The Southern Premier League has a new sponsor this year, the same one as its northern counterpart so make sure you don’t confuse the two. Helpful. Anyway, teamwise the biggest relief for those footballers who get car sick is that Truro have been promoted, so that’s one afternoon spent on the M5 looking at the back of caravans which teams and fans alike won’t have to endure. Salisbury are also gone, climbing back from whence they came with their giant budget and full-time players.
Joining the league are AFC Totton and Frome, both know the league well and both have impressive squads for the coming season. Frome can even boast a current England captain among their ranks, speedy winger Luke Ballinger is also the skipper of the national Futsal team. He’s had experience in the Southern Prem and a brief outing in the Blue Square North with Gloucester City, like his teammate, defender Tom Evans. The little Somerset side have an experienced squad and a decent manager in the form of Darren Perrin. AFC Totton, with free scoring striker Mike Gosney, could power their way through the Southern Prem, along with the other new boys, Hitchin, they are likely to be goal hungry and eyeing up the top end of the table.
Cambridge City have been lurking around the top of the Southern Prem for a while now and are the favourites to go up but they’ve choked in the play-offs before (2009/10) and their manager Gary Roberts hasn’t been overly optimistic about their chances this season. Elsewhere Brackley remain the biggest underachievers in the league. They might have notched an impressive win over Nuneaton in pre-season but with the money floating around that club John Brady’s men really should be doing better, their budget is one of the healthiest in the league and if they aren’t fighting for play-offs it will be another season of miss chances and wasted opportunities.
Stourbridge beat League Two side Cheltenham Town in pre-season, which caused a fair few Robins fans to fear that the apocalypse was imminent. That said the midlands side could push a bit higher and sneak a play-off place. The same goes for Chesham who have enjoyed a positive pre-season and could improve on their 6th place finish from last season. It will be close between these two. Adie Mings’ Chippenham Town have a strong forward line, including Jack Pitcher, signed from Almondsbury in the wake of their disappearance from the league below and the vastly experience Dave Gilroy. While they are unlikely to win the league they could be play-off contenders, Hardenhuish Park is a always tough place to visit.
Up the road at Cirencester Town they’ve got a new keeper in the form of Danny Greaves (from Mangotsfield) to replace Matt Bulman who’s jumped up two leagues to fight for the number one shirt at Forest Green Rovers. Andy Gunn has also signed after a bidding war with Dundee (no seriously) and Ben Reardon has joined from North Leigh. Ciren have the right mix of old heads and young legs which should see them improve on last year. Oxford City have a well organised side and have the literally giant advantage of 6’9 goalkeeper Jason Mooney, who is on loan from Wycombe Wanderers. Although he’s young and lacks experience (hence the loan) his go-go-gadget arms can reach all areas of the goal mouth without him moving his feet. They’ve also got Wayne Blossom, a useful defender who’s been knocking a few goals in during pre-season and who has plenty of Southern League games under his belt.
Leamington finished strongly last season but have lost striker Luke Corbett to Worcester City, if they can find someone else to match his strike rate they’ll be enjoying another decent season. Hemel Hempstead, meanwhile, are rumoured to be spending a fair amount of money, they’ve brought in a few faces from another wild spending side Didcot and have nabbed Warren Goodhind from Eastleigh. The mid-table of the Southern Premier League is likely to feature the same array of the teams who have been there for donkeys years. Its hard league to get out of, just ask Gloucester City – it took them more than 60 years to do it! That said it doesn’t mean the likes of Bedford and Bashley won’t nail a few surprise results just don’t expect too much.
To say Redditch United had a torrid time in the Conference North last season is an understatement, their budget was slashed to nothing, most of the players left, the club was sold, they were docked points for financial irregularities and the club teetered on the brink of oblivion but somehow they managed to continue. Yes they got relegated but they saw scholars from pro clubs and youth players turn out for them week in week out to play for the shirt and nothing else and they found a new owner. If, and it’s a big if, Redditch can find strength from their trials and tribulations they may enjoy a strong season. They are unlikely to challenge for the top, its unlikely they can afford a promotion run but they’ll survive.
Swindon Supermarine’s achievements in the FA Cup were slightly overshadowed by plucky non-league underdogs Crawley last season but the ‘other’ team in Swindon did well to dispatch Eastwood and Bath City. They’ve got some good young talent and finished in the top half of the table last year, expect them to do the same again this time round. Evesham had a mixed season last year and had been looking forward to moving into their fancy new ground. But it looks like that’s not going to be happening just yet due to a cock up with access. They’ve not kept hold of the lightening quick Ghanaian students from Hartpury College and seen their keeper sent off for headbutting someone in a pre-season friendly against local neighbours Bishops Cleeve. Banbury haven’t had much luck of late. Last season they were fined £450 and docked a point after an almighty cock-up in signing a player they have a pretty tiny budget and unlike many of the teams around them they lack the experienced old Southern Premier League heads.
Ian Ridley’s now at St Albans and after a shaky season or so there looks like there could be set a change in fortunes at Clarence Park, its long overdue, but it was pretty tight in the midtable last season, 12 points separated Brackley, Supermarine, Bashely, Evesham and Ciren so the new boys like St Albans and Arlesey and Barwell could find it pretty close. With any luck they won’t be thrown the wild card of a team going pop, as was the case with Windsor & Eton last season. But then again… Clinging onto the Southern Premier League by the skin of their teeth are Weymouth. Martyn Rodgers patience finally ran out at the end of last season and he’s been replaced by Brendon King, who is working with a reportedly slimmed down budget. Rodgers managed almost four months before he walked away from the Bob Lucas Stadium. With Amanda, wife of George, Rolls holding the purse strings and the end of last season marred by those old favourites including; rumours of players not being paid, threats of fan protests and bizarre statements in the local press it is unlikely Weymouth’s days and nights at the circus are over just yet.
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