A much changed Dorset Premier League is set to kick-off tomorrow. Some familiar faces have left for pastures new and old friends have been welcomed back also.
What of Swanage signing the captain of arch rivals Wareham? Or will Lee Bellows’ new look Rangers reign supreme in Purbeck? Much change at Ham Rec and will Cranborne prop up the rest again?
Read on as Gareth Davies assesses the chances of every DPL club ahead of the new campaign.
Swanage Town & Herston – Last season: 8th
Swans will never have a better chance of getting back into the holy grail of the Wessex League. Granted the DPL is significantly diluted compared to recent years, but you can only beat what’s put in front of you and it’s no secret that Days Park boss Tim Brown is targeting a top three finish.
With four consecutive games at home, Brown’s charges will be looking to get off to a flying start, something that didn’t happen last year as Swans had a poor start to 15-16 which resulted in Alan Lay relinquishing the manager’s chair. Brown, along with Tony Parrott, took over shortly after and once the ship was steadied, Swans played some of their best DPL football for years and even thumped the virtually invincible title winners Shaftesbury on their own turf just after Christmas.
A culmination of injuries and absence meant the season somewhat petered out from Easter onwards, but Brown has managed to retain the bulk of his squad from last season. After interest from Wimborne Town, Landon Arthur has committed to Swanage along with world record equalling striker Graeme Rose. The only disappointment for Swans personnel wise is the non-availability of long serving ‘keeper Nick Taylor and last season’s skipper Ben Harding is still suffering from a long term knee injury which could mean retirement. However, Brown has dealt with those losses in eye catching style and has raided local rivals Wareham Rangers for their skipper Dave Best, with Matt Beard and Mark Gregory also making the short trip up the A351.
Key Player: Landon Arthur - 2016-17 Prediction: Runners-Up
Wareham Rangers – Last Season: 15th
A new manager for Wareham and despite Dave Best joining his brothers Paul and Richard at Swanage, Rangers will be aiming for a much improved 16-17 campaign after a poor previous term. The Purbeck Sports Centre outfit finished in their worst position since promotion back into Step Seven was attained four years ago
Lee Bellows is the man selected to turn things around and the signings of former Poole Town flyer Kevin Gill and evergreen centre half Michael White have suddenly got supporters talking up Wareham’s chances again. Gill has always been something of an enigma, but he will prove a useful addition in the DPL if he lasts the distance whilst White, who is back playing again after suffering a stroke in 2013 is a natural leader and if his team-mates share his commitment, desire and application, Wareham will surprise many.
Key Player: Michael White - 2016-17 Prediction: 6th
Balti Sports – Last Season: 5th
Fairytales within football at the very highest level have included the incredible narratives of Leicester City, AFC Bournemouth and Burton Albion in recent years, but much further down the beautiful games food chain, a legend of equally remarkable happenings has occurred: the story of Balti Sports.
Formed less than ten years ago, Marco Nott has kept together the bulk of his side that started off life in Dorset Division Five and the Weymouth College outfit now find themselves well established in the DPL after a wonderful debut year. Huge wins over Swanage and Merley Cobham during August and September set the tone and they looked certain for a top three finish, but were more than content with fifth come May. The goals of Ricky Lake were vital, as they will be during 16-17 and if he fires, the top three isn’t beyond the reach of Balti.
Key Player: Ricky Lake – 2016-17 Prediction: 3rd
Blandford United – Last Season: 14th
Another DPL club with a new management structure as Chris Emms takes charge at the Rec, assisted by Mike Collins. The Royal’s pre-season has been a mixed bag with a huge win over Somerset based side Pen Mill FC, tempered by a 3-1 loss to Hamworthy Recreation who themselves are expected to struggle this year due to a huge turnover of players and a new man in charge themselves.
Despite a new boss and the renewed optimism that this brings, Blandford look a little thin on the ground numbers wise, although with experienced campaigners such as Saul Boulton and Daniel Holland remaining Royals, the team should finish well away from the drop zone, without seriously threatening the top half.
Key Player: Saul Boulton - 2016-17 Prediction: 15th
Bridport Reserves – Last Season: 12th
The departure of first team manager Trevor Senior created a domino effect of change at St.Marys Field and it’s no surprise that Bridport’s second string will also have a fresh incumbent for 16-17. Managing a Reserve team in a competitive division like the DPL can be hard as your squad can change at a minutes’ notice and Shaun Annetts has been the man entrusted with this challenging role.
He admitted recently in the Bridport News recently that his job has been made harder by a number of last year’s Reserve squad moving elsewhere, with his and the Bees’ supporters hopes pinned on promising youngsters such as Dan Baggs and Callum Hyde.
Key Player: Dan Baggs – 2016-17 Prediction: 16th
Cranborne – Last Season: 17th
Due to the promotion of Shaftesbury and Weymouth Reserves, coupled with South Cheriton’s expulsion from the DPL for contravening Charter Standard rules, Cranborne have been given a reprieve after a truly wretched 2015-16. The Cranes could have been forgiven for wanting to drop into the Senior League, but they do come to tapes in 16-17 as a DPL side once more.
It will be a tough ask for Luke Tanner and his side to better last year’s wooden spoon although in Adam Beattie they do have genuine goal scorer at this level. If Beattie can be surrounded with a little more quality then Cranborne may fare a little better, nevertheless, it seems a season of struggle will ensue at Penny’s Lane again.
Key Player: Adam Beattie – 2016-17 Prediction: 17th
Dorchester Sports - Last Season: 3rd Dorset Senior League
After a brilliant end to last year’s Senior League campaign, Sports finished in third place and were quite rightly eligible for promotion. After struggling to find a permanent venue in the County Town, and after sorties at Milborne and Weymouth College, Ashley James’ side have agreed a deal to play at Dorchester Town’s Avenue Stadium.
A wonderful achievement for James and the Sports officials although there is question marks over how such a groundshare may work, however, it will certainly help the credibility of the League and the DPL’s newest team will prove something of a dark horse this season.
Key Player: Jason Read – 2016-17 Prediction: 10th
Gillingham Town Reserves – Last Season: Runners-up Dorset Senior League
Hardings Lane will host DPL football again although it will be Gillingham’s second string rather than the clubs first eleven that will be playing their trade at Step Seven in 2016-17. Nick Squires’ team missed out on the Senior League title by one point last year, although that was more than enough for promotion.
Squires has raided Witchampton United in an attempt to bolster his squad options and the acquisitions of defender Dean Robertson and striker Liam Cullen could be two of the League’s shrewdest off-season captures. If Cullen can start the season how he finished the last with United, then the men in Tangerine should enjoy an excellent debut campaign.
Key Player: Liam Cullen – 2016-17 Prediction: 11th
Hamworthy Recreation – Last Season: Runners-up
A season of consolidation beckons for Rec and although they finished in second place last year, a tumultuous final month of the campaign meant that manager Keith Whatling and many of his squad have departed over the summer. Wayne Smith has been chosen as Whatling’s successor and just how much of a rebuilding job the former has to do is still unclear.
Goals look like they may be a problem and there will be huge pressure on Dan Manuel, in the twilight of his career, to lead the Rec frontline. Replacing captain Ash Boyt will also give Smith sleepless nights as the aura of invincibility that Rec and their water tight defence displayed, especially at home, looks to have sadly disappeared.
Key Player: Dan Manuel – 2016-17 Prediction: 7th
Hamworthy United Reserves – Last Season: 10th
Works to relay the County Ground playing surface with a brand new 4G pitch mean Hamworthy will play all of their August fixtures away from home which is tough on Justin Windle and his promising young side.
The whole Hamworthy club were thrown into turmoil last year with rumours of the club folding in the late autumn and first team manager Shane Traynor leaving then coming back again only to depart once more over the summer. Carl Poore, who cut his managerial teeth in the DPL with Cranborne, has taken over the Hammers Wessex side and with a restricted budget, the emphasis on youth will be more important than ever with Windle continuing his excellence in nurturing Hamworthy’s Step Five stars of the future via the DPL.
Key Player: Asa Phillips – Prediction 2016-17: 12th
Holt United – Last Season: 9th
After a one year sabbatical away from the DPL due to disciplinary issues, Holt came back into the highest tier of Dorset football and enjoyed a campaign that at times looked like it could exceed expectations, but come the final reckoning inconsistency cost the Bulls.
Nathan Saxby was impressive throughout and plundered 27 goals, ably supported by veteran Mike Haskell who notched 15 times, but it was at the defensive end where Holt struggled and if they can tighten their leaky backline, they will certainly improve on last season creditable ninth placed finish.
Key Player: Nathan Saxby – Prediction 2016-17: 5th
Mere Town – Last Season 13th
The Moonrakers failed to build on their brilliant DPL debut and finished in the bottom half last term. New manager Dan Rodgers has been busy in the transfer market and with over 25 players signed on already; the Mere squad looks better in terms of quantity than it did 12 months ago.
Whether Rodgers has added in terms of quality is yet to be seen although prolific striker Scott Martin has resigned along with Charlie Parry, Mere’s stand-out performer last year. Away form is also something Rodgers will look to rectify as Mere won just twice away from their Recreation Ground base and given their Northern location, weren’t strong on home soil like they should have been either.
Key Player: Charlie Parry – Prediction 2016-17: 13th
Merley Cobham Sports – Last Season 4th
Current DPL Cup holders, Merley will be looking to add the DPL Championship trophy to the Cobham Sports Club trophy cabinet and it would take a brave man or woman to bet against Andy Dilworth’s side finishing top of the pile next May.
Dilworth is a relative DPL novice, but he has made an excellent choice as assistant manager in Jamie Moores. Arguably the best forward in the competition over the last ten years, the former Hamworthy Recreation man’s knowledge of opponents and their players will prove invaluable.
Key Player: Jordan Basing – Prediction 2016-17: 1st
Parley Sports – Last Season: 7th
Free scoring Parley enjoyed another solid campaign, although they can be considered another outfit in which unpredictability within their results, certainly towards the season’s finale, meant they had to be content with 7th place.
Manager Adi Trimby travels to newly promoted Dorchester Sports for Parley’s season opener with a familiar looking squad, although it will be minus Toby Holmes who has committed to Southern League side Wimborne Town after spending last year dual registered with the Magpies arch rivals Poole Town
Key Player: Jonathan Cook – Prediction 2016-17: 8th
Sherborne Town Reserves – Last Season: 6th
Without doubt the most improved DPL side last season. Sherborne narrowly missed out on silverware too, losing in the League Cup Final, played at Town’s Raleigh Grove ground, although home advantage counted for nothing as Merley prevailed.
It was Sherborne’s form in the regular League season which raised eyebrows however and they finished in their highest ever DPL position, a champion feat considering Town propped the rest up in 2011-12 and finished second bottom the following year too. They look set to build on last season’s progress and a top four finish looks realistic.
Key Player: Sam Carney – Prediction 2016-17: 4th
Sturminster Newton United – Last Season: 5th Dorset Senior League
One of the biggest talking points for DPL clubs and supporters alike has been the re-admittance of Sturminster Newton to the division, despite only finishing fifth in the DSL last season. It’s understandable that some feel the Cherries aren’t in the competition on merit, but the DPL management committee have made a decision and having facilities like those available at Barnett’s Field in Step Seven again can only be viewed as a good thing.
As we’re all aware, football matches aren’t won or lost on the strength of a clubs facilities however and it will be foolhardy to think Stur won’t struggle in their fist DPL season since 2011, but history has also demonstrated that the gap between Dorset Premier and Senior League isn’t enormous so Stuart Frear’s side will have enough to ensure their latest DPL sojourn isn’t just for one season.
Key Player: Neil Sweatman – Prediction 2016-17: 16th
Westland Sports – Last Season: 11th
Westland once again finished in mid-table as they continue to re-establish themselves back in the DPL after their all conquering 2011-12 team was broken up, post voluntary relegation out of the county’s top flight after issues with the landlords at Sports’ Alvington ground.
Many clubs would have folded after such a setback, but Westland spent two years away and for this, their third DPL campaign since returning, a solid season is expected once more. Home form will be
the cornerstone to any potential success as will keeping hold of star turn Matt Mullings who has attracted interest during the off season from a number of Western League clubs.
Key Player: Matt Mullings – Prediction 2016-17: 9th
Gareth Davies is a feature writer for AFC Bournemouth’s award winning programme ‘Matchday’. He is also the Cherries correspondent for Shoot! Magazine too.
Updated 20:35 - 12 Aug 2016 by Swanage FC
Follow Gareth on Twitter: @garphied