Apart from events at The Dripping Pan, there’s plenty to look forward to in non-league football during 2018, with clubs across the land battling to progress up the ladder.
A revised structure of the National League system will see a new steps created at tiers 3 and 4 created in time for the start of the 2018/19 season, which in theory will help iron out geographical anomalies, cut down on travelling costs and time for fans, players and officials and encourage more Step 5 clubs to climb the pyramid.
We take a look at five things from the non-league game worth keeping an eye on during 2018.
The Macc Lads making a comeback
The National League Premier now has a dozen clubs with Football League experience, some more recently that others. Many clubs have dropped out of the professional game and used the opportunity to become more sustainable both on and off the pitch, implementing a strategy of gradual improvement. Current league leaders Macclesfield Town have struggled financially since relegation from the Football League in 2012, but they look well-placed to win promotion from the National League going into 2018.
John Askey’s side are six points clear at the top of the table and are favourites to win the title and should you fancy a wager on them to finish top, use this bonus code with Unibet. Askey has done a superb job on limited resources and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him targeted by a club higher up the scale in the near future.
Artificial pitch decision could have big repercussions
A series of meetings are planned throughout the country to look at allowing the use of artificial pitches in Leagues One and Two within the next two years. Promotion-chasing Sutton United, Maidstone United and Bromley all play on 3G pitches and they are hoping for a positive outcome otherwise they could face extreme (and unfair) sanctions if they do not replace their surfaces with grass ones.
If the Football League refuses to change it’s rules on the use of 3G to accept artificial surfaces the clubs would be denied entry into the EFL if they finish in the play-off (or promotion) positions, but could then face relegation to step 3 of the National League.
Torquay United’s demise continues
The Gulls are in their second spell in Non-League football after twice being relegated out of the Football League in the last decade. They are ten points adrift of safety at the bottom of the table and head coach Gary Owers is set to make wholesale changes to his squad.
The club has been on a downward spiral for some time now and it would take a minor miracle for them to escape from trouble this season, having narrowly avoided relegation for the last two seasons.
Class of ’92 making their mark at Salford
Aided by investment from Singapore billionaire Peter Lim, who also holds a stake in Spanish side Valencia, Salford went full-time last summer. However, it’s the involvement of former Manchester United players Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt that has put the club on the map and they are closing in on promotion from National League North. There’s no doubt the involvement of the five ex-United players has been the compelling reason for success, albeit one that has been fuelled specifically by the BBC in their “fly on the wall documentaries’ and they current sit top of the National League North, favourites for promotion.
Whilst significant investment has gone into the squad and the ground, which has changed beyond all recognition in the last three years, the owners have also dramatically improved the community and academy facilities, building closer links with the local community.
The longest season
One story that may not have hit the national headlines is that of Heybridge Swifts and their remarkable season. After narrowly missing relegation from the Isthmian League North to the Essex Senior League at the end of last season, Jody Brown rebuilt his squad in the summer and has seen the club go on two amazing cup runs.
In the FA Cup they played seven matches before travelling to face EFL Division Two side Exeter City in November, losing 3-1 whilst their run in the FA Trophy is still alive and they travel to Maidstone United next weekend in the 2nd Round Proper.
All of this cup action has meant their league programme has suffered. The club have currently played just 15 Bostik League North games, nine less than leaders AFC Hornchurch. Cup success for the Swifts will mean they will be playing catch-up at a rate of at least one midweek game per week until the end of the season and that’s assuming they don’t suffer with any postponements!