinden, as well as the promising Festus Arthur have left, but their nose for free transfers in has been nothing short of exceptional. Centre-back James Jennings is coming off a few brilliant seasons at this level with Wrexham, Connor Jennings has previously shone in the National League and above, John Rooney was last season’s National League Player of the Season, and Ryan Croasdale was a constant performer for Fylde over the past two seasons. That’s a core right there, and the majority of Stockport’s remained.
Jim Gannon has sniffed out some fine signings and he might have just caught the sweet aroma of the football league…
Well, I reckoned there’d be some poaching gaan on in Sutton over the Summer. Nah, no-one dared. Even the one key player who did leave (Tom Bolarinwa) was out of contract and went into free agency. It’s hard to imagine the likes of Harry Beautyman, Ben Goodliffe, or Craig Eastmond flew under anyone’s radar. They won’t care though, they’ve got the squad they want, they’ve added Tobi Sho-Silva for good measure, and Matt Gray should be pretty content with how his Sutton side’ll go.
They’ve lost their big man, their hoss boss, their sweet momma; Jamie Reid has moved on from Gary Johnson and The Gulls. Not to worry, Torquay fans! The back-up is here and though you’d obviously prefer Batman over Robin, time could tell that these replacements are Superman. Josh Umerah, Danny Wright and Andrew Nelson have all come to vie for the spot and it might be the only position of worry for Johnson, who has cemented across the board after last season’s disappointing mid-table finish. Connor Lemonheigh-Evans has signed permanently and Fraser Kerr has joined from league rivals Hartlepool, so the side from The Riviera can hope for improvement, even if they don’t find themselves at the top of the pack.
The side that dominated the National League South last season have doubled down on the boys that did the job for ’em. Ross Lafayette and Dennon Lewis should be leading the line, and if Emmanuel Moses wants a slice as well, their venomous frontline will be be full of constant threat. The addition of Dan Wishart will strengthen them necessarily at the back, but it’s the impressive Algerian Adel Gafaiti’s signing that could really big The Stones up at the back.
Dean Brennan is still fairly fresh as manager, but he’s got a side that even off the lead can strike fear, and goals.
Brian Stock’s got a feckin’ job on his hands here. His first season in senior management with a side promoted via play-offs to one of the most competitive leagues in the world (they’re all competitive). He’s got himself a striker with some guile in Cody Cooke, and Myles Anderson and Alefe Santos bring experience to a squad in dire need of it. The Josh party (McQuoid and Wakefield) are gonna have to lead The Terras into the jungle, but everyone in Weymouth is gonna need a full heart to see them out the other side.
A baptism of fire for Stock and his team.
Desperate several major departures (Jake Hyde, Manny Parry, Shaun Donnellan), this is still a strong side that can build on their excellent return to the fifth tier last season. The Cards still have Ben Gerring, Kane Ferdinand and Max Kretzschmar at their disposal, have players looking to build on the previous promising season (Dave Tarpey, Matt Jarvis) and have added promising names (Sam Cartwright, Tommy Block, Connor Hall, Saul Shotton). Alan Dowson will be looking up and even if it’s just the rung above, it’s a little closer to the summit.
Alright, here it is. Paddy’s Pub F.C., I mean… Deadpool Athletic. Wait… Wrexham. That’s it, Wrexham. Trading JJ Hooper, Luke Summerfield, James Jennings, and Jake Lawlor for Fiacre Kelleher, Mac, Jamie Reckord, Kwame Thomas, James Horsfield, Green Lantern, Adi Yussuf, and Jordan Ponticelli is a pretty feckin’ sweet deal.
Seriously, lark, even if the Rob McElhenney/Ryan Reynolds takeover story was just a rumour, it’s a big thing for Wrexham. The fact that it’s true, is huge. Wrexham have become a scalp, a big deal, they have become… Golden Gods.
The Red Dragons will have a pep in their step and with cracker signings joining a cracker squad, Dean Keates and his boys could find themselves in, or at least near, the winner’s circle.
A Summer of change after a disappointing exit in the play-off eliminator for The Glovers. They did well to finish in 4th, but when they looked flat, they were proper pancake, like. So Dazza Sarll has gone full overhaul, drafting out the likes of Myles Hippolyte and Tom Bradbury while bringing in Jimmy Smith from Crawley, Josh Staunton from Halifax, and (re-loaning) Adam Smith from Forest Green. This has left a svelte, efficient squad that can go on any area on the pitch.
Even if it leads to a matching finish, they’ll be more prepared for an eliminator than last time.
— — — —
Well thar she blows, and here’s a complete run-down of my predics:-
1. Notts County
2. Stockport County
3. Boreham Wood
4. Yeovil Town
6. Sutton United
8. Halifax Town
9. Solihull Moors
13. Dagenham & Redbridge
14. Torquay United
15. Hartlepool United
18. Aldershot Town
19. Dover Athletic
21. Maidenhead United
22. King’s Lynn Town
What a season we gon’ have.
And as we watch week in, week out, sad that we can’t be there, but happy that this exists at all, we’ll raise a tinny, or a bovril if you’re driving, and a steak slice to Macc Town, those ever-so-silky Silkmen who ruled the division just a few years ago. Thanks for the memories and we’ll see thee doon the road.
For the twenty-three left…
May the best team win.
Keep it streets ahead,