A domestic football season, laced with derby drama and riveting rivalry, kicks off in the Hucknall and Bulwell area this Saturday.
Thanks to starkly contrasting ups and downs in recent years, all four of our top clubs -- BULWELL, HUCKNALL TOWN, LINBY COLLIERY WELFARE and HUCKNALL ROLLS LEISURE -- find themselves in the same division.
The Central Midlands League’s (CML) South Division is the Dispatch district’s equivalent of a fantasy league.
And to add even more spice to the mix, a Hucknall businessman has spearheaded the formation of a new club that has risen from the ashes of Eastwood Town to play in the same division.
Once-mighty Eastwood, who won the Notts FA Senior County Cup seven times between 2003 and 2012, folded last season when they were kicked off their Coronation Park ground in disgrace, owing the coujncil more than £45,000 in rent.
But football in the town lives on -- thanks largely to Ben Marshall, who is a key director of Eastwood Community Football Club.
Marshall, who celebrates his 30th birthday next Tuesday, has helped to win a place in the CML for Eastwood Community, who will also be running a veterans’ team and a soccer school.
Along with Harrowby Saints, from Grantham, they are one of two new clubs in the South Division, to replace South Normanton Athletic, who have been promoted to the East Midlands Counties League, and Allenton United, who have quit senior football because their ground does not meet the league’s criteria.
However, all eyes in this neck of the woods will be on Bulwell, Town, Linby and Rolls, especially with no fewer than 12 local derbies in prospect.
The first of those derbies is scheduled for August Bank Holiday weekend when Rolls, promoted from the Notts Senior League (NSL), entertain Town on Saturday 23rd and then Linby 48 hours later.
Town travel to Linby on Saturday 30th August before Bulwell take on Rolls on Saturday 23rd September and then Linby a week later.
The Bulls, whose season doesn’t start until Saturday 16th August, are one of the favourites to land the title, having finished a close third in their debut season last year.
They ended up only six points behind champions Clifton All Whites, whom they meet in their second game of the new campaign, on Wednesday 20th September, and fully 12 points clear of fourth.
Results in pre-season friendlies have been mixed with wins over Dunkirk (3-1), Bilborough Town (7-2) and Dinnington Town (5-0) sitting alongside defeats at the hands of Ashby Ivanhoe (3-1), Radcliffe Olympic (5-4) and Bardon Hill (6-1).
Hucknall Town have been busier than most in pre-season, playing nine home friendlies and winning only two. But manager Andy Graves says he has been pleased with his side’s form against strong opposition, who have included Loughborough Dynamo, managed by former Yellows boss Tommy Brookbanks.
Graves also says he is a lot happier with his squad than this time last season, although he has lost star striker Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe, who has moved to Carlton Town after making a huge impact for The Yellows at the end of last season.
Town, who face their first big test at Clifton next Tuesday, continue to be blighted by financial worries, but they are hoping to improve on last season’s 13th place.
They also promise that their main stand, which was temporarily shut for safety reasons last month, will be open in time for this weekend’s opening match at home to Mickleover Royals.
Meanwhile Linby are desperate to improve on a disastrous 2013/14 campaign, in which they won only four of their 32 league games and finished next to bottom.
Manager Dave Marlow has remained at the helm, and has appointed a new assistant in much-respected former Hucknall Town defender Paul Frizelle.
Frizelle’s 18-year-old son, Mason, is one of several young players expected to unleash their potential. They also include striker Joe Butler, scorer of eight goals in four eyecatching wins in pre-season friendlies.
Linby, who begin their season next Tuesday night at home to the only side to finish below them last term, Calverton Miners Welfare, will also be hoping for a return to his best form by Matt Murphy, who has netted 96 goals in five seasons with the club.
As for Rolls, optimism is high for their first taste of CML football. They begin with home games against Southwell City this Saturday and Blidworth next Tuesday and are planning to build on a successful final season in the NSL when they finished third, seven points behind the champions and ten clear of the rest, and also lifted the league cup.
Managers Jez Corthorn and Jonathan ‘Toddy’ Wass have retained the same, largely young, squad and added experienced duo Richard Harrison as player/coach, plus 27-year-old midfielder Patrick McBean from Allenton.
Rolls were involved in the area’s highest-profile pre-season friendly, losing 4-1 to Notts County.
However, they beat Arnold Town 5-2 before going down 3-2 last Saturday to Gedling Miners Welfare.