How’s It Gonna End? — National League 22/23
There’s something in the air down here. It sure as shit ain’t spreading from the top down, nah, it’s coming from the very depths, from the dirt, it’s whispering and it’s saying that it ain’t gonna lie down no more. That just because it’s on the floor does not mean it can be stepped on. Heat rises. And what’s down here is spicy.
And we’re back to twenty-four teams! HOO-RAH!
I like to look at the National League, and I like to challenge myself to predict, something that I’ve made look reasonably difficult, just to mimic the difficulties the league itself has been having.
My scores in the past two seasons I’ve attempted have been thus:-
Scoring is based on the difference between my predicted finishes and the actual finishes added together. For example, if I predict Wealdstone to finish 16th but they actually finish 7th, that would be -9 off my score. Cracker.
I’ve got a groove of knocking forty off my score each year at the moment, and a -50 would be positively tremendous, but with that air a’changing, and with the correct number of sides back in the fray, are there a couple of twists and turns no-one will see coming?
There always is.
And it makes it all the harder to predict the answer to the question…
Just how is the 22/23 National League gonna end?
All change for a Shots side who’ve struggled to really keep the motor running in recent seasons. Sparse successes haven’t inspired hope, but now, change can signal just that. Established talents like Lokko and Kinsella might be out, but relegated Weymouth has been pillaged for three of their finest names, and Woking and Bromley have been weakened as Inih Effiong and Joe Partington have departed for Aldershot, respectively.
All of this and more! The acquisition of Klass is a minor coup, and the signing of Justin Amaluzor is daring and a great omen for the future. Molesley has guys he knows and he’s got a feel for the club, and while I don’t think they’re gonna trouble the upper echelons, this could be a team finally starting to come together.
The departures of Dan Mooney and Josh Hancock will hurt, especially as it came to a league rival, but the Alt-options have so many sunny individuals that the rain ain’t gonna be anywhere near their parade. Talent from divisions up, as well as league stand-outs from last season (Ross Barrows could really show up) further solidify a side cementing themselves in the division, and while the world ain’t gonna set on fire, it’ll be quite a bit brighter.
The Bees have raided here, and it felt pretty justified. They lost a lot of big names to rivals, so they went back two-fold, stocking up on half a team’s worth of players. They’ve provided a haven for a few players from a level above, and with Dean Brennan taking the role permanently and having a pretty full season as well as a whole summer, Barnet can kick on and execute a gameplan with their old style adaptation. Once again, this won’t be a team threatening the high-rollers, but it’ll be a big step forward.
I’m not sure how they don’t have the bluest of balls. Maybe they do.
Every season they seem primed to get back into the beef of the play-offs, but they seem to peter out and drop right off. Then they have to release a load of guys, replace them, and go again, with a different, but still slim, squad. Clifton, Mafuta, Comley, and the two Smiths were big squad members, and though Payne, Kelly-Evans, Williams, and Sousa fill the gaps pretty exceptionally, it can’t help but be noticed that it’s the same story once more. They’ll need to do a lot to prove that it’s not gonna be a repeat, and while I hope they can, I dunno if they will.
I’m not really sure how these guys keep attaining good finishes. They do have a great philosophy, and like Boreham Wood, their squad remains svelte yet superb. They’ve added gently and Adam Marriott from Barnet looks the standout, joining an accomplished strike force, but it could come down to simply being outgunned at the end of the day. More of the same once again — advancement needed or they’ll be passed by. And no, I don’t mean by one place. Then again, if they do that every season…
A few signings to replace a veritable slew might actually work out. They crumbled as time went on last season; Rowe leaving under a shadow led to a Paul Cook return, but they couldn’t triumph away from there, instead scratching and whipping too early. Despite the aforementioned slew, there’s still a slew of promise there, including that mysterious untapped potential (Branden Horton, especially) just waiting to fly. Cook can control this to the right place and I’m expecting a calmer and more composed set of Spireites.
DAGENHAM & REDBRIDGE
Seem really ready to kick on under McMahon. Though Will Wright will really hurt in that departure column, he wasn’t what made this team as they threatened to invade the play-offs last season — that power, that strength is still there, and it is that force that will see them push everyone this time out. They’ll refuse to go away and they’ll agitate before knocking you out as they compete with the very best.
A little spring cleaning has come with some major talents from a division down as they look to bring that sheen to the highest level outside of the EFL. That step remains one of the biggest and though they’ve assembled all-stars, they’ll be looking up at them more than a few times come the end of matches. It ain’t doom though. Dorking can escape that pack and get out atop it with their fire, but everyone will need to be secure in what they’re doing.
Last season’s gentle pitter-patter into the near-doldrums of the table has resulted in their player of the season departing, and a host of players mildly lacking in recent league experience coming in. The messages seem good, and the confidence seems high, especially within the existing squad — standouts McDonnell and Whitehall have remained — but other signs point to a mish-mash, a squad without shape or purpose who will need to stretch every fibre just to improve on last season’s disappointing finish, and don’t look too capable of it.
As they came up, I would’ve called them the promoted side best-placed to hassle the higher-ups. As we stand now, stars have fled to what could be called more stable ground and left a job in their place. The core at Gateshead is strong enough to see it out, but of course, it doesn’t help. They’ll see it out and in the long run, it’ll be a good thing as they endure one more hardship on the ascension mission.
I don’t think they’ve been as picked apart as I thought they would be. It wasn’t wounded gazelle on the Serengeti levels, but it was still vultures circling.
But rookie hotseater Chris Millington has done a pretty stellar job of selecting the incoming, and while I ain’t seeing repeats of last season, he’s certainly stopped The Shaymen falling off that cliff that we’ve seen ’em teeter on the edge of not so long since. But their aim has changed since then, and the need for enduring talent will grow, so they mayn’t be happy with a finish outside the seven.
The most unpredictable team in the division.
Their big man up top is gone, but some under-the-radar froot signings will cover a lot of arses. They’re not gonna threaten, I say unconfidently, but that goes for both ends of the table. There might be a slight flirtation with the lower side, but they’ll pull clear with time to go. They drive each other on too much to drop out.
They’ll shine in spots, but those spots will also get shown up, and exposed, and displayed to the world. I can see this being one of those seasons where the bright sparks head off in January and that just kinda condemns them before a fight-back can really begin. They’re certainly not without heart, and there’s obvious drive in their ranks that mightn’t need changing out, but the stiffness will be exploited and doom them.
Sam, Wootton, and Roberts call it a day at Notts County, but Luke Williams does not beat around the bush, bringing in Langstaff, Scott, and Austin to prove themselves at this level. This team is never weak, and they will always threaten, and I bet, if they remained in this division for the next century, they would always be on the play-offs, unless they didn’t wanna be. I’m gonna call for this one to go so feckin’ tight, but to be play-offs again, and of course they’ll get knocked out in the play-offs. But it’ll be fun until that bit!
It’s not quite an all-star side, but that’s still a dangerous position. A club with a fresh ideology that threatens by name and then snipes on the pitch, they’ve got some top league experience (Hogan, Maynard) as well as vital experience (Porter, Clarke, Hogan again), and aggression to work off. The departures were always coming and that won’t weigh on them as they gruff and rough their way into serious contention at the first time of asking.
I feel like I should be seeing good things in this squad, but I ain’t. I feel like Keith Hill should be inspiring should be able to inspire and guide the team to a dandy finish, but he’s had a long time in the hot seat and could inspire very, very little. I think wrong releases have been made, limp signings put through, and while the funk might be alleviated slightly as the pressure of one relegation lifts, another could easily begin to loom. I’m seeing an early managerial departure unfortunately, as Scunthorpe do this season what Southend did last.
It feels like they know what they’re doing now. They know the goal, they’ve suckled at the teat, and now they wanna pig out on it. Easier said than done, mind. It ain’t gonna be plain sailing to get that seat at the table back, but they know the formula, even if they didn’t write it down. They’ll recall dribs and drabs and it might not be perfect, but it’ll be as close as they can to it. The philosophy will drive them forward, and it’ll be another crack at the same goal.
Cleared out some cobwebs, come to terms with the league, found a caring and trustworthy manager, and ready to pounce. They’ve also seen a dependable player or two depart, but that comes with the territory — they themselves have swung their name around to land a few catches. This will be a far more solid and consistent season for The Shrimpers and though they’ve the propensity to be caught out by stronger teams, they can weave their way around and wrap their oily grip on that last play-off spot, I can just see it.
Biiiiit of a gut punch to Gary Johnson’s pressing-on plans when Lewis, Lemonheigh-Evans, and Little all leave before anything can get started. The Gulls don’t feel less solid because of that, but they feel less shiny, less ready. Even with the addition of Brett McGavin, who looks set to be a breakout star, there’s nothing pushing this team to the stars for me. They ain’t gonna drown either, but bobbing along won’t be what GJ envisioned when he bought the boat.
Since Wealdstone came up, they have just been quietly going about their business. Sure, they came within one of conceding triple digits in their first season, but since then, they have steadily progressed, and I do mean progressed, not consolidated. The fact that their players are now moving onwards and upwards into the EFL is a great testament to their recruitment, and I think they’ve knocked it out the park again as they’ve added some much-needed league experience to the ranks as well as some more promise. The progress is still gonna be mighty gradual, but slow and steady… Well… It’s not gonna win the race in this instance, but it’s not gonna lose it either.
Woking freak me out. I don’t really get ’em. Last season especially, I didn’t understand what they were trying to do. It often seemed as if they were actively trying to play a game kinda similar to football, but not football. This season, they did another freaky thing when they sold their entire team. They then replaced their entire team with pretty good players. Sure, I might be exaggerating, but I might not be. Honestly, they could win the whole feckin’ thing.
No they couldn’t. But they could finish in like a single-digit position. I could also believe them finishing anywhere between 10th and somehow 25th. They intrigue me in the worst way. Their ground should be called The Uncanny Valley. There is something just off about them, as if they come from a mirror dimension. I am putting them bottom of the table because I want to be at rest, but I fear it may make them come for me.
They can’t really afford not to go up.
Nah, they can. But they won’t want to. And I think they will. Law of averages and all that. I’m not seeing anyone really stepping up to poke ’em like Stockport did last season. Once they get on a tear again, they’ll be cuttin’ through folk left and right; and even though they’re doing that thing where they stock up on players from divisions above, they are also bringing in league experience, so they’re keepin’ their millions smart. At this point, they’re just a bit irresistible, and hungrier than ever before. Especially since the two teams that denied them ain’t here no mo’.
Some hefty exits leave a bitter taste, but you’ve also got some flashy signings that could go underrated with everything else gaan on. Malachi Linton’ll find a way to dash, and Ben Richards-Everton is a block of granite become jumping man.
Chris Hargreaves off the tele will have his job cut out though. This is not a side in a happy place and they looked to be going the wrong way when last they played. It’s gonna be a slog, and there might just be a rude ending yet, unless The Glovers can come off and really let loose. Cutting loose their place in the league seems more likely though.
Honestly, I was about ready to relegate York without really checking them out, but have you seen their squad? Their transfer activity? They look like a National League side. A confused one that’s wearing a blindfold, but a National League side all the same. If you spun a football club around and got it drunk while you did, and then asked them to make a National League side, this is what you’d get. There’s just a hollowness about them. But that’s just a fancy way of saying that they ain’t gonna win the thing. They’ll still do pretty good though. Sweet to have ’em back.
2. Notts County
3. Dagenham & Redbridge
4. Oldham Athletic
6. Solihull Moors
7. Southend United
8. Boreham Wood
10. Halifax Town
12. Torquay United
13. Scunthorpe United
14. York City
16. Aldershot Town
18. Maidenhead United
20. Dorking Wanderers
22. Yeovil Town
23. Maidstone United
Sock that to me, baby.
Altrincham seem a little high, but apart from that, I can feel it. Not that I can’t feel Altrincham pulling off 11th, but it does just hit me a bit wrong. BUT I’VE DONE IT NOW. It’s not like it matters anyways. I’ve just spouted a bit of bull that’s taken in like three of a billion factors that need accounting for when talking about how successful football teams are gonna be.
I hope the highlights are a bit more accessible this season. They used to be on YouTube, but then they stopped, or they did one a season or they would release it like eight weeks after the gameday. And then when I tried to watch them on BT-TV, they would show it about eight times in a week, but only one would work and if you set it to record the series, it would try to record each one and they would all fail, and the one that would work, it would record about five hours either side of the show as well, so I’d have to seek it out between some windsailing and the Malaysian Open squash tournament.
Worth it though, right?
Absolutely. Every second.
Such are the changing tides that this division can’t be predicted with any confidence, but that’s never stopped me before. (Yeah, it has).
I might not know how it’s gonna end, but I know I’m gonna have fun finding out.
That being said…
Is this how it’s gonna end?
I’ll find out somehow, with or without the help of modern television.
Keep it streets ahead,