We asked supporters of our Bostik League clubs to preview the new season, reflect on the old and predict the final outcome. Their predicted 1-20 (or 22) will be worked into a final table which you will see just before the big kick off.
Emma David brings us the word from beautiful Guernsey. Actually, she brings us rather a lot of words, and is thoroughly entertaining and enlightening from start to finish.
1. What was your favourite moment of last season?
Emma of Guernsey
It felt amazing when we broke our 14 game winless streak in early March with a 3-0 victory over Sittingbourne, just after my birthday. However that feeling was topped later the same month by a draw away to eventual league winners Carshalton Athletic. It's odd but somehow that felt more exhilarating than the win, for several reasons. Firstly, we were expecting to be trounced, travelling away to such a strong side with our own squad depleted by the fact many of our first team were on "national duty" - namely, a Muratti [annual inter-islands trophy] semi-final. Secondly, the club had organised our first ever "Fans' Away Day" package trip, which included flights and coach travel to and from the ground with the squad, match tickets, and lunch at Carshalton's clubhouse. It's difficult and expensive for fans flying off-island for away games, so this was the first time we'd had such a large contingent of supporters travelling over together to an away game from Guernsey.
We were all in high spirits anyway despite the early start, and that turned to sheer elation when our lads dug deep and held Carshalton to a 0-0 draw that I don't think anyone would ever have predicted. The atmosphere on the coach back to Gatwick was awesome: the squad were at the back of the coach singing and celebrating, and it felt really special to be a part of that wonderful camaraderie and joy. A day well spent which will linger long in the ol' memory banks!
2. And your worst moment?
The 14 game winless streak mentioned above was depressing to say the least. After the trials, tribulations and enforced changes of the previous season, we were hoping to fare better, and in fact had had some good results in the late summer and early autumn. The "winter of discontent" that followed felt dismal, even though there were few games where there weren't some positives we could take away as our relatively inexperienced squad continued on their massive learning curve. I never lost faith that we were heading in the right direction ultimately, but there were detractors aplenty in the media, social and otherwise, and it was hard work at times trying to keep morale buoyant amongst the fans.
Despite all that though, the worst moment was actually off-pitch in mid September, when 12-year-old GFC fan Ernie Backlund-Leale finally lost his long battle with leukaemia at the age of 12. It affected all the team and GFC community badly. Many of the players had visited him in hospital, and had spent a fair bit of time with him during his stronger moments between treatments. Some of them had even flown over with mascot Roary to surprise him when he was particularly poorly in a major UK hospital. His passing hit us all hard, and certainly put any difficulties on the pitch into perspective.
3. How will you do this season?
I'm generally upbeat about our prospects, but this season I'm more hopeful than I have been for a while actually! Our young players have been developing and integrating increasingly well, our longer-established players are largely fit and well and in good shape, and although we've only managed one pre-season fixture, the squad were very cohesive and looked surprisingly match-sharp.
We have some new attacking signings, which is potentially very exciting, as up till now no-one has quite been able to fill the boots of superstar striker Ross Allen, who returned briefly last season from travelling round the world, only then to decide to emigrate to New Zealand. He's done very well for himself there with Team Wellington, but it has left us bereft of a certain sparkle up-front. Hopefully that could be set to change this season with new personnel and the enhanced chemistry that brings, as well as the increased confidence and experience of some of our other young forwards and attacking midfielders.
Pre-season training by all accounts has been rigorous and technically innovative, and team morale and motivation is high.
We've also had a massive boost in that last season's Fans' Player of the Season, young goalie Callum Stanton, who was with us on loan from AFC Bournemouth, has turned down good money from some UK outfits in order to sign papers with us for the full season ahead. He'll still be involved with Bournemouth, as he's joined their Academy coaching outfit, but we now have the much-needed stability, consistency and skill that we had been struggling to find between the sticks.
4. Which matches are you most looking forward to going to- and why?
All of them, because I really feel there's going to be a lot of exciting moments to come. Our current squad is only just starting to realise its potential, and I think that's going to be an exciting journey to follow...
5. What is your favourite away ground?
I've only been to one so far! And that ground was Carshalton Athletic, who have now been promoted. As I explained earlier, it's quite a feat for us fans to be able to follow our lads off-island, as flights can be expensive. At least I managed one away trip last season at long last, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The great news is the club is planning on organising some more "Fans' Away-Day" packages, and I've been saving my pennies, so hopefully if I'm lucky enough to be writing a preview for you again this time next year, I'll have a more informed opinion and more away experiences to share.
6. Who do you consider your biggest rivals- and why?
I'm still of the opinion that we have to treat everyone as potentially serious rivals at this stage. We have some new faces in the league this season due to promotions and restructuring, plus players tend to be more mobile between the other clubs in our league, given their relative geographical proximity, so you can never be entirely sure early on who you'll be encountering where over the course of the season. We've been through a lot of changes these past couple of seasons, and are still finding our feet once more, so we'll be giving all our opponents due respect and taking each game very seriously.
7. What advice would you give to any away supporter visiting you for the first time?
Don't forget your passport and travel insurance! And if you can possibly work in an overnight / longer stay, then please do - we've loads of nice restaurants, pubs and beaches over here for you to explore. We appreciate it's a long haul, but the facilities are excellent, our island's beautiful, and our hospitality is legendary, so why not make an adventure of it? Just don't be calling us tax exiles: - it's not true and is guaranteed to get us riled!
8. Who is your favourite player of all time (for your club)- and why?
I think last time I opted for Ross Allen: he's arguably our club's best known player over its 7-year history and his quality is underlined by just how well he's now doing playing professionally for Team Wellington, having emigrated to New Zealand. But I'm hoping I'll be able to give you a different name next year, as everyone is starting to find their feet and shine after a difficult few seasons. As I said last time, our lads are great role models at home and island ambassadors away, they sacrifice a lot for the club, what with all the pre-dawn starts, nights away and unpaid leave they have to take, for no reward except the chance to test their skills at a higher level than would be possible against purely local opposition, and the honour of pulling on a green shirt. So, boring as it may sound, I have to say I'm honestly proud of them all...
9. Who will be in the top five at the end of the season?
Greenwich Borough, Cray Wanderers, Whyteleafe, Hythe Town, Hastings Utd.