ANOTHER Northern Alliance season kicks off this afternoon with a new main sponsor in Re/Max Estate Agents. Only two new clubs have been admitted, with Forest Hall and Stobswood Welfare returning to the league’s Second Division after several years’ absence.
In the Premier Division, Albert Straughan is taking over as manager of Alnwick Town this term, with Ian Johnson taking over from Jeff Orr at Blyth Town and Michael Connor is the new team boss at Cramlington Town.
Darren Nocter has replaced Jimmy McMurdo as Gillford Park’s new manager. The front-runners this time are expected to include reigning champions Walker Central, 2007 champs Harraby Catholic, Gillford Park and Heddon while the wild cards will be Murton and Wark, both promoted from the First Division.
Walker Central have parted company with club secretary Bob Mulroy and start their defence of the title with a home game against Shankhouse. Shankhouse finished strongly after a dismal start last season. Manager Gary Kirkup is hoping for better this time and today’s test at Monkchester should be a good indicator of his team’s strength. Harraby, runners-up to the Central last season, also kick off with a home game against Alnwick Town, who have suffered following their relegation from the Northern League. But the Town has a new committee and manager.
Gillford Park kick off their campaign by visiting Ashington Colliers. The Cumbrians haven’t retained the services of top scorer Lee Otway but have few other changes and have signed a number of promising teenagers.
Gillford have a new sponsor in Milltech Electrical and, as part of the deal, their ground has been renamed the Milltech Stadium. For today’s game at Ashington, only striker Mike Riding is unavailable after suffering a nasty injury in a pre-season friendly.
Heddon’s curtain-raiser is against Peterlee Town at Bullocksteads. The two sides finished fourth and fifth in last season’s final pecking order so this should be a closely-contested clash.
Meanwhile, Premier Division newcomers Wark and Murton dip their toes in with respective games away to Ponteland United and at home to Cramlington Town.
And in today’s other opening matches, Blyth Town entertain Heaton Stannington while Seaton Delaval travel to take on Carlisle City.