Dave Thomas, the Torbay Weekly’s chief sports writer, previews the National League
If last season taught us anything, it’s that predicting the National League these days is a recipe for a red face.
Chesterfield, Wrexham and AFC Fylde, who had lost the previous year’s play-off final, all looked like nailed-on promotion contenders.
Barrow? Well, we all know now that the Blues, unfancied and training each week in Manchester, won the Covid-curtailed division by four points.
Chesterfield and Wrexham spent the whole season trying to avoid relegation. Ambitious Fylde went down.
Notts County and Yeovil Town both had £250,000 relegation ‘parachute’ payments to help them, but it was Harrogate Town, not long out of the NL North, who followed Barrow up through the play-offs.
Are there any Oxfords, Lutons or Lincolns around this season? It doesn’t look like it.
Believe it or not, there were players on £2,000 a week in this division last season, and there may be one or two again, but the majority of clubs have tightened their belts in the face of the virus.
Not one of them is Stockport County where, backed by new owners, Jim Gannon has thrown serious money at the job.
Wrexham fans are fed up with years of underachievement, and Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney are talking to the supporters’ trust about a high-profile takeover.
If wingers Elliott Durrell and Anthony Jeffrey deliver and ex-Solihull and Blackpool striker Adi Yussuf cashes in, Wrexham will surely be in contention.
Of the play-off losers, Notts are in that dangerous second-year-down bracket and you don’t replace a goalscorer like Kristian Dennis (St Mirren) easily, but the Magpies are still better bets than Barnet or Yeovil Town.
Boreham Wood offset their paltry crowds with big bucks for hosting Arsenal Ladies/Under-23s, Luke Garrard keeps producing good sides and they look like play-off material again.
Bromley, Woking and Solihull Moors all fell away after strong starts last season, and there are few obvious reasons why they should fare much better this time.
Dover should give Andy Hessenthaler the freedom of the town if he keeps them out of trouble, but expectations are always high at Hartlepool United, and manager Dave Challinor has been busy on the recruitment front.
If you’re looking for potential surprises from last season’s mid-table, then Sutton United, Maidenhead United, Dagenham & Redbridge and Torquay United could all fill the bill.
We’ll deal with the Gulls in detail elsewhere, but Sutton have the attacking firepower, and Alan Devonshire’s business at Maidenhead has been impressive.
The Daggers have the new financial boost of West Ham Ladies at Victoria Road, and they’ve given manager Daryl McMahon some fresh ammo.
He’s hung his hat on ex-Eastleigh and Solihull man Paul McCallum and pacy Darren McQueen from Dartford up front. With a strong start, they could be a handful.
There should be improvement at Aldershot Town, where the arrival of ex-Championship star Ross McCormack catches the eye, while Ben Strevens has tried to freshen things up at Eastleigh without suggesting that promotion is on the cards.
All four promoted clubs - King’s Lynn Town, Altrincham, Wealdstone and Weymouth - are part-time.
It’s good to see Weymouth back, but new boss Brian Stock has had to step into promotion-winning Mark Moseley’s shoes a little late in the day.
King’s Lynn might fare best of the new boys, especially if they can get strikers Adam Marriott and Michael Gash back from injuries quickly.
But they and Wealdstone both feed off feisty support at home, and crowd restrictions may hit them more than most.
I wasn’t the only one to get it hopelessly wrong last season, but my ‘tentative’ tips for the top seven (Title/Play-Offs) are: Boreham Wood, Maidenhead United, Notts County, Stockport County, Sutton United, Torquay United and Wrexham (champions).