Pre-season thoughts 2008/09.

For what they’re worth here are my pre-season predictions for the 2008/09 season.  Remember that they’re just one man’s opinions as a true neutral so don’t take them over seriously.  After all, I didn’t do too well last season.

Another new Sunday football season is about to begin and once again the phenomenon of pre-season anticipation results in every side thinking they have a realistic chance of honours before the first ball is kicked in anger.  Everyone has their own thoughts about who will win the respective Divisions but this article represents mine – the true neutral. 

Last season it was about 50/50 in the prediction stakes.  In the Prem I tipped Quilligans to win it but didn’t give Layton much hope.  In Division 1 I fancied Blackpool Rangers and Sundays but thought that the Gardeners would finish in the top two.  In Division 2A I tipped West Coast Tackle and Little Fat Jacks giving eventual champions and runners up Ward Heating and Visualise North little chance at all. 

In Division 2B I fancied eventual runners up and Divisional Cup winners Fleetwood Car Centre to do well but hardly mentioned title winners Pulcinellas.  In 3A I correctly tipped FC Eden to win the league but hardly mentioned Progress Sports & Social & Waterloo Sports & Social.  In Division 3B I fancied the Burlington (second) and Layton Institute Juniors (fourth) to have a good season but I was nowhere with Spindles (Top) and Rossall Tavern (third).

To sum up – what do I know?  My review of the Prem at the beginning of last season almost provoked the crazed centre half of Quilligans to strike me when I next encountered him so I’ll try to be more careful this season. 

It has to be said that the Premier Division was a great disappointment last season.  After the previous season when Poulton SFC pushed Quilligans really close in league and Cup they never had a better chance of going on to win the league especially having retained their best players as well as recruiting a number of others.  However, by 1pm on the opening day the Premier Division was all but settled as Poulton struggled to put a side out against the double winners and crashed 5-1 at home.  Mark Spedding’s Quilligans FC went on to stroll to the title going unbeaten in the league eventually winning the title by seventeen points. 

The challenge from the others was so ineffective they were celebrating the BFSFA title with a quarter of their games still left to play.  Embarrassingly, a good number of their opponents failed to show up against them resulting in 1-0 walk-overs.  Quilligans went on to win the Gledhill Cup for the fourth time in succession and never had a better chance of lifting the Lancashire Sunday Trophy but a combination of administrative error and player naivety cost them dear.

As for Poulton they finished as they started with a sluggish 4-2 defeat to Hydronics that cost them second place to Layton Institute.  However, in-between Poulton were excellent at times making it very frustrating for manager Alan Cocker.  They were on top form in the Lancashire Sunday Trophy especially away at Preston side New Meadow Street and the few that witnessed their semi-final against eventual winners Lostock Hall at Lancaster came away knowing that they’d all but thrown it away.  It could have been a Quills v Poulton final but it wasn’t to be.

As for the rest eventual runners up Layton Institute can hold their heads up high after winning thirteen of their twenty games.  A great campaign for Stuart Todd’s team based on pre-season expectations.  Northern Care’s merger with Arcadian went well and they had two or three decent performances against Quilligans including the infliction of Quill’s only domestic defeat of the season in the Premier Division Cup that they went on to win. 

The least said about Highbury the better as the title winning team that won twenty-out of twenty in 2005 imploded and ultimately folded.  It was a mixed season for the new teams.  Progress Property Management FC were soon found out for punching well above their weight and folded early on after some heavy defeats and predictable player desertions.  Credit to Fleetwood Cricket Club FC for finishing the season but the experience was so damaging that they’ve voluntarily relegated themselves to Division 2B for the new season. 

Wrea Green FC came straight up from Division 3A and surprised everybody with some good football and decent results.  Winning five and drawing four was a fine achievement and there was no shame in a finishing position of ninth.  Hydronics were the pick of the promoted sides as they went on to finish fifth in the league and reach the final of the Gledhill Cup.  There was some talk of them folding over the summer but the good news is that they’re back for another try and rightly so. 

Red Rose Catering had a mixed season.  At one stage they had a terrible spell of results but on reflection a finishing position of sixth and yet another Cup final appearance in which they more than played their part against Northern Care in a 3-2 defeat represents a good season.  They too looked like folding or merging over the close season but fortunately they too are back to fight another day.

Highfield Social have dropped down to Division 2A at their own request after a couple of season’s in which they’ve failed to mount a challenge and the Golden Eagle ended up relegated to Division 1 after three seasons of finishing in the bottom three.  After the dust had cleared that left only seven sides in the Premier Division.  Sundays FC and Blackpool Rangers FC were rightly promoted from Division 1 but that left only nine and during the early summer the BFSFA were struggling to build on that number.  A Premier Division of nine teams does not make for an exciting and challenging season where teams would have probably finished their league programmes by Easter so we’re grateful to Pulcinellas and the Devonshire Arms for volunteering to join the top Division. 

As for the new sides three of them have a realistic chance of a top six finish.  I hear that five of last season’s Division 1 champions Sundays FC have left for whatever reason to pastures new which will make things difficult for manager Paul Stevens.  He’s left the wild west of Blackpool Town centre for a more calmer outlook after taking over the running of the Crescent Pub in St Annes Square hence the new name of Crescent FC.  Sunday footballers should be aware that this pub is now ‘football friendly’ and if you’re struggling for a post match base to have a pint and watch the footie then why not consider the Crescent?

Blackpool Rangers FC have been impressive pre-season and clearly have the capabilities to give any of the top sides a beating.  Last season they struggled to get a team out on a number of occasions but the records show that they still only lost once during the campaign making it only two league defeats in their first three seasons of Sunday football.  They play Quilligans early on August 17th and this match will provide us all with a clearer picture of their true aspirations for the coming season. 

Pulcinellas FC are a well-run outfit operating out of the enviable venue of Rossall School.  They’ve been busy over the summer rounding up the best of the available talent in Fleetwood as well as forming a reserve side.  Winning Division 2B last season ahead of Fleetwood Car Centre was an impressive achievement.  I’ve yet to see their new first team but if good management can keep everybody happy and available then there’s nothing to stop them making an impression. 

Lastly we have new side Devonshire Arms which appears to be team made up of some very good players from various teams.  Manager Rossi is putting together a decent sized squad of talent who appear to be bonding and blending well pre-season.  If they get off to a good start they too could go well this season.

In summary we’ve had a clear out of all the sides who either didn’t want to be in the Prem and/or had little realistic chance of finishing in the top half.  What we have now are eleven good teams who are used to winning and being competitive in league and Cup.  Most importantly, they’re all well run and well managed which is half the battle.  The players are fortunate because all they have to do is turn up and play.

Quilligans FC will once again be everybody’s favourites (including mine) to win the BFSFA title but the odds are not as short as some bookies are offering.  There’s been a number of important changes recently.  Broadbent and Roberts are currently distracted and unavailable, midfield lynchpin Steve Palmer has left as has fellow midfielder Tony Swallow.  Utility player Tony Pearson and striker Lee Catlow have left for Layton and centre half Sam Gorrie will shortly be off to university. 

Of course they still have a big squad to fall back on and few if any will have any sympathy for their losses but apart from Boal they’ll miss that midfield steel that has mainly been responsible for their success and although they still have many options defensively a new striking partnership will be under pressure to settle quickly.  Manager Spedding likes nothing more than crushing the dreams of new sides.  He’s seen them all come and he’s seen them all go but in reality he far prefers to win titles in the last minute on the last day rather than in late February.

There’s never been a better time to see this lot knocked off their lofty perch.  Poulton once again have a talented and very experienced side on paper.  Northern Care showed last season that they’re not far off putting in a really serious challenge and Layton’s confidence taken together with a couple of decent signings will give them hope to go one better.  Blackpool Rangers, as they showed against Highbury last season, have no respect for reputations and will relish the chance to turn over Quilligans with fast flowing and fearless football. 

The Devonshire Arms have to mould a talented squad of strangers into a competitive unit early doors if they’re to challenge and never underestimate the Fleetwood challenge which will be seen this season from Pulcinellas.  The Crescent are an unknown quantity based on the change in personnel.  All of those teams will look at Hydronics, Red Rose Catering and Wrea Green as sides they’ll be expecting to pick up points from but teams such as Layton and Quills will tell you that Hydronics are certainly no pushovers. 

Red Rose Catering beat Poulton and drew against Quilligans and Wrea Green beat Poulton twice and thrashed Layton 5-0 so in effect no game should be looked upon as a banker.  Disrespect, a lack of commitment and preparation as well as failing to get your best team out will result in points dropped not only in the Prem but in every Division. 

It’s been a long time since the Premier Division was the most interesting Division for the neutral, maybe 2008/09 will be the one that remains competitive until the end as well as the one that produces a Lancashire Sunday Trophy winner.

Last season’s Division 1 was fairly entertaining at the top but the first three places were all decided by late February as Bloomfield Vets, Blackpool Rangers and Sundays left the rest behind.  The final table showed an eleven-point gap between third placed Vets and fourth placed Gardeners Arms.  It was a lot closer in mid table where only twelve points separated fourth place McDonald Property from tenth placed Fylde Coast Gates. 

This season eight sides from the thirteen that finished in Division 1 last season will once again be playing in what always proves to be a very difficult Division.  Coming down to join them from the Premier Division are the Golden Eagle.  Five sides have been promoted and it looks almost certain that the eventual title winners will come from one of three of these five sides.  At one stage over the summer the league were struggling to get fourteen sides to play in Division 1 so every credit to Blackpool Catholic Club who finished fifth in Division 2A for agreeing to play at the higher level. 

Also up from 2A are Ward Heating and Visualise North who have changed their name to Halfway House FC.  Also promoted into Division 1 from Division 2B are Fleetwood Car Centre and the Saddle FC (Now Waterloo Hotel FC). I say it every season but Bloomfield Vets will once again prove to be the benchmark for any sides with realistic aspirations of getting promoted.  The team have finished third, fourth and third in the last three seasons with their squad of experienced veterans and as with Quilligans they like nothing better than testing themselves against sides who fancy themselves for promotion to the Prem.  It was of little surprise that three of the five games they lost were against the two sides that finished above them.

Bispham Juniors should never have been in this Division last season as a team of untried youngsters took over the position of the previous BJ side that folded.  It showed early on as they were getting hammered every week but they showed true grit as the season went on getting better and better and can count themselves unlucky to have lost in the semi-final of the Division 1 Cup.  In my opinion they would have finished in the top three in 3B last season if they’d have started where they should have done in the bottom league so this season will once again be a stern test for them.

In truth and based on last season’s achievements the likes of Northern Care Reserves  FC Kingsfield, the Golden Eagle and Blackpool Catholic Club will once again struggle to break into the top half of the table of this Division and this is where the relegation scrap may take place.  Fylde Coast Gates improved as the season went on and after taking four or five months to adjust to the higher standard it was all smiles at the end as they lifted the Division 1 Cup which few if any would have predicted at Christmas.  The Dunes underachieved once again and typically there are once again high hopes of better things pre-season.  If any existing team is going to challenge for promotion then the Dunes may be the team to put a couple of quid on. 

Disciplinary problems once again plagued the season for CTK.  They deserve a lot of credit for reaching the final of the Division 1 Cup but a finishing position of sixth was disappointing taking into account their experienced and talented players.  Suspensions mean that they’ll be without key and influential players early doors.

The Shovels were underestimated by many and to finish in fifth during their first season in Division 1 deserves much credit.  If they’ve managed to keep many of the same team together then I’d be surprised if they didn’t finish in the top six once again. The Saddle have renamed as the Waterloo Hotel. They had a great season in 2007/08 turning tenth place and twenty-four points in 2006/07 into third place and fifty-six points in 2007/08 which represents one of the biggest improvements seen in recent seasons.  However, they fell away badly at the end of the campaign as a difficult run in saw then take only seven points from the last twenty-one.  Losing out on runners up spot by a solitary point to Fleetwood Car Centre would have hurt them badly.  They need to regain their early and mid-season form straight from the off if they’re to finish in the top six. 

On to the promotion contenders; Few teams were as underestimated pre-season more than Ward Heating FC who led 2A almost from start to finish.  When the pressure was on they held off the challenge of Visualise North FC and in the end they ran out deserved title winners.  They’ll find it a lot harder this season and they can expect to lose more than the two they did last season.  They’ve managed to retain many of last season’s squad.  Having the local prison population available for selection brings advantages as well as headaches.  As I’ve said before the miscreants eventually get released and go back to their home towns but at least they’re in little danger of their star goalkeeper having a tantrum and putting in a transfer request to play for one of their opponents.

I predict that the Division 1 title will be fought out between Ward Heating FC, Halfway House FC and Fleetwood Car Centre FC.  For the latter it’s only their second season in Sunday football and manager Terry Hargreaves knows exactly what is required from his young squad if they’re to ever challenge in the Prem.  Like Rangers last season they’re a young squad but mainly based in North Fylde and despite their age many of them already have experience with Saturday clubs.  They’ll have learned a lot from games played against the likes of the Saddle and North West Kitchens.  Having the talent isn’t enough on its own.  You also need hard work, commitment and a collective team spirit if you’re to win games in Sunday football. 

The best footballing team does not always win games and it was this fact that had them having to struggle very hard in the final few weeks of the season to gain second place.  Let’s not forget their cup exploits either.  Lifting the Division 2 Cup and being knocked out of the Gledhill Cup by eventual runners up Hydronics in the last eight after a replay was certainly no fluke.  They’re currently on a run of eighteen games unbeaten since that Gledhill defeat.

Along the way to Division 2 Cup glory they would have enjoyed beating Visualise North 4-1 along the way.  The two find themselves up against each other this season in Division 1 with Halfway House FC out for revenge.  As with Ward Heating I underestimated them last season so do not intend making the same mistake again.  They’ve been busy in the transfer market over the summer and they’ve looked good pre-season.  On paper they have one of the best midfields in Sunday even Saturday football with the likes of Ashall, Palmer, Hughes, Ogier and Bromley to choose from.  They have a big squad now which will no doubt result in selection headaches for the management team. 

In addition the ‘Kirkham’ factor will no doubt play its part as the successful Saturday side maintain their stance of ‘No Sunday Football’ for players under contract.As usual I look forward to Division 1 and hope for a surprise or two but at the end of the day it looks as though the three sides I’ve talked about in the previous few paragraphs will ultimately be too strong for the rest over the course of the season.

On to Division 2A; As with Division 2B we’ve seen something of a re-organisation  due to promotions, new teams coming into the league and a couple of clubs having  a change of scenery.  Remaining from last season are Claremont Cons, Great Eccleston, Inkmasters, the Squirrel, The Squash and West Coast Tackle Postal.  Up from Division 3A are FC Eden and the Waterloo Sports & Social Club and up from 3B are Spindles and Rossall Tavern. Having a change of scenery from Division 2B are AFC Additions who last season played as the Queens Hotel along with Mythop Leisure. 

They’re also joined by Highfield Social who are the remnants of last season’s Premier Division team of the same name and finally we have the Links Hotel who are new team run by Dale Ritchie ex of St Annes Ex Service FC.This Division is a tough one to call although FC Eden are my favourites to make it two titles in succession. 

They’ve had some impressive results pre-season and look to be a strong, well organised and a well managed squad.  If they think they’re in for an easy ride then I’ll think they’ll be mistaken.  Highfield Social FC still have some good players with years of experience between them.  I’m writing this having just watched them against the Dunes who they were unlucky not to beat.  If they can bring in a couple of youngsters to compliment the old stagers then a top four place is likely.

Spindles FC won an exciting Division 3B last season and they start the campaign full of confidence having lost only four games last season.  They may find the step up in class difficult to begin with but if they can get some points on the board early season then they could go on to finish in the top half.  The Waterloo Sports & Social Club FC are a team full of young talent and maybe they didn’t get the credit they deserved for finishing third behind FC Eden and Progress Sports & Social in only their first season in the BFSFA.  Saying that they only have themselves to blame for not finishing higher.  Too many late nights and ‘no shows’ cost them dear so until they get serious and committed they’ll end up winning nothing.  Hopefully, we’ll see the best of them this season.  Although losing 5-0 late in the season to Eden they did take a point off them in late October so they can do it when they try.

Another team who’ll make FC Eden work are AFC additions who played as the Queens last season.  The team finished fourth which was an improvement of two places on the previous campaign.  The team travelled a lot better last season and also put together a decent run in the Gledhill Cup.  Don’t rule out Mythop Leisure who finished fifth in 2B last season.  They’ve got some good players and they’re a team who always appear to put in a great spell of form during some part of the season.  Let’s hope they can keep it going all season in 2008/09. 

Claremont Cons look to be a different proposition this season.  Under a new manager they look to be recruiting youth straight in from local junior football sides such as Blackpool Rangers.  Such players have settled quickly into the adult game in recent seasons and if they can blend into the team then Claremont could improve on last season’s disappointing tenth place.

Another team that disappointed last season were Great Eccleston.  In 2006/07 they finished fourth behind three very good teams but last season they couldn’t maintain that form when finishing in ninth.  To be fair, a couple of broken legs did not help their cause.  Always an unknown quantity it remains to be seen what kind of a squad they’ll put out this season.  Another unknown quantity will be new side Links Hotel FC.  That pub deserves a football team so hopefully this team with a St Annes Ex Service connection will do their sponsors proud in mounting a serious challenge for a top six place. 

Inkmasters FC have finished eighth in this Division for the last two seasons running.  In 2005/06 the team finished in fourth so hopefully they’ll be trying to recreate that kind of form during the new campaign.  The Squash are another side who’ve transformed over recent seasons bringing in a whole host of new young players.  Finishing in seventh was a good result for the over Wyre side who are beginning to look more dangerous away on the road as well as at home.

Finishing one place above the Squash in fifth were West Coast Tackle Postal who’ve had a difficult summer.  A number of their key players defected to other clubs and rumours were rife that the club would fold.  However, manager Daryl Prance has managed to retain some players whilst recruiting others and after seeing them in a number of pre-season friendlies they now look to have a sizeable squad. 

The Squirrel were an unpredictable outfit last season.   Interspersed between some terrible runs of results were patches of sparkling form but at times few if any would have predicted that they’d have ended up finishing fourth.  Both Ward Heating and Visualise North were beaten by the Squirrel and when in form they can beat anybody.  Don’t rule out the Squirrel for another high finishing position.  

Finally, we have Rossall Tavern who were one of the surprises in 3B as the new side did brilliantly well to finish in third.  They’re a high scoring and entertaining team and if it wasn’t for a poor spell of form they could have finished even higher in their first season.

In summary FC Eden look favourites to win Division 2A if they can keep their mind on the task at hand.  It could be a great battle for that second promotion spot into Division 1 between Highfield Social, Waterloo Sports & Social and Mythop Leisure.  The Squirrel will be good bets as outsiders as per usual.

Remaining in Division 2B from last season are FC Brun Grove who were last season’s Bloomfield Hotel, Skye FC, Paris Casino who were last season’s Central Club, St Annes Ex Service and North West Kitchens who were Cash & Carry Kitchens.  Having a change of scenery from last season’s Division 2A are the Old England, Marshall Court Sandpiper and Talbot Conservative Club who played as Jacks FC last season. 

Up from 3A come Progress Sports & Social Club, the Fairhaven FC and FC Excelsior and coming up from Division 3B are AFC Marton and Frenchman’s Cove.  Coming down from the Prem are Fleetwood Cricket Club FC.  This one looks to be a strange Division that will be hard to predict. 

Clearly, Fleetwood Cricket Club FC have been relegated two Divisions from the Premier Division for a reason although I don’t know what it is although an educated guess would be that a good number of players have left and the stark choice was either double relegation or the club folding.  Brannigans finished bottom of this Division last season and duly folded.  The four teams that finished above them were St Annes Ex Service, the Central Club, Skye FC and the Bloomfield Hotel and these clubs were some way adrift from mid table.  In fact out of the 92 games played they could only muster twenty-four wins between them.  In other words a significant improvement is required if they’re to make headway into the top half of the table. 

There was talk of the Central Club folding but it’s good to see them back under the same manager albeit with a different sponsor.  St Annes Ex Service look to have split with a breakaway group forming the Links Hotel and we’d all have a lot less to talk about if Ali Martin’s Skye FC weren’t in the league.  I’ve seen FC Brun Grove in a friendly and hopefully they’ll return to the form they’re shown in previous seasons as well as trying to keep the right side of the disciplinary committee.

The team that finished the highest of the remaining teams in Division 2B were Cash & Carry Kitchens FC who have ‘phoenixed’ into North West Kitchens FC for the new season.  They finished seventh thirty points behind champions Pulcinellas.  Things started wonderfully as they beat Fleetwood Car Centre on the opening day before knocking out rivals Visualise North in the Gledhill Cup.  It wasn’t to last.  As they were caught up in internal squabbling results got ever worse whilst rivals Viz went on to be runners up in their Division.  It remains to been whether or not the Kitchens can regain their form and unity of 2006/07.

The teams moving across from Division 2A didn’t do much better.  After the Bispham Hotel folded Jacks went on to finish bottom but going back to their roots at the Talbot Con Club may bring better fortunes.  The Old England have really struggled in recent seasons and they’ve been fortunate to retain Division 2 status although there are one or two rumours that they may surprise in 2008/09.  Marshall Court have had a couple of tough seasons in 2A finishing ninth and eleventh respectively so they’ll be looking forward to playing a few different teams.

History shows that teams coming up from Divisions 3A and 3B on promotion generally do well and more often than not achieve a second successive promotion.  This may not be the case this season.  AFC Marton finished second as the Burlington FC in 3B last season but they look as though they’ve failed to keep a number of their squad.  I hear that the spine of the squad including Alliance top scorer Mickey Evans has left along with a couple of others.  Recent posts in the Shoutbox suggest they’ve been looking actively for replacements and in truth they had a decent sized squad in a Mereside friendly I looked in on.  Most of last season’s successful squad look to be still in tandem and it’s hoped that the leavers have been replaced with similar or better quality personnel.

Joining them from Division 3B will be Frenchman’s Cove FC who’ve also been busy playing friendlies at Mereside.  They’ve looked good going forward but have to tighten things up defensively if they’re to challenge.  They finished fifth last year a long way behind the eventual top three so they may struggle to find their feet early season. 

The three coming up from 3A look a better proposition.  FC Excelsior were much improved last season and did well to reach the semi final of the Division 3 Cup.  They got better as the season went on and need to be quicker out of the blocks in the early months of the season if they’re to avoid being left in mid table.  The Fairhaven FC finished fifth in 3B during their first season in 2006/07 and last season they followed it up by finishing fourth in Division 3A.  They also reached the final of the Division 3 Cup where they lost to Progress.  They have a good set up and some talented players out at Lytham Cricket Club and if truth be told they underachieved.  I expect better things from them this season. 

Lastly we have Progress Sports & Social FC who surprised many people last season.  They may not have individually brilliant players but spectators of the Division 3 Cup final saw what a good team spirit and hard graft can do.  They also finished second in the league behind FC Eden by only eight points which is no mean feet.  If they’ve retained many of the same squad then they good go well again in 2008/09.In summary Fleetwood Cricket Club FC remain an unknown quantity and even if they’ve managed to keep 75% of last season’s squad they could still win this league. 

I fancy the Fairhaven and Progress Sports & Social to fight it out for the title with perhaps the Fairhaven taking revenge for last season’s Cup defeat.

As we reach Division 3 things begin to get a lot harder to predict as this season we see a large number of teams joining the Alliance of which I know little if nothing about.  Starting with Division 3A the teams remaining from last season are Ansdell, the Brun Grove, MA2 FC, DB Builders who’ve renamed as Teamsport FC, Autoweld who are now called Tiles FC, Foulds Metals who were last season’s the Ship and Walkabout Celtic who in previous seasons have been known as Pump & Truncheon Celtic FC. 

Coming up from Division 3B are Layton Institute Juniors, Falcon FC and the Stable Bar.  Making up this interesting looking Division are four new teams in the shape of FC Gretone, FC Newton, Saddle Inn FC and the Farmers Arms FC.

Picking a title winner from that lot is extremely difficult.  What do I know about the new teams?  Not a lot.  I’ve seen FC Gretone in a friendly.  They’re a very young side mostly completely new to adult Sunday football.  They look to be players who were playing in the Under 17’s league for teams like South Shore and Foxhall.  Like similar teams in recent seasons they may take a couple of months to settle but undoubtedly they’ll get better as the season progresses.  

The Saddle Inn are run by ex Blackpool Catholic Club manager Brian McGuinness and that’s as much as I know.  FC Newton are run by ex referee Simon Hurst and I’ll look forward to seeing Sunday football at the new venue of Newton Hall. 

It’s good to see football back at the Farmers Arms.  The team will apparently be managed by Sunday legend 'Big Gordie (Gordon Mason) alongside Paul Hugo. Many of the Highfield Social Reserves FC are rumoured to be forming the squad.  Players including John Lawson, Stuart Lord, Michael Isherwood, David Downie, Ryan Davies are rumoured to have signed alongside Ben Fenton and Chris Warren (Ex Brannigans FC), Craig Brooks, Mark Alder, Martin Smith, Kev Smith and a few more to mention. 

I tipped Layton Institute to win Division 3B last season which resulted in howls of derision as they lost a few early season.  Few were laughing at the end as a storming finish took them to fourth.  They didn’t want the season to end.  I’m told they’ve lost a couple of players but they’re looking good pre-season and appear to have replaced the leavers with good players. 

The Falcon FC finished in eighth which wasn’t too bad for a relatively new team and if they can find that keeper they’ve been after all season the team could go well in 3A under the new management team.  The Stable Bar FC sent me their own pre-season aspirations so here it is;

Our first season in the Alliance was not a complete failure although it did not quite go as planned.  After a picking up 3 points in our first game, the signs for the season were good.  However, long term injuries to two of our key players saw the ability of the team seriously reduced and this was proven as The Stable Bar failed to secure any points in many games after losing by the ‘odd’ goal. 

There were highlights, notably ending the nine game unbeaten run of Uncle Toms Cabin and also doing the double over them later in the season.  The final few games of the season saw a marked improvement following the signing of players from Progress Property Management and Lytham YM to bolster the injury ravaged side. 

Winning the divisional fair play award and also league linesman of the year reflected the ethos to which the team tries to play – fair and honestly. Pre-season for 2008/09 season began early in June and we were attracting ex players from Progress Property Management and Lytham YM.  These players were very good and the future was looking bright even to the point where we were intending to enter a second team into The Alliance. 

However, because most of the ‘new’ players were from outside the Kirkham & Wesham area, the decision was made to enter only the one team keeping The Stable Bar FC as a team of players from this area.  We must at this point offer our thanks and gratitude to some of these players who we ‘could not sign’.  Mainly to James Dewhurst and Dave Neal and also to Phil Brown, Nick Lane, Tarren Moxon (Taz) and Mick Chisam.  Many thanks all for offering your commitment just sorry it could not work out. 

So, we are back to the basis of last season’s squad, although the demise of The Stanley Arms has seen us able to pick up few of their players and so far they are looking good for this season.  A squad of 20 is currently in place and every one of those players is capable of competing for a place in the team (Managers headache!). 

Negotiations are currently underway to secure a home pitch in the Kirkham & Wesham area so hopefully we can save ourselves some fuel. We have played four friendlies so far, winning two, drawing one and losing one.  Performances were reasonable and were addressed in training.  Three further friendlies are booked with Spindles, FC Newton and Wrea Green, so we are certainly going to be put to the test.  It would appear that we have moved into Division 3a for this coming season and although our league position was less than impressive, we have new players and are confident of being competitive, mid table looks promising. 

Other than that all remains the same, Jimmy McMahon is still Manager and I am still Assistant Manager and Secretary Our thanks once again go to Mr Neil Barber, Landlord of The Stable Bar, Mr Dai Davies of Henhouse Retail and Kirkham (Macs) Taxis for all of their sponsorship and support. 

Wishing all of our opponent’s good luck for the season (except when playing us!) and to all others who make playing on a Sunday possible.  Dave Pearse,The Stable Bar FC. 

That leaves us with the seven who remain from last season.  Brun Grove are the least successful side ever in Sunday football but unlike all of those who throw the towel in after only one season at least they keep going and despite the constant defeats the lads enjoy their Sunday football.  Their long serving manager may have retired but others have stepped in to keep the team going although they’re now playing under a new sponsor C & G Electrical FC.  Good luck to those lads next season. 

Whatever happens four of the sides enjoy playing in their own mini league and take a pride in coming top of it.  It also adds spice that they play out of South Fylde.  Ansdell, Autoweld (Tiles FC), MA2 FC and Pump & Truncheon (Walkabout) Celtic are all becoming great rivals.  Last season Autoweld FC came top of the mini league when finishing sixth in the table.  Disappointing really after another decent start but once again they fell away.  This season Paul Stevens of the Crescent has sponsored them and they’ll be playing as Tiles FC.  Let’s hope they can stay consistent, focussed and disciplined all season. 

Pump & Truncheon Celtic FC finished just behind them in seventh.  They’ve changed sponsor to the Walkabout which considering the Queen Street pub’s strict door policy is quite bizarre as many of their players would be refused admission for being too old.  After a great season in 2006/07 I expected them to do better last season but they disappointed.  MA2 FC finished three points behind Pump Celtic in eighth.  They had some good spells of form last season and they’re quietly confident of improving further this season out at their new home ground of Ballam Road, Lytham. 

Finishing bottom of the St Annes mini league were Ansdell FC who had a traumatic campaign both on and off the pitch.  Numerous changes in the boardroom and disharmony in the dressing room led to poor performances on the pitch.

Over the summer there’s been more big changes and the word is they could do well this season.  The set up has been injected with Division 1 players and management from the Waterloo Hotel FC resulting in many changes to the expected line-up.  I’m fed up of tipping Ansdell to do well but maybe this could be the season when they finally get out of Division 3. 

When DB Builders FC appear as your next fixture you usually hop out of bed on a Sunday morning with a spring in your step as three points and a few goals are often likely.  This season the club has a new sponsor resulting in a name change to Teamsport FC.  The last four seasons have seen them finish fifth, seventh, tenth and tenth so the top half of the table seems a long way off.  3A is not as strong as last season in my opinion so every team has a chance.

The Ship, Fleetwood finished ninth in their first season which considering that they started with one draw and ten defeats shows great character.  They’ve renamed as Foulds Metals this season under new management.  I expect them to start better this season and if they can make their home ground a fortress they should do well but they’ll also have a lot of travelling to do next season with many of their opponents at the opposite end of the Fylde.

In summary I think that the Farmers Arms FC will win 3A but they’ll be hard pushed by Layton Institute Juniors and FC Gretone.  Ansdell could once again be worth a bet as the dark horses.  

Division 3B sees the introduction of eight new sides.  In recent seasons Division 3B has been one of the most interesting to follow as it’s been close and unpredictable.  This is mainly because the standard has been exactly what the standard for 3B should be.  This Division is at its best when it consists of new sides of juniors completely new to adult football alongside average pub sides full of average pub players who are just grateful for a game. 

I hope it stays that way this season but the introduction of FC Matrix may change that.  Not their fault as there was talk of them going straight into the Premier Division but I hear that they have a number of players who have experience of playing in the higher leagues and as such I fully expect them to win this league relatively comfortably.

Pulcinellas Reserves are another relatively unknown quantity.  The first team have recruited some top players from Highbury which I expect means that a number of last season’s Division 2B title winning squad will drop into the reserves.  If correct, they too should have few problems in this Division. 

Remaining from last season are the strugglers.  Bar 19 FC have renamed as Automedon.  The team did brilliantly to finish in eleventh.  After a terrible string of results they looked like folding at one stage but every credit to the lads as they hung in to finish the season on a relative high.  They look to be in good spirits in pre-season but they’ll do well to finish in the top six.

Mimmos Metrostars are now just plain Metrostars.  No club disappointed more on pre-season expectation with the Blackpool Ranger’s bookie cleaning up on hopeful bets.  They’ve been a lot quieter pre-season than last.  I know they’ve lost a couple of players so they’ll have had to have recruited well if they’re to improve.  They usually have no problems scoring but they’ll also have to halve the 87 goals they let in last season if they’re serious about promotion.

Bottom of the pile last season were the Belle Vue Hotel FC who were rescued from folding by current manager Neil Kirton.  The club are now sponsored by the Oxford pub.  The council have made enough to pay for the Promenade improvements thanks to pitch bookings resulting from the club’s numerous pre-season friendlies on Mereside.  They’ve tried hard to recruit a decent squad that can challenge in 2008/09.  Rumours persist that they’ve acquired the signatures of a couple of decent Division 1/Saturday players from last season to compliment the remaining squad of last season.  I hope they do well but a top three spot this season may be an ambition too far.

South Beach FC had a woeful start to life in Sunday football last season but improved greatly over the second half of the season doing fantastically well to finish in ninth.  This season they’ve renamed as the Hampton Road Social Club FC which is a famous Sunday football venue as that’s where the Cup finals used to be played in the late sixties/early seventies.  Now it’s used for caravan pitches.  They too have lost a couple of players which makes them an unknown quantity. 

Trades & Social FC enjoyed their first season in Sunday football and they too improved after a shaky start to finish up in a respectable seventh place.  It remains to be seen whether they have the capability of breaking into the top six.  News on Fylde Construction FC from Claremont Cons who played them on sunday 3rd august in a pre season game. 'They're a good team with a few players from Thornton Cleveleys from a Saturday the likes of (totti and barnes) so i think they the do ok for their first season as they beat us 3-2.'

As for the new clubs I’ve heard or seen nothing about Bar 19 FC, Tower Aerials and SPS FC although if you send a few lines to sportspy22@aol.com I’ll add them to this article. 

I’ve seen Chris Nay running the legs off Real Burlington FC every Monday night at Commonedge Road but I’m yet to see them play.  I’ve heard they drew 3-3 with last season's Burlington (AFC Marton) at the weekend which is a good sign.  I am hearing good things about Fireplace Superstore FC who are run by referee Max Cobb.  They’re apparently playing some good football in pre-season friendlies and putting in some good performances against some of our better sides.  St Annes FC will be playing out of Lytham St Annes High School and look to be tempting some players away from the new regime at Ansdell.

To sum up I predict that FC Matrix will win 3B and that second place will be fought out between Pulcinellas Reserves and Fireplace Superstore.  Don’t rule out the Oxford as the outside bet for promotion.

So that’s it, the pre-season predictions have been made once again for what they’re worth.  If you haven’t been tipped to win your respective Divisional title you can take heart that I was a fairly hopeless tipster last season.  You can take great pleasure in sticking it to me at the Layton Institute next May.  Hope to see YOU there.

Best wishes and good luck to all of those involved in Sunday football.  Play fair and respect the referee.  As per usual I'll be endeavouring to get out and see as many teams as I possibly can over the next eight months.  Let the games begin.

Mick

Sportspy 2008/09

bfsfa.com/fyldesport

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