How they’re shaping up
Were you shocked when Andy Murray made an early Wimbledon exit? Saddened when our cyclists crashed out of the Tour de France? Frustrated by Alastair Cook’s captaincy of the England cricket team? Fear not, because football is back. This weekend marks the s
Relegated in April and then reprieved in June, it’s certainly been a rollercoaster few months for DARTFORD.
The demise of Salisbury City means the Darts are preparing for their third straight season in nonleague’s top flight.
Manager Tony Burman had started building a squad for Conference South and summer signing Paul Lorraine decided he couldn’t commit to Premier football but all the other players – crucially, including captain Elliot Bradbrook – stayed.
Dartford have gone back to what they know in the transfer market – Harry Crawford, Rory McAuley, Adam Green, Andy Pugh and Tom Bradbrook have all played for Burman before.
It’s going to be another hard slog at Princes Park but lessons have surely been learnt from the disastrous early months of last season.
DOVER ATHLETIC are back in with the ‘big boys’ for the first time since 2001-02 after their dramatic play-off victory in May.
Chris Kinnear’s side clinched promotion against all the odds and you wouldn’t bet against them bloodying a few noses over the next nine months.
Their home form has to improve, though. This season’s visitors to Crabble are likely to be more adventurous than the likes of Concord and Weston, so the counterattacking style favoured by Kinnear may be better suited to this level.
Are summer signings Stefan Payne, Christian Nanetti and Matt Lock good enough to mix it with Bristol Rovers and Torquay United? We’re about to find out.
There are three words you’re likely to keep hearing in connection with WELLING UNITED – difficult second season. The Wings are trying to do something local rivals Ebbsfleet and Dartford couldn’t – stay out of the bottom-four in term two at non - l e a g u e ’ s top table.
Staying up will certainly be a big ask for Jamie Day’s side, who flirted with the play-offs in the early stages of last season before tailing off towards the end.
They lost leading scorer Ross Lafayette to Luton during the summer and failed to bring Andy Pugh back to Park View Road, the striker choosing Dartford instead.
But among the young players Day has brought in to fill the gaps in his squad, former York and Grimsby defender Jamal Fyfield looks like a smart acquisition. BROMLEY were the surprise package of 2013-14, leading the division for much of the season before being caught by Eastleigh and then losing in the play-offs.
But don’t expect that to be a flash in the pan. Lillywhites boss Mark Goldberg is clearly determined to have another crack at promotion, having invested heavily to bring in the likes of former Gills striker Adam Birchall over the summer. After EBBSFLEET to the play-off final last season, manager Steve Brown is under pressure to deliver the title this time around. Off the field, the club are laying the f o u nd at i o n s for life in the Football League – so
taking UNITED now Brown and his players must deliver. A better start than last season, when the Fleet won just one of their first nine games, is essential.
Kuwaiti owner Dr Abdulla Al-Humaidi has given Brown plenty of financial backing and in strikers Matt Godden and Charlie Sheringham, he’s certainly invested wisely.
Full-time training will mean the Fleet are fitter and better drilled than ever but ultimately, only promotion will satisfy the supporters – and the board. MAIDSTONE UNITED have increased their playing budget by 20% to compete with the bigspending clubs who all have an eye on the title this season.
Experience was something the Stones lacked last season and manager Jay Saunders has moved to rectify that by signing Sonny Miles, Matt Bodkin, James Rogers and Jay May.
United chief executive Bill Williams admitted last season was probably the club’s best chance to get promoted, with Margate, Lewes and Kingstonian having all strengthened significantly in the meantime.
But the best-supported nonleague club in Kent are bound to be in the play-off mix, and they are now playing for promotion after the Conference gave 3G pitches the green light.
It’s no secret that MARGATE have splashed the cash this summer to build a squad good enough to blow the rest of the division out of the water.
Nikki Bull, Brett Johnson, Sam Rents, Jason Prior and Luke Moore are among those in the Gate squad with Football League experience and, crucially, manager Terry Brown has taken a club all the way from the Ryman Premier to League 2 before. Brown was the man who led AFC Wimbledon into the Football League and all the indications are that he’ll have another medal to add to his collection in May.
Margate will be every other club’s cup final, though, and their biggest obstacle may be the huge weight of expectation which always accompanies such serious investment. TON BRIDGE ANGELS are starting life after Tommy Warrilow back in the Ryman League following their relegation from Conference South last season.
Warrilow quit the club in April after seven years as manager and his successor, Steve McKimm, has had to build an almost entirely new squad.
Former Maidstone defender Jerrome Sobers will captain a young Angels team which McKimm believes could challenge for the play-offs.
But given the number of big clubs with big budgets all around them, consolidation may be the name of the game for new-look Tonbridge.
These are unchartered waters for newlypromoted VCD ATHLETIC , who have never played this far up the pyramid.
In fact, they were a Kent League club just two seasons ago.
Survival is what the Vickers are aiming for but that proved a bridge too far last term for Thamesmead Town, who went straight back down. CHATHAM TOWN finished last season in fantastic form and manager Kevin Watson probably wished they could
playing beyond have April.
The Chats’ seven-match winning run in March was impressive but ultimately in vain because they had far too much ground to make up.
However, Watson has kept most of that squad together and if his side can fire in the early part of the season, they could be in with a shout of making the play-offs.
Ch a t s reached the FA Cup fourth qualifying round last season but league success is overdue. They’ve only recorded one top-10 finish in the last 13 years.
After five years in the Premier Division, CRAY WANDERERS are back at Step 4 after being relegated alongside local rivals THAMESMEAD TOWN last season.
Ebbsfleet’s new signing Charlie Sheringham
Chatham Town boss Kevin Watson
Matt Bodkin moved to Maidstone from Margate
Dartford’s Elliot Bradbrook stayed on