Saturday 6 August sees the National League and National League North return and with local interest now in both leagues it’s that time of the year when we try and predict whether Gateshead, Blyth Spartans, Darlington and Spennymoor will either crash and burn or have cracking seasons. The truth is I haven’t a clue but at least we can do is try and guess.

Gateshead had an almost perfect season last year. Champions of the National League North, 99 goals. The sort of football that saw every players’ boots dipped in fairy dust.

If that line doesn’t float your boat, they were, in other words, really good.

So after the sort of seasons that come along once in a generation, never mind a few years after nearly going to the wall, Gateshead take the step up and take their rightful place back in the National League which is League Three in all but name, let’s be honest here.

They will do the miles. 11,298 to be precise and they will be up against sides that shouldn’t really be there.

Wrexham spent £300,000 on one player last year and an unnamed player in last year’s competition was reportedly on £8,000 a week. Wrexham never even made the play off final.

Big guns like Chesterfield, Southend, Notts County (more about these particular magpies later) and Oldham (the first once premier League team ever to play at this level) will all trek to the International stadium and so will the BT cameras if they decide to put a Gateshead game on live. This is a very big deal for the Tynesiders.

For all the big names in there, this league is ruthless in its bruising of egos. Every year, almost without fail, a small side comes from nowhere and upsets the applecart.

After last year’s exploits can Gateshead be ruled out at being this year’s Solihull or Boreham Wood?

What they have got on their side is that they are underdogs for most fixtures. The element of surprise.

Unfortunately the 52 goal strike force of Cedwyn Scott and Macauley Langstaff have both gone. Notts County plundering both. County won’t have paid a huge amount for two quality players and they could be the difference for County, but also the difference for Gateshead from having a good season to a one where staying up is the aim.

Gateshead have brought in 7 players in themselves (5 on permanent deals) but the summer luck has been bad. Dan Jarvis and Lewis Knight both got injured in a poor pre season which they have lost 5 from 6 games played as I type. Both are nowhere near ready for the season opener at Dagenham and Redbridge. Notts County make an early appearance on Tyneside in the second home match which could be very tasty. On the plus side Greg Ollley has went nowhere. His record 28 assists last year were as instrumental as anything else in the title win and he has to stay fit if Gateshead want to do anything.

There is a graveyard full of promoted teams in this league but Gateshead are different in that they are full time and are on a winning roll which is very hard to stop.

I see them having a good start on that basis, but to slowly drop to the point where staying up is the main priority, which I see them comfortably doing. Another cup run as well please.

Don’t know about the new greyish strip mind, but you can’t have everything.

Back in the National League North it’s as hard to predict as normal.

At this time last year Gateshead’s full time status meant you could predict they could do the business. This year? Take your pick.

Of the local interest the bookies (whose naivety at this level is always worth a few quid) have Darlington as fourth favourites to win the league.

Many Quakers fans, who have saw many a false dawn over the last few years are unconvinced, but they have made some signings that could really see them push for promotion.

The stand out one is eyebrow raising and if it comes off could be lethal. Ex Newcastle player Marcus Maddison, who was being touted as a million pound player at Peterborough a few years back,

has seen his career implode to the point where he told the I paper last year he was that sick of football, he would rather “sit all day on his Xbox”,

Maddison must have got some of the buzz back as HE contacted Darlington about a trial and Alun Armstrong’s eyes must have lit up. Nothing to lose on any side of this intriguing deal.

Mark Beck has also re-joined in a major signing from Harrogate. He’s the perfect target man for this league and also can slip into centre half. The most eye catching in pre-season though, has been striker Jacob Hazel signed from Whitby. If Hazel clicks with Beck, Darlington could push the likes of Fylde and Brackley all the way. Expect some nagging inconsistency though and the play offs are more a realistic target.

Once you’re there you’ve got a chance.

Blyth Spartans’ escape act last year went under the radar a bit with Gateshead’s exploits but that was an achievement in itself.

As bad a home record that Croft Park fans had seen since the 1950’s meant that Terry Mitchells side relied on winning away when they REALLY needed to and for any improvement this season, Spartans must use that windy ground half a mile from the unforgiving North Sea rather than tripping themselves up to be the best guests around.

They start as underdogs again and not many outside of the walls expect Blyth to do much this year, but that’s how they like it.

Legends Robbie Dale and Sean Reid are gone and up against many squads in the league it looks very light but Blyth have enough about them to cause some upsets, providing they rid themselves of the home disease.

Matty Cornish has the unenviable task of following in Dales footsteps after returning from a high level in America. It’s a canny signing from Mitchell who knows both the United academy players and the Northern League like the back of his hand. Lewis McNall and JJ O’Donnell again carry a big burden and those two have to click or stay fit.

It’s going to be a hard season again but they will be ok. Probably.

Spennymoor are in the unusual position of going into a season not being heavily backed by the bookies. They usually have just missed out on that elusive promotion and are ready to push again.

It seems different this time. Last season, despite a fine FA Trophy run and a late points spurt, was a big let-down for all concerned.

They changed managers and now after having 8 months to look at the state of play, co-managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley now have to hit the ground running.

Pre-season hasn’t been the best. Gateshead routed them at home and they also lost to Coalville last weekend but that counts for zero doesn’t it? A Spennymoor red card in the Gateshead game was rounded on by the management duo which suggests all is not well, however all that matters is against Hereford on August 6th.

Joe Wheatley who was very well thought of at Darlington is a major signing, who if is the right frame of mind, is as good as anyone in this league, has signed along with Danny Greenfield from Gateshead.

Much depends on the ageing Curtis and Tait at the back and the prolific Taylor up front if they are to push for promotion.

As it stands I see a repeat of last year’s mid table more likely but if they start well, Spennymoor could still be a massive threat. Intriguing.

We will let you know how all of our teams progress but all are worth a look in the flesh. With us playing more at the behest of television companies, the alternatives are out there.

Scott Robson