An eye on next season

With less than a month of the Non-league football season left, we take a look at the teams above and below the National League North to see who could be in the mix to join us in the NLN next season.

The National League

A few weeks ago AFC Fylde looked dead in the water, but new manager Chris Beech has managed to things around at Mill Farm and pull them out of the drop zone (for now anyway).

They’re now 3 points above the drop, despite their good run coming to an end. With just over a week left to sign players, if anyone can buy their way out of trouble, it’s them. Attacking midfielder Nick Haughton is in top form with 16 goals in 39 games, and if he can keep on playing as well as he has lately, he has enough about him to drag the club to safety on his own.

Kidderminster Harriers brought in former Premier League manager Phil Brown in January, and he’s almost turned it around after being down and out only a month or so ago. Goalkeeper Christian Dibble has kept 13 clean sheets across 40 league games, and it may be his clean sheets that end up pulling Kidderminster out of the shite. They have a mixed bag of a run in, so they’ll need to pull out all the stops if they’re looking to survive.

Oxford City are down and out, no question about it. Sadly though they may end up in National League North next season if too many Southern teams drop out the league. They did play in the NLN between 2012 and 2015 when Spartans were down in the wilderness of Northern Premier League, and we’ve certainly travelled further in the past – though a 530 mile round trip to Toryland still won’t be fun.

Personally I’m hoping York City drop out of the National League, though it’s mainly just because it gives us a chance to spend a day on the piss down there. Off the pitch they’ve been a disaster this season, having already gone through Michal Morton and Neal Ardley this year, with Adam Hinshelwood now in the hot seat.

The takeover by the Uggla family hasn’t really gone to plan, as they’ve splashed the cash but have seemingly done nothing but regress and at the moment they seem to really lack any momentum, having suffered some terrible results of late.

For now though the bottom half of the National League is far to close to call, bar Oxford of course. For us at Blyth, York and Kidderminster dropping down would be good, and it would mean Oxford City go back down to the National League South. AFC Fylde going down would be great for us as well, but I’m pretty sure they’ll beat the drop now.

Northern Premier League

Radcliffe are champions here for sure. Bern and Jonno have done a decent job putting that squad together and storming that league, leaving pre-season title favourites Macclesfield in the dust. A nice 3 hour journey to a ground most of us haven’t been to will do nicely next season, and I’m sure Gary and Jonno will rekindle their love affair given the chance.

The play offs are fairly wide open, but Warrington Rylands seem a lock for those. They’ll definitely struggle to stick around in the NLN if they were promoted due to their ground as they’ve risen through the leagues fairly quickly, with Wayne Rooney’s agent Paul Stretford throwing money about. The lost forward Adama Sidibeh to St Johnstone a few months ago, but their promotion push appears to still be going strong.

Just behind them are old Conference North foes Hyde United, who I’d love to see come up. Hyde’s a rough shithole on the outskirts of Manchester with some canny pubs, so we’ll feel right at home. They’ve finally recovered after selling their soul to Man City back in the day, and are now bringing the crowds back in. A belta awayday on the cards if we get these back.

Marine would be another good awayday as well, should they win promotion to this league for the first time. They made a fortune during COVID as they went far in the FA Cup, and had thousands of Spurs fans buy ‘virtual tickets’ to the game that was played behind closed doors. Finlay Sinclair Smith has bagged 17 goals so far for them, and they’ll be hoping he maintains his good form ahead of the play off run in.

As for Guiseley, they can get fucked. We’ve been there a million times over the years and they have an awfully irritating band of charvers behind the goal most weeks who are about hard as the shit I left at the services last weekend. Apart from that, they do have some good pubs around the ground – and the journey isn’t all that bad down there. Tom Denton ply’s his trade there now sadly, but fellow forward Gabriel Johnson is leading their play off charge with 21 goals this season so far.

For obvious reasons, Macclesfield would be great to have in the league. As a fanbase they are a tad ‘Massivefax’ but they would give us a big payday here at Croft Park, and a 3 hour journey to a new ground that used to be in the Football League up until recently would do very nicely. They have to plan around an FA Trophy semi final with Gateshead though, and with them not exactly having a nice and easy season off the pitch, they could easily miss out on the play offs.

As for Worksop Town and Ashton United, I’m not really arsed about either of them. Worksop have money, and they were an unbearable set of cunts when they beat us in the FA Cup earlier in the season, so I kinda want to beat them but at the same time – I’m happy to see them rot in the NPL. With Ashton United though, boring. Plain and simple.

Southern Premier League Central

Needham Market can fuck right off. I have no real intelligent points to make here in all honesty. They’re a relatively small side that have climbed through the leagues in recent years, so I presume they have money somewhere. Unfortunately for us, they’re ground is nearly 300 bastard miles away. It’s safe to say the 580 mile round trip to Needham Market and back will be longest recorded journey in NLN history.

With the title all but wrapped up, Mickleover Sports winning the play offs would be ideal. Only 3 and a bit hours away with a great clubhouse, I’m actually surprised to see them rise to the top of step 7. With plenty of good pubs nearby as well – an awayday there would be a treat. Sadly for us though, they’re probably the smallest fish in the play off mix.

AFC Telford United have recovered from last seasons shit show. They’ve likely secured a play off spot already, though their squad these days is unrecognisable, as they just aren’t as strong as they used to be on the pitch. They may well be the favourites to win the play offs come the end of the season, but looking at the league table and the head to head records of teams here, it does seem wide open.

Redditch United have been absent from the National League North for 12 years now, and they’re nearly a different club these days. With a 4G pitch and having finally gotten rid of that shite temporary stand, Redditch almost sounds like an appealing awayday. The squad on paper doesn’t scream quality though, so if they do come up they’ll likely drop straight back down – unless they seriously strengthened in the summer.

The last spot is probably between Leamington and Stratford Town, both of which are not ideal journeys. That being said, Leamington would probably be the preferred one here. If they went up, they’d probably tread water like they did in previous years as they just aren’t a huge club. Canny place for a piss up though.