John Gorman’s Weekly Preview

“Another opening, another show” as the song says. Barely ninety days after the League called time on a rain ravaged season it all gets under way again, happily in August after the FA returned the FA Cup to its normal date of the second Saturday of the month.

A virtually full Programme to follow Friendly matches played in sub-tropical temperatures, and as usual we will begin with the Premier Division which commences with one fixture on Friday evening and it is a game that should get the season off to a first class start. Hamble Club is the venue and Lymington Town are the visitors and with the two sides finishing just two places apart last season it is a game too close to call. Hamble Club coped successfully with their first season at this level, with Nathan Lynch seemingly scoring goals for fun, and Lymington are a hard side to beat. The corresponding clash last season produced eight goals and a repeat of that will be more than welcome.

On to Saturday and Sholing, probably many people’s idea of Champions, face a never easy trip to Bemerton while AFC Portchester, with a new Management team now settled in, will pose a threat as they strive again to reach a higher level. They start at home with Team Solent in opposition. The Students probably did not fare as well as they wished last season and will no doubt have their usual problems with regard to availability in early August.

Hamworthy United, fifth last season, are another Club looking to progress and they open their campaign with a visit from Cowes Sports. The Yachtsmen flirted with relegation for most of last season and will be glad to get a difficult journey out of the way so early in the year, but a good result on the field may be a difficult proposition. Two of the longest established Clubs in the League, Brockenhurst and Bournemouth, continue a rivalry that dates back to the League’s inauguration whilst Alresford are another faced with a long journey. The North Hampshire side have made some shrewd purchases in the summer and will travel to Portland with a view to improving on last season’s seventh place. The Dorset side were always going to find last season difficult as Champions, and a change of Manager mid-season and too many drawn matches saw them finish in fifteenth spot.

Baffins Milton Rovers and Shaftesbury who both acquitted themselves well in their initial season at this level meet at Cockrams with very little to choose between them. That just leaves the three promoted Clubs to cover. Christchurch, returning to the higher level as First Division Champions, face a difficult journey and task at Horndean. The Five Heads Park Club achieved their highest ever placing last season – fourth – and won many plaudits for their style of play and will offer their visitors a stiff introduction to their new venture. The remaining two promoted sides, Andover New Street and Tadley Calleva will be both playing at this level for the first time and will perhaps need to find their feet quickly. New Street travel to the always hospitable Bashley, who were probably disappointed with their fourteenth place last season, whilst Tadley welcome Fareham to Barlows Park for the very first time. The Cams Alders Club were consistently inconsistent last season and were at times considerably better than their eventual sixteenth place suggested.

Division One also gets under way on Friday evening when Romsey entertain Hythe and Dibden. Previous Friday games at the By Pass ground have attracted larger than usual attendances and Romsey will hope for the same again as they start what they will hope will be a promotion push. They were in the mix for most of last season until falling away at the end whilst Hythe and Dibden finished in fifteenth place with lack of goals a problem. The Waterside Club have been to Germany pre-season though after that country’s showing in the World Cup football may have been somewhat muted.

Newport suffered relegation last season after many years at the higher level and with a new ground taking much of their time they still appear to be a Club in a state of flux. They travel to Alton on day one and like most visitors to Anstey, will find their hosts close to invincible on their own ground.

An interesting game in prospect at the Portway where AFC Stoneham take on Andover Town. Stoneham just missed out on promotion last season and will be amongst the favourites this time round whilst Andover will be something of an unknown quantity. After their surprising decision to decline promotion in the summer they find themselves in Division One and with a completely new side and not blessed with the easiest of starts.

US Portsmouth who, like Stoneham, narrowly missed out on promotion last time round make the cross- country trip to Downton and will surely be there or thereabouts come the seasons end whilst their hosts will be seeking a little more consistency. Fawley AFC finished last season strongly to gain ninth place and a League Cup Final appearance and cross the Solent to meet East Cowes. The Islanders were in the lower reaches for most of the last campaign but look to have strengthened their side over the summer.

This will be a crucial season for Petersfield as they attempt to halt the downward spiral they have suffered over the last couple of years. They conceded an average of four goals a game and finished ten points adrift in the Premier Division to drop in to Division One. Their long serving Secretary Mark Nicoll deserves better but a home game with Laverstock and Ford could be a difficult start. The Wiltshire Club are seemingly always in the promotion race until April when the results suddenly cease going their way. If they can rectify that they will be strong contenders in the Title race.

Amesbury also suffered relegation and they start their sojourn in the lower Division with a trip to Ringwood. The Wiltshire Club look to have made one or two useful signings over the summer while Ringwood perhaps need to find a little more consistency under new Manager Richard Morse. Finally, Whitchurch entertain Verwood having shown signs of improvement in the latter stages of last season whilst their visitors had a season to forget and must surely do better this time round.

Only day one but all to play for.