One of the reason's I like writing a season review is that it gives me the opportunity to take stock of what has happened, who I have met and which new clubs/stadiums I have visited. During the season, it's a case of write a blog, research games, go to a game, write a blog, research games.....and with in excess of forty leagues to keep abreast of, it's not easy to sit back an appreciate the season.
The 2017-18 season for Botp started in leafy Wiltshire at the new home of Melksham Town in August 2017, and finished under the Wembley arch on Non-League Finals Day in May 2018. Between these dates I travelled 3,929 miles, saw 46 games of football and witnessed 146 goals. I also managed to get to 30 new grounds over the course of the season.
The pleasures of non-league football are plenty, but for me watching live football and meeting some of the people that run the game or support the game through blogging, ground-hopping bring the greatest rewards. This season, as with the past four, proved to be no different when it came to making friends and acquaintances within the game. In September I happened across Phil Annets (@FACupFactFile) at Hartley Wintney. Phil and I had been on the Non-League Radio Show with Caroline Barker but had never met in person. We subsequently met up again (twice) at Phil's local club, Wallingford Town, where we put the footballing world to rights. If you love the FA Cup (or even if you just have a passing interest) you must follow @FACupFactFile and check out Phil's blogs on the subject. There is nothing that this man does not know about the FA Cup.
Another social media acquaintance who I got to know over the season was Andy Oakes, programme editor and supporter of 1874 Northwich. Andy very kindly used a couple of my FA Vase blogs in his, utterly brilliant, programme during his teams Vase run. It was great to meet up with Andy before the start of his side's game at Leighton Town in February. Next season I will make every effort to get up the Cheshire for an 1874 home game.
During the past season, BotP also had the pleasure of posting blogs from out first (and to date, only) guest blogger, Charlie Marriot. Charlie shared six of his match blogs with us in October and November. He is currently out and about enjoying the CONIFA tournament and will, hopefully, be contributing more of his insights next season. The links to his blogs are listed at the end of this article.
If anyone else out there would like to contribute articles, please feel free to send them in (email@example.com) and I will do my utmost to publish them. The site now averages over 2,000 views a week in peak times (growing each year) so, if you do write something, you have a reasonably large potential audience.
A trip to AFC Rushden & Diamonds and a November outing at Wellingborough Whitworth were enough for me to complete my NN post code list. I also, completely by accident, managed to see Bicester Town v Chinnor at both venues. Speaking of Bicester Town, watch out for a forthcoming blog concerning the fate of their former Oxford Road ground.
In October I ventured up to Leicestershire to watch Leicester Road take on Quorn in the Midland League. A perfect opportunity to visit a new ground as well as see an old West Brom stalwart, Russell Hoult. The game was a great advert for Step 6 football, an end to end game finishing 4-3 to Leicester Road. Houlty not being able to produce one of the clean sheets that he was famous for during his time at The Baggies.
There was only a single visit to Kidlington's Yarnton Road ground this season but, as is normally the case, the home side won. This was my fifth visit to the ground and the fifth time that the Greens have come out on top.
In November BotP joined forces with Sport Shots, a local organisation that promotes sport in the area allowing free use of their reports and images for club websites, Facebook pages, and programmes as well as supplying local newspapers with images free of charge. All of this is a great asset to the local sporting community. Sports Shots does not aim to gain from any of these services, just an accreditation for their media with an aim to boosting awareness of their charities, MacMillan Cancer Support and Vasculitis UK. There is a certain synergy between Sport Shots and BotP. You may have seen the links and logo for our chosen charity, Edie's Butterfly Appeal, which tries to raise awareness of childhood Ependymoma as well as raising funds for research. BotP and Sport Shots continue to retweet content and support each other's ventures. I would also like to thank all at Ardley United who continue to run half-page Edie's Butterfly Appeal flyers in all of their match-day programmes.
As has become something of a tradition, there are a few 'awards' to hand out, starting with the Team of the Year for Steps 2 through to 6.
Step 3 - Gosport Borough. Gosport get the Step 3 award on the back of their amazing 'great escape. Seemingly down and out as we headed into the tail end of the season, they somehow found three straight victories to end the campaign, including a crucial 2-0 victory at relegation rivals Dunstable Town, scoring thirteen goals and conceding zero. A truly herculean effort when you consider that they had only 9 points on the board at the end of March.
Step 4 - Hartley Wintney. What a season for The Row. Playing at Step 4 for the first time in their history, they managed to take a spot in the play-offs before defeating both AFC Dunstable and Cambridge City to go straight up into the Southern League Premier Division next season. A tremendous achievement for a village with a population of less than 5,000.
Step 5 - Thatcham Town. The Kingfishers ended their fantastic season in some style. Having already achieved promotion back to Step 4, after winning the Hellenic Premier League, they took their 'Invincibles' tag (earned by achieving an unbeaten run of 40 games) to Wembley Stadium. A Shane Cooper-Clark penalty was enough to see of Stockton Town and earn Thatcham their first FA Vase title.
Step 6 - Wolverhampton Sporting Community. This was an extremely difficult decision to make. Having seen a lot of Step 6 football this season, I have had the pleasure of seeing a number of good sides, Dunkirk and Walsall Wood, for instance, ran Sports very close. However, a decision needed to be made and, after a lot of thought, both Sports and The Wood got past the 100 point mark, both scored an absolutely massive number of goals, but Sports got the award due to their points tally of 2.73 per game, which was slightly higher than Walsall Wood.
Best game - Uxbridge 2 Hartley Wintney 2. This game, played the week before Christmas, was one of those matches that only seemed to last about 10 minutes per half. A game that was entertaining from the first to last minute. Both sides were looking for three points, of that there was no doubt. Hartley Wintney came from behind twice and both sides had plenty of opportunities to win the game. As I wrote at the time 'It was breathless end to end stuff with both sides pushing for a winner until the very last kick. A wonderful advert for the Southern League and for Step 4 football'.
Best Team Performance - Atherstone Town v Bolehall Swifts. This was a late season game that didn't have a great deal hanging on it. The Adders were on a roll, but falling short of Walsall Wood, Swifts were just waiting a bad season to come to an end. However, on the night, Atherstone played some delightful football. They put together some wonderful passages of play, carving open the Bolehall defence at will. It was a joy to watch.
Best Goal (that I witnessed live) - Jonathan Gould (Atherstone Town v Bolehall Swifts). The left-sided midfielder picked the ball out some 35-40 yards out, beat a series of Swifts defenders and then delicately lofted the ball over the onrushing Paintain to make it 5-0. A brilliant individual effort.
Best Support - 1874 Northwich at Leighton Town in the FA Vase Quarter-Final. The Northwich support travelled to Bedfordshire in vast numbers and were, no doubt, a contributing factor in the the 1-0 win. Despite their team being pushed back for much of the second half, the Green Army never let their vocal support drop. It also has to be said that the group of Northwich supporters that were constantly being provoked by a small bunch of local kids, acted with great restraint and did not get drawn into any kind of confrontation.
High Point - Getting the results of all eight FA Vase Last Sixteen predictions correct. Maybe I should have had the courage of my convictions and thrown a few quid at the bookies on this one? Surely getting all eight results correct would have been reasonable odds, especially as three of the results went against popular predictions. Honourable mention has to go to my first taste of the Wally Town Sausage Roll which is worth the admission fee on it's own.
Melksham Town 4 Cadbury Heath 0
Highgate United 1 Lye Town 1
Malmesbury Victoria 3 Chippenham Park 0
Cove 1 Fleet Spurs 1
Coventry Alvis 0 Chelmsley Town 2
Hartley Wintney 1 Basingstoke Town 0
Windsor 3 Oxford City Nomads 0
Thrapston Town 1 Irchester United 0
Stourbridge 2 St Ives Town 0
Rushden & Diamonds 1 Alfreton Town 3
Shrivenham 1 Oxford City Nomads 4
Kidlington 3 Swindon Supermarine 0
Wallingford Town 0 Ascot United 2
Bicester Town 3 Chinnor 2
Leicester Road 4 Quorn 3
Newport Pagnell Town 1 Daventry Town 3
Clanfield 85 0 Tuffley Rovers 2
Stourbridge 0 Witton Albion 0
Buckingham Athletic 0 Baldock Town 0
Thame Rangers 1 Penn & Tylers Green 3
Wellingborough Whitworth 2 Oadby Town 1
Chinnor 0 Bicester Town 2
Easington Sports 2 Headington Amateurs 1
Uxbridge 2 Hartley Wintney 2
North Leigh 0 Evesham United 2
Loughton Manor 2 Amersham Town 1
Ashford Town (Mx) 4 Marlow 2
Ardley United 1 Oxford Unted 3
Didcot Town Reserves 2 Bracknell Town 6
Farnham Town 1 Godalming Town 2
Leighton Town 0 1874 Northwich 1
Oxford City Nomads 2 Binfield 3
Northwood 0 Uxbridge 1
Badshot Lea 6 Cove 2
Langford 0 Buckingham Athletic 1
Heather St John's 1 Walsall Wood 3
Wallingford Town 1 Milton United 0
Winslow United 2 Risborough Rangers 1
Atherstone Town 5 Bolehall Swifts 0
Studley 0 Walsall Wood 6
AFC Hayes 0 Bedfont Sports 2
Codicote 0 Southall 2
Clifton All Whites 2 Dunkirk 3
Hartley Wintney 4 Eversley & California 1
Thatcham Town 1 Stockton Town 0
Brackley Town 1 Bromley 1
Charlie Marriott's guest blogs:
Stratford Town v Royston Town
Sporting Khalsa v Worcester City
Coventry Copsewood v Chelmsley Town
Boldmere St Michaels v Heanor Town
Lutterworth Athletic v Blackstones
Redditch United v Bishop's Stortford
It just leaves me to say a massive thank you to anyone who has read, commented, contributed, retweeted or liked any of the content on this site, the Twitter account or Facebook page. I look forward to meeting new and old friends again next season. Have a great summer, enjoy the World Cup but don't forget to go out there and support Non-League Football again next season.