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English Football Q&A with Andrew Raeburn

1. What can we expect to see from Eastbourne Borough FC this season?

A bit more stability for a start. Last season, manager Tommy Widdrington’s first full season in charge, was very much one of transition. He swept away most of the squad from the previous regime, some of whom had been at the club for up to 10 years, and took time to establish which of his new players were worth keeping on. Results suffered as a result and they look were looking over their shoulder at the relegation zone for a bit, until a run of decent performances late in the season. By that time he’d already agreed longer-term contracts with key personnel and has built this season’s side around them. They have won three and drawn one of their opening four games to put them top of the Conference South, although it’s obviously very early days. Most supporters would be happy with a mid-table finish, especially as Borough are well down the league in terms of playing budget, but these early performances are sparking a little bit more optimism.

2. What can we expect from Brighton & Hove Albion? What did Dick Knight do for the club as a whole?

The acrimonious departure of Gus Poyet, who had transformed Brighton from a struggling third-tier side into a club challenging for promotion to the Premier League, leaves Brighton in a somewhat transitional state themselves. Poyet was universally lauded for his commitment to attractive football but was also criticised for not having a Plan B, something which cost them in their promotion playoff semi-final with archrivals Crystal Palace. The manner of his departure, amid rows with the board over unspecified breaches of his contract, split supporters down the middle but they are now having to unite behind new boss Oscar Garcia, a former coach of Barcelona’s youth sides. Brighton haven’t made the best of starts to the new season but if Garcia can get his ideas across to the players sooner rather than later, I wouldn’t rule out another bid for the playoffs. Knight will forever be held up as a hero at Brighton. A lifelong Albion fan, he became chairman in 1997 having led the campaign to remove the previous board after they sold the club’s Goldstone Ground home to property developers. He led them out of the financial wilderness and was in charge for 12 years until he sold up in 2009 to local poker millionaire Tony Bloom, who funded the £93 million Amex Stadium and other substantial investments on and off the pitch. Knight is now life president of the club and has a bar named after him in the stadium.

3. How concerned should fans be about a BBC report that a third of owners at Championship and League One clubs are considering selling in the next 12-18 months?

It certainly highlights the financial plight of some clubs in the Football League, who essentially make regular massive losses, propped up by shareholders and investors, as they chase promotion. I imagine most are talking hypothetically, if a buyout package was on the table, rather than actively looking to sell, but even so it’s a damning indictment of the way football is financed in this country.

4. What non-league teams should be looked at for making the jump to league football?

Most of the teams in the Conference Premier capable of mounting a serious promotion challenge are former League sides looking to bounce back. Barnet, now managed by former Dutch international Edgar Davids, have moved out of their historic Underhill stadium but don’t seem to be suffering a hangover from dropping out of League Two last season. Cambridge, Grimsby and Lincoln, three other former League clubs, have also made strong starts to the campaign. I certainly expect Grimsby to be a contender, but question marks remain over Cambridge and Lincoln’s consistency. Kidderminster, who aside from a five-year spell in the Football League in the early 2000s have nearly always been a traditional non-League club, are well-equipped for a playoff challenge, and I’d tip Forest Green Rovers, a small club backed by some decent money, as promotion challengers as well. Aldershot, in financial turmoil after their relegation from the League, will find it nigh-on impossible to make an instant return as they started the season saddled with a 10-point deduction.

5. What League 2 clubs might be in danger of relegation to the Conference Premier?

A very difficult question to answer. Accrington have shipped 10 goals in their first four games and may be in for a struggle, as might Dagenham, who only stayed up on the final day of last season. Hartlepool suffered a dismal campaign last year, finishing bottom of League One, and they will need to improve on their early showings to avoid a double dip. AFC Wimbledon look an improved side on last season, while the two newly-promoted sides, Newport and Mansfield, should finish in at least mid-table.

6. Why is non-league football important to the greater English game?

September 7th is the fourth annual Non-League Day, which aims to promote the ‘grassroots’ game to a wider audience. It is held on a weekend when there are no Premier League or Championship matches due to the international fixtures and many non-League clubs offer reduced (or in some cases free) entry to their matches to season ticket holders of Premier League/Championship clubs. Although being a football fan usually involves blind loyalty to ‘your’ side, many are turning their back on professional football as the costs of tickets/refreshments/travel spirals out of control. Those who have been priced out of going to watch top flight clubs often get their football fix more locally and non-League attendances are seeing a boost as a result.

NLD is gaining a higher profile each year, thanks to backing from many pro clubs and media organizations, and fans are encouraged to see what’s going on at a club near them which they may never have known existed.  What’s so attractive about non-League football is the community aspect of it. Bar the Conference Premier, the vast majority of non-League clubs are almost exclusively volunteer-run and you can get to know people at the club (including the players). Ticket prices are much more affordable (although still not cheap when you compare it to the level of football you can watch for the same price on mainland Europe) and you can often stand anywhere in the ground without the need for fussy stewards!

7. Finally how do you see the EPL finishing out? What teams could be headed for silverware and spots in Europe? Who is in danger of being relegated?

It is hard to look beyond the moneyed three of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea for the title - all three of whom have new managers at the helm of course. United virtually won the title last season by default, with other challengers falling away, but will face a much bigger test this season. David Moyes has stepped into the almost unfillable shoes of Sir Alex Ferguson and must first reassure his own fans that he is the right man to replace the legend in the Old Trafford hotseat. He has already come up against Jose Mourinho, now back at Chelsea, in a lifeless 0-0 draw which sadly failed to showcase the EPL in the way we’d hoped. Chelsea have plenty of attacking firepower, if Mourinho is prepared to unleash it, but they remain vulnerable at the back, particularly when talismanic skipper John Terry is missing. Manchester City have bolstered their squad under Manuel Pellegrini but defeat to newly-promoted Cardiff City in their second match has raised question marks over their defence. The expected world record sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid is funding a late transfer spree at Tottenham, who are shelling out £25.7m on Roma forward Erik Lamela and £8.5m on Romanian defender Vlad Chiriches. They will compete for fourth yet again with north London rivals Arsenal, who are yet to make a serious move in the transfer market this summer, much to the annoyance of their supporters. Liverpool look an improved side under Brendan Rodgers and seem likely to keep hold of striker Luis Suarez but they’re still short of Champions League qualification.

Of the newly-promoted sides, I can’t see Hull or Crystal Palace having enough to stay up but Cardiff have demonstrated their capabilities in beating Man City. The two bitter north east rivals, Newcastle and Sunderland, are also likely to struggle this season. Newcastle are in turmoil at present, with a bizarre internal battle between manager Alan Pardew, newly-installed director of football Joe Kinnear, and owner Mike Ashley being played out at the same time as they’re struggling with injuries and poor performances on the field. I don’t see Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio having the right character to lift a team out of relegation danger.

Andrew Raeburn is a freelance sports journalist and commentator who specializes in English football, particularly the non-League game. He also commentates on Champions League and Europa League matches for UEFA as well as live matches from leagues as diverse as Greece, Peru, and China and writes for the West London Sport and websites. Raeburn can be found on Twitter @andrew_raeburn or you can visit

English Non-League Football Preview with Andrew Raeburn

Andrew Raeburn is a freelance sports journalist and broadcaster who specializes in English football, particularly the non-league game. He’s commentated on matches from leagues as diverse as China, Chile, and Israel and writes for a number of websites, as well as editing the Sussex Soccer site. Raeburn can be found on Twitter @andrew_raeburn or you can visit

1. How do you expect the Blue Square Premier clubs to finish at the end of the season?

There are probably more ex-Football League clubs in non-league’s top flight this season than ever before – and bar a few who are still firefighting financially, they all expect to get back up into the League as instantly as possible. The trouble is only two can – and most of the promoted sides in recent years have actually been Football League virgins (Crawley, Fleetwood, Stevenage, Burton) rather than relegated sides bouncing back. This time though, with no non-leaguers throwing cash around, the odds are in favour of the ex-League clubs who can rake it in through higher attendances. Wrexham and Luton remain the biggest clubs in the division and both will want to exorcise recent pain. Wrexham were incredibly unfortunate to amass 98 points and still not go up, finishing second behind the dominant Fleetwood losing in the playoffs to Luton. The Hatters themselves then went on to lose their second successive Wembley final, but boss Paul Buckle, appointed towards the end of last season, is a canny operator at this level having taken Torquay up previously. If they can avoid silly dropped points against lowly opposition raising their games, both teams should be in title contention. I expect Mansfield to also be up there and this could be the season Grimsby and Stockport finally adapt to life in non-league after their recent relegations. Gateshead and Forest Green Rovers both have some financial muscle to flex but this may be a season too soon for the latter of the two to challenge, while last season’s Football League dropouts Hereford and Macclesfield have had to regroup and aren’t likely to mount a sustained promotion bid. The champions of Blue Square Bet South and North, Woking and Hyde, should do well, but playoff winners Dartford and Nuneaton may be in a relegation scrap, alongside the likes of Telford, Alfreton and Braintree. My predictions – Champions: Wrexham. Playoff positions: Luton, Mansfield, Grimsby, Stockport. Pos 6-13: Kidderminster, Macclesfield, Gateshead, Newport, Forest Green, Cambridge, Lincoln, Ebbsfleet. Pos 14-20: Woking, Hereford, Southport, Dartford, Barrow, Hyde, Tamworth. Relegated: Nuneaton, Telford, Alfreton, Braintree.

2. Who is the favorite for Player of the Year in the Blue Square Premier?

As usual, the leading marksmen will grab most of the attention. Wrexham have signed the 35-year-old Brett Ormerod, who was playing in the Premier League with Blackpool just two seasons ago, and should grab a few goals if he stays fit. Jake Speight, who netted 21 times for Wrexham last term, has now signed for Mansfield to play closer to his home, so expect him to be among the top scorers. Luton’s new strike partnership of Jon Shaw and Scott Rendell, plus Macclesfield’s Matthew Barnes-Homer and Forest Green’s Magno Silva Vieira, who all have track records in this division, are also likely contenders for the golden boot. Outside of the strikers, Ronnie Henry – who led Stevenage out of the Conference and to back-to-back promotions – is looking to do it all over again with Luton and will be among the best centre-backs in the division.

3. Who is the favorite for Manager of the Year in the Blue Square Premier?

Andy Morrell, player-boss of Wrexham, and Luton’s Buckle are both under pressure to deliver promotion – but if Mansfield achieve it, Paul Cox will thoroughly deserve the honor. Kidderminster’s Steve Burr consistently overachieves given his budget.

4. Who is the favorite for Newcomer of the Year in the Blue Square Premier?

The newly-promoted sides tend to take the more established clubs by surprise – perhaps down to the occasional complacency of the full-timers when pitched against enthusiastic part-timers. This gives scope for some of the part-time clubs’ less-heralded stars to make a name for themselves. Dartford’s captain Elliot Bradbrook, one of the top performers in the Blue Square Bet South, is one to watch, while Braintree have picked up 20-year-old Josh Dawkin, following his release from Norwich. The winger is not completely new to the division, having played 17 games in loan spells with Kettering and Cambridge, but with a permanent home he could now display his potential under the tutelage of former West Ham midfielder Alan Devonshire.

5. What non-league player has the best chance of making an impact in the Football League or beyond?

Luton Town’s young defender Alex Lacey impressed during a loan spell in Blue Square Bet South with Eastbourne Borough last season and has attracted Football League interest. A strong presence in the air, Lacey reads the game extremely well for someone of his age – and I expect him to eventually flourish in the Football League in the same ex-Lewes and Tonbridge defender Leon Legge has at Brentford.

6. What is the quality of play like in non-league football? Is it improving or on the decline?

As clubs further up the pyramid import players from abroad and/or cut playing staff numbers due to financial pressures, good players often find themselves dropping down the divisions, through necessity more than anything else. Just as with every level, there are good games and bad games, but the stereotype of neanderthals playing the long ball game doesn’t quite ring true. There will be some very good footballing sides in the Blue Square Bet Premier this year – Luton, Macclesfield and Kidderminster will all try and play it on the ground – and others will be out to stop them through any means. As you go further down the pyramid, the quality varies considerably.

7. What challenges face non-league football on a daily basis?

As usual, it’s money. The challenges of keeping pace with those splashing the cash mean that many are living beyond their means – the number of Conference and other non-league clubs who have been the subject of winding-up threats from the UK tax office seems to grow each season. Some don’t survive – even when the money needed to save them represents a week’s wage for a top Premier League player. And therein lies the problem – the trickle-down effect of the money engorging the top division. When clubs like Portsmouth – FA Cup finalists twice in the last five years – and Rangers – teeter on the brink of liquidation, it lays bare the the mismanagement of some football clubs. Many do prosper, even on borrowed money, but if the situation isn’t managed right, the whole thing ends in tears.

8. What do you think of AFC Rushden & Diamonds’ prospects moving forward?

It was sad to see Rushden fold last summer – for the fans’ sake, more than anything. Eight years previous, they’d been a club on the up – in League One after back-to-back promotions and with plenty of cash to burn. But that pot of money dwindled quickly, the club regularly posting a loss until eventually they needed to raise £750,000 in two weeks. The inevitable followed. All ‘phoenix’ clubs are tinged with an element of sadness, that it should come down to the fans to reform a club which couldn’t see the woods for the trees, but at least they should learn the lessons from history. Last season, AFCR&D were entered only into a youth league, while the foundations were laid for a return to senior football. They have lost their Nene Park home to Kettering but supporters will be relieved when their inaugural match takes place on Saturday (August 18th). Eight years ago, Rushden & Diamonds were hosting the likes of QPR and Blackpool – this weekend’s opener is against Thrapston Town in United Counties League Division One. A lesson learned?

Blue Square Premier Preview with Andrew Raeburn

Andrew Raeburn is a freelance journalist and broadcaster that specializes in English football. He is considered to be an expert on non-league football after serving as the press officer for Eastbourne Borough FC for several seasons. Raeburn can be found on Twitter @andrew_raeburn or you can visit his website at

1. How do you expect the clubs to finish at the end of the season?


Luton Town – After twice missing out in the playoffs, the division’s biggest club, in terms of support at least, should finally return to the League at the third attempt. Gary Brabin has added proven Conference pedigree in the shape of striker Aaron O’Connor and full-back Curtis Osano (both from defunct Rushden), midfielder James Dance (Crawley) and centre-back Will Antwi (Dagenham).


Lincoln City – relegated from League Two last season, boss Steve Tilson has completely reshaped the squad and supporters will be expecting a promotion challenge

Fleetwood Town – they may not quite be the north-of-England’s Crawley, but they have money to spend and are likely to replicate their playoff appearance of last season

Newport County – my choice for surprise package – the ambitious Welsh club have gone full-time, are tough to beat and have made some shrewd signings, including Crawley’s title-winning striker Craig McAllister

York City – consistently inconsistent since dropping out of the Football League in 2004, York reached the playoff final in 2010 and should be good enough to go close again this time round

Positions 6-20

All eyes will be on new Stockport manager Dietmar Hamann to see if the former Liverpool and Germany midfielder can return the Manchester-based club to the Football League after dropping out of it last year. The opening day draw at unfancied Forest Green Rovers suggests otherwise. Wrexham have been given permission to start the season after a summer of financial woes and a protracted buyout and predicting their final position is difficult, given they may suffer a player exodus if the wage bill needs to be cut. Of the newly promoted sides, I can see Alfreton performing the best, with Telford, Braintree and Ebbsfleet all ensuring their safety. Positions 6-20 should end up looking like this: 6. Darlington, 7. Mansfield Town, 8. Kettering Town, 9. Grimsby Town, 10. Wrexham, 11. Alfreton Town, 12. Kidderminster Harriers, 13. Gateshead, 14. Stockport County, 15. Cambridge United, 16. Bath City, 17. AFC Telford United, 18. Braintree Town, 19. Ebbsfleet United, 20. Tamworth


Barrow – The 2010 FA Trophy winners can compete well on their day but may find the league just too strong on this occasion

Forest Green Rovers – Perennial strugglers who always seem to avoid the trap door may fall through it this time round)

Southport – reprieved only by Rushden’s financial implosion, the Sandgrounders are likely to struggle again

Hayes & Yeading United – Garry Haylock, the manager who earned them promotion and has twice kept them in the division, has gone, money is tight and their sub-400 crowds may further diminish due to the enforced groundshare with Woking, some 40 miles away

2. Who is the favorite for Player of the Year?

Prolific strikers will dominate the list of contenders as usual, although last season’s top three marksman (Crawley’s Matt Tubbs, AFC Wimbledon’s Danny Kedwell and Grimsby’s Alan Connell, now at Swindon) have all moved into the Football League. Fleetwood’s Brazilian-born forward Magno Silva Vieira and ex-Crawley man Craig McAllister (now at Newport) should again be among the goals. If Luton are as successful as anticipated, striker Matthew Barnes-Homer and midfield general Keith Keane are likely to top the “player of the season” nominations.

3. Who is the favorite for Manager of the Year?

With Luton expected to challenge for the title, Gary Brabin won’t be considered a miracle worker if it happens. However Anthony Hudson – who left Tottenham’s coaching staff last season to take charge of Newport County – will be hailed as such if he can take the Exiles back into the Football League for the first time since their previous incarnation were relegated in 1988.

4. Who is the favorite for Newcomer of the Year?

Sean Marks at Braintree was reportedly being tracked by numerous Football League clubs after topping the Blue Square Bet South scoring charts with 24 goals – if he stays, adapts well to the step up and bangs in the goals again he could prove the Irons’ savior. While not quite a newcomer, this could be the season for Luton’s Amari Morgan-Smith to make a name for himself. The pacy 22-year-old forward joined the Hatters in September 2010 from Ilkeston Town and netted seven goals in 20 appearances. He was also selected for the England C squad (made up of the best players from outside the Football League) and could now make a real impact in the Blue Square Bet Premier.

5. What player has the best chance of making an impact in the Football League or beyond?

Sorry to bang on about Luton again (I’m not a supporter!), but they have made one of the best signings of the summer in Kenyan defender Curtis Osano. The 24-year-old full-back is strong in the tackle, more than comfortable on the ball and puts in consistent displays. He has yet to play in the Football League, after spells in the Conference with Aldershot and Woking, but was given a trial by Championship newcomers Brighton & Hove Albion after Rushden were wound up. He wasn’t offered a deal, but it shows the bigger clubs are keeping an eye on him.

6. What challenges still face non-league football on an everyday basis?

Purely and simply – money. Rushden & Diamonds folded in the summer under the weight of reported debts of £750,000 (US $1.2 million) and Wrexham narrowly avoided expulsion this week after they gave guarantees to the Conference that they’d be able to fulfill their fixtures after a turbulent summer. A couple of takeover bids collapsed and the club had to cancel two preseason friendlies when players refused to take to the field having not been paid. However, the Welsh side’s supporters trust are now closer to assuming control and the club’s stadium and training facilities have been sold as part of that deal (although they will still play their home games at the Racecourse Ground). The money issue also filters down through the non-league system and several smaller clubs have folded in recent seasons, although supporters often relaunch them under different names. Barely a week goes past without at least one club appearing on the government tax office’s “winding up” court orders list – and although this is usually an attempt to force a club to address the issues of tax debt, and rarely ends up with clubs being wound-up at the behest of the tax authorities, it is an indication of the sickness blighting the English game, from top to bottom.

7. What is the quality of play like in the Blue Square? Is it improving or is it on the decline?

It depends on your definition of quality. The lower leagues are stereotyped as being full of neanderthal-types who play the ball long and kick anything that moves, and there is an element of that in most clubs’ defenses and, in some cases, forward lines. But, unlike 10 to 15 years ago, the league is now made up almost entirely of professional teams and it is the semi-pro clubs, who train just twice a week, that often make up the bottom four. This can lead to some exciting matches between well-known ex-Football League names , but can also make some matches one-sided (Luton beat Hayes & Yeading 8-0 a couple of seasons ago). Overall I’d say the quality of the top sides can match anything League Two has to offer, as evidenced by how well recently promoted sides have fared For example, Stevenage, Blue Square Bet Premier champions just two seasons ago, are now in League One after back-to-back promotions.