Season preview: League matters more as new campaign gets started

Sunday 31st July 2022

For Royal Wootton Bassett Town's men's first team, the past two seasons have delivered significant cup success, with record-setting runs in the FA Cup and Vase and a Bluefin Sports Challenge Cup semi-final appearance. On the league front, however, the team's record has, at best, been mixed.

After two forgettable league campaigns curtailed because of the pandemic, last season was more positive and did yield Bassett's highest ever points total in the Hellenic League Premier Division. But that was only enough for a 12th place finish, with Sam Collier's side ultimately a way adrift of the sizeable pack of teams who contributed towards a thrilling top half race.

That result meant Bassett have now failed to achieve a top half finish in each of the fifteen seasons they have featured in the Hellenic League Premier Division. And it is imperative for that rather sorry record to be brought to an end by the conclusion of the 2022-23 campaign.

Accomplishing that will be a difficult task as, again, the Hellenic Premier is set to be a highly competitive affair.

Champions Bishop's Cleeve and runners-up Westbury United may have departed for the Southern League, but they were pushed strongly in 2021-22 by the likes of Malvern Town, Cribbs, Corsham Town and Bradford Town. Fellow top half finishers Westfields, Longlevens, Brimscombe and Thrupp and Roman Glass St George will also all fancy their chances again. Added to that coterie of strong sides, relegated Mangotsfield United and Wantage Town are seeking to reclaim their places back in the Southern League - the former after more than two decades at that level, the latter after three tough years. Meanwhile, Fairford Town - strong performers in the two seasons that went unfinished due to the pandemic, but only 11th last year - will also be aiming to challenge back towards the top under new management.

Bassett then may have dropped only a handful of points against the sides finishing below them in 2021-22. But the haul achieved against those remaining teams - Hereford Lads Club, Thornbury Town, Shrivenham, Lydney Town, Tuffley Rovers and Chipping Sodbury Town - certainly did not come easy. Newcomers Pegasus Hereford and Worcester Raiders will be tricky customers too.

Given the competition Bassett are set to face, it is therefore set to be another testing season, the success of which could very well be defined in its opening weeks.

While being a reward for the club's record run to the third round, the exemption to the first round proper of this year's Isuzu FA Vase is therefore arguably as much a blessing for Bassett given that it removes a potential early season distraction. Collier and his side will thus be able to concentrate as much as possible - participation in the FA Cup aside - on hitting the ground running in the league.

Also of benefit is that Bassett arguably go into the new campaign with a squad stronger than that which they had at the onset of last season. Numerous key players - among them the impressive attacking midfield trio of Bailey Gallagher, Tommy Ouldridge and Alfie Presley - have been retained. Meanwhile, the main signings Collier has made - goalkeeper Matt Crowther, defender Louis Spalding, midfielders Jack Hobson-McVeigh and Mani Roper, and forward Josh Elms - are all more than capable of performing effectively at this level.

The Bassett boss has lost his two leading scorers from last season, with Alan Griffin joining him in the dugout as assistant manager and John Mills staying closer to home by signing for Abingdon United. But between Elms, Presley, Gallagher, Ouldridge and Lewis Waldon - who also returns to the club, there should be enough firepower to offset the only tangible losses Bassett have suffered this summer.

Whether that will be enough to end Bassett's miserly record in the Hellenic League Premier Division remains to be seen.

The talent is certainly there. Now is the time though for Bassett to finally fulfil their potential on the league front.

Last modified on Sunday 31st July 2022 at 12:38.