BetVictor.com posted odds for the 2016 Ryman Premier Division title back in July 2015 and how wrong did they get it. They had Hendon, Dulwich Hamlet and Staines Town marked as favourites at 6/1 and the eventual winner's Hampton and Richmond Borough at 25/1. The Beavers are the Ryman's own Leicester City story as for most of the 2014/15 campaign they flirted with relegation to step four of the non-league but now will proudly play the 2016/17 season as a step two club.
It's fitting the two clubs who lost the least amount of games and scored the most goals have both gone up. Champion's Hampton and play-off winner's East Thurrock United both only lost seven games over the regular season closely followed by Tonbridge Angels on nine and Bognor Regis Town on ten. Hampton scored 105 goals and East Thurrock United 107 quite a distance away from the next best team being Bognor Regis Town on 95 goals.
Hampton only failed to score in four of their forty-two league games - 0-4 defeat at home to Lewes, 0-1 defeat at Bognor Regis Town, 0-1 defeat to Tonbridge Angels and the all important 0-0 draw at home to Enfield Town on the final day of the season.
If one game can define a season we can go back to Saturday 5th December when Hampton visited Enfield Town. Going into the 90th minute Town were 2-1 up only for Dean Sinclair and Jerome Frederico to net two very late goals to give Alan Howson's side three very important points. If that game would of stayed 2-1 Bognor Regis Town would of won the league and The Towner's would of pipped Dulwich Hamlet to the final play-off spot.
For me as an Enfield Town fan it's encouraging to see that if we take away the first ten games of the season in which we had a disastrous record of six defeats but then gained 72 points in the last 36 games played which is very close to the 79pts Hampton and Richmond totalled in that period. If manager Bradley Quinton can keep the talented squad he currently has together then who knows what could happen next season?
For the management, players and supporters of Bognor Regis Town it was a season to remember where they went so near but yet so far on two fronts. For Hampton to win the the title just by that all important point and then to lose to fifth placed Dulwich Hamlet at home in the play-off semi-final who won it with a 90th minute free kick must of been hard to take. Nyewood Lane had been a fortress for all of the regular season - only Tonbridge Angels (0-5 winners on Saturday 22nd August) and Dulwich Hamlet (2-3 on Saturday 21st November) had won in the 23 games played. The Rocks also had a glorious FA Trophy run in which they beat Vanarama National League side's Altrincham and Torquay United along with Vanarama South side's Sutton United, Maidstone United and Bath City before Grimsby Town, who are one of if not the biggest club(s) outside of the football league, to defeat them 3-1 on aggregate in the semi-final.
This run put them back on league fixtures which ended up seeing them play seven games in March and another eight in April (not including the play-off semi-final). They didn't do too bad playing 32.61% of their season in that period winning eleven of the fifteen games played - A crucial five days at the end of March and the beginning of April saw them playing on Thursday at Enfield Town (2-1 defeat), Dulwich Hamlet on Saturday (2-0 defeat) and Kingstonian on Monday (1-2 defeat).
At the bottom of the league we say goodbye to VCD Athletic, Lewes, Brentwood Town and Burgess Hill Town. Farnborough FC who finished in 18th place could also be relegated following their well reported financial problems at the beginning of the season - At this time of writing I am unsure if they will replace Burgess Hill Town as the fourth club to be relegated and The Hillians receive a reprieve - All will be revealed in time by the Football Association and the Ryman League.
A good indication and example of how big the jump is from step four (Division One's North and South) and the Premier Division at step three is seeing that three out of four of the promoted sides from 2014/15 finished in the bottom five - Needham Market were safe by just one point. VCD Athletic were D1N Champions of 2013/14 and have only managed two seasons at Premier Division level - they finished 18th in 2014/15.
Lewes will be a big loss to the division as I've not met anyone who doesn't like visiting their Dripping Pan ground. It's only seven seasons ago The Rooks were rubbing shoulders with the likes of Burton Albion (who amazingly will be a Championship club for the 2016/17 season), Oxford United and Crawley Town in the Conference.
There is no doubt in my mind that they will be one of the favourites for the Division One (South) title next season. Dareen Freeman joined the club as manager in October and his good work has transformed the side somewhat. From the beginning of February they only lost four of the sixteen league games played in stark contrast to twenty out of the first thirty - they only won two drawing ten. I'm sure with a few astute signings over the summer period they'll be contenders at the business end of the 2016/17 season. Jamie Brotherton (from Three Bridges ex of Peacehaven and Telscombe) and Josh Jones (played under Freemen during his successful spell at Whitehawk) have both signed already.
There has already been some player and managerial movement since the end of the season. Grays Athletic part company with Mark Bentley who will be a great asset to any club who sign him up as boss, Mike Flannagan has left relegated Brentwood Town who will be looking for a new manager over the coming weeks. Daniel Neilsen has stepped down from his role as first-team coach at Wingtate and Finchley - He is a club legend for The Blues and made 451 playing appearances for them. Elsewhere 22 year old striker Mike Fondop-Talom who impressed many playing for Billericay Town last season has signed for Vanarama South side Margate.
THE TEAMS COMING UP FOR 2016/17
DIVISION ONE (NORTH)
With Hendon moving to Silver Jubilee Park and now D1N Champion's AFC SUDBURY and play-off winner's HARLOW TOWN joining there will be four 3G pitches (see Worthing below as well) in the Premeir Division for the 2016/17 campaign.
The Hawks have spent seven eventful seasons in Division One (North) since relegation in 2009. Their last stay was just for two seasons finishing 15th and 20th. In 2009/10 they were deducted 10 points due to financial problems and finished bottom of the D1N and again in 2012/13 they were deducted 10 points and finished 21st of 22 teams - both times they luckily avoided relegation to the Essex Senior League. In between these turbulent seasons they finished in 4th in 2010/11 losing to Wingate and Finchley in the play-off semi-final, 4th in 2013/14 losing to Witham Town in the play-off final and 2nd in 2014/15 when they achieved a total of 103 pts only to be pipped by Needham Market on 104 pts losing the play-off semi-final to Thurrock who finished 19 points below them.
AFC Sudbury have been there or thereabouts looking for promotion since joining step three of the non-league ladder in 2006 from the Eastern Counties Premier Division. They have finished 5th (lost to Harlow Town in the play-off final), 2nd (lost to Canvey Island in the play-off semi-final), 12th, 14th, 7th, 8th, 17th, 10th, 3rd (lost to Brentwood Town in the play-off semi-final) and now eventually being crowned Champions for the 2015/16 season.
DIVISION ONE (SOUTH)
FOLKESTONE INVICTA are another club who have been knocking at the door of promotion to step three for many seasons. They were relegated from the Premier Division in 2011 and have since finished 4th, 5th, 2nd and 2nd losing in the play-offs each season before winning the title this season. If any club deserves to go up it's Invicta.
WORTHING are another club with a 3G surface. They have been members of the Division One (South) since relegation in 2007 - they lost in the play-offs in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Their Woodside Road ground (also known as Photronix Stadium) is a short distance away from the delights of Worthing Pier and the seafront so it's a good away day guaranteed.
THE TEAM'S POSSIBLY COMING DOWN FOR 2016/17
HAYES & YEADING UNITED have been struggling in the Conference South over the past four seasons since relegation from the Conference. They have finished 17th, 20th (they were reprieved from relegation due to Hereford United's expulsion from the Conference Premier), 19th and now 21st. Since 2011 they have been ground-sharing at Woking and now Maidenhead United following the sale of the Hayes FC's old ground at Church Road. It's reported the club will be returning home to Beaconsfield Road, the redevelopment of the old Yeading FC ground has been delayed over the last few seasons, but in great news for the club they may well start the new campaign in their new ground.
The Trawlerboys of LOWESTOFT TOWN could be back in the Ryman Premier after a two season stay in the Vanarama North division. They finished in 19th place (the final relegation spot) on goal difference to Brackley Town. From playing the likes of FC United of Manchester, Stalybridge Celtic and Stockport County in 2015/16 they could be spending many hours on the M25 travelling to Leatherhead and Mertsham next season.
WHAT THE RYMAN PREMIER DIVISION COULD LOOK LIKE IN 2016/17?
1) AFC SUDBURY
2) BILLERICAY TOWN
3) BOGNOR REGIS TOWN
4) CANVEY ISLAND
5) DULWICH HAMLET
6) ENFIELD TOWN
7) FOLKESTONE INVICTA
8) GRAYS ATHLETIC
9) HARLOW TOWN
10) HARROW BOROUGH
11) HAYES & YEADING UNITED
16) LOWESTOFT TOWN
18) METROPOLITAN POLICE
19) NEEDHAM MARKET
20) STAINES TOWN
22) WINGATE AND FINCHLEY
+ one other club - maybe BURGESS HILL TOWN or FARNBOROUGH??