The countdown to the new season is always an exciting time for football supporters. Last season is history, the slate is wiped clean and everybody starts off on zero points and everything to play for.
All those above are clichés, but it really is a time of hope for supporters of every team in the league. If your team has had a poor season last season, then it’s a chance to forget it and look for improvement. If your team has had a good season, maybe achieved promotion, then can they sustain this success and build on it this season?
The North West Counties League 2015/16 season is one of the most open and anticipated that I can ever remember. In previous seasons, there was always one or two stand out teams. This season I cannot choose even a top six in either division.
In the Premier Division, there is usually one or two stand out teams that everybody agrees will be in the top two at least at the end of the season. Not this year! The Premier Division (and other Step 5 leagues) is the hardest in football to get promoted from with just one team going up, and whoever goes up this season will certainly deserve it given the contenders.
Padiham be able to bounce back after their relegation? Can Runcorn Linnets improve on their two successive runners up? 1874 Northwich know what to expect in the division now and won’t fear anyone, and the Red Army at Colne will certainly want to support a title chasing team this season.
Atherton Collieries and Cammell Laird had stunning seasons last year and will be aiming for top six this season in the new division. Silsden, Squires Gate and Ashton Athletic were all in the top echelons for long periods last season. Can they kick on? Bootle, AFC Liverpool and Congleton Town always seem to be top 10 teams. Can they take the leap to top 4?
Runcorn Town and Maine Road had a couple of seasons around the top but slipped last season. Can they recover? And AFC Blackpool and Barnoldswick Town only just survived after poor starts. Can they get off to better ones?
The First Division is even more open after the best three teams left it last season. The introduction of the Play-Off’s has been a revelation, and it means that every single team in the division will fancy their chances of achieving promotion.
Barnton, given their summer signings, must start as favourites, but what of Bacup Borough and St Helens Town? Can they bounce back at the first attempt after relegation? Hanley Town and Holker Old Boys have both had a couple of good seasons now, and will both be in the mix I feel.
Litherland REMYCA know what to expect now and will be aiming for playoff’s at least, and Cheadle Town and Eccleshall will be wanting to do likewise. Then there are Ashton Town, Irlam and Rochdale Town, teams who I thought would better last season than they did. Can they improve?
The biggest questions though come from the new boys Whitchurch Alport and Stockport Town. How will they cope with the new league? Will they be aiming to consolidate or will they want to emulate Lairds and achieve a first ever promotion?
Whatever happens, take the time to enjoy it. That’s the main thing. After all, the next pre-season will be here before too long if you don’t!