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NLP Christmas Gifts….

By Matt Badcock, 

Tis the season of giving and it’s often said Non-League is the gift that keeps doing just that. Another 12 months of highs and lows are drawing to a close and it’s been a pleasure being there every step of the way.

From Macclesfield’s unexpected National League title win to an action-packed Non-League Finals Day, 2018 has served up some tasty treats. Soon the big clock will see us into a new year.

Like dry turkey, cold roast potatoes and bad cracker jokes, it has become tradition for The NLP to dish out our pressies at this time of year. And there’s plenty to go around.

We’re starting at the top of the National League where Leyton Orient – this time last year handed a time machine to go back to their League days – couldn’t be much happier with how it’s going.

Justin Edinburgh has brought the good times back and they’re all set for a gripping second half of the season. But they will definitely want Non-League’s hottest property to be there for it.

Macauley Bonne’s scoring form has, naturally, caught the attention of scouts higher up the ladder. It’s a lock and key for the O’s to make sure their main man doesn’t go anywhere as they aim to get the job done.

Wrexham will receive the same. The Welsh club have promotion aspirations of their own, but have been frustrated by seeing their last two managers, Dean Keates and Sam Ricketts, depart for jobs in the Football League over the past 12 months. This should help keep new man Graham Barrow around as they hope to end their League exile.

Chesterfield get a book of puzzles following the bizarre record they made this season. Having won every single game in the first week of the National League season – their first outside of the Football League – things were looking positive.

A run of 19 league games without a win then followed, but it also included a spell of nine draws in a row and 12 games unbeaten in all competitions. It meant the club simultaneously had their worst ever run, but also a 12-year high for no defeats. It’s certainly a brainteaser, thankfully for Spireites fans, ended by an impressive win against Salford City. Some more mind bogglers to solve over dessert will help.

Speaking of National League title hopefuls Salford. Their big spending was the story of the summer as big names like Adam Rooney arrived from Scottish Premier League side Aberdeen and they’re already strengthening ahead of the festive period with the arrival of Matt Green from Lincoln City.

While the’ Class of 92’ powered outfit have put some noses out of joint, it’s a friendly welcome at their Peninsula Stadium and they opened their doors to The NLP back in September for a two-day snoop around.

While much is made of their resources, the first team players have to clean the communal rooms at the training ground themselves. A state-of-the-art Dyson will help them with a sparkling job.

Richard Money is back in Non-League management with Hartlepool United and joked that, aged 63, it should be a doddle compared to the life in the I’m a Celebrity Jungle Harry Redknapp has just endured, so it’s a year’s supply of Jam Roly-Polys for Money to enjoy over a cup of tea as he plans another promotion assault.

In the Bostik League, Jamie Cureton can’t stop scoring goals. He may be 43, but the former Norwich City striker, now joint-player-manager at Bishop’s Stortford, is showing no signs of slowing down. A vat of cod liver oil is on its way to Non-League’s Peter Pan to keep the rust off those joints for a long while yet.

Taunton Town chief executive Kevin Sturmey gets a fancy new ride on a lawn mower. The Peacocks’ supremo says cutting the grass is the best way to escape the stresses of running a Non-League football club. The way the south-west outfit are going there will be plenty of big games in the future, so Sturmey gets to tend the pitch in style.

It’s a posh Maglite Torch for Nicky Eaden and Lee Fowler. When in charge at Nuneaton Borough earlier this season, the pair were faced with all sorts of obstacles before the National League North club were taken over.

That included a diesel generator conking out during a team talk meaning the pre-match instructions had to be completed by iPhone light. A torch each will ensure they’re prepared should they ever have the unlikely misfortune of a similar problem in future roles.

This column has been called worse than a cheapskate, but Dulwich Hamlet’s Christmas gift is doubling up as a
housewarming one too, having been caught in the middle of a dispute between the council and the property developer that own their Champion Hill ground.It led to the club being locked out and having to groundshare with Tooting & Mitcham, where they beat Hendon on penalties in the Bostik Premier play-off final. Finally the bitter row – no thanks to the club’s refusal to be bullied – has simmered down and on Boxing Day a bumper crowd was in attendance to watch their homecoming. A keg of craft beer to mark the occasion is heading their way.

Something we could all do with over the festive period!

Merry Christmas everyone!

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