My latest Matchday Adventure saw me venture into West Yorkshire, and to The Shay in particular. Read the rest of this entry
Right now, Kurtis Guthrie is the toast of The New Lawn. With five goals already this campaign, the Jersey-born forward is skilful, powerful and regularly contributing vital goals for the current leaders of the National League. Having begun his career at Jersey club St. Clement, 22-year-old Guthrie has experienced time in the Football League with Accrington Stanley, promotion from the Conference South with Welling United, and last season helped Forest Green Rovers to the highest finish in their 126 year existence. And this time, they’re aiming to go even further… Read the rest of this entry
Tonight sees some big games involving teams at both ends of the Vanarama National League. Read the rest of this entry
Dave Burin has been busy for us once again, this time chatting to former Bristol Rovers, Port Vale and Oxford United winger Lewis Haldane. Read the rest of this entry
The new season is almost here! It’s been a summer of football, with the World Cup in Brazil filling the void until the real business of the nonleague season begins again. Most teams are now at least two weeks and one game into their preseason programme, and attention begins to focus on the second weekend in August, and that first league game.
Managers (hopefully) have assembled the bulk of their squads by now, with just one or two additions to be made, probably based on performances in friendlies. Chairmen are hoping that their managers have used their given budgets wisely, building a group of players that can meet – and even exceed – the clubs’ ambitions and aims for the coming campaign.
As for us fans, well this is the time of the year we get to dream. Dream about promotion, a cup run, or even surviving relegation if deep down we know that’s the end of the table we are most likely to find ourselves for the duration of the season. Whatever hopes and dreams we have, inevitably some will be met, some will be exceeded, and some will fall short.
Which brings me to my predictions for the season ahead. Those of you who listen to the Non League Podcast (episode 41 specifically) will be aware who I’ve tipped for glory. However, I thought I would put them in writing.
The Conference Premier is arguably the hardest division to get out of at any level of the game, and is a fascinating ecosystem. Clubs on their way up through the leagues come face to face with teams going very much in the opposite direction. It is always nigh on impossible to predict who will win the title, and with it the solitary automatic promotion place to the Football League. It is even harder to try and say who will finish in the playoffs or get relegated. So much can – and invariably does – happen on and off the pitch over the course of the season, that it ends up making a mockery of most “experts” predictions! Mine will probably be no different!
My choice for the winners of nonleague’s top flight are Wrexham. Like last season’s champions Luton Town, they have been in the division for a few years now, having fallen through the League Two trapdoor in 2008. Manager Kevin Wilkin succeeded Andy Morrell in March, and has set about assembling a squad he thinks will take the club up. They have strengthened their attack ahead of the new season, bringing in Louis Moult from Nuneaton Town and Connor Jennings from Scunthorpe United. Both are excellent strikers at this level, and if they can form a good partnership straight away, it could spell trouble for the rest of the division. Add ths to an already decent squad, and for me it’s the Welsh club who will be celebrating next April.
However, there will be plenty of competition for The Dragons. Barnet, Forest Green Rovers, Lincoln City, Grimsby Town, Braintree Town and Kidderminster Harriers among others will all have their own promotion ambitions (although internal wrangling sat Kiddie could destabilise the club). And then there are the two clubs relegated from League Two. Bristol Rovers and Torquay United have come down purely because of their results on the pitch, rather than points deductions and financial difficulties. However, it has been nearly a quarter of a century since a side won promotion the season after relegation from the Football League (thanks to @essexfootie for the research help). Darlington achieved the feat in 1990, two years after Lincoln City were the first club to do it (the season after being the first club to be relegated from the Football League. So the task is an historically difficult one for The Gas and The Seagulls.
So, as usual the Conference Premier looks like it will be a very strong division, and a very tough one to win. I’ve picked Wrexham as my winners, but have also named another eight who will be looking to prove me wrong. And there will always be a team who surprise everyone (like FC Halifax last season).
Am I way off? Who do you predict will take the title? And who do you think will struggle this season? Get in touch and let me know. You can tweet me (@undertheleague), or email (email@example.com) and Facebook (facebook.com/undertheleague). Or you can leave a comment on this article.
David Hockaday left Conference Premier club Forest Green Rovers this week by mutual consent after four years in charge. The club has gone through an awful run of form recently, losing their last four league games, and seven of their last eight. Not great for a side many – including me – had tipped to win the league this time around.
That preseason expectation was justified on the first day of the Conference Premier season, as Rovers thumped Hyde 8-0. However, things have not gone well since. Only four more wins have followed in the subsequent fifteen games, and with the club languishing in sixteenth place and only four points above the relegation zone, the decision has been made for the club and Hockaday to part ways and move on.
This was Hockaday’s first management position, so in reality he has probably done well to hold on to it for four years. Rovers haven’t always been title favourites during his spell at The New Lawn. In fact, they finished in the relegation places in his first season in charge, but were saved by a double demotion for Salisbury City. The following season saw Rovers survive on goal difference, despite a final day defeat at Tamworth. Two tenth placed finishes followed, and backed by Dale Vince’s green energy millions, they were installed as favourites this season. With that kind of pressure, it was always going to be a tough job for any manager.
So what next for Rovers? As mentioned earlier, the club are just four points above the relegation places, and are massively underachieving. Their squad is incredible for this level, boasting the likes of Andy Mangan, Matt Barnes-Homer, Magno Vieira and England C international midfielder James Norwood. They should be a lot further up the table than they are.
This brings us to the next manager. There are some very good managers being linked with the vacancy. According to oddschecker, John Coleman is the favourite, with Terry Brown, Micky Mellon and Martin Allen among the chasing pack. Fans would probably be happy with any of those four, but there are a couple of interesting names further down the list. Gary Seward, Hockaday’s assistant and current caretaker manager is among the pack sitting at 33-1, where you can also find Jim Harvey, Rob Scott and Sammy McIlroy. The most intriguing for me is Nigel Clough. The former Burton Albion and Derby County boss is out at 40-1, but it could be just the sort of challenge he is looking for.
Personally, I would err on the new manager being John Coleman. He has enjoyed a sixteen year management career at just three clubs – Ashton United, Accrington Stanley and Rochdale. He spent nearly thirteen years at Stanley and is their longest serving manager ever. He is also the an who restored their Football League status for the first time in forty four years, winning three titles on the way from Northern Premier League to League Two. He might not be the immediate first choice of some Rovers fans, who might be after a “sexier” name, but I feel he would do an excellent job at The New Lawn, and could well be the first man to lead them into the Football League.
The early summer transfer activity continues apace, and Forest Green Rovers are setting out an early marker as they look to establish themselves as one of the promotion favourites next season, signing two experienced and prolific non league strikers. Read the rest of this entry