A quick run through who the Cooks will be facing this season, starting with the new teams to our league.
The Stutes are the only relegated team coming into our league, having lost out in the Step 4/5 play-offs 1-2 at home to Consett AFC from the Northern League. Histon had finished 18th in the Pitching-In Northern Premier League Division One Midlands last season, but they have kept faith in manager Lance Key who has also retained the majority of his squad. Home form really let them down with just two league wins all season at Bridge Road, whilst they did manage to be victorious on five occasions on the road. Pre-season hasn’t been particularly impressive for the Stutes, but the fact that will go into the season as a unit with the experience of playing at the higher level should see them in upper mid-table at the worst, with the chance of being top four if they get off to a good start.
MILTON KEYNES IRISH
The Bletchley based MK Irish have been moved sideways by the F.A, something that they were far from pleased about at first, but they have accepted their fate and will look to push on under the guidance of Terry Shrieves, who himself is something of a legend from his playing days around Northamptonshire. The club were formed in a merger between former UCL club Buckingham Town and Unite MK and were promoted to step five of the Spartan South Midlands League at the end of 20/21. In their first season in the Premier Division they finished mid-table in 12th spot. One name we will be very familiar with is striker Dom Lawless who bagged 22 goals for the Irish last season. I see them as a mid-table team who could win some big games along the way.
MARCH TOWN UNITED
The Hares have been moved across from the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League Premier Division where they had finished in tenth spot. Manager Ashley Taylor has a smattering of players in his squad who have played UCL football, with former Wisbech Town striker Jack Friend banging in 27 goals last season. They have already picked up some silverware in pre-season with a 3-2 win over Holbeach United with Friend on target alongside a Danny Emmington double winning them the BKD Trophy. Mid-table beckons in their first year in new surroundings, but they might just turn out to be one of the surprises.
And on to the more familiar.
NEWPORT PAGNELL TOWN
Last season’s F.A Vase winner’s finished fifth last season and you would have to be a brave person to write them off in their challenge to bring step four football to the Milton Keynes town next year. Manager Garry Flynn has kept almost all of last season’s squad and added some real quality too. Shane Bush had been captain of Biggleswade Town for a few years before joining up with AFC Rushden & Diamonds last season as is a real coup for the Swans, as is the experienced Russell Short who has spent almost all of his career to date playing at a higher level. Another signing of note is from the other end of the spectrum in the shape of Albie Hall who scored 44 times last season for Pitstone & Ivinghoe.
I believe that Sphinx will be the main challengers to Newport Pagnell in the battle for the championship next April and if they continue the form they showed last season they may just pip them to the post. Joint management team of John Woodward and Shaun Thomas appear to have kept hold of most of last season’s squad that finished third in the table, but a notable absence from their full-time squad and pre-season social media is attacking-midfielder Callum Stewart who scored an incredible 40 goals for them last season. If they have lost his services that would be a big blow to the Coventry club.
The Valley are always amongst the favourites for the title, but so far they have always come up a little short. Carl Adams has been at the helm since they joined the UCL and still occupies the hot seat at Butlin Road and will hope to build on their great finish to last season that saw them take third spot. David Kolodynski remains at the club and is their all-time leading scorer and has been doing the business in per-season once more, but they have plenty of fire power around to keep opponents defences busy. Three former players have returned to the club in the summer in the form of Charlie Evans, Ryan Seal and keeper Matt Hill which further boosts their squad, just need to find the consistency they have lacked over recent seasons.
The Doughboys are back under the management of Jake Stone and he has been busy adding to his squad in the summer. Rico Alexander, who had been Cogenhoe’s skipper last season, plus his teammate Ryan Archer have both signed, along with Jake Stronge who has transferred over from the Newport Pagnell. Long term skipper Josh Melling has moved on, but they have kept hold of the services of Jack O’Connor who takes the armband despite plenty of interest from elsewhere. Could well be top five if they find their form.
Eynesbury have lost their manager Rob Sinclair to Real Bedford in the summer and he has taken a number of players with him, so it is a bit of a rebuild for new the new management team of Mark Spavins, Ronayne Marsh-Brown and Neil Morris, but they have already made some very good looking signings. Amongst these are former Histon skipper Max York, Jordan Slama, Josh Marshall, Jonny Butler and Kwai Marsh-Brown who have all played at a higher level, whilst a name more familiar to UCL fans is Reece King, who has made the short trip across from Godmanchester Rovers. If they gel quickly, they might be in with a shot of top five.
Goddy finished eleventh last time out and could be a surprise package this time around. In skipper Simon Unwin they have a real leader and manager Jamie Greygoose has built a battling team who will give him their all every game. One key signing is the much-travelled Declan Rogers who has a lot of experience at a higher level as well as knowing the UCL very well, but you wouldn’t put money on him still being there at the end of the season.
BUGBROOKE ST MICHAELS
Under new management at the Sett, but the home fans are well aware of what they are getting as Reserve team boss Dale Walton steps up into the hot-seat with assistance from all-conquering U18 gaffer Daniel Powell. All of last season’s first team squad have moved on, mainly following the out-going gaffer Jamie Forrest to O.N Chenecks, but Walton’s young reserves have stepped up after winning the UCL Reserve Division last season, plus a few of the U18s have joined them in their new adventure. A big addition is former AFC Rushden & Diamonds striker Will Jones after the youngster left Hayden Road recently and whilst it may be a little soon for this group of youngsters to be pushing for the title, I think they could be pushing top ten with more to come in the future.
Another club under new management with Andy Sharman stepping up after being in charge of the Development team in the Oxfordshire League last season, guiding them to third spot in Division One. He is joined by assistant Tommy Kinch who has played most of his career at step five or higher and coach Mark Boyland whose experienced on the field came at a much higher level and was a fan’s favourite at Cheltenham Town. The Banbury based club finished 14th last time out which was their first in the UCL after transferring across from the more appropriately positioned Hellenic League. I don’t see them as a top six team, but they may improve on last season’s spot and push for top ten.
Jim Le Masurier remains in charge at Waterworks Field and will be looking for more consistency from his team this time around after finishing with just four teams below them last season. There doesn’t seem to be many changes to his squad at this stage and with no particularly noticeable signings it could well be a similar result come next April too.
The Red & Green’s first season in the UCL was a very mixed affair, starting off with a big budget and looking like potential promotion candidates, but three manager’s, the chairman’s resignation and a slashed budget meant they finished with a very young squad in a respectable 8th place. Ivor Lawton will manage the first team and whilst pre-season has seen teams of trialists take the field, he has secured a number of players from the squad that finished 20/21. It is difficult to see them finishing as high this this season, but they should have enough to escape the relegation zone.
G.N.G OADBY TOWN
Oadby are one of those teams who seem to lack any sort of consistency and with the club seeming to always be in some sort of difficulty off the pitch. They finished 16th last season, but picked up some great results, whilst losing games you would have expected them to win. They used 51 players last season which probably goes a long way to explain their inconsistency and they have already signed on 48 players for this season, although that covers both first and reserve team squads. Pre-season has gone very well for the Poachers which may mean a better season for the Leicestershire club, but a poor start to the league campaign could well see them struggle again.
Corinthians spent the majority of last season looking over their shoulders at the wrong end of the table and eventually escaped relegation by two places and just three points. Their young squad will hopefully have taken something out of this experience, but if they don’t start particularly well they may be in for a repeat this time around.
The Swifts finished 6th last season, but I don’t see them repeating that feat this time with a largely new squad following the departure of long term manager Josh Dixon in the summer to Aylestone Park. Will Andrew is the man taking over the reins with a big act to follow and he has brought in a lot of new players to Dunley Way and it is difficult to predict how they will fair. Their social media only mentions one friendly match, a 4-3 defeat to Anstey Nomads in early July so I have no idea what to expect from them this year, but feel they could struggle.
Former Cogenhoe United Reserve team manager and most recently gaffer at SSML D1 team Craig Hayward has taken over as manager at Station Road with this being his highest appointment so far in is young career. He has brought in a number of new players, but most have little or no experience in the UCL Premier Division and I feel they made end up at the wrong end of the table. Craig is a friend of mine so I hope I am wrong and it works out well for the Bucks, but my gut feeling is leaning the other way I’m afraid.
And finally, with no predictions of course,
Former AFC Rushden & Diamonds assistant manager Scott Carlin took over the Compton Park reins in the summer and brought in Andy Batty as his assistant and Ryan Farmer as coach. This likeable and experienced trio have been forced to bring in a large amount of new faces with so many of last season’s squad opting to move on, but they have impressed us with the quality on show so far in pre-season. Leaving are Rico Alexander and Ryan Archer (Wellingborough Town), Tom Wakley and Alex Vaughan (Melton Town), Craig Foxall (Potton United), Dan Mortimer (Sileby Rangers) and Archie Culley (yet to sign for anyone but has been training with a few clubs).
Staying put are Will Bates, Paddy Cichosz, Archie Elmore, Josh Adams, Luca Iaciofano, Luke Andrews and Jessi Obeng, with the rest of the squad being new. Keeper Regan Saunt, defenders Ben Gough & Kodi Briggs and midfielder Mitch White all gained experienced at SSML Langford last season (Briggs has dual-registered with them this season too) and they are part of a number of players who have linked up again with Carlin through his connections at Moulton College. Towering centre half Brad Marshall has joined from Corby Strip Mills, Luca Purse from Biggleswade Town, Louie Barrett from Wellingborough Town, Luke McDonald from Roade, whilst Pharell Anderson, Harley Mallard, Alex Parkes, Callum Farmer, Owen Brooks, Lewis Green and Dylan Carlin are mainly stepping up into senior football for the first time, mostly from the Moulton College Academy.
I’m expecting this talented bunch of youngsters to fair pretty well this season, but there are sure to be ups-and-downs along the way with such a young squad. No predictions of course, but I’m sure the Compton Park faithful are going to thoroughly entertained this season.