This weekend sees the start of the 2021-22 North West Counties League season, a season which takes us into our 40th year of existence. It is a season that is much anticipated after two uncompleted attempts at getting seasons completed due to the unprecedented situation regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.
Before we preview this weekends games, lets have a brief recap on who the ‘runners and riders’ are.
It is a much-changed league from when we last completed a full season with us having a considerable turnover in clubs due to promotion and back-filling of vacancies due to a re-organisation of the non-league pyramid by the Football Association. We welcome a number of new clubs to the league, including Macclesfield FC who have been placed at Step 5 in our Premier Division. There have also been promotions into the Premier Division as AFC Liverpool, Lower Breck and Prestwich Heys, Vauxhall Motors and Wythenshawe have been promoted in from their respective Division One regions.
Leaving the Premier Division are Bootle, 1874 Northwich and FA Vase Winners Warrington Rylands, all accepted The FA's invitation to be promoted to Step 4, whilst Hanley Town and Whitchurch Alport have been laterally moved over to the Midlands League alongside Stone Old Alleynians who were both promoted and laterally moved in one go.
Let’s see how they start?
Macclesfield start life at Step 5 with a tricky start as they host another big name from non-league in Burscough. Both of these clubs will likely fancy their chances this season with bookies already considering Macclesfield as one of the favorites for the title, there are a few clubs in the Premier Division who may disagree with that but its up to whoever wants it enough to come up with the points. Northwich Victoria are much fancied this season but they face a tough looking start away at Matt Barnes’ recently promoted Prestwich Heys side whom have had a strong pre-season.
Avro and Padiham take each other on at the Vestacare, with Avro always looking to challenge and expected to be strong this season. However, Padiham have also had a decent pre-season which included an impressive 4-2 win over Ramsbottom earlier this month.
Over at Brocstedes Park Ashton Athletic have made some changes on and off the park and they will be hoping to get off to their traditional good start as they take on a Wythenshawe Town side who are also developing on all fronts. The South Manchester side are many peoples dark horse fancies to do something this season following strong showings in Division One South.
On the subject of promoted sides, Vauxhall Motors finally got their progression to Step 5 via the re-organisation over the summer, the Ellesmere Port based club had been unlucky not to have been promoted in previous seasons, despite securing enough points to do so prior to the Null and Voiding of previous seasons. The Motormen host AFC Liverpool who start the season in good form off the back of a 5-0 win away at Grantham Town’s much heralded under 23 side.
Runcorn Town get close every season, will this be the one that finally clicks for them? The runners up in the Macron Cup final that was held on Saturday just gone will be looking to dust themselves off and go again as they host Barnoldswick Town at the Viridor Community Stadium. Both of these clubs have strengthened over the summer and will be looking to rack up some early points.
Irlam and Litherland Remyca meet at the RG3 Digital Stadium with both clubs being busy over the summer by way of pre-season games. Derek Goulding leads Remyca this season and is no stranger to the North West Counties League, his much changed Litherland side will be looking for a much stronger showing this campaign.
Lower Breck make their Step 5 debut with a tough looking start away to Squires Gate. Gary Moore has made a number of key signings for The Breck as they make a statement of intent. JJ Moore comes in on-loan from Witton Albion as well as former Wigan Althletic U23 left back, Sam Finley. Sam Turner is in on-loan from Chester FC too as they have impressed in pre-season. Squires Gate have been somewhat inconsistent in recent seasons, they can net impressive results against the stronger teams in the division but slip up against teams they are expected to defeat. They have lost playmaker and former captain Sam Staunton-Turner this season due to work commitments but Dean Ing has been banging in the goals in pre-season (5 from 5) and Manager Luke Evans knows how to spot a player. This should be a decent game.
At Mossie Park Charnock Richard host Winsford United having had a solid pre-season having seen off a number of good clubs over the summer, a run of wins which included an eye catching 4-1 win over former NWCFL side, Silsden. Winsford have also had an impressive pre-season with a number of good performances and an impressive win over Oldham Athletics Academy side. Both of these clubs are likely to be ones to watch this season as the new look Premier Division settles down and a new order is established!