With the exception of some league admin, last weekends Non-League Finals day brought the 2017-18 Non-League season to a close. What a season it was, you can argue that it was one that it is one that will live long in the memory but whether that is for the footballing success and the stories that it produced or for the biblical rains that almost washed out five months of the campaign, that is up for debate.
Rewind just on ten months, to the 2017 League AGM in Blackpool. Atherton Collieries & Ashton Town had left the league through different exit doors for new adventures and the league welcomed Abbey Hulton United, promoted in from Step 7 whilst Burscough and Northwich Victoria joined the League from the Evo-Stik League.
The stage was set for the 2017-18 season and Counties Podcast had made some signings itself, with Martin Stewart and Lucy Weir having joined permanently after joining on loan from society a couple of months previous!
The season started well, early front-runners in the Premier Division were Runcorn Town who stormed ahead with Charnock Richard not far behind them whilst Burscough and Northwich Victoria struggled to find their feet early on. Barnton were propping the table up early doors with Squires Gate also getting off to a poor start. In Division One, Silsden set the early pace with Alsager Town and Remyca also prominent early on. Abbey Hulton were holding their own, they were not sweeping all before them but they were doing well in a number of games and playing good football.
Podcasts were going out regularly and with Mr Langley leading the way with controversial selections in our Banker and Shock game he was soon to have his wings clipped when rules changes were brought in to keep his head a normal size! Other early events that took place in the season was Non-League day, it was unusual this year as a number of clubs openly stated that they were not doing anything for it, indeed our poll done in September showed that 75% of voters were not doing anything for it. We also reached 1000 twitter followers – Which was nice!
Steve Wilkes arrived at Northwich Victoria and Andy Clarkson arrived at Squires Gate and both clubs form started to improve. The Vase commenced and clubs like Ashton Athletic, Charnock Rochard and 1874 Northwich excelled in that early doors,
We interviewed Rob McKay to see how things were going at West Didsbury & Chorlton, Dave Worthington of AFC Blackpool joined us alongside League Chairman, Paul Lawler back on episode 127 as the season continued apace. Wayne Brotherton at Alsager joined us later on in episode 129 to talk to us about the Bullets progress as they were doing well at the time. In mid-October we also ran a poll about the future of programmes, a full four months before the EFL released their plans to possibly allow clubs to withdraw publishing them, we had been discussing it long before it became a mainstream debate though of course! In the poll 63% of voters said they always buy one, 24% did not, 11% went on price and 2% said they would rather have an e-Programme. We wonder if that would be the same now??
At this point we were also looking at PPG, an acronym that would be looked at for long periods of the season as the possibility of a second promotion spot from the Premier Division was being mooted. The Two Runcorn Clubs, Hanley, Bootle and Charnock Richard were all in the mix at ten games in, but where were Widnes?
Around about the second week of November was when the weather started to really hit the season, a number of Division One fixtures were starting to get hit on a regular basis. We caught up with Jay Foulds from Ashton Athletic as they were in the midst of a number of cup runs at the time. Andy Clarkson of Squires Gate and Mick McGraa of Cammell Laird 1907 also joined us to talk football and provoked debates as both predicted great improvements for their respective sides, they weren’t wrong either to be fair!
The weather really started to bite at this point, games were being cancelled in both divisions on a regular basis, indeed it reached dramatic levels with a few washouts in the space of six weeks. Widnes were starting to climb the table though with their 3G pitch standing an almost solitary stand against the weather. This was arguably their golden ticket, along with new Managers at the helm, they were really starting to shift.
The Podcast was also still functioning despite little or no football to talk about, discussions about football were intertwined about Bonzai Trees and the way toast should be cut. The Counties Podcast Quiz of the season was held at Christmas when Podcast Icons, Zach Pierce and Joseph Gibbons returned for our Christmas Special and it was Mr Gibbons who won on the day courtesy of some slightly Colls Biased hosting according to those who lost!
In the New Year games were still sparse to say the least, but clubs were starting to show their hand over applying to join the NWCFL following the announcement of the award to the NWCFL of running a second Step Six Division from 2018-19. From the Cheshire League, Daten, Rylands, Pilkington, Wythenshawe Town, Ashton Town and Linotype Cheadle Nomads were announced by the Cheshire League at that point as applicants.
Michael Ellison joined us for a chat on episode 135 to discuss Runcorn Linnets improvement as they were just edging Runcorn Town at the top of the table with Widnes starting to creep up on the pack. With the weather dominating proceedings every week there were not too many podcasts being recorded, there was just very little to talk about, however Martin Fallon and Gary Langley did keep a small but regular series of podcasts going out discussing the issues of the day like two old men sitting on a bus moaning about the price of fish.
As the end of February approached, Runcorn Linnets were leading the way with Runcorn Town and Widnes right behind them in the Premier Division. The First Division saw Silsden ten points clear with Litherland Remyca, Prestwich Heys and Whitchurch Alport on the chase whilst near the bottom of the divisions, Barton’s fate looked sealed early doors, this despite playing good football, AFC Darwen also looked in trouble whilst a mini group just above them of Maine Road, Burscough, AFC Liverpool and Irlam were regularly exchanging positions above the relegation line. In Division One, St Helens Town, Daisy Hill, Bacup and a number of other clubs were swapping places on a regular basis as the battle for the Wooden Spoon was in full flow.
Podcast pace started to pick up come March as game started taking place, Ste Bignall of Linnets Updates fame joined us for a few episodes, we caught up with Martin Wild of Whitchurch Alport whilst Mark Ashmore also joined us to talk Squires Gate. Mark will be joining us next season as part of our new crew!
1874 Northwich bowed out of the FA Vase at the Semi-Final stage losing out to eventual winners of the competition, Thatcham Town whilst City of Liverpool matched their late surge up the table with progress off it, announcing their intention to Develop a site in the Fazakerley area of the City.
Games were still being cancelled on a regular basis, indeed even as late as April we still had a washout week. The League tables were taking shape as Runcorn Linnets were almost over the finishing line but Widnes still with a small chance to pip them. In Division One it was becoming a three horse race with Silsden, Remyca and Prestwich Heys all vying for the two automatic promotion places.
As May commenced, issues were starting to get sorted out, Runcorn Linnets got over the finishing line with Widnes joining them in the second automatic promotion spot from the Premier Division, a feat achieved taking 70 points from the last 75 available in an incredible run. A third spot had been mooted after a couple of leaks but such is the competitive nature of the league, a third promotion spot via the PPG system was never really an option in the end, clubs like Runcorn Town, City of Liverpool and others will go again next season in what is likely to be another tough campaign but with one promotion spot returning before Super Play-Offs arrive in 19-20.
In Division One, Silsden fought off a late challenge from Litherland Remyca to take the Division One title with Remyca going up in second having been run to the wire by Prestwich Heys. Lairds, Whitchurch, Sandbach and Heys fought out the play-offs with Whitchurch Alport going up via that system.
It wouldn’t be a year on the podcast without Mr Langley upsetting a club, this season it was Alport when he suggested that the play-offs would represent under-achievement for them which upset their Chairman. That was the team-talk settled and they promptly won the play-offs and word is that Mr Langley has got himself another trophy from that taskers place to go with his Banker or Shock Trophy he bought in October claiming a key role!
Interviews followed with Mark Buckley, Runcorn Linnets Chairman and Danny Forrest, Silsden Manager as we continue to bring you interviews with the big names around the league.
In the cups, Prestwich Heys put their league disappointment behind them by taking the LWC Drinks Division One Trophy whilst on a busy night at Fleetwood, Widnes added The Macron Cup to their Runners Up Trophy with a narrow win over Burscough in a great final and advert for the league.
Of course we always go for the big finale, we have been big supporters of the FA Vase Competition and Martin Fallon, Zach Pierce and Martin Stewart recorded the Counties Podcast season ending episode last weekend and we will continue to follow sides in the competition from start to finish next season.
So there you have it, the end of another great season, was it the best ever, probably not but with a New Look Regional Division One next season and a tough looking Premier Division, next season looks like it has bags of potential and with a number of new faces expected, an element of the unknown.
We will be here next season with Panel Version 3.0 with Mark Ashmore joining the podcast as well as one or two other new faces. We will continue to bring you podcasts over the summer and as the new campaign starts, a number of high profile interviews, stories and debates. We will hopefully have no quizzes for Gary to cheat at and maybe a sweep to see which one of the 60 clubs Gary upsets next season.
We are good to go again, but first a whole two weeks off for summer!
See you next season!