In what may very well be the last time I inflict this punishment on myself, it is time to delve into the ever growing list of Non-League fan owned clubs plying their trade next season. Many of you will have been here before but a quick welcome to those fans at clubs like Grays Athletic, who now get to see their club take pride of place in the fan ownership family.
Right, we’re going from Step 6 all the way up to the Football League’s League 3, which for some reason hasn’t been incorporated into the Football League already and it still known as the National League. It’s largely good news stories off the field this season for many clubs and with the foundations in place, many teams will be looking to progress. So fully aware that whilst some clubs haven’t kicked off yet and others are well into their season, here we go…
Hinckley AFC – Midland Football League Division 1 – Step 6
Last season: 5th
Hinckley occupy one of the worst Step 6 leagues in the country. Whereas many Step 6 leagues offer two or three promotion places, Hinckley are in the unenviable position of competing for just one, which creates the bottlenecks we are more used to seeing at Steps 5 & 1.
Last season saw a first for the phoenix club, including an FA Cup entry which ended in them getting through to the 2nd qualification round. Sadly this season the club have been knocked out to Heanor Town, who finished 6th in the league above last season, meaning the focus this year will turn to the league. Off the field, a struggle is still in place to get back to their true home of Hinckley which is being thwarted by certain elements and in many of these cases, it takes several years to find a way home.
This season, short of yet another moneybags team popping in, I expect Bromsgrove Sporting to go up and as a club playing well under their level, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the league. Still, Hinckley will fancy being a little closer to making an impression on the league and a top 4 finish is in their sights.
City Of Liverpool FC – North West Counties Div 1 – Step 6
The first of several new entries to this list, City Of Livepool have been a long time coming, having been planning to join the league system for some time. Mercifully for them they enter at Step 6 of the NWC league and with two automatic promotion spots plus the play-offs, have plenty of chance to progress up the pyramid.
Regular reads of previous previews will note my scepticism for what happened at AFC Liverpool which gives me a little apprehension for this project, designed to be a club catering to both the Blue and Red halves of the city but the benefit of the doubt should be given for now. Currently they will be playing at Bootle but will need to find a ground actually within the City soon otherwise the legitimate question of why shouldn’t people just go and financially support Bootle or already established Non-League clubs will not have a good answer.
If they can secure somewhere in the city centre soon, then I think they can learn the lessons of AFC Liverpool’s mistakes and we could see some progression. If they can’t I don’t expect this project to survive long. We’ll get to see what sort of crowds they can pull in from Saturday and first season momentum might see them make the play-offs.
Peacehaven & Telscombe- Southern Combination Premier- Step 5
Last season: 24th Ryman League Div One South
Another new entry to this list, Peacehaven raised the £35,000 that was needed to enable the transition to fan ownership in June of this year. Having suffered back to back relegations and therefore falling into the nightmare trap of Step 5, Peacehaven may find the going tougher than expected. Still, a new dawn is on the cards and having ended too many defeats over the last 24 months, a chance to get back into winning ways and rebuild the foundations of a club must be taken as an opportunity rather than a challenge.
The facilities they have in place remain of Step 3 standard and the key challenge now will be to build on an average attendance that barely broke 100 over the last season. A return to winning ways and more community engagement could see the club prosper in a sustainable way from now on.
Prediction: Top Half
AFC Croydon Athletic – Southern Counties East League- Step 5
Last season: 11th
Their first season back at this level since reforming was a not too shabby 11th place finish, this season the aim will be to simply have more wins than losses in the league to allow them to improve on their position. This season also begins with a new Manager with Antony Williams, who has led the club in the four years it has reformed, moving onto pastures new to be replaced by Kevin Rayner.
Already out of the FA Cup, progress this season looks like pushing closer to the top six in the league and trying to improve attendances as they begin another season back at home in Thornton Heath.
Prediction: Top 10
Fisher FC- Southern Counties East League- Step 5
Last season: 17th
Two places but 17 points off the only relegation space, survival was really all that was needed to ensure one of the best stories in Non-League Football could come to fruition. That’s right, somehow, the mighty Fish have managed to swim all the way home. They’ve headed upstream from Dulwich back to the Surrey Docks in Bermondsey and have a safe and secure future, at the heart of their community, in a wonderful 3G facility.
So much credit needs to go to a whole host of people at Fisher FC but I’m going to single out Chairman Ben Westmancott for special praise, having kept the whole show on the road even when sometimes he must have wondered whether this would ever happen. Sadly, Fisher won’t be in the FA Cup this season due to the ground not being ready but that’s another treat the club can look forward to in the future.
With the League below now having a proper structure for promotion, Fisher FC will have to do better than last season if they want to survive but with their brilliant new facilities I think it would be a surprise if they aren’t competing for mid table positions come seasons end.
Saffron Walden Town FC – Eastern Counties League Prem- Step 5
Last season: 8th
A terrible start last year led to a strong finish and if Saffron can take that form into this season, they could be a decent dark horse to challenge for promotion but the gap last season to the top three was a huge 36 points so it may be too much of an ask.
Meanwhile, attendances remain some of the strongest in this division and could survive a level above whilst a win in this seasons FA Cup extra prelim round gives them a chance to have a decent little run in the cup. Overall, another season of steady progress beckons.
Prediction: Top 6
Newport (Isle of Wight) FC – Wessex League Prem – Step 5
Last season: 10th
After last season was effectively ruined by Salisbury going bust for the millionth time and reforming in the Wessex Prem, no other club really stood a chance to seriously compete. However, with Salisbury away for the next few years until their next liquidation, a chance has opened up for others to make an impact. A disappointing FA Cup defeat to lower league opposition is not a god omen but they will be setting their sights on finishing higher this time around.
Prediction: Top 8
Congleton Town- North West Counties Prem – Step 5
Last season: 6th
We head now into the North West Counties Prem Division where a whole host of fan owned clubs are plying their trade, beginning with Congleton Town FC. A very impressive 6th place finish last season could be bettered this season, with no club appearing to be able to throw oceans of cash at the league this time around.
Still, they were a long way off the top three the last time around and a 4-2 defeat in their first league match to fellow fan owned club 1874 Northwich may show the gap in class. A win in the FA Cup has set up another home tie against Farsley Celtic and how well Congleton can play against a team above them in the pyramid will be a good test of how far they can go this season.
Prediction: Top 6
AFC Liverpool- North West Counties Prem – Step 5
Last season: 17th
Avoiding relegation by nine points and with a limited fan base, I guess this wasn’t the vision for the club when it was first founded, being stillborn since the club decided to brand themselves as a little brother to Liverpool FC rather than as a clear defiant statement of what is wrong with top flight football.
Still, for some mysterious reason they are being tipped to do well and some players have been poached from Runcorn Linnets although the eyebrow raising signing is that of Shaun Tuck, best known for being racist on Twitter. How that fits in with the whole fan owned ethos I don’t know but whatever. There doesn’t appear to be any plan to get a ground of their own and regardless of how they do this season, in the long run they looked like they’ve missed their boat.
Prediction: Top 3
Runcorn Linnets – North West Counties Prem – Step 5
Last season: 2nd
Spare a thought for the unluckiest fan owned team you are likely to see. The last three seasons Runcorn Linnets have been pipped to the post, finishing as runners up to teams who bluntly poured oceans of cash at it and went up instead. They missed out by three points last season and this near miss led to popular Manager Joey Dunn walking away from the club, followed by a large exodus of players. How different the story could have been if they managed to go up last year as their attendances would see them manage at Step 3.
The reality is, a rebuilding job is on the cards and after an FA Cup defeat it is going to be one of the hardest seasons Linnets fans will have to endure for a long time.
Prediction: Top 10
1874 Northwich – North West Counties Prem – Step 5
Last season: 4th
Although it seems like they would still be a mile off challenging to the untrained eye, this season looks like being 1874’s best chance of escaping Step 5 they are likely to get for many years.
Colne have gone up, Linnets team has disintegrated and they finished just six points off Atherton Collieries in 3rd. If someone was going to buy the league they would have done it by now and the closest to that actually looks like AFC Liverpool. Off the pitch, 1874 Northwich made their biggest step yet to gaining a permanent home of their own by bringing in sports stadium designer Frank Whittle Partnership, to assist in the initial plans of envisioning what a home of their own would look like.
Having a real tangible idea of what the club wants not only is something they can shows councils and funding bodies but also galvanises a fanbase, who looked like they might have to get used to sticking around in Step 5 for many years to come. A win in the FA Cup followed by an emphatic 4-2 win against Congleton Town has laid down a marker for the rest of the league and the rest of the season. They really won’t get a better chance than this for a long time to come and to let it slip away would be as criminal as Jim Rushe’s recent conviction on intent to distribute Class A drugs.
Prediction: Top 2
AFC Rushden & Diamonds – Evo-Stik Div One South – Step 4
Last season: 5th Southern League Central (Play-Off finalists)
As if to show how quickly the fortunes in football can change and how precarious the existence of Non-League clubs is, the tale of the Diamonds is a good one. Last season, they agonisingly missed out on back to back promotions and ending up in the Southern Prem at Step 3. A 88th minute equalizer by St Ives and eventual win against the Diamonds condemned them to another year at Step 4 but the really worrying news was off the field.
As well as being transferred to the Evo-Stik Div One South, horrible news came through that at the end of the season the Diamonds would have to find a new home, with their groundshare at the Dog & Duck with Wellingborough Town being ended by the landowner booting both clubs out. Wellingborough have stated this will almost certainly be the death of them, 149 years down the drain for some property developers to make a killing is as good an image of how depressing this country has become. It also brings into sharp focus how having a secure and safe home is probably the single most important thing any club (or any human being for that matter) can possess.
So barring a miracle, the Diamonds will once again have to decamp and say goodbye to the £1,000’s that were invested in the stadium, to seek pastures new. However, the club is not dead and will overcome this obstacle as it has already done with so many others, attendances will still be some of the strongest in the league and the Diamonds can look forward to facing off against a brand new set of teams. With the need to move soon, a cup run would be a Godsend.
Prediction: Top 8
Prescot Cables- Evo-Stik Div One North- Step 4
Last season: 16th
Prescot enjoyed their best performance in the league for a long time last year, finishing oceans clear of relegation. The trick this time around will be to see if they can improve on that performance or find themselves dragged back to their traditional role of hovering above the relegation zone.
The league has been shorn of some of the stronger teams, with moneybags Warrington Town departing and Spennymoor Town doing the whole of British football a giant favour as the Darlo B team beat Northwich Victoria, who themselves are surely finished now. So they may be more chance to pick up points then previous years. Overall, I think this year will be similar to last in most respects.
Bamber Bridge- Evostik Div One North- Step 4
Last season: 12th
After two seasons of play-off final defeats it was perhaps inevitable that Bamber would fall back and need to rebuild. They still showed flashes of what makes them such a strong competitor at this level but simply left themselves with two much to do to have any real chance of crashing the play-offs.
Hyde and Colwyn Bay may see themselves as challengers having come down but the losing habit is tough to get out of and with Witton Albion, who traditionally are strong at this level, being transferred out of the division it does mean someone like Bamber has a good chance to come through the middle of the field. Overall, I expect them to be competing for the playoffs with their season beginning against fellow fan owned club and last season’s horrific underachievers Scarborough Athletic.
Prediction: Chasing the play-offs.
Scarborough Athletic FC- Evostik Div One North- Step 4
Last season: 20th
If I was an up and coming Non-League Manager and you could drop me in at any Non-League team, I would be choosing Scarborough Athletic 100%. This is a club with Football League history and the potential to head right back up the Leagues to the top of the Non-League Pyramid.
Last seasons result would not have you believing that, for it was truly horrific. Finishing just one spot above the relegation spots with just 10 wins from 42 league games, having been on the cusp of play-offs the year before. The average attendance was the lowest the club has had in its nine years of senior football, standing at a still impressive 332, whilst the club remains miles from Scarborough.
What that means is that actually, the club have bottomed out. Next year the club is finally heading back home to Scarborough, where the average attendance 10 years ago was over 1,600 (and that was after years of financial mismanagement), which would put Scarborough with attendances that can more that succeed at National North Level. Whether Scarborough will get that many through the gates straight away remains to be seen but in a few years a 1000 plus average attendance must be the aim.
The man who has got the chance to lead them there is Steve Kittrick, who made such an awful mess at Telford but he has found himself with one of the few jobs in Non-League Football with oceans of potential. So the aim this season will be to put in a mid-table performance as a minimum and identifying a spine of a promotion side, ready to begin what will be the new era for the club, when they finally get to head home.
Prediction: Top Half
Hyde United – Evostik Div One North- Step 4
Last season: 22nd Evostik Prem (Relegated)
One team who know exactly what the word horrific really means is Hyde United. The club have now had three relegations in three seasons, with last season being perhaps the most draining as in terms of stature, they are a solid Step 3 club but the culture of defeat is a really difficult one to shake. The club has had just 15 wins in their last 132 league games, a record that would drive even the most die-hard fan to despair and probably alcohol dependency.
The man in charge of stopping the rot is Darren Kelly, a man whose managerial career has flattered to deceive, with last season him losing six out of the six games he was in charge at Hyde United. This combined with his previous poor spells at both Oldham and Halifax leave a lot to be desired.
Off the field, a shiny new 3G facility has been plonked down, which as many will know can be a lifeline for Non-League clubs and should hopefully mean the club suffer significantly fewer postponements to. The club has levelled out now and although many are backing them for promotion I think three years of negativity will be tough to crack, when what is needed is simply a season where people can go down to watch Hyde United in the belief that more often than not, they are going to come away having won a bloody football match.
Prediction: Top 8
Lewes FC- Ryman Div One South – Step 4
Last Season: 23rd Ryman Prem (Relegated)
Like Hyde, the good work of the field at Lewes has never been matched by quality on it. Despite boasting strong Step 3 attendances even when being beaten week in, week out, the time for it to click together has simply never come for those at the Dripping Pan. The last three seasons were 16th, 19th and of course relegation last season by finishing 23rd.
So what is really required from Lewes this year is simply, like Hyde, to get back into a winning habit and have some optimism around the place. Nor will it be east to go straight back up even playing well with near neighbours Hastings United looking primed for a challenge along with Guernsey. Overall, a winning season would be a good reboot for a club who need to find some momentum.
Prediction: Top 10
Grays Athletic- Ryman Prem- Step 3
Last season: 15th
Title Odds: 25/1
This will be the first season for Grays Athletic under fan ownership, having raised over £45,000 towards their community share offer, beating the minimum target of £30,000 and pushing towards the £60,000 they originally aimed for.
On the pitch, they could be in for a rough ride as last season they would’ve only been seven points clear of the drop if Farnborough weren’t already being demoted for financial irregularities. Also, the teams coming up are stronger than the ones who went down and they will have a real battle on their hands for the first season under fan ownership to be a positive one. Still, in the long term the future of the club depends of finding a home of their own, back in their local community and only then will they have a chance to sustainable progress.
Prediction: Battling the drop.
Hendon FC- Ryman Prem- Step 3
Last season: 19th
Title Odds: 40/1
Sometimes, life delivers a few miracles which you get to be lucky enough to witness and Hendon FC is one of those stories. When I went to see them play roughly three years ago, they were probably one FA Trophy defeat away from being wrapped up. Flash forward to the present day and Hendon are kicking off their first league game in a new long term home, back in Hendon. It’s a truly remarkable story and effort by many involved, including Hendon Chairman Simon Lawrence, who looked like a broken man all those years ago but still couldn’t bring himself to give up and generations of people in Hendon will be very grateful that he didn’t.
There are a dozen people who should all be thanked, including Rob Morris and others but for me having met him and knowing just how important it was to see a win in the FA Trophy that gave Hendon a few more months, Simon can be very proud when they open up their first home game in the league on Saturday.
On the pitch, the shiny new 3G pitch, Hendon will undoubtedly improve on last season’s performance and possessing one of the best Managers in Non-League, they are criminally undervalued in the odds. The real challenge this year is to start shamelessly promoting the club in the community and get those attendances breaking the 400-500 mark if good performances are coming. Gary McCann says he can get Hendon challenging for promotion, I wouldn’t bet against him.
Prediction: Top Half
Enfield Town FC- Ryman Prem- Step 3
Last season: 6th
Title Odds: 12/1
The most important football club in England will look to go one better than last season’s agonising near miss for a play-off spot, missing out by two points. The season before ETFC only missed out due to FA incompetence but sadly, if Hendon look undervalued then I am afraid to say Enfield Town look like they might be stepping backwards.
This is nothing to do with poor management and in many ways ETFC is a victim of their own success. Just like Hendon who had many players pinched when they had that great season two years ago, Enfield Town have lost some of their best players, with Bobby Devyne (13 league goals) heading to Welling United and Corey Whitely, who scored 20 league goals last season, was poached by John Still to go and play for Dagenham & Redbridge. John Still has always had a great eye for talent so don’t be surprised if Corey Whitely is playing in the Football League in the future. Replacing 33 league goals and a hatful of assists will be no easy task, which is what makes me sceptical they will perform as well this season.
Still, ETFC were one round away from the 1st Round Proper of the FA Cup and there’s every chance they could find themselves knocking on the door of a game against a Football League side next season, so there is lots to look forward to at Enfield. The club is in good financial health and with attendances that mean they will consistently be challenging, it’s probably going to be another good season to be an Enfield fan.
Prediction: Top 10
Tonbridge Angels – Ryman Prem – Step 3
Last season: 4th Play-Off semi-final
Title Odds: 9/1
Whereas Enfield Town have lost the services of two of their best goalscorers, Tonbridge Angels have kept hold of Nathan Elder and Luke Blewden, who put in above 40 goals between them last season. A season where both are half as prolific will still get them enough points one suspects to see them into the play-offs again.
Boasting healthy attendances which are only outstripped significantly by Dulwich Hamlet, who will again challenge for promotion, Tonbridge should fancies themselves for a play-off place and a decent chance of automatically heading back up to the National League South.
Merthyr Town – Southern League Prem – Step 3
Last season: 10th
Title Odds: 11/1
We head to the Southern Prem now and what is one of the two Welsh clubs on this list, Merthyr Town FC. Last season was a perfectly solid return to the level at which the old club folded, ending up 15 points off the play-offs in the end and I am sure most Merthyr fans will have bitten your hand off if that was on offer at the start of the season.
What would have disappointed them though was the Martyrs disappointing FA cup run (or lack of), going out to Step 5 Hartley Wintney 1-0 in the 1st Qualifying Round, so Merthyr will be looking to improve on that sorry showing. A crowd of 500 watched their first home game of the season which was played on a Tuesday night, showing that Merthyr will be one of the best supported teams in the entire league.
With a catchment area of potential players largely to themselves, this will be the Martyrs best chance of promotion to the level at which they can probably be sustainable (Step 2) for a few years. For if not this year, a reformed Hereford FC (still sadly choosing a private ownership model which had led to their collapse in the first place) will be sweeping the league next season, with Salisbury City potentially joining them too. The Southern Prem is likely to be the toughest league over the next few seasons at Step 3 to escape from so fingers crossed the Martyrs can get out whist the going is good.
Dorchester- Southern League Prem – Step 3
Last season: 13th
Title Odds: 100/1
Conceding six goals with none scored in your first two opening fixtures is never a good sign and would explain why Dorchester are bottom of the odds in teams to get promoted. Dorchester have gone from being nearly put out of existence but are now debt free, which is a significant achievement.
However, with Dorchester losing a significant amount of cash due to the Park and Ride Bus service which ran from DTFC ending, a significant budget cut had to take place. As a result, the chance to progress up the league and swell attendances that already put them in the top 8 of the league appears to have slipped away this season.
As a result of this significant money lost, this season Dorchester may struggle to survive but if a few loan signings can bring talent from the leagues above they may not be cut adrift. Overall there’s a long, hard season to come.
Banbury United – Southern League Prem – Step 3
Last season: 2nd (Play-Off winners)
Title Odds: 14/1
Last season was the absolute best example of how fan ownership can rejuvenate a club. After relegation the season before, Banbury United would go on a ridiculous run which never really came to an end. 94 points with only 4 defeats in their entire league season culminating in a play-off final victory witnessed by over 1,200 people.
The club has taken that momentum into a new league, as promoted sides often do. A season of mid-table solidarity would be more than good enough for Banbury but as already mentioned, with Hereford and perhaps Salisbury heading back up soon, this isn’t a bad year to sneak into the play-offs.
Prediction: Top half
FC United of Manchester – National North – Step 2
Last season: 13th
Title Odds: 25/1
Last season, a season of mid table mediocrity which led to them safely maintaining their Step 2 status was in wild contrast to the off the field chaos surrounding the team. Some perhaps necessary blood-letting has taken place and hopefully much of the poison surrounding the club since their move to the new ground, with issues such as the Chesterfield FA Cup game and a financially darker situation then should’ve been expected, is seeping away. Still, the inevitable centralisation of power when one man remains in place for so long has now been brought to an end and the club can now look to move on.
This season, FC United have made an uncharacteristically good start with 5 points from 3 games, including a win over well fancied Stockport County and one more win from the next two games will leave FC United fans feeling a lot more positive about this season than many expected. This league however is the most fiercely competitive it has ever been and this season FC United have been joined by teams adding strength from all directions. Ex-Football League Kidderminster and Halifax Town have come down from Step 1, whilst wannabe Man United ‘b’ team Salford City have come up from Step 3 alongside yet another ex-Football League club in Darlington.
Off the field, the goal remains to fully complete the stadium and maintain their position in the National North for another season before looking to push on to the top of the Non-League game, another cup run could financially be a boost but many United fans may well wish to avoid the inevitable circus that comes with FC United reaching a 1st Round FA Cup game.
Overall, FC United will have to perform stronger just to stand still but with a lot of the initial teething problems experienced at this level out of the way, they should be safe for another year but with so many teams simply in a hugely stronger financial position than them, the play-offs look out of reach for a few seasons yet.
AFC Telford United – National North – Step 2
Last season: 18th and the biggest resurrection since Jesus Christ
If the job that Rob and Larry had pulled off was even one league higher, people would be eulogising over their unbelievable achievement and Telford would likely have had to get in a new management team. As it is, they happen to be at Step 2 and therefore Telford will get to start their season with one of the best duos in the business.
Telford United are one of the biggest victims of the National League becoming effectively ‘League 3’ of the English Football League. Unable to ever really believe that there is even a remote possibility to compete for promotion to the Football League after an extraordinary rise from resurrection, an understandable stagnation seemed to set in. Going from averaging 1,500 to dropping to just over the 1,000 mark now, a realisation that Step 2 is the cubs natural level and effectively the same standard of the old top of the Non-League pyramid before the ex-Football League influx has happened.
A relegation to Step 3 would have been extremely traumatic for a club that had such a quick resurgence but now the stats bear out that Telford are at the level they will likely ply their trade for a few years to come yet. Telford has spent six of their 12 years playing at Step 2 and after this season will have spent the majority of existence competing at National North level.
As already noted, this league is harder than ever but bar Blyth and perhaps Scarborough Athletic in the future, this is as difficult as it will get which means the process of resurgence can begin again, starting from this season. The squad was largely gutted meaning Rob and Larry have their own team in place and already look tougher to beat then they ever were last season. Still, the strength of this league will be a struggle and mid-table would a be a significant achievement and improvement so I am going to undersell and predict simply survival.
Darlington FC- National North – Step 2
Last season: 1st (Evo-Stik Northern Prem)
Title Odds: 16/1
Since their formation, Darlington have simply flown. They’ve had their own dark moments but with three promotions in four seasons, including making short work of the league with which FC United had such a hard time with, they are on the verge of getting back to the top tier of Non-League Football.
Off the field, Darlington will at some point this season finally return to their own town and into the facilities at Blackwell Meadows, which has taken them a relatively short five years to get back to. The inevitable boost in attendances, sponsorship and community involvement that comes from being back in a proper home
The team possess one of the most able and professional Managers in Martin Gray, who will relish the chance to take on the likes of Stockport, Halifax and FC United this season. Entering the FA Cup one round later also gives them the best chance they’ve ever had to make the 1st Round Proper and being just three games away from that prize, I wouldn’t put it past them to improve on what has been disappointing Cup performances.
This season then is one largely of enjoyment and optimism, with no pressure on Darlo this year to do anything other than put in some good performances to attract a new generation of fans. A mid-table season with a real focus on some cup runs would be the order of the day.
Chester FC- National Prem- Step 1
Last season: 17th
An absolutely horrific run of form led to the sacking of Steve Burr before he could take Chester down. Having spent so much money at Kidderminster (and deserving more blame for their eventually financial problems than he ever got), his constant sniping about the budget was masking some all to obvious problems in his own performance.
Chester suffer from a similar problem as Telford but just a league above and it is perhaps slightly more painful for Chester , having previous tasted League football. Short of a potential Football League reorganisation or a much needed expansion of promoted teams, it’s probably going to be a long time yet before Chester have a realistic short of challenging for promotion. Of course, the issue is once you stand still you’re already going backwards and this stagnation could be a concern in terms of crowds.
Last season, I said the FA Trophy should be the focus and the eventual winners of Halifax would beat Chester in that completion but also suffer relegation. I’d be interested to know how many Chester fans, if offered that deal of a cup final triumph at Wembley for a temporary relegation, would take it.
With North Ferriby looking nailed on for the drop and other traditional Non-League teams like Southport struggling, the process of the National League becoming a fully-fledged League 3 is almost complete. For the time being through, Chester should be targeting the cup competitions with relish and looking to win the FA Trophy, a completion that many above them will treat as an inconvenience.
Prediction: Bottom Half
Wrexham FC- National Prem- Step 1
Last season: 8th
A nightmare run over the Christmas period last year left them with way too much to do and although last seasons 8th was their highest finish for a few years, thanks to watching Dover and Braintree make the play-offs instead whilst throwing away a chance to play Shrewsbury in the FA Cup 1st Round after choking against Gainsborough Trinity, it could also be considered one of their most disappointing.
The stature of the club is demonstrated by the absolute heroic tenacity of Wrexham fans to put disappointment behind them and show up in their droves. The first game of this season had 5,600 show up and the longer Wrexham look like they are in a play-off race, the more those crowds will swell and the virtuous circle can grow.
Wrexham have also finally taken back control of their beloved Racecourse Ground with a 99 year lease signed in July, meaning their long term future is secured and money spent in the bars of the ground can find their way back into the clubs coffers. The short term dent in Gary Mills budget will be filled quickly if Wrexham fans really feel the club is on the verge of another crack at the play-offs. A last minute 3-2 victory over Guiseley is exactly the sort of game they through away last season but I still think that there are simply too many nouveau-rich teams with budgets for Wrexham to really compete
Prediction: Top Half and a decent FA Cup run.