After 97 days, the Vanarama National League is back and things are expected to be very, very different this time around, with both Wrexham and Notts County no longer in the division following their promotions in the previous campaign.
Following this, the National League also said goodbye to Scunthorpe United, Torquay United, Yeovil Town and Maidstone United last season, after they were relegated to the sixth tier. However, in return we have received sixth tier champions AFC Fylde (National League North) and Ebbsfleet United (National League South) as well as the play-off winners Kidderminster Harriers and Oxford City. Similarly, we have received both Hartlepool United and Rochdale for the upcoming season, making it one of the more open-ended seasons the division has ever known.
This weekend’s National League matches will see Hartlepool United make the long journey to North London as they face Barnet, whilst Rochdale will round-off this weekend’s action in the late kick-off against new-boys Ebbsfleet United. Similarly, beaten play-off finalist Chesterfield will begin their campaign at home against Dorking Wanderers, in a weekend that promises to bring entertainment, goals and the much-needed return of the beautiful game we all know and love.
With that being said, let’s take an in-depth look at the opening matches of the National League campaign this weekend…
Aldershot Town vs Oxford City – 3pm, Saturday 5th August 2023
It’s been a difficult summer for Tommy Widdrington’s side so far, losing several key players including defenders Tyler Cordner and Corey Jordan. The side finished 18th last season, narrowly avoiding relegation by just five points, conceding 76 goals which was the fourth worst in the entire division. Following the arrivals of Gillingham’s Stuart O’Keefe and Portsmouth’s Haji Mnoga, Widdrington’s side will be aiming to do everything they can to improve on the previous campaign.
On the other hand, Oxford City’s 2023 promotion has taken them into the National League for the first time in the club’s history. The side gained promotion via the play-offs in the National League South last season as they cruised past St. Albans City in the final. All focus during the transfer window so far has been placed on keeping ahold of their key players including forward Josh Parker, formerly of Charlton as well as the addition of Arsenal academy graduate Tafari Moore on a free transfer.
Aldershot Town 0 – Draws 0 – Oxford City 0
Altrincham FC vs Dagenham & Redbridge – 3pm, Saturday 5th August 2023
It’s been an extremely busy summer for Altrincham, as they aim to continue their push for a play-off place, following their 17th place finish last season. Phil Parkinson’s side (no not that one) have recruited several players including Solihull’s Justin Donawa, but possibly their best bit of business was the permanent addition of Chris Conn-Clarke, following his impressive loan spell last season. The side will be hoping that a heap of new signings will be enough to allow the newly full-time side to compete closer to the play-off places.
Elsewhere, Dagenham & Redbridge have had a tough transfer window, but will still be eager to beat their 10th place finish in the previous campaign. Proven National League goalscorer Paul McCallum and midfielder Manny Onariase were amongst those that have departed the club, but the side have also added EFL experience with the likes of full-back Lewis Page and midfielder Jake Hessenthaler in the hope of bouncing back and going one better in the National League this season.
Altrincham 4 – Draw 1 – Dagenham & Redbridge 5
Barnet FC vs Hartlepool United – 3pm, Saturday 5th August 2023
Following their play-off quarter-final exit last season, Barnet will be aiming to continue their upward trajectory and move even closer to the EFL. The Bees suffered a major exit this summer as midfielder Ryan De Havilland became the latest player to make the switch to Peterborough United, following in the footsteps of Ronnie Edwards and Jack Taylor. However, with Nicke Kabamba leading the line, as well as the experienced Ben Coker, the club will be plotting another play-off campaign this season.
Meanwhile, Hartlepool United will be returning to the National League this season, following a two-year absence, now managed by John Askey. The club have (as expected) lost several first-team players this summer, including defender Jamie Sterry but bizarrely their leading man, Josh Umerah, is still with the football club, heading into the National League campaign. Several players including Kieran Wallace and Emmanuel Dieseruvwe have made the switch to the club as they look to target promotion back into League Two.
Barnet 6 – Draws 4 – Hartlepool 5
Chesterfield FC vs Dorking Wanderers – 3pm, Saturday 5th August 2023
Paul Cook’s Chesterfield side will begin the 2023/24 campaign eager to bounce back, following their play-off final defeat. The club may have missed out on Andrew Dallas, following his move to Barnsley. However, the side have added Championship experience in the form of Tom Naylor as well as former Northern Ireland international Will Grigg, as they look to begin the season with a flourish and clinch the National League title, allowing them to return to the football league next season.
As for the visitors, Dorking Wanderers finished 16th in their debut campaign in the National League, inspired by the goals from James McShane up front. Marc White’s side have had a successful window, both on and off the pitch, but they will need to ensure that they avoid second-season syndrome next season. Tony Craig has completed a permanent switch to the club from Crawley Town, as work begins to ensure that the side aren’t subject to relegation this season.
Chesterfield 1 – Draws 1 – Dorking Wanderers 0
FC Halifax Town vs Bromley FC – 3pm, Saturday 5th August 2023
It’s been another tough summer for Halifax, with more first-team regulars departing the club, including Jesse Debrah and Jack Senior at the back. However, Chris Millington’s side have continued to press on ahead of the new campaign, made better by the permanent arrival of Adam Senior from Bolton Wanderers, following his impressive loan spell in the previous campaign. The side finished 11th last season, ten points off the play-off places and will be eager to go one better next season.
Meanwhile, Bromley made the play-off places last season, but failed to make it into the final. However, the side have lost several key players such as Reice Charles-Cook, Omar Sowunmi, Harry Forster and Kellen Fisher, leaving them with some serious work to do. However, the club have silenced the critics with the additions of Tate Campbell (Birmingham), Grant Smith (Yeovil) and Sam Woods from Barnet, as they aim to reach the top seven once again next season.
FC Halifax Town 4 – Draws 6 – Bromley 4
Gateshead vs Boreham Wood – 3pm, Saturday 5th August 2023
From being certain relegation candidates to achieving a mid-table finish, it was quite the season for Gateshead last time out. Inspired by the performances of Marcus Dinanga, the club finished 14th and will be aiming to go again next season. Since the season ended, the club have landed several impressive signings including Regan Booty (Maidstone), Callum Whelan (Solihull) and Archie Mair (Norwich), taking them from bottom-half candidates to the division’s dark horses.
Elsewhere, Boreham Wood have had a relatively quiet window, but following their 6th place finish last season, it isn’t a surprise that Luke Garrard has stuck to his guns in the window so far. Despite Josh Rees and Danny Newton leaving the club, they’ve continued to strengthen their long-term aims of reaching the football league. Chesterfield’s Tom Whelan, Crawley’s Kwesi Appiah and Dagenham’s Angelo Balanta have all joined the club as they aim to reach the top seven once again.
Gateshead 5 – Draws 6 – Boreham Wood 1
Kidderminster Harriers vs Woking FC – 3pm, Saturday 5th August 2023
It’s a return to the National League for Kidderminster, following their play-off success and will be aiming to achieve safety in the fifth tier next season. The club have added quality in the form of Reiss McNally on a permanent deal, as well as Solihull’s Matt Preston, with the club pushing to survive this season. Several promotion heroes have also been retained by the National League side as manager Russell Penn targets another season of football in the fifth tier.
Meanwhile, Woking were the division’s dark horses last season, battling for fourth spot for the entire campaign, before falling short at the final hurdle. The club may have lost James Daly and Kyran Lofthouse but they have also added plenty of star quality including Tunji Akinola and Dennon Lewis, as they aim to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke finish. Darren Sarll’s men will be targeting promotion next season and will be aiming to get off to a winning start.
Kidderminster 8 – Draws 5 – Woking 4
Maidenhead United vs AFC Fylde – 3pm, Saturday 5th August 2023
Fresh from avoiding relegation by a single point last season, Maidenhead United will be eager to stay up once again next season but will face an uphill battle. Emile Acquah left the club to sign for League Two side Barrow, whilst Ryan Upward also departed the National League side. In terms of incomings, Maidenhead have had a difficult summer transfer with several new additions, with the most noticeable one being Kevin Lokko on a free transfer but they need a lot more work as well as a winning start.
AFC Fylde clinched the National League North title last season, coming from behind to overcome Kings Lynn Town and win the title. Meanwhile, the good news continued as the club managed to tie-down Nick Haughton to a new contract as a reward for his impressive campaign last season. The club have also added several new additions including Kings Lynn Town striker Gold Omotayo and goalkeeper Theo Richardson as they aim to push on next season and compete much higher than just the relegation zone.
Maidenhead 1 – Draws 1 – AFC Fylde 3
Solihull Moors vs Eastleigh FC – 3pm, Saturday 5th August 2023
It’s been quite the summer of change for Solihull Moors, following the exit of Neal Ardley earlier last month. The club have since appointed former Wolves defender Stephen Ward as the director of football, as well as Andy Whing as manager. Several experienced players such as Callum Howe and Ryan Boot have left, whilst playmaker Joe Sbarra has suffered heart issues, which has affected his pre-season. The business has been very busy with the additions of Connor Hall, Richard Stearman and Nico Gordon, as Whing will be targeting a winning start.
Speaking of busy summers, Eastleigh have been one of the most active club’s in the transfer window so far, with several big names joining the football club. Despite losing Jake Hesketh and Jake Scrimshaw, the club have added a lot of EFL experiences including Stevenage’s Jake Taylor, Sutton’s Enzio Boldewijn, Dagenham’s Paul McCallum and Stockport’s Scott Quigley just to name a few. The club will be desperate to push for automatic promotion next season and will also be targeting a winning start.
Solihull 7 – Draws 3 – Eastleigh 3
Southend United vs Oldham Athletic – 3pm, Saturday 5th August 2023
It has been possibly the most difficult pre-seasons in history for Southend United this summer, following a series of off-field issues, with the club currently unable to sign players or trialist’s and can only sign players on one-week deals. This explains why Jack Bridge is still with the football club, however they have lost a lot of key players including Tom Clifford and Henry Sandat and the difficult work continues. However, Southend boss Kevin Maher will be praying his side can let their football do the talking and gain a surprise opening-day win.
For a football club who have been progressively falling, Oldham Athletic have had a strong start to the transfer window and firmly look like a side who could challenge for promotion this season. The Oldham boss has managed to land the likes of Josh Lundstram (Altrincham), Charlie Raglan (Cheltenham), Kurt Willoughby (Chester) and James Norwood (Barnsley), building a strong side for the upcoming campaign and will be targeting the play-off places at the bare minimum this season.
Southend 8 – Draws 5 – Oldham 7
Wealdstone FC vs York City – 3pm, Saturday 5th August 2023
Going into the upcoming campaign, Wealdstone achieved a 13th placed finish last season and were one of the division’s most under-appreciated side’s last season. The club have managed to secure the services of midfielder Max Kretzschmar on a fresh contract, as well as adding the addition’s of Sean Adarkwa, Luke Dreher and goalkeeper Jed Ward from League One side Bristol Rovers. However, goalkeeper Sam Howes has left for Leyton Orient and they have work to do to prove themselves again next season.
Meanwhile, York City have had a very busy summer, following their successful takeover and have signed several high-profiled players so far. The club finished 19th last season, but have since added Sheffield Wednesday’s David Stockdale, Solihull Moors’ Callum Howe and a club-record move for Ayr United forward Dipo Akinyemi, fending off EFL interest in him. The club will be expected to compete for promotion this season and will be desperate to get off to a winning start.
Wealdstone 2 – Draws 0 – York 0
Rochdale AFC vs Ebbsfleet United, 5:30pm, Saturday 5th August 2023
Rochdale will return to the National League for the first time in 102 years and will be hopeful of returning to the football league as soon as possible. The club have suffered several big departures, including the likes of Ethan Brierley, Liam Kelly and Toby Mullarkey this summer, adding further pressure on the club’s recruitment team. However, the side have added experienced midfielder Adam Clayton from Bradford, as well as goalkeeper Louie Moulden and Halifax’s Harvey Gilmour but it remains to be seen whether they can challenge once again.
Finally, Ebbsfleet United are back in the National League, following their title winning campaign in the National League South. The club have successfully managed to tie-down several key players including top-scorer Dominic Poleon, after hitting over 30 goals last season. Alongside Poleon, the club have also added 25-goal striker Nathan Odokonyero for an undisclosed fee and has tied manager Dennis Kutrieb to a new contract, which is arguably all the fuel they need to try and gain a winning start on Saturday.
Rochdale 0 – Draws 0 – Ebbsfleet 0