Today sees the much awaited start of the 2020-21 North West Counties League season and in so many ways it is not the way we expected football to return, it's a much changed world since March. We have already seen a number of fixtures postponed due to Covid restrictions and precautions, but for now this may become a semi-regular feature as all clubs look to operate in as safe an environment as possible.
In addition to the start of the league season we also see four of our clubs take part in on the 2nd Qualifying Round of the Emirates FA Cup with some prestige fixtures taking place.
Looking at today's League Fixtures and in the Premier Division the games betwen 1874 Northwich and Runcorn Town, Barnoldswick and Ashton Athletic as well as Bootle and Burscough have been postponed due to Covid-19 Restrictions. The game between Winsford United and Avro has been postponed this morning due to a waterlogged pitch.
Padiham host Whitchurch Alport with both sides looking to progress this season, Alport have made a number of additions to their squad whilst also developing the Yockings Park facility to a high standard and are expected to mount a strong chellenge. At The Ambitek Stadium, Irlam host Litherland Remyca as Irlam look to progress and push on since establishing themselves as a Premier Division side in recent seasons. In the ill-fated null and void season, Remyca were nervously near the foot of the table and will be keen to avoid that happening again.
Northwich Victoria are mcuh fancied this season and they travel to Charnock Richard in the revers of their recent FA Cup fixture that saw Charnock Richard progress via the dreaded penatly shootout! Congleton Town are normally quick out of the blocks each season and they will be looking to get off to a good start with a tricky looking opener at home to Squires Gate. Squires Gate have already played a few games since the re-start on FA Cup and Vase duty and they have looked strong.
In Division One North, much fancied Lower Breck open with a tough looking tie against local rivals Ashton Town. Lower Breck have added a number of good signings over the summer including Joe Lynch who has joined the club from Morecambe, Joe White from Bolton Wanderers and Declan Daniels from local side Nalgo who had been on Manager Gary Moore's radar for some time. Ashton Town have also strengthened throughout the squad but all eyes will likely be on marquee addition, Emerson Boyce who is expected to make his debut at the ASCC.
Much has been made of the arrival of Bury AFC into the NWCFL and they get their campaign under way against a much changed Steeton side at Radcliffe. Bury have vuilt up a strong squad with a number of key signings from around the region and whilst they may take a few games to adapt to the league, they are expected to mount a strong challenge. St Helens Town are a much different prospect this season with the likes of Ashley Stott and Colin Quirk joining Dave Platt and Dave Potter's evolution. Whilst Town will face a number of challenges in playing home games this season due to Covid restrictions, they are expected to be dark horses this season. Their campaign begins with an away day at Chadderton who have also made some key signings including Corey Knight who has been announced this morning coming in from Prestwich Heys, they have gone about their business quietly but with some real strength being added.
Pilkington FC have reversed their fixture with Holker Old Boys this weekend so they will be travelling up to Cumbria for a tough start against one of the divisions perenial good starters. Fellow Cumbrians, Cleator Moor Celtic welcome Golcar United to Inglenorth Park with both clubs looking to build on solid starts to life in the NWCFL. Celtic had a tough tie in the Vase recently and were unucky to have been knocked out by Harrogate Railway Athletic on penalties.
AFC Darwen host AFC Blackpool at the Anchor Ground and whilst both clubs had a mixed build up to the start of the season, both will be looking to make a strong impact this campaign. Daisy Hill had a good run towards the end of last season and will be keen to build on that momentum this time around, they host Prestwich Heys who have had just the one competitive fixture so far which was a penalties defeat at Penistone Church.
Atherton LR have done a llot of work on and off the park over the summer and their new look squad take on Nelson at Crilly Park. Bacup Borough's game against Garstang has been postponed due to Covid restructions and Shelley resigned from the league prior to the season started which makes for a slightly different backdrop to the opening weekend than originally planned.
Division One South again has a different look to it this season but faces a number of logistical challenges. Eccleshalls game against New Mills and FC Isle of Man's game vs Wythenshawe Town have both been cancelled due to Covid restrictions. Vauxhall Motors will be looking to repeat their campaign from the null and void season as they host Stone Old Alleynians. The Motormen have made a small number of additions to their squad as they have strengthened for going forwards and they look like strong favorites this season to challenge for at least a top four spot.
Cammell Laird were also challenging last season and they have looked really strong since the restart, Phil Burton looking to repeat that challenge as they host Abbey Hulton United at the Prabhu Ventures Ltd Arena. West Didsbury & Chorlton are another club who will fancy their chances this campaign but they face a tough looking start at home to a rejuvenated Stockport Town whilst up the road, both Cheadle clubs have home starts as Town welcome Wythenshawe Amateurs in a local derby and Cheadle Heath Nomads welcome Sandbach United whom are fresh from winning the 2019-20 Division One Challenge Cup.
Alsager Town welcome St Martins to The Woodpark Stadium looking to bounce back from a 4-1 defeat to Winsford United in the Vase. Maine Road welcome Barton whilst over in Gorton, Abbey Hey welcome Ellesmere Rangers to The Abbey Stadium.
Just a reminder about the precautions all clubs are having to impliment to enable them to play games. The vast majority of clubs are able to welcome limited numbers of supporters into their ground but all will have stringent risk assessments in place to enable those supporters to attend the games safely. Please review each clubs risk assessment and matchday operating guidance. At the grounds there will be Covid Officers in place and clearly signposted guidelines. Please remember the standard Government guidance too about social distancing, face coverings and washing of hands.
It's a different world for football at the moment but in order to enable things to get back to normal whenever that may be, we all need to follow the guidance and stay safe. Enjoy your game.