By Martin Whittaker
Football is still the best-loved and most followed game in the UK. While much attention is focused on the Premier League and the three major English football leagues below it, non-league football really is the fabric of the game. Non-league football not only has all the same goals and tough-tackling excitement but also comes with better value tickets, greater access to the players and a chance to be part of a real local community fanbase.
As with other leagues though, sides from non-league football have been greatly impacted by COVID-19. In fact, the latest lockdown hit these sides hardest as the FA dictated that all play must stop in any level below National League. This has left both fans and players in the non-league game eager to resume play once the second UK lockdown comes to an end on the 2nd of December.
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Of course, many fans will simply be looking ahead to what might occur when play hopefully resumes. But what can we expect to see happen?
Lots of games in a short space of time
One prediction which is fairly safe to make is that all non-league sides will be in a for a busy time! The season was already running to a tighter schedule than normal anyway, before the second lockdown came into place. With another month lost, teams will be looking at fitting their remaining fixtures into an even smaller window. This could leave many needing to find ways to rotate squads and tinker with formations to take into account the demand on players.
Needham Market to carry on as before
There is no doubt that Kevin Horlock’s side had a pretty good start before this current lockdown kicked in. This saw them head to the top of the Southern League Premier Central and sit level with Coalville on points. With players like Joe Marsen and Luke Ingram in good form, hopefully the break will not stall their progress. A promotion push looks on the cards for sure though and they may even do it automatically, without the need for any play-off games.
Bury Town to continue scoring
One of the most memorable non-league stories so far was seeing Bury’s 5-0 thrashing of Witham called off due to fog. This result will now stand and that leaves the team from the Isthmian League North riding high. They have 10 points from only four games which shows how well they have done so far this season. A major part of their success is the quality which they have to call on all throughout the side. Carlos Edwards brings much-needed experience to the midfield, while Cemal Ramadan is a proper goalscorer. With Ollie Hughes in top form as Captain, they look likely to clinch an automatic promotion spot.
AFC Sudbury’s young guns to come of age
There is always something going on in non-league football – from recent news that Darlington are set to release forward Levi Amantchi, to Belper Town and unveiling their new 4G training pitch. Football is also built on youngsters breaking through and this is certainly true for the non-league game. AFC Sudbury are in the Isthmian League North also and recovered from a shaky start to romp into second place pre-second lockdown. Much of this has been down to their younger players, like creative midfielder Alfie Adams and the free-scoring Shane Temple. With a decent points haul and plenty more to come from them, they could also be looking at promotion from this league.
Plenty of action to come post-second lockdown
There is no doubt that the second lockdown across the UK has been tough on non-league teams. Players have had to contend with another long layoff while the sides themselves have dealt with the additional financial strain it has delivered. Of course, it has also been hard for fans as there is no news or results to keep an eye out for. With this in mind, everyone involved is hoping that the drama is allowed to start again once this current lockdown is over.