The Uhlsport Hellenic Premier Division season kicks off in just under 24 hours so we thought we’d ask a few experts how they think the season will go.
Dave Wright of the Bracknell News (left in the image), James Rees at OxOn Football (right in the image) and Jon Palmer from Gloucestershire Live (centre in the image) have shared their thoughts on the season ahead with Bracknell Town the undeniable Premier Division favourites.
Here’s what our panel reckon:
Who are your Hellenic Premier title favourites?
Jon Palmer: Bracknell Town
Dave Wright: Bracknell Town
James Rees: Bracknell Town
Who are your Hellenic Div 1 East title favourites?
JP: Penn & Tylers Green
DW: Penn & Tylers Green
JR: Penn & Tylers Green
Who are your Hellenic Div 1 West title favourites?
JP: Cheltenham Saracens
DW: Ardley United
JR: Ardley United
Who’s your player to watch out for this season?
JP: Lee Smith at Fairford Town, vastly experienced at higher levels and at 33, still has plenty to offer. Guaranteed goals.
DW: Seb Bowerman – Bracknell’s very pacy wide man always looks capable of scoring or setting up goals for others.
JR: There’s a lot of players who could be key for Wantage this season, but Charlie Wise seems to me to be one who stands out, and not just because of his height! He was highly thought of when he was at Banbury United and Kidlington, but injuries have held him back a bit. He’s a real presence in defence, and is capable of picking up the odd goal too, so if he stays fit he should be an important player for them.
Who’s your young player to watch out for this season?
JP: Lewis Clayton, a young goalkeeper at Cheltenham Town set to join Brimscombe and Thrupp for experience and a real talent.
DW: Grant – Alfie, Harry and Joe x 2. Take your pick. All very talented
JR: Abingdon United’s Jayce Mascarenhas-Olivero, if only because he must be the only player in the Hellenic League with actual international experience – seven caps so far for Gibraltar, at the age of just 19. Playing against teams as esteemed as Portugal and Belgium can surely help him develop as a player, an experience few at this level can claim to have, and he’s looked lively on the left on the occasions that I’ve seen him play.
Who, or what team impressed you the most last season?
JP: Has to be Thame United for winning the title race in a fiercely competitive division.
DW: Bracknell Town – made tremendous strides on and off the field. Have raised the bar for the rest of the Uhlsport Hellenic League clubs.
JR: I’m going to be biased, and predictable, by saying Thame United. Not many gave them a chance of winning the league but they were brilliant pretty much all season. First Andrew Gledhill then Lynton Goss scored a ridiculous amount of goals, and they didn’t fade away at the business end of the season – they demolished Flackwell at home, and when it looked like they needed eight goals against Henley on the final day, it was never in doubt after the first few minutes, they had it in them to just get on with it.
Which team was the biggest disappointment last season?
JP: The trials and tribulations of Cheltenham Saracens, but they should be a lot stronger this season after nearly dropping out altogether.
DW: The continued abuse to referees and their assistants, both from players and supporters.
JR: Burnham were a big disappointment and were lucky not to be relegated for a third consecutive season, but from my local perspective, it was a shame Henley Town couldn’t be more competitive in the Premier Division. There were a lot of mitigating factors, but they went down with a whimper in the end. I just hope they can rebuild back in Division One East, despite further upheavals over the summer.
What do you expect from the clubs you cover during 2017/18?
JP: I expect Fairford Town to be strong after stepping up to the Premier Division and Cheltenham Saracens to be much-improved. I expect Brimscombe and Thrupp to be the top performing Gloucestershire side, but Tuffley Rovers, Lydney Town and Longlevens should all be in for decent campaigns too and hopefully top half finishes.
DW: Bracknell Town – look certain to make another strong challenge for the title and should be capable of retaining one or more of the three cups they won last season.
Binfield – if they can get a consistent team together early doors they should improve during the season and could be capable of a top 10 finish.
Ascot United – look a mainly young side and so may need time to gel as their youngsters become accustomed to the Hellenic Premier Division.
Highmoor Ibis – were very disappointing last season, with a poor disciplinary record not helping. Player availability will be vital if they are to finish in the top half of the table.
Wokingham & Emmbrook – with Dan Bateman returning to the management team, the Sumas could be in for a good season, even mounting a promotion challenge.
Woodley United – will find it much tougher going in the Premier Division than they did in Division 1 East. But they have a bright manager in Michael Herbert and he could mastermind a few shock results.
JR: It’s been a really seismic summer in Oxfordshire, with the loss of Hook Norton, the goings on at Ardley and lots of teams going up or down, so it’s difficult to be sure. In the Premier Division, Wantage Town are rebuilding after three tough years in the Southern League, and whilst I don’t think they’ll struggle, their pre-season results don’t suggest they’ll be competing at the top. Abingdon United have grown a lot as a team since relegation, and they’ll be stronger now they’re back, whilst with Oxford City Nomads becoming more of a development side again, there’s no saying how they’ll fare.
Finally, which Hellenic League ground in your region (any division) would you recommend for an away trip?
JP: All pleasant venues, but Brimscombe and Thrupp stands out as the most scenic of the lot.
DW: Windsor – an old fashioned ground with a lot of character
JR: I’m going to cheat and say two. Now they’re both back in the Hellenic, Abingdon Town and Wallingford Town will both be worth visiting this year. Abingdon’s Culham Road is a classic lower league ground that has finally been given some TLC over the summer, it’s been good to see the changes as I pass by to and from work every day. Wallingford’s a good ground too. A couple of years ago they had a bus behind one of the goals, which doubled up as a bar, not sure if it’s still there but an added attraction if it is.