Here are my non-league thoughts for the season
As much as Lincoln were deserving winners last season, I can’t help thinking that Tranmere were slightly unfortunate not to win the title themselves. Given they failed by just 4 points you have to wonder if Mickey Mellon had of been in charge for the whole season if they might have won the title, given the really bad spell they had which cost Gary Brabin his job. They also suffered pretty badly from injuries, especially on the wings, and that certainly did not help matters. Having said that Lincoln had that knack of winning games in the closing month of the season which they shouldn’t have and Tranmere dropped points where they shouldn’t. They then blew the play-off final where they didn’t turn up and pretty much gifted Forest Green promotion. This season they start as clear favourites and are no bigger than 7/2 and I think the bookies have got it right. Mellon gets a full season at it and he has strengthened the side nicely without having to make wholesale changes to the squad. Also an interesting factor is that the other sides who were in the league last season have at least 9 points to make up on Tranmere and as much as some look like they should do better this time around, I find it hard to believe that those teams can find the sort of improvement they need, especially as I think Tranmere should improve themselves. The main problem is the price as I don’t think it offers great value, but to me they are the most likely winners of the division.
At the best prices available every other side in the division are double figures and in all honestly I think that sums the division up. Take Tranmere out of things and things look very competitive and tricky to call. Let’s start with the two relegated sides who both came down with issues off the field (granted one way more serious than the other), but have both had those issues settled and can hopefully look forward to better seasons than their fans may have thought capable in May. Hartlepool have gone with a left field choice of manager in Craig Harrison as he has only managed two Welsh sides so far and as much as he has had plenty of success the National League is a very different kettle of fish. Having said that he looks like he has built a pretty decent squad and having former Grimsby man Padraig Amond in the side is a massive plus for me as he was a scoring machine in this league a couple of years ago. I think they look capable of the play-offs, but Harrison’s lack of experience at this level might just put a top 3 place out of reach.
I am sure Leyton Orient fans are just glad they still have a team to watch and a new owner and anything else this season will be a bonus. Getting Steve Davis in as head coach looks a good move as he knows non-league football and did a very good job at Crewe in the Football League. Although they are pretty much starting from scratch Orient have added some decent players to the squad. The problem is everything has been a bit rushed and that will put them at a disadvantage in the first few weeks of the season and the games really do come thick and fast. Also as it stands there isn’t much depth to the side at the moment. With the play-offs going down to 7th this season they might well sneak into them as they can only get better as the season progresses, but I think a solid season this time around before a title bid next season looks the much more likely scenario.
Dagenham & Redbridge finished closest to Tranmere last season and their inconsistency cost them last term. John Still went for youth which worked very well when they were at their best, but it also meant they suffered some very poor result due to lack of experience. Still knows what he is doing though and a 4th place finish was a superb effort after relegation. At the moment Oliver Hawkins is staying and if that remains the case that will be a big plus to their promotion chances. As things stand there is no reason to think they can’t reach the play-offs for a second season running.
Eastleigh were the big disappointment of last season and they ended up with 4 mangers. In the end they were slightly fortunate not to be properly sucked into the relegation battle and Richard Hill managed to steer them clear. They look to have signed well although at the moment I still think they look a bit light especially as they were so far off the place last season. Obviously the cash is there to help, but they look a bit short in the betting given how much improvement they need to find and it would be some achievement if they were to suddenly turn into title contenders.
They say never go back, but Gary Waddock certainly proved the exception to that theory when he managed to steer Aldershot into the play-offs. That was a magnificent achievement and one that would have been hard to predict. Their home form was superb as they only lost 3 games and only the top 2 scored more points at home. To be fair the away form wasn’t bad and not much more improvement is needed on that front. The big thing for me was that Waddock signed most of the squad up prior to the play-offs last season and given they were a young side there should be plenty of improvement to come. It also says plenty about Waddock as a manager and the players because they clearly want to play for him and were happy to commit instead of looking to go elsewhere for more money. The play-offs were just a step to far as they gifted Tranmere the victory in the 1st leg, but fair play they gave it a good go in the 2nd leg. I can only see improvement from them and they could well be capable of a top 3 finish.
AFC Fylde and Ebbsfleet were both promoted last season and both have plenty of cash. Both look to have sides capable of being in play-off contention this season and I am slightly surprised Ebbsfleet are as big as 25/1. On the other-hand although promoted sides have finished in the play-offs before it has a different kettle of fish to actually be promoted let alone winning the title. Fleetwood are a very good example as of course they had plenty of cash and could only reach the play-offs at the first time of asking. Both should go well, but they would interest me a lot more after having a season at this level.
Sutton are as short as 16/1 which surprises me. Naturally after the FA Cup run they lost Roarie Deacon who went to Dundee, but they do seem to have added well to the squad including Moses Emmanuel who is one of three players signed from Dover. The big problem last season was their shocking away form, indeed opposing Sutton away was a great earner. Maybe they will be a bit more adventurous away from home in their 2nd season back at this level, but I would be surprised to see them finish much higher than mid-table.
Wrexham were miles away last season and were only 8 points away from the relegation zone. Their massive problem was scoring goals indeed only bottom side North Ferriby scored fewer which says plenty. I am predicting a much better season for them though as they have made some really good signings. However to me they still lack a striker who is capable of going and scoring 20 goals. If it wasn’t for that fact I would have been tempted to back them as I really do think they have the strongest squad they have had since they finished 2nd to Fleetwood. They could be ones to keep an eye once the season starts.
When the prices first came out Barrow were the ones who stood out as possibly the wrong price. They had a superb first half of the season which including reaching the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Things went off the rails after that though and they failed to even reach the play-offs having looked possible title contenders at one stage. Paul Cox’s sides usually do the opposite and have a good 2nd half of the season so it was strange it didn’t happen here. I don’t fancy them as much as I did in May. They have lost key players and I am not sure they have been able to make the squad stronger than last seasons. That means for the moment I am happy to pass them over.
The other team available at under 20/1 is Gateshead. They were very inconsistent last season having very good spells and having very bad spells. The squad looks solid again, but I just can’t see them making the leap required to be a top 3 contender although they will be the in play-off mix. As for the rest I find it hard to see any of them making much of a dent at the top end of the table.
So the price is on the skinny side, but ultimately I think Tranmere are the most likely winners and it looks their best chance yet to win the title. In an ideal world I would want bigger than 3/1, but I certainly want them on side. It will be interesting to see how the relegated sides get on as both have had better summers than seemed likely, but at the same time I am not sure either will quite have enough to bounce straight back up. It is so hard for promoted sides to even get into the play-offs, although this year there are two extra places up for grabs and if Ebbsfleet and/or AFC Fylde get one of those it wouldn’t surprise, but for top 3 purposes I would be much more interested in them next season. Dagenham should go well again especially if they cut out the losses to teams they should be beating and Eastleigh should improve to be in the play-off picture. If Wrexham manage to get another decent striker in I will highly likely add them to my bets, but at this stage Aldershot appeal most of the double figure priced teams. I am a big fan of Gary Waddock and I thought he did a superb job last season and they can only improve on that for me and that could well end up seeing them in title contention.
As mentioned above the play-offs go down to 7th this season and that means we have some top 7 prices. I think there is a spot of value in backing Ebbsfleet in this market at 9/4. They have strengthened well over the summer and if they are in contention come January they certainly have the backing to add players if needed. I certainly think they have a better chance of hitting the top 7 than their odds suggest.
I usually like a play on the relegation markets, but I think they are very tough this year and I don’t have massively strong views on who may finish in the bottom four. Pretty much all the clubs who were down that end of the table last season look like they are coming into the new season in decent shape. Solihull have taken a bit of a risk on players from lower down and if that doesn’t work out then they are probably the right favourites in the market, but the fact they are the only odds on side at 10/11 just shows how competitive it is set to be. Maidenhead will rely heavily on Dave Tarpey’s goals and if he struggles or gets injured they could be in trouble. Having said that Alan Devonshire did wonders with Braintree in this league so they could well survive anyway. There are two teams who I am going to have minor interests in. The first is Dover. They have done amazingly well since coming back into this division, but I think their luck might run out this term. Ricky Miller has obviously gone and he has left a massive hole that is near impossible to fill. I think they look much weaker this season and although I was hoping for bigger than 4s I am going to have a small play. The other team is Woking. Now they have been taken over and they may get some healthy investors at some point, but these things don’t always go through so I am not reading that much into it at this stage. Amazingly they sacked Gary Hill and have brought in Anthony Limbrick who is making is managerial debut with the Surrey side. For me that is a huge risk and I don’t think they look any stronger than last season when they just survived. At 5/1 they could well be the best value to go down.
National League North
This looks a cracking league this season with York coming down, Salford and Harrogate going full-time and Alfreton having new owners who seem willing to spend money. Salford are favourites and they should go very close to winning the title. Obviously their owners are well known and they are spending the money this season, by going full-time and bringing in plenty of new players. They look a very strong side on paper and as long as they gel from the start it is hard not to see them challenging and it is no surprise to see them being backed during the summer.
For me though I think York should be favourites in front of them. York are essentially the Halifax for the new season. Like Halifax, York were relegated on the final day of the season and then went on to win the FA Trophy. Crucially though neither Halifax nor York should have been relegated as both paid for poor managers in the first half of the season and the new men in charge couldn’t quite get them out of trouble. For me Gary Mills built a top half side once he got the squad sorted out and plenty of them have stayed despite the drop. Jon Parkin should score goals for fun at this level and surely only injury will stop him scoring 20+. Halifax finished 3rd and had to go up via the play-offs, but I think York are in great shape to go two places better.
It looks fairly open past the top two in the market as the betting suggest. Kidderminster pushed Fylde fairly close last season and they should go well again although they have lost key players which concerns me. Darlington weren’t allowed to take place in the play-offs because of their ground and they will be looking to make sure they get to play in them this season. You feel that Stockport are going to at least give themselves a promotion chance by making the play-offs sooner rather than later and chances are it will be this season given they only have to finish 7th. Harrogate’s manager always concerns me although they look to have a decent side again. Brackley seem to have recruited well and might be able to challenge and no doubt Chorley will be up there again.
were first to go up with the market I put up Spennymoor on Twitter at 100/1. Now that price is long gone and the chances are it will be a losing bet, but even at 33s they still look a little over priced. They are well backed and they have a good squad who I believe will be in contention for the play-offs. I am not going to put them up now, but hopefully some saw the Tweet and got the bigger prices.
I am though going to stick up Alfreton as a small each-way play. As mentioned above they have new backing this season and money has been spent on the squad. I especially like the signing of Craig Disley who was very impressive when at Grimsby and although 35 now, he should have plenty to offer still at this level. They have signed a huge 16 players and obviously how they gel will be very important, but at 20/1 I think that is more than factored into the price and they should be in the promotion picture.
National League South
The fact the bookies have priced this league up at 8/1 the field proves how hard it is going to be to back the winner. With Ebbsfleet promoted there is no money team in the division and because of that it looks a wide open league with plenty hoping they will be in the play-off picture.
Chelmsford and Dartford head the betting which is no real surprise given they finished 4th and 3rd respectively last season. Chelmsford’s original takeover fell through and now there is another on the cards although it is still yet to go through. That concerns me as does the fact they have lost some good players and I am just not sure they look as strong as they did going into last season. I am sure they will be top 7, but I am going to pass them over.
Dartford make more appeal than Chelmsford as they look in decent shape going into the new season although given the way the league is I think it is better to throw a couple of darts at double figure prices. Hemel Hempstead have already been clipped in from their first show, but at a best price of 16/1 there is still some juice in the prices. I think their manager Dean Brennan is very shrewd and he has strengthened the squad nicely including the signing of Charlie Sheringham who should be up to scoring plenty of goals for them this season. They had a very slow start last season and were never in the play-off hunt, but they should go much better this time around.
The other team I like are St Albans who did the complete opposite to Hemel. They were going so well around Christmas time that the Racing Post put them up as a bet for the title in their mid-term report pull out. The problem was they barely won a game in the 2nd half of the season. From December 10th they only won another 3 league games which saw them end the season in 10th place. Now I prefer to see sides finish a season strongly when investing in them for the next campaign, but they look to have a decent side and I like Ian Allinson as a manger especially as he got promoted from this division with a very similar side in Boreham Wood. They are a best of 25/1 and if they can replicate their first half of last season over the whole season this time around then that price could look very big come April.
Like I mention above though there are a whole host of teams who could win the title and 15 of the sides are under 20/1 with at least one bookie which just sums things up and it isn’t really a league to get that heavily involved in. I can see Poole going well, Oxford look set for a better season and they have a 3G pitch this time around, Bath look the best they have been since being back down at this level, I wouldn’t even rule out the complete outsides Weston having a say. Finally I have to mention my own side Gloucester City who have finally been placed in the Southern section for the first time since promotion to this level. If they can do as well as they did in the North last season then a play-off bid isn’t out of the question. It wasn’t a big surprise that some of our fans decided to take the 50/1 that was available on the opening show, but having said that I would be pleasantly surprised should we end up in a top 3 position come April.
Bostik Premier League
This is the league that used to be known as the Ryman Premier and is a league that has been creating plenty of headlines in recent months. Billericay and their owner/manager Glenn Tamplin have been making the news ever since he took over. He has signed player after player and to be fair to him he has been quite open that his wage bill is over £30k a week. For a step 3 side that is ridiculous because there will be League 2 clubs not even spending that much and he could have been fine with half that at least! The problem is Mr Tamplin is clearly on one big ego trip so he wants to sign the high profile names to get his name and club in the headlines. Obviously we have seen money men come in and do take clubs up through the leagues, but we have also seen the opposite where clubs have gone bust. He says he is in for the long-haul, but the club are unsustainable currently and if he leaves the club will be in a right mess. As Tamplin isn’t exactly shy every other club in the division will be out to beat them this season and because of that they might have a few troubles. The other big issue I have is that Tamplin is the manager (another reason why the whole thing is an ego trip) and that could stop them from winning the league as well. Now obviously on paper they have the strongest squad in the division and quite a few should be playing higher up the pyramid. They could easily run away with the division and those who took the opening 13/8 that Betway
went will be happy. At that price I would have stuck them in multiple bets and even at 8/13 I probably would have done the same, but they are now no bigger than 1/2 and there is little point at that price in backing them at all. Only Billericay fans and backers will be hoping they win the league this season and everyone else will be hoping they fail.
opened up they were going 1/4 odds 3 places and I Tweeted that Dulwich and Leatherhead were worth backing. Now since then Betway
have changed their terms and have gone 1/3 odds 2 places. I thought Dulwich were a fantastic bet with the 3 places. They are so consistent and they should at the very least match their 3rd place from last season. For the 2nd year running they lost in the play-off final and it could be the play-offs again, but they look to have strengthened well. They also have the largest fan-base in the division which is a crucial factor for me. They play good football as well and they really do deserve to be a National League South side come the end of the season. Now I suggest having a small bet at 20/1 with bet365
with just the first two places up for grabs, but good old Betway
have created a betting without Billericay market and that offers the chance for us to back them at 9/2 with 3 places on offer so that should mean they only have to finish in the top 4 and we make a small profit. If they finish 2nd to Billericay or even win the league then we will have hit the jackpot. To me that is the best ante-post bet for the season.
I mentioned I have backed Leatherhead as well and I like the side new manager Sammy Moore has put together. They should be capable of much better than they showed last season and they are 12/1 in the betting without market. Margate are in between them and Dulwich and they tried to do what Billericay are looking to. Now I am sure their wage bill wasn’t as much as £30k, but they spent plenty of cash and could only finish 2nd to Maidstone and then the money man left and it all went pear shaped, so much so they are pretty lucky the club still exists. The club look in much better shape off the field now and with a 3G pitch they should be capable of being in the play-offs.
Evo-Stik Northern Premier
It would be nice to put up the first two as I did last season, but it looks a much tougher task in trying to do that this time around. I am a little surprised that Stourbridge are favourites as they have had quite a few key players leave after yet another superb FA Cup run. That isn’t to say they won’t be capable of going close, but there has to be a question mark over them as a lot depends on if the new players can prove themselves to be as good as those that have left.
Altrincham were a big surprise package last season as I would not have predicted they would do as badly as they did. They are a big side at this level and they look to have got a decent squad together. It would be no surprise if they bounced back at the first time of asking. I’m very surprised by the price of the other relegated side Stalybridge and 20/1 looks on the big side. Steve Burr is a very good and experienced manager and he certainly improved them at the back end of last season. I would be a little surprised if they weren’t in the play-off hunt at the very least. Shaw Lane are well backed although might need a season at this level and are ground sharing this season. Another team at a big price who could go well is Warrington and Paul Carden looks to have done some shrewd business so I will be adding them to Alty and Staly as the bets in this league.
Evo-Stik Southern Premier
Hereford are quite strong favourites for this league after gaining back to back promotions since they reformed. My feelings are though that they are going to find this much tougher than the previous two seasons. Big teams have often not gone up at the first time of asking from this level and although they will be fair the biggest team in the division I don’t think they will have it all their own way as the betting suggests they will. It is also worth baring in mind this looks a really competitive division this time around and although Hereford are almost certain to be in the mix, I think the value lies elsewhere.
Every other team is a double figure price and they are headed by last year’s 3rd and 4th placed teams Hitchin and Merthyr. I worry slightly about Merthyr as they have lost key players although both should be in and around the play-offs again. However I prefer the chances of the other play-off team from last season Slough. They looked real title contenders for at least half the season, but faltered badly in the last months ending up finishing 5th. With that first season in the league behind them they should be capable of building on that and the team look stronger as well.
Royston are another of the promoted sides, but some of their signings have really caught the eye especially getting hold of Adam Marriott who was at Lincoln last season and has scored plenty of goals at this level in the past. They will more than likely need another season, but I think they are worth covering.
The other team to back are Kettering. Now I have put them up the last two seasons and they haven’t got close. They should have done much better than they have and I probably should leave them alone, but there are two reasons why I can’t. First of all the price of 25/1 is simply too big and secondly they have what looks on paper to be a very strong side who should be challenging for the promotion. So given they are much bigger than they have been previously I am going in again and hoping it will be 3rd time lucky.
Obviously the Trophy doesn’t start for a while yet and it isn’t usually something I have a bet in let alone have one before the season starts, but I think their is a speculative play to be had. Step 3 sides have done well in this competition in the last couple of seasons with two sides reaching the semi-finals two years ago and Dulwich made the quarter-finals last season taking Macclesfield to a replay. Now as much as I don’t want them to win it and am taking them on in the league, there is every chance and Billericay could run away with the Bostik Premier this season. They have the potential to possibly be the best ever side at this level and with teams in the National League not having it as their main focus then granted some luck with the draw they could easily make the final. I am sure their owner would love a day out at Wembley and at 100/1 I think it is worth throwing a few quid each-way on them as there are definitely worse 100/1 bets out there.