We asked the great and the good back at the start of the season about their opinions on the season ahead so we thought it high time we went back and got some updates.
A big thanks to Anthony Smith (Bracknell News), Jon Palmer (Gloucestershire Live), Graeme Copas (Maidenhead Advertiser), Rob Stevens (Slough Observer), James Rees (Oxon Football) and Tom Crocker (Wokingham Paper) for their contributions and opinions.
Can anyone stop Bracknell Town in the Premier this season?
Anthony Smith: NO!
James Rees: After my last Bracknell prediction I’m probably best erring on the side of caution (James went for Thatcham as the champions this season). It looks like it could be a thrilling title race this season. Flackwell and Thame are well placed to put in a tough challenge, and they’re all in superb form at the moment. Bracknell and Thame might just hold the advantage with their games in hand, but after that it’s almost too tough to call. I have a hunch the Robins could do it though.
Rob Stevens: The battle for the Hellenic Premier Division title is far from a one-club race with Thame United, Flackwell Heath and Thatcham Town all within striking distance of current leaders Bracknell Town. Bracknell currently enjoy a lead at the top, but it is only a narrow one, and everyone involved with the Robins will know they have to continue to work hard to put together a good sequence of results.
Graeme Copas: Unlikely, although Flackwell Heath are the type of team who could win all their remaining matches.
Jon Palmer: No
Tom Crocker: I am expecting Bracknell to get over the line now and win the league. They appear to be riding the crest of a wave, have settled nicely into their new surroundings and have a lot of top players in great form. There obviously are a couple of sides who could still overtake them but I think it will take something special to stop Bracknell from here.
Who will win the Hellenic Premier?
James Rees: Bracknell Town
Rob Stevens: Flackwell Heath
Graeme Copas: Bracknell Town
Jon Palmer: Bracknell Town
Tom Crocker: Bracknell Town
Who has been your surprise team of the season (all Hellenic divisions)?
Anthony Smith: Bracknell, given finishing position in recent seasons.
James Rees: Thame if I’m being honest. I was expecting another solid season from them, rather than for them to hit the heights they have this season. Everything just seems to have come together this season.
Rob Stevens: Bracknell Town – not just because they are top of the league table but because, on and off the pitch, they are making real strides forward. It would be fantastic to see the Robins as a leading force in local non-league football again.
Graeme Copas: Thatcham have maintained their challenge well.
Jon Palmer: Tuffley Rovers
Tom Crocker: From the teams we cover extensively I will say Woodley United. You can never be fully sure how a new manager will do but Michael Herbert has come in and done a brilliant job, overseeing a big transition of players and taken the side from the bottom of the league to being serious contenders at the top.
Who has been the most impressive player (all Hellenic divisions)?
Anthony Smith: Adam Cornell
James Rees: I’ll go with Andrew Gledhill for him phenomenal scoring rate at the start of the season. Slowed down a bit since, he’s been out injured for a few weeks, but 33 goals in all competitions is still some going.
Rob Stevens: TJ Bohane of Bracknell Town is a name that features on a regular basis for his goals and assists. He is one of a number of Robins players who could make a move up the English football pyramid.
Graeme Copas: Obvious I know, but Flackwell’s Dan Bayliss has impressed.
Jon Palmer: Ollie Pitt, Brimscombe & Thrupp
Tom Crocker: Again from the sides we cover I’ll say Charlie Oakley at Woodley. I think the stats speak for themselves with 17 goals from 19 games (even more if you count the games that got called off after he scored!). There have obviously been some outstanding displays of scoring in the top flight but much of Woodley’s rise has centred around narrow wins, defending well and taking the chance when it comes and Oakley has invariably been the man to do that.
What or who has been the biggest disappointment of the season so far (all Hellenic divisions)?
Anthony Smith: I wouldn’t say ‘disappointment’ but it’s a great shame to see Ascot United struggling and the recent managerial changes (though good luck to Neil Richards).
James Rees: The way everything fell apart at Carterton earlier in the season. They had a promising side, even if they weren’t necessarily going to be fighting at the top end of the table. Whatever the truth of what happened surrounding Ben Sadler’s resignation, it was a tragedy they had to drop out of the league, although at least they might be back next season.
Rob Stevens: Burnham have been on a slippery slide down the football pyramid for three years now and the club is clearly in an un-healthy position. Time will tell if Mark Betts and Jon Palmer are the right men to keep the Blues in the Premier Division, they made a winning start on Saturday, but are they just fire-fighters on part of a long-term plan at The Gore?
Graeme Copas: Burnham, although that could be about to change. Ascot United have disappointed too.
Jon Palmer: Old Woodstock
Tom Crocker: On the pitch, Wokingham and Emmbrook’s campaign in One East has to be looked upon as disappointing. I’m sure anyone at the club would be the first to admit they expected to be challenging for an immediate return to the Premier, but it just hasn’t materialised. That said, it is brilliant that football is back at Lowther Road and there has been some shrewd recruitment of players so I’d expect their results to turn in the latter weeks of the season.
Which club has provided the best welcome in the Hellenic League (food/facilities/football)?
Anthony Smith: Dave Wright, our groundhopper, speaks highly of all our local clubs (Binfield, Bracknell, Ascot etc) and also Flackwell and Ardley.
James Rees: Hook Norton have to be for me one of the most friendly clubs in the league, they have always made me feel very welcome, and the team plays with a lot of spirit too.
Rob Stevens: Brimscombe & Thrupp have quite a unique ground at The Meadow and, on my sole visit, made me feel incredibly welcome. It is a ground I can recommend for anyone that has never been before and Chalvey Sports will have a great day out this Saturday!
Graeme Copas: Burnham
Jon Palmer: Brimscombe & Thrupp
Tom Crocker: Sadly not visited enough so far to give a fair answer here!
Who do you think will be coming up to the Premier Division next season from Division 1 East and West?
Anthony Smith: Looks like a two-horse race in Div 1 East between Penjn & Tylers and Woodley – so let’s go for Woodley! Fairford to win Div 1 West.
James Rees: Hook Norton and Fairford Town without a doubt from the West, with all due respect to the likes of Abingdon and Easington. The East looks tougher to call. Penn & Tylers Green are obviously the favourites again, but I don’t know if they’ve done enough to their ground to be eligible to go up. It could be a similar situation with the other contenders too – Headington certainly couldn’t go up with their current ground situation, for example.
Rob Stevens: It is difficult to say who without knowing if the club’s have the appropriate ground grading and facilities, but on current form, I will go for Penn & Tylers Green (East) and Hook Norton (West)
Graeme Copas: Penn & Tylers Green, and Fairford.
Jon Palmer: Fairford Town/Penn & Tylers
Tom Crocker: From 1 East I think Penn and Tylers and Woodley will be the top two and it’s hard to see anyone really breaking past the top two of Hook Norton and Fairford in 1 West, they’ve got a nice cushion.