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Vanarama National League – The Fans Are Back

By Jeff Brazier

It was incredible to see National League grounds packed with fans again this weekend. It’s the type of spectacle we’ve desperately missed and long may it last. Last season was invariably different for obvious reasons. We concluded our season in the 5th tier, which was a blessing, but the football adapted itself without the injection of passion the supporters provide.

I felt last season that football became more strategic, methodical, pragmatic and somewhat chess-like. Without the impulsivity and heightened motivation provided by the roar of the crowd, there was often a sterile sense of emotionless play that we would associate more with a reserve game or training session. If you look at this weekend, six out of nine matches had more than two goals and I like to think that’s because the fans are pushing the players that extra bit.

That’s not to say the standards dropped last year, it was just different. I’ve remarked on countless occasions that I believe the overall level has improved significantly in recent times and if I was to pinpoint the reason why, I think it’s mostly because of the introduction of more fashionably modern managers that we’ve seen get the vacancies over candidates that would perhaps be considered slightly more traditional.

Fresh Ideas

Simon Rusk is a prime example, coming from a world-class Category 1 Academy at Brighton. The attention to detail in planning and execution in games is one thing he, like Ian Birchnall or Danny Searle amongst numerous others, would prioritise ahead of being heard from the touchline for the sake of being heard. The philosophy is that if you get the detail and the delivery right leading up to the game then you have less need to constantly organise from the sideline anyway. I wouldn’t read too much into the mixed bag of opening day results for these managers as these can often be a red herring. Let’s start judging them after 7 or 8 games.

If you’ve read any of my blogs before, you’ll know that as a UEFA B licensed coach I’m intrigued by management and coaching generally, so observing the subtle differences in coaching styles and having the privilege of interviewing the managers is far from wasted on me.

The Fans

Altrincham-Fans

While all managers would have preferred packed stadiums last year, the unexpected opportunity afforded to coaches was for them to explore their own philosophies without worrying about pleasing a crowd. How much of what was learned in those games last season will still remain when supporters are in full voice and will a more cautious, methodical approach be tolerated with the fans desire to be suitably entertained? We’ve already seen at the weekend some results didn’t go the way that we would have expected, so I’m interested to see how much some of these managers stick to their philosophies when the crowd start to voice their opinions. I feel like the National League has become much more progressive from a footballing sense, but there is still a clash of styles which is interesting to watch.

I’m expecting the football to be more exciting than ever, or maybe that’s just what I’m hoping for! I think it’s becoming impossible to predict – who would have thought Altrincham would be so dominant away at Torquay? I was at the game and have to say I was very impressed with Altrincham. See my blog on them last year here. With clubs strengthening across the board and there being at least 10 clubs that you’d expect to be competitive towards the top end, it could be the closest season we’ve had in a long time.

Ones to Watch

Particular narratives to watch this season will be seeing how last season’s League Two top scorer, Paul Mullin, gets on at Wrexham, Quigley’s return to the National League at Stockport, Neil Ardley having a point to prove and what kind of football Harry Kewell will cultivate at Barnet. So far it doesn’t bode well for Kewell, even if they did have a tough opening fixture against Notts County.

Will Southend and Grimsby adapt quickly? Can rising-star Callum Roberts stay fit at County? Does Kabongo Tshimanga continue to hit the ground running at Chesterfield? So much to look forward to.

Whoever you support, good luck to your team this season and I hope you enjoyed being back in the ground and not watching it via live stream! Let’s hope the excitement we saw on the opening weekend continues throughout the season.

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