The Hellenic Football League season is just over two weeks away, so we sat down with our panel of experts from local media outlets to find out their thoughts ahead of the new terms.
Joining the first FootballinBracknell #HellenicPanel are James Bartaby of undertheleague.com, Dave Wright of bracknellnews.co.uk, Lewis Rudd of wokinghampaper.com and James Rees from OxonFootball giving us a flavour from outside our area.
Are you eager for the new season or enjoying the break?
JB: A bit of both really. I didn’t get to as many games as I’d like last season, but the Non League Finals Day really got me excited for the coming season.
JR: I’m enjoying the Euros but can’t wait to to be able to go to games again
DW: Enjoying the break thanks, plenty of quality local cricket to watch and cover.
LR: Absolutely. All football fans look forward to the new season, don’t they?!? We’ve been privileged, too, with Euro 2016 keeping us occupied during the close season, and I’m a big fan of tournament football, but the less said about England the better. But now it’s all about pre-season and looking forward to seeing how our local teams will be preparing and rebuilding ahead of their respective campaigns. And given the changing of the guards we are witnessing to at some of our clubs, it should certainly spice things up from a local perspective.
Who, or what team impressed you the most last season?
JB: Hampton & Richmond Borough (the first non-league club I went to watch) did really well, winning the Ryman Premier Division, and the end of the Combined Counties Premier season was exceptional.
JR: Kidlington – an impressive run in the Vase of course but after that they made what looked like a thrilling title race into a procession, such was their form at the end of the season.
DW: Flackwell Heath and Kidlington were both excellent sides in the Premier Division.
LR: Good question. It’s hard to pick out one team ahead of another because they all had their moments last season. Ascot United once again consolidated their position as one of the leading teams in the Hellenic Premier Division [this coming season seems much less certain – ed] and added the Floodlit Cup to the cabinet, Bracknell Town rallied excellently under Mark Tallentire and Binfield had their moments in the league and cups – reaching two finals is certainly not to be sniffed at. People may be surprised to hear this, but the team which did impress me greatly was Finchampstead. Okay, the season was to peter out during the latter stages, but on the whole I thought they had an excellent year. Enjoying long spells in the upper echelons of Division 1 East should offer some encouragement going forward, and it was great to see Greg Alexander have a fine term in front of goal.
Who, or what team disappointed you the most last season?
JB: As a Yorkshireman, I have a soft spot for FC Halifax Town. Their season was a disaster from start to finish in the National League, going through multiple managers and eventually getting relegated. Their FA Trophy win though was special.
JR: Abingdon United – considering where they were a few years ago it was a massive shame to see them drop down to Division One. But they’ve decided to focus on youth, and hopefully they will reap the rewards of their long-term plan in the next couple of seasons.
DW: I was expecting a bit more from Wokingham & Emmbrook if I’m honest. Thought they’d be a mid-table side but they struggled all season which was a shame.
LR: It pains me to say this, but Wokingham and Emmbrook. I’ve witnessed many a fine moment covering the Sumas over the years, but never did I expect, nor anticipate, their return to the top flight would go as horribly wrong as it did. Injuries and unavailability, admittedly, did not help their cause, but I still thought they had the nucleus of a squad to at least avoid the drop. But they say you learn from your experiences, so let’s hope this is the case. It was also sad to see Dan Bateman and Matt Eggleston call it a day following a hugely successful spell in charge.
Who will finish higher?
That’s what the experts reckon, but what about you?
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What do you expect from the clubs you cover during 2016/17?
JB: Hampton & Richmond Borough should more than hold their own back in National South after a four year absence, while Bracknell Town will hopefully have a great season to celebrate the redevelopment of the ground and their new 3G pitch.
JR: Thame United I imagine will be close to the leading pack as always, but Carterton could be a big threat after winning Division One West last season. Oxford City Nomads should be around mid-table, and probably Ardley United too if they can rebound from an indifferent season last year. I’m not sure how Henley Town will settle back into the top flight, but there were certainly signs when I saw them last season that they could compete. Hook Norton should be in contention for the title in Division One West, and Bicester Town should do well again in the East.
DW: I reckon Bracknell Town will show the biggest improvement, with a top-four finish a real possibility. There have been quite a few changes at Binfield, so their chances could depend on Roger Herridge’s squad when the season starts. The same applies to Ascot United who have the potential to challenge at the top. As for Highmoor Ibis, you never know what team will turn up. But I’m expecting better things from them this season at their new headquarters at Scours Lane. Wokingham & Emmbook may lose a few players following their relegation back to Division One East, but I think their yo-yo form will continue and they could be up there near the top. Woodley United should surely do better than last season’s bottom-of-the-table finish, but promoted Henley Town could find life a lot tougher in a higher division, but once they find their feet they will be capable of a mid-table placing.
LR: Wokingham and Emmbrook: I’d expect nothing less then a title/promotion tilt. They have done well to keep hold of some of their more establish players, although losing others was to be expected, and they have made a shrewd appointment in Clive McNelly, a stalwart who knows everything about the fixtures and fittings at the club and will be desperate to see them succeed. Their biggest battle this season, however, is likely to come off the pitch and their efforts to improve Lowther Road which, I hope for everyone involved, reaches a positive outcome. Finchampstead: Boss Jon Laugharne will no doubt want to see his side continue to climb an upward curve, and I’ve no doubt they can do that. Woodley United: Michael Herbert has become the latest man tasked with trying to revive the club’s fortunes and I hope to see them competing higher up the table. Binfield: Roger Herridge is once again using his contacts book to good effect and is assembling another team which should do well on all fronts. I’m backing them for a top six finish (if not better) and to add a trophy to the cabinet.
Where do your clubs need to improve for 2016/17?
JB: Bracknell Town could do with a bit more consistency, on and off the pitch. Last season there was far too much disruption in the dugout, and losing top scorer Shane Cooper-Clark didn’t help either. Mark Tallentire is an excellent manager, though, and he is assembling a good team around him in terms of coaching staff, including Beaconsfield SYCOB manager Geoff Warner, and has already made a couple of interesting signings.
JR: I think greater consistency across the board is probably needed. Thame for one are a good side but only won half of their games last season, whilst Ardley should benefit from more stability after Paul Davis replaced Kevin Brock early on last year.
DW: Not so much clubs, but the league needs to improve its fixture arrangements and stop these crazy midweek trips to Gloucestershire etc. Also, some clubs need to take a leaf out of Bracknell Town and Binfield’s book when it comes to press food!
‘For Finch I’d probably say just keep doing what you do’
LR: Wokingham and Emmbrook and Woodley United will be probably be hoping to see an improvement in consistency when it comes to team selection and availability – but which club wouldn’t at this level. With United appointing a new manager, it will no doubt be a clean slate approach so anything better than last term should be considered an improvement. For Finch I’d probably say just keep doing what you do.
Player to look out for during 2016/17 and why?
JB: Ian Davies. One of Bracknell’s early summer signings, he was a goal machine at Binfield a couple of seasons ago, and was prolific last season at Thatcham despite not being a regular starter. He has the quality to score a similar amount of goals to what Shane got at The Lane.
JR: Jack Dunmall scored 19 goals in 25 games for Carterton last season. If he’s staying with them this year it will be interesting to see if he can keep that up in the Premier Division.
DW: Binfield’s Lewis Leonetti can easily play at a higher level and is one to watch. George Lock, the young Bracknell Town full-back, should also make a big impact after an excellent season last year.
LR: I do like James Knight at Binfield. A tenacious midfielder who was deserving of the Moles’ Player of the Season award. Happy to do the dirty work and goes about his job with the minimum of fuss.
Can Wokingham & Emmbrook make an immediate return to the Hellenic Premier?
Who will win the Premier Division in 2016/17?
JR: Thatcham Town seem the obvious choice at the moment, but Flackwell Heath and Highworth Town could be close too.
DW: Our neighbours from West Berkshire, Thatcham Town.
LR: Thatcham Town