Mouth of the Tyne: The big kick-off special as football makes its welcome return

Sports reporter Neil Metcalfe watches on from the terraces at Clarence Park

Sports reporter Neil Metcalfe watches on with the fans on the terraces during the friendly between St Albans City and Stevenage . - Credit: DANNY LOO

It's back, in all its twisted and lengthy glory, a football season without interruptions.

Well that's the way I'm looking at it. I'm sure there will be the odd postponement as various camps are hit by a COVID-19 case or two or the dreaded ping from that app, but it seems now, at the end of July, as if it is all systems go from now until May.

I hope so. I'm way more fortunate than some and when leagues and divisions were shutting down in March 2020 and then again around Christmas, I was still able to get to games, somehow racking up 65.

But most fans weren't that lucky and the feeling that was tangible during this round of pre-season matches was of sheer joy and relief that football was once again playing a part in people's lives.

There are things that can be taken from the pandemic era and others that I want to see hoofed into the long grass like a sliced goal-kick.

But what I am truly looking forward to is being able just to talk about football, about why that manager is picking those players, about why that team is struggling or flying high and who is that new player that has just been signed.

The season will have a slightly different look for some. Promotions and relegations took place across the professional game and there was a restructure and lateral moves aplenty down the pyramid.

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But the common thread for all is the promise of what is to come. At the moment everyone is equal, everyone starts with a blank slate and all options are still on the table.

Sports reporter Neil Metcalfe in the crowd at Stevenage against Crystal Palace

Another day, another football match - sports reporter Neil Metcalfe in the crowd at Stevenage against Crystal Palace. - Credit: DANNY LOO

From certain relegation candidates last season, Stevenage could, if their run from January is anything to go by, make a very real tilt at the play-offs or higher.

St Albans City lost once in 15 games before the virus brought a curtailment. They will want to repeat that.

Hitchin Town and Potters Bar Town will still as underdogs for glory but both are confident and both are happy to be flying under the radar.

History beckons for Colney Heath as they begin their first ever season in the Southern League, and they will be playing some familiar faces, Welwyn Garden City among them, in a division chock-full of Hertfordshire and nearby sides.

The Spartan South Midlands League has a new look too with the Premier Division shifting its footprint north and in the case of Division One, a footprint that stretches from Oxfordshire to Northamptonshire.

Even the Herts Senior County League has a number of new teams involved and the Premier Division alone promises to produce some very tough battles.

Added to that is the cups. A run to the FA Cup first round for one of them is always fantastic to follow and the participation of Concord Rangers and Hornchurch in the FA Trophy final, the latter being the shock current holders, makes you wonder why it has been so long since Hertfordshire had a club go deep into either that or the FA Vase.

Whatever happens though I'll be out and about with the rest of you and I'll be smiling. Football does that to you.

Gan canny lads and lasses.

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