The new Hellenic League campaign gets underway next Saturday (4th August) so our man Ryan Butler takes a look at the six Gloucestershire sides and casts his predictions on the new season.
After Bishops Cleeve were relegated from the Southern League West and Fairford Town were given a relegation reprieve it has given us six out of the 19 teams in the division, meaning we have nearly one third of the league.
All summer we have been asked about the sides from the west. Who can win the league? Are any of the sides in relegation danger? Have last year’s sides strengthened. Well, here is our opinion on all six and how they will get on this season.
Bishops Cleeve are somewhat an enigma going into the new season. Manager Stephen Cleal has installed operation #bounceback, which has now become a way of life at Kayte Lane. They are flexing their muscles like a side capable of winning the league, but whether they do or not only time will tell.
Key Men: The Mitres have brought in forward Brad Martin from Longlevens, Adam Mace from Southern League side Slimbridge and have retained winger Jack Watts. The three of them would be provisionally marked as the key men as they are experienced and have the quality to see Cleeve at the right end of the table.
Ryan’s Prediction: I think Cleeve are rightly being touted as the team to watch and beat this season. There are a number of clubs that pop up in almost everyone’s top six prediction and Cleeve are one of them. However, I have seen sides struggle to adapt to leagues and with strong sides everywhere you turn it could be a wake up call early on. Final position = 4th.
Brimscombe & Thrupp
Brimscombe were one of the most consistent performers in the 2017/18 Hellenic League season, finishing 6th and winning the GFA Amateur Cup. Sam Prior has done a terrific job to not only shape and build a squad but to also keep morale at an all time high. The Meadow is a special place to watch football, especially when Brimscombe are winning…something I think we will see a lot of this season.
Key Men: Bringing back Harrison Reeves is one of the best signings in Gloucestershire during the summer, but the question will be whether he will stay for the whole campaign. If he stays then he could have a very good season. Other than that the introduction of James Singh could be the catalyst to a memorable season for the Lilywhites.
Ryan’s Prediction: Just like Bishops Cleeve, Brimscombe & Thrupp are one of the sides that appears on everybody’s list for top 6 this season, they appear in a lot of people’s top 4 list but for me I’m going for it. They are in my top 1 list. Sam Prior is building something special down at the Meadow. Final Position = 1st.
Fairford struggled at the start of the season last year and had to wait until mid September for their first league win. A magnificent run during the second half of the season saw them rise up the table and ultimately stay up after a reprieve at the end of the season. Jody Bevan has brought in Jamie Reid from Hardwicke to try and build the club up for the coming seasons.
Key Men: Striker Lee Smith has been playing for Fairford this pre-season and whilst it hasn’t been confirmed it is safe to assume he is staying at Cinder Lane. Their top scorer for last season he will be key for Fairford this season.
Ryan’s Prediction: A lot of people almost forgot about Fairford’s initial struggle at the start of last season, but that helps them going into this new season. They have the chance to prove some of the doubters wrong and I can see them finishing further up the table. Jody Bevan and Jamie Reid have a chance to lay down a marker early on. Final Position = 12th
Longlevens manager Mark Moore has spent a lot of the summer piecing together the perfect jigsaw of experience and youth for the new season. He is close to having it complete but already his squad is looking pretty solid. They lost their top goalscorer to a rival but somehow are even stronger in that position. Smart recruitment has helped.
Key Men: Levens signed Gloucester City U18s left back Logan Roach and he could be one of the signings of the season. He is a player Severn Sport have admired during the last year and love that he is getting a chance. Elsewhere Myron Turner & Shaun O’Connor will have eyes on them early on as they will be tasked with helping young striker Isaac Johns and new forward Adam Philp in bedding into first team football.
Ryan’s Prediction: Longlevens recorded their highest ever finish at Hellenic League level last season finishing 9th. I think they can go one better and another decent cup run will see it be a massive season for the men from Saw Mills. Final Position = 8th.
Mark Lee has a tough job at Lydney in terms of building a squad. There were a number of games last season where they were going into games with either only one or two subs, which doesn’t help. They are a wonderful club and will give you as good as you will give them out on the field. And that is all you can ask for.
Key Men: Lydney have forward Declan Morley-Lyne back which is massive. A hell of a player who will cause problems for most defences in the division. With Ross Gabriel in the squad in a supporting role Lydney possess plenty of fire power and will beat some teams.
Ryan’s Prediction: Lydney’s biggest problem will be the size of their squad. If they are able to utilize what they can they will cause teams trouble. Ideally they could do without a bad winter, after last season saw a number of postponements leading to Lydney playing two games in two days. A silly situation for any club to find themselves. Final Position = 15th.
Tuffley have lost experience over the summer with Shayne Bradley & Dave Evans retiring and defender Shayne Anson leaving for Evesham United. Obviously at this level it is hard to replace that experience with similar experience and Rovers will have to bed in their new players quickly.
Key Men: Central defensive duo Joel White & Macaulay Herbert will have a lot of pressure this season, especially after Evans and Anson have departed. It leaves White and Herbert as the obvious centre back pairing for Rovers and they are now the experienced men at the back despite still being young themselves. Further forward the likes of Kieran Alder & Warren Mann will be trusted with creating chances at the other end.
Ryan’s Prediction: Tuffley Rovers finished 10th last season after a strong end to the season. This season I would anticipate them to start slow and gain momentum during the campaign. Not that it is a negative thing but it’s because their pre-season has been less than ideal. Tuffley lost a few players to injury early on in pre-season and they were all defenders. It has caused Rovers to not be able to get a settled back line and thus makes them vulnerable. Final Position = 14th.
And there we have it. Ryan’s verdict on our six local sides in the Hellenic League Premier. The new season kicks off on Saturday 4th August with the following fixtures:
Bishops Cleeve vs Ascot United
Brackley Town Saints vs Lydney Town
Brimscombe & Thrupp vs Windsor
Fairford Town vs Wantage Town
Longlevens vs Flackwell Heath
Royal Wootton Bassett Town vs Tuffley Rovers