For the 132nd time , Saturday sees the Northern League kick off again and all I can say is, about time.

Most clubs haven’t played a competitive game since around bonfire night. Expect the unexpected.

Firstly lets hope come April or May the season has been completed, that’s the ultimate aim. Some teams have lofty ambitions of promotion but, for me, it has to go month by month at the minute and thoughts beyond August would just be foolish. Loads of pre -season has been disrupted through Covid. All it takes is one player who’s shared a dressing room with another 15 lads to test positive and its game over , or, as most players travel to games together in cars at this level, that could possibly mean the whole back four is out. Hopefully with infections at least calming down the non- league season can kick off and continue unscathed as  teams are desperate for games , income and some semblance of normality.

Northern League normality consists of a million games in August as they basically try and get games in before bad weather kicks in. By the time August is out, teams will have played around ten games including an FA Cup preliminary game , so if you fancy picking a game out this is the time, but quite frankly the hope of all these games being completed in a short space of time is optimistic at the minute.

At least we are playing though , last year was a total write off.

The season kicked off a month late and was going well except for the wettest October on record then the government closed bars again and with most clubs’ income coming from bars and clubhouses, it was a none starter.

The Northumberland FA and Durham FA then restricted crowds then banned them, so clubs would be paying money to play games with no income coming in. The season was stopped in late October and never kicked off again. The clubs though had to keep everything mothballed as the chance was it could start again. The smart money was on it not starting and the smart money was bang on. Lets try again in July, so here we are.

If you can imagine the Premier League had grew some balls and banned the teams wanting to go to the European Super League ( I know, I know) leaving Man City, Man Utd , Liverpool  out of the league?

Predictions would be futile. Everyone else would think they had a chance and the league would be madness as everyone would beat each other, right?

Well. That’s sort of where we are with Northern League Division One this season.

The FA had to keep the pyramid going to some extent and after an awful lot of knicker twisting, they decided to promote three teams from step 5 and no excuses.

So, Hebburn were top when things finished so were champions. After 11 games this was crazy, but it was a crazy season.

They go up along with Stockton and Shildon. All three are fantastic sides and would have been the top 3 again had the season just been called void. It wasn’t  so they are gone and after years and years of clubs dodging promotion to win FA Vases , suddenly the chicken and egg argument which has blighted the league for years has been solved. Its mandatory promotion and as a person who believes in the pyramid,

this is good but it leaves the Northern League at a crossroads in 2021.

Three will go up this year (probably) and slowly but surely the grand teams will be leaving and a lot of new clubs coming in. The league will look very different in five years, but doesn’t every league?

Dunston, South Shields, Marske , Morpeth and now the above three now mean less travelling in the leagues above so the argument is now futile.

Still though playing in Leicestershire on a Tuesday night can’t be easy.

So Division One this season is as wide open as a town near Gosforth, between Dinnington and Seaton Burn.

The favourites ( I use this term loosely) are North Shields and personally for me , they are the ones to beat.

They were a point behind Stockton with a game in hand when the league was stopped, so can feel unlucky to be playing at this level to start with, but no Hearts style bleating from the Robins , just regroup, get stronger and grind it out. Typical Shields. They have lost club legend Gareth Bainbridge, the clubs top scorer, but with Dan Wilson up front they have 30 goals , if he keeps fit and a new signing from the Alliance,

Konner Lamb is my tip to be signing of the summer. If Shields get off to a good start, prioritize over the cups , they will take some stopping, but with the league being the league it is this year, you don’t run for the hills when you see its them next on the fixture list, they won’t run away with it, but all round they have the strongest team so I will go with Marc Nash’s side.

Consett will be either miles ahead by Christmas or just be entertaining. They are the best team by a mile on their day but Shields are a safer bet.

You won’t see them win 7-0 one week and lose 6-0 the next, as Consett have done in the past , but this could be the Steelmen’s year. Wembley in the Vase final against Hebburn showed people how good they are and again they were not far away from being promoted themselves.

Dale Pearson will again score a hatful of goals , whether they go for the Vase again might hinder them but if you want the entertainers back , Derwent side is your best bet.

Promotion probably.

Newton Aycliffe will probably be up there and were very unlucky to lose to South Shields last week . They are very dangerous and tend to be overlooked in all these sort of things but are dark horses and if anyone saw them five years ago when they were the “no one likes us we don’t care” team of the league, things have changed.

League cup holders West Auckland are always dangerous but need to sort out the awful starts they have had in recent years. With ten games in August , its no good having four points out of thirty. They do motor as it gets cold mind, but its usually gone by then. Never mind the World cup they won, the sloping pitch world cup is won by them hands down. Saturday gone saw them lose to Hebburn, but not disgraced in the Cleator Cup, the leagues charity shield.

Sunderland RCA have me worried. They are the darkest of horses and you never hear anything from them, a bit like the quiet lad in school who suddenly gets worked up and turns out to be Mike Tyson.

There is 5 to go on for starters.

All I’m going to say about my beloved Ashington is that I think we could shock a few. After five years of struggle, the colliers showed big signs of improvement last season and if they can get it right in front of big crowds at home, they could push the top 6, as ever it will be infuriating and I will be bald by the end of it, but some people have said bottom 6. No way.

Whickham are similar , a improvement last year, impressive signings and could shock a few. Best sausage rolls in the league also. This matters.

Whitley Bay? who knows. They could be genuine contenders but also strugglers. Similar to Ashington, will rely on a decent home support but with a lot of young players are very inconsistent. Promising.

Promoted to Division One are Redcar Athletic, Crook Town (great only because we get to go to the magnificent Millfield ground. A relic which stirs the heart) and West Allotment.

Allotment have moved back to North Tyneside in Palmersville and with this and having seen them a few times last season, they are my pick to shock a few.

Newcastle Benfield are my tips to go furthest in the Vase. A cup team and with this in mind you will have thirty games to play in a week at the end of the season, so top ten for them.

Division two is even more dark and unpredictable. Quite frankly, it’s a mess to predict.

Again they have lost three good teams and its now left with one of ten to get promotion.

Blyth Town got promoted from the Alliance and Redcar Town from the North riding league and Northern League stalwarts Horden CW return from the Wearside.

Blyth will shock a lot and could be an outside bet along with Easington and Ryton and Crawcrook who had a loss of form at the wrong time and missed out the year before last .

Heaton Stannington looked alright in a friendly last week against us, where all money went to daft as a brush charity and they will fit the bill for a lot of people as the club to visit when the toon are away.

Tow Law are not only outside bets but also have the advantage of teams travelling to them will freeze to death and therefore not win obviously.

Since 1889 the league has some ups and downs but rarely has a season been as open and therefore anticipated as this , give it a go and if you already have, enjoy it.

One thing it’s not is ever dull. Unlike St James’ unfortunately.

SCOTT ROBSON