In the next couple of weeks the football famine will be over as gradually our local sides return to action.

The Scottish Lowland League kicks off on July 23rd and The Northern League has its version of the Charity shield the same day, before starting fully the week after. Ten months of utter madness starts soon. Expect the unexpected.

Berwick Rangers are first out of the traps as they embark on a fourth season outside the Scottish Leagues.

Despite the fact that I wouldn’t put a penny on Berwick to win any game such has been the inconsistencies over the last few (140) years, fans have serious optimism this year that they can challenge at the top of the league. Last season started in all too familiar style with two steps forward then three back. Any hope of a Berwick challenge was dead in the water before the clocks changed.

However, in the second half of the season they went on a decent run, winning 7 out of 9 at one point and this has to be the basis for any optimism at Shielfield.

The signing of a goal scorer has also raised spirits. Liam Buchanan has joined the club and though he’s 37, Buchanan scored 190 career goals in the Scottish League and at the other end Steven Anderson joins having made 350 appearances for St Johnstone and a man of the match performance as Saints won the Scottish Cup. Buchanan scored a hat trick as Rangers beat Consett in pre-season.

Berwick really just need to tweak things and sort silly results out. If they do they could challenge in a crazy league. Hearts now have joined the Old Firm in having junior teams in the league and Berwick travel to Edinburgh first. There’s also a team who’s changed their name to a radio show (open goal Broomhill) and a big imbalance of finances between some teams and others.

Expect Berwick to be in the top five, they might not have enough to beat Broomhill, East Kilbride or Tranent but if they start well, who knows. I will keep everyone up to date.

Talking of mad Leagues, the Northern League kicks off on July 30th for the 133rd time.

Ten or fifteen years ago the Northern League (rightly or wrongly) was a closed shop, with big spending member clubs quite happy to chase the FA Vase at Wembley and the league title rather than promotion.

The leagues unprecedented success in the Vase reflecting the attitude. The FA though got wise to this (rightly or wrongly) and forced promotion from football’s big house has changed the dynamic of a League which is at a massive crossroads. From South Shields to Marske and Morpeth to Dunston, a host of big names have taken the promotion plunge and have been very good for it.

Consett and North Shields are the latest sides to say adios to being home for tea. This exodus has done many things but it certainly has made the Northern League First Division as hard to predict as ever.

This year tops the lot.

Before we get into that, the summer has brought some terrible news for the whole NL community as Billingham Town manager Gary Pearson died of a heart attack, aged 45.

He had just joined Town after doing spectacular things at Ryhope CW and it was a huge shock to hear. Sympathies go out to friends and family.

Before I get accused of bias I haven’t been the only ones tipping Ashington to be the next sleeping giant to join the clubs moving up.

The signings in pre-season have been a class above. Blyth Spartans legends Robbie Dale and Dan Maguire are two of six major signings for a side who finished in the top ten and won the league cup last season.

Last season the team wilted at times when the going got tough and conceded (and scored) a boatload of goals. If any of the new recruits can sort out the silly and downright weird scores, Ashington could push for promotion. The club is as well-known as another team I know in Black and White to balls things up though, so who knows.

West Auckland are perennial pre season favourites but then always start terribly. Not just badly but terribly. West are the last team of the successful era still around and one of these years it has to come off for them.  After Ryhope resigned from the league having finished 3rd, the vultures were mainly from West Auckland. They picked up the league’s top scorer James Ellis and two others from the Ryhope ashes and if Ellis clicks with another impressive striker signing in Scott Heslop from Consett, West will be the ones to beat. They scored goals last year, they could be impressive.

West v Ashington for me then, but after that is a complete free for all. Newton Aycliffe will be up there after finishing in the top 6 last year and bringing back club legend Jamie Owens to the club.

Guisborough could be dark horses for me they have tapped into local rivals Marske for a few players who don’t fancy long road trips and are my off kilter tip.

What of the big guns Bishop Auckland and Whitley Bay? Last year was as bad as both have had for generations and only a few worse sides and resignations kept both up.

Whitley are intriguing with Nick Gray as manager. Gray was hugely successful at Morpeth and his ongoing recruitment is the key. 9 players in a recent friendly were trialists and Gray will completely change that team. For that you have to say another up and down season probably awaits Bay with a top ten finish. Bishops are making all the right noises and have signed genuine quality in Craig Gott, but more needs to come in if they are to challenge. Bishops will be happy to make progress after a demoralising late season but like Bay, I tip mid table.

Of the local teams, Whickham are my ones to watch. They were so hard to beat after a change of manager in the winter and they were the inform team after Christmas. They are so tough to beat at the Glebe and could be surprise packages. Heaton Stannington finally joins the top league after promotion and they will bring loads to Division 1. Huge crowds and goals galore last year bode well for a great club.

If they start well I can see another surprise. What of Benfield? Well it’s a yearly question. They have raided their managers ex side Newton Aycliffe for players, but it’s hard to see them being consistent enough.

Other new boys are Tow Law Town, who benefited from Ryhope’s demise, Carlisle City and Pickering Town. The Cumbrians as Division two champs and the Yorkshire side after a forced lateral move from the FA.

This all means minus twenty at Tow Law in October and new clubs on bus trips. All are welcome.

Division Two is just as hard to predict.

Billingham Town will start as favourites despite the tragedy of Gary Pearson. They were not good enough all round last year but have enough to bounce back. Town rivals Synthonia may push them hard.

Synners had to rely on donations to see them through until the end of the season but a fresh outlook can push them near the top.

Boldon CA are a lot of people’s favourites. Especially after persuading Levi Collins (scorer of 50 plus goals last year) to stay. Boldon only lost in the play offs and with the goals they have at their disposal, they look the team to beat. Ryton and Crawcrook faded at the worst time last year as did Easington and expect both to be pushing for play off places.

After Durham City’s tragi comedy came to an end with relegation to the Wearside league the teams know they have no safety net this year, new boys Chester Le Street United (we think), Prudhoe Youth and the well backed Boro Rangers will likely be looking much higher than that. All to play for.

I will keep you updated as the season kicks in.

In the Northern Alliance it could be a spectacular shoot-out between champions Killingworth (who haven’t lost a home match in 6 years) and Newcastle Blue Star.

Blue star have bought some unbelievable players who should really be at a higher level. Local legends Brian Smith, Steve Cuggy and Andy Bowman have persuaded the likes of Dean Holmes and Ryan Carr to Scotswood and if they don’t end the Killy stranglehold this year they never will. It will be interesting watching it as any defeat may be fatal and playing a whole season like that is real pressure.

Hopefully this whets your appetite to see your local club, not just in the north but anywhere near you. It’s worth the hassle. Honestly.

Scott Robson