Mike Bacon: My top 10 non-league sides of last season... Is your team there?
- Credit: Archant
No easy task, but MIKE BACON has chosen his top 10 non-league teams of last season.... Feel free to disagree!
OK, so I'm going to miss your club out!
But this really wasn't an easy task to take on. But hey, who ever said choosing your 'top ten' in anything was easy?
I'll be honest from the off and say right now that my top three clubs were actually the easiest to choose.
And remember, this is not a list of 'best footballing sides', I've pulled in a whole host of different reasons to come up with this top 10.
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And I'm not going to prattle on about 'budgets' either, there is nothing more boring in non-league football than that. We'd all love a big playing budget!
So, breath in, breath out, and feel free to chant at length, 'what the hell does Mike Bacon know?'
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Or why not just insult me on social media?... it's the new norm for us sports journos! I've got broad shoulders! Ha! Ha! No, don't really, or I'll write more speedway.
Here you go then, my top ten teams of 2018/19.....in reverse order.
10 BURY TOWN
(Bostik North, 6th)
In a mini-league of AFC Sudbury, Felixstowe & Walton and themselves come the last third of the season, Ben Chenery's side finished just outside the play-offs (although a mighty 15 pts off fifth-placed Heybridge), and top of said mini-league.
It was another sound season for the Blues who will likely only be disappointed they didn't have a Suffolk Premier Cup run, coming unstuck at an impressive Hadleigh United back in November.
Chenery is finding, like Richard Wilkins before him, Bury give their managers time, allowing him to mould the team in his own shape.
With former Ipswich Town star Alan Lee helping at Ram Meadow now, the question will be, can Bury make that step up?
They are starting to threaten...
9 HARWICH & PARKESTON
(Thurlow One South, 5th)
OK, so I'm a sucker for all things at the Oak.
Whether it's the Shrimpers' famous FA Amateur Cup final defeat in 1953 poster, 6-0 to Pegasus at Wembley Stadium in front of a crowd of 100,000, or just sitting (precariously) in their grand old stand, I'm a closet Harwich fan.
But this isn't about me and my football loves, Harwich have enjoyed a fine season, back in Step 6 after years of off-field concerns.
It's a tribute to all at the Oak they are in my top 10.
A solid fifth-placed finish in Thurlow One South is good enough, but there has been so much more to Harwich & Parkeston FC last season, on and off the pitch.
Ahhhh, makes me happy.
8 BRANTHAM ATHLETIC
(Thurlow Premier, 8th)
Similar in club make up to Woodbridge Town I often think, Brantham Athletic continue to bat well and upset the favourites at Step 5 football.
It was another solid season from the Blue Imps and notable victories over sides above them. Indeed, if I had done this feature the last few seasons, they would have been top 10 as well.
Because to play Brantham is to be in a battle against a close-knit side who, on and off the pitch, appear as one.
With Michael Brothers now firmly back at the helm and his brother Patrick alongside next season, it's about to get an even hotter place to visit next season.
Hold onto your hats....
7 HAUGHLEY UNITED
(Suffolk & Ipswich League Senior, 6th)
Now finishing sixth in any division - and especially one you were in the season before - might now sound too grand.
But Haughley were within a hair's breadth of relegation to Division One before the season started - only the unfortunate demise of AFC Hoxne and eventually a vote at the AGM saved their bacon, so to speak!
However, there's getting a reprieve and there's making the most of a reprieve.
Haughley made the most of their 'second chance'.
Not only were they never in any danger of relegation this time around, at one stage they were top of the table.
A proud season from a proud club.
(Thurlow One North, 5th)
New league, new floodlights and Suffolk's highest-placed Thurlow One side, it was a grand season for all at Lakenheath.
In a re-vamped division that was invariably dominated by Norfolk sides, Lakenheath took on the better teams and with much success.
While cup runs came to an end earlier than would have been wanted by all at 'The Pit', there is much to be excited about going forward.
A new U18 team is being set up, while all at Lakenheath will be looking forward to their first-ever exploits in the FA Vase.
Onwards and upwards it appears.
5 CRANE SPORTS
(Suffolk & Ipswich League Senior, champions)
The only 'champions' in my top 10 and of course we all know how hard it is to win a league title.
But Cranes were victorious in what is becoming a very competitive SIL senior division.
Iain Radnor's side pulled ahead of Henley and Achilles in the final stretch to seal their third title in five seasons. Some record.
Defeat to Henley in the Bob Coleman Cup final could have knocked the stuffing out of them as they went into their final few league games.
But it was the opposite.
After that loss they hammered home four straight victories to clinch the title - and in the end by eight points.
4 HEYBRIDGE SWIFTS
(Bostik North, 5th)
Many fans of non-league football think Heybridge should be playing Step 3 next season.
But alas despite winning the Bostik North play-off final against Blackwater rivals Maldon & Tiptree, in front of a crowd of almost 1,000, the Swifts stay where they are after Yate Town beat Cinderford Town in the Southern Division One South play-off final.
With only five of the seven Step 4 play-off winners going up, it meant Yate, with a better points-per-game average over the season, were promoted to Step 3, as the FA has put temporary promotion and relegation methods in place.
However, ignore all that.
This was a top season for Julian Dicks' side. And who is betting against them being right up there again in the season ahead?
Dicks will make sure of that!
3 NEEDHAM MARKET
(Southern League Central Prem, 11th)
Suffolk's best performing team saw Richard Wilkins side, who in 2017/18 had diced with the drop out of Step 3, never looking in any danger this time around in the long-travelling Southern League Central Premier division.
The new league restructuring hasn't been kind to Needham or Leiston with long trips to the midlands part of the deal, but it didn't worry the Marketmen
Indeed, around Christmas they were in the play-offs and after the start they had made, seemed as though they may just make it stick.
But a poor run of form in the New Year signalled the end of those top five hopes.
However, it was a very good season for Needham in a very tough division and they will want to stamp that 'Suffolk's top side' tag over and over again in the seasons ahead.
2 FELIXSTOWE & WALTON
(Bostik North, 10th)
They may not have won anything on the trophy front after their Suffolk Premier Cup final defeat to Leiston.
They may not have finished above local rivals AFC Sudbury and Bury Town in Bostik North in a Suffolk 'mini-league', but Felixstowe & Walton won the admiration of much of the local non-league football community with a thoroughly professional 2018/19 season.
Promoted to Step 4 last year, it was never going to be a cake walk for the Seasiders in their new surroundings.
And there were a few wobbles, as well as some outstanding results against the top sides.
But manager Kevin O'Donnell and then Ian Watson who took over in the New Year, worked wonders at the Goldstar.
Off-pitch they have one of the best set-ups in the area - if not the best - with a superb press team (others take note!), good facilities and a great youth set-up.
Crowds are up, Step 4 football is the minimum they must now set themselves to maintain.
1 WOODBRIDGE TOWN
(Thurlow Nunn Premier, 2nd)
Before I start, yes I was a youth coach at Woodbridge Town for nine seasons and yes I'll always have a soft spot for the good people of Woodbridge Town FC.
But behave, I didn't need that excuse to make the 'Peckers my No.1 team of last season.
Just look what they achieved.
Promoted from Step 6, Thurlow One (as champions) the season before, the 'Peckers ended last season as runners-up to Histon in the Thurlow Premier. That after losing their first three league games.
It was an extraordinary season for Jamie Scales' side, who bounced back from early woes, kicked on, kicked on again and kicked on even more.
A close-knit team spirit that no doubt accounted for loads of points saw them enjoy the most wonderful of seasons.
I tip my hat!