Kevin Affleck looks at the locally-based contenders, who will be bidding to put their name on the map across all four Ryman League divisions.

Berkhamsted Town|

Position 2000/2001: 4th in Division Two

In: John Pedder, Tony Kelly (both Hemel Hempstead Town), Jay Thomas (Barton Rovers)

Out: Martin Loakes (Bedmond), Stuart Gallagher (Tring Town)

After their fairytale exploits in the FA Vase last season, Berkhamsted Town "will be looking to win the league," according to manager Steve Bateman, after a horrendous end of season fixture pile-up put paid to their chances on the last day of the season.

"I am quietly optimistic, and I am just hoping to avoid the disappointment we endured during the last week of last season that cost us with the promotion," explained Bateman.

With the restructuring of the Ryman League on the horizon, many regard the season as 42 friendlies, but not the ambitious Berkhamsted boss, who said: "Myself and the chairman would both like to win the league this season. All the talk has been about the restructuring of the league, but it was supposed to happen last year and didn't, so it is by no means set in stone.

"Therefore, I would like to get a top three spot that will guarantee us a place in Division One, and if we are to win it then all the better."

Bateman has maintained the squad he assembled last season, with the shrewd addition of former Hemel duo Tony Kelly, who Bateman will look to deploy in a sweeper role, and John Pedder, who the boss is "pleased to have on board as he has a wealth of experience and gets his fair share of goals".

"We have retained the rest of the players because I believe they are geared towards a Ryman Division One set up, and that's what we will planning an assault on this season," Bateman added. "I am looking at adding one, possibly two, players from a higher Ryman club."

After astounding many with their work rate and ability last season, the players have again been shining against higher league opposition during pre-season, when the Lilywhites took on four Ryman Premier sides inside a week.

"Despite two draws and two narrow defeats, the players were not found wanting and they more than held their own, which is testament to what they are capable of," commented Bateman.

Berkhamsted begin their campaign with a trip to Wembley followed by the visit of Tilbury for their first home league match of what is anticipated to be another successful season.

Key men: Ben Smith: "We will be looking for his goals again this season, but I am also expecting big things from Andy Adebowale and Luke Brockett, who has improved immensely," commented Bateman.

Boreham Wood

Position 2000/2001: 1st in Division One

In: Brian Jones (Wealdstone), Phil Mason (Aylesbury United), Julian Capone and Dave McDonald (both Enfield).

Out: Otis Hutchins (Yeading), Younis Nabil (St Albans City), Bryan Hammatt (Wealdstone), Paul Kelly (Maidenhead) Wayne Brown, Andy Polston, Alan Paris, Martin St Hilaire, Mark Pye, Chris Taylor, Dave Rainford, Leon Townley.

Former Watford striker, and more recently Nottingham Forest reserve team coach, Jimmy Gilligan was appointed successor to Graham Roberts at Boreham Wood last week.

Chairman Danny Hunter did not feel he needed to replace Roberts with a high-profile manager, and insisted: "Jimmy Gilligan was simply the best man for the job in terms of the future of the club, which is currently in a very healthy state.

"With no disrespect to Graham, he is now history and the club must now move on," concluded Hunter.

Gilligan had a brief spell on the playing staff at Broughinge Road in 1993, and is relishing a new challenge after being dismissed by Nottingham Forest manager Paul Hart.

"It's a big challenge but I'm looking forward to it," said the 37-year-old. "I've been brought in not just to look after the first team, although that is my main priority, but also to look at the whole structure of the club.

"The club have a number of youth teams, starting at under 12, and my job is to oversee that and revamp it."

Gilligan left his post as youth team manager at Vicarage Road early in the 1999/2000 season to link up with David Platt at Nottingham Forest after the two became associates when Platt spent some time coaching at Watford.

But the departure of Platt, to take up the reigns of the England under 21 job, found Gilligan surplus to requirements at the City Ground under Hart.

"I was disappointed at how things turned out at Forest, but I enjoyed my two years their," said Gilligan. "My boss, David Platt, got promotion and I got the sack, but that's football. But I am in still in touch with David on a regular basis."

Wood returned to the Premier Division at the first attempt after being crowned Division One Champions last season, but this was obviously achieved at a cost as Gilligan has a limited transfer budget.

"Graham spent this year's budget, so I have inherited his budget, but I understood that when I came here," he explained. "But if there is a player I want then I will have a discussion with the chairman. I will obviously utilise my contacts around the Watford area and the contacts I made at Forest it would be foolish if I didn't."

"I have inherited a small squad only 14 players on contract but they are a good bunch of lads who want to better themselves."

Gilligan was a spectator at Wood's last two pre-season friendlies, which were a 5-0 defeat of Woking and a 4-2 defeat away at Northwood on Saturday, August 11, which he describes as "chalk and cheese performances".

"I hope to play an attractive brand of football for the people who come and watch and, although I have not been given any expectations by the chairman, I think from what I have seen and heard that we are worthy of a top six or seven finish, that is where I would like to be," Gilligan added.

Key man: Local lad Gary Dixon, signed last season by Graham Roberts, has something in common with his new boss as he currently works as a Football In The Community Officer at Watford.

Dixon was in prolific form towards the end of last season, and will be keen to make his mark in the top flight, especially against his old side Hitchin Town.

Hemel Hempstead Town

Position 2001/2001: 6th in Division Two

In: Adam Clary (Aylesbury United), James Meara, James Courtney, Lewis Field (Stevenage), Mark Duckett and Mark Bridge (both on loan from Stevenage)

Out: Vinny Somers (Wealdstone), Dave Butler (Tring Town), Steve Butler plus several other members of last season's squad.

After the resignation of Neil Price during the summer due to work commitments, Gary Phillips, the former Barnet keeper, was appointed boss at Vauxhall Road.

Despite managerial spells at Aldershot and Aylesbury United, Phillips admits he is "still coming to terms with non-league football after 16 years in the professional game.

"But I'm really looking forward to this season, and am so keen to get started, although I am a little tense."

A mass exodus of players has not helped Phillips' cause, and he readily admits it's going be "a rebuilding process".

"There have been big changes at the club with a lot of new faces. We lost a lot of players who felt they needed to play competive football because of the restrucuting, but I don't necessarily agree with that because all football should be competitive, otherwise there is no point in playing."

Phillips has utilised his contacts in the game to bring in fresh blood, but he is still looking to bring in a couple of "experienced players," before the seaon starts, which Phillips states will be a "learning curve."

"My brief is to get us ready for next year and having a crack at the Division One title. Of course we want to win the league this year otherwise it wouldn't be worth playing, but I am primarily building for the future. This is a smashing club with some ambitious and enthusiastic people running it who don't interfer with the football side."

Phillips was dealt a "huge blow," during pre-season when Marc Liburd broke his knee cap in a 1-1 draw with Billericay and faces a lenghty spell on the sidelines, but Phillips insists that he is "happy with the squad I've got, considering the lads have only been together for four to five weeks, which is not a lot."

Hemel begin their assualt on the title with the visit of Horsham on Saturday, August 18, followed by a trip to Wivenhoe Town on Tuesday, August 21.

Key man: Marcelle Bruce: "Once he is fit he will be a massive boost to us, as will James Meara, who has been a pro at Watford and his knowledge and experience will get the team going," said Phillips.


Position 2000/2001: 8th in Division One

In: Rob Paris (Beaconsfield), Wayne Carter (Wealdstone), Ryan Ashe (Chertsey Town)

Out: Stuart Lake

Tony Choules' side will begin their second season in Division One "full of confidence after an impressive pre-season," according to club spokesman Alan Evans.

"We will obviously try and finish as high as possible, but I think a top six finish is realistic, and perhaps even better," added Evans.

The strengthening of the defence was a high priority for Choules after his side conceded more than 80 goals last season, and this was initially done with the signature of Rob Paris, a powerful centre-half from Beaconsfield.

"We have strengthened the defence, but it probably still needs adding to, and we are hopeful of the return of Danny Butler, who has been out for a long while with a knee injury, but may feature in the squad at the end of the month," explained Evans.

Northwood begin their campaign with a local derby at Uxbridge, who they thrashed 5-1 in their FA Cup run but were then defeated twice in the league meetings.

Key man: Powerful midfielder Steve Cook has impressed during pre-season after joining the club back in November after serving in the army, and, obviously, Lawrence Yaku's goals will be crucial.

St Albans City

Position 2000/2001: 14th in Premier Division

In: Danny Honeyball (Aylesbury United), Richard WIlmot (Hendon), Andy Linighan (Oxford United), Younis Nabil (Boreham Wood), Derek Brown, Darren Smith, Rob Fenton, Jon Rattle and Mike Bignall (all Baldock Town), Christian Metcalfe, Simon Dunlop.

Out: Peter Risley (Aylesbury United), Richard Hurts (Chelmsford City), Spencer Knight (Harrow Borough).

St Albans City begin their 2001/2002 season under new management following a turbulent close season at Clarence Park.

The controversial departure of manager John Kendall has overshadowed a good pre-season, with a defeat against Luton Town the only blemish.

New joint-managers Steve Cook and Gary Roberts are hopeful of a successful season.

"We're a young side and I'm hoping we'll develop together as the season goes on," said Cook. "We want to take it one game at a time, but I would like to think we'll be among it come Christmas, and then we can assess it from there."

The club used about 60 players last term, most of who have since departed, with a number of new faces arriving at Clarence Park, the most notable being Andy Linighan, who has amassed more than 530 appearances in the Football League, representing the likes of Arsenal and Crystal Palace.

"We have a lot of defenders now," said Cook. "Andy Linighan, at centre back, will hopefully prove invaluable to us this year, but I think we're quite strong at the back generally."

A large contingent of the current squad have come over from Baldock Town, who disbanded at the end of last season after financial difficulties.

Saints begin their campaign with a match against Hampton and Richmond Borough, a side they completed the double over last season.

"Every team wants to win the first game of the season and we're no exception," said Cook. "I'm expecting it to be a very tight match, but I think we've got enough quality to win."

Saints follow that up match with a visit to a Bedford Town side playing in the Premier Division for the first time on Tuesday, August 21.

Expected to take his place in the Bedford starting line-up is Paul Turner, who signed for the Eagles from St Albans at the start of last season.

Turner remains City's most expensive signing after his £6,000 transfer from Yeovil Town. Andy Lomas, meanwhile, the former Saints goalkeeper, is at Bedford in a coaching role.

"It's a bit of derby game and I expect it to be quite full-on," Cook predicted. "Some of the players know each other so it should be a tough match.

Key man: Andy Linighan: The FA Cup goalscoring hero will provide experience and leadership to the talented, but youthful, Saints.

Tring Town

Position 2000/2001: 12th in Division Three

In: Dave Butler (Hemel Hempstead Town), Stuart Gallagher (Berkhamsted Town), Ben Chesters (Newcastle University).

Out: not known.

Howard Cowley takes charge of Tring Town for the first time this season after being assistant to Mick Vipond during the last campaign.

"I'm looking forward to the new season as we have added the quality that I felt we needed, especially signing Dave Butler from Hemel, who will provide us with the fire power we needed," said Cowley.

As well as making three major signings, Cowley is also delighted to be able to call on the services of fit again Wayne Barber and Tony Oliver.

"It's like getting two new players as both are very good players, especially Wayne, who was captain of the Hertfordshire under 18 side last season," said Cowley.

Tring have had an impressive pre-season with notable wins over Ruislip Manor, Buckingham and Bicester, but defeat at Berkhamstead on Tuesday, August 14, "has given the side a good wake-up call," according to Cowley. "That was just what we needed as Berko are a strong, powerful side and provided us with a real test."

Tring begin their campaign with a trip to Egham Town, and Cowley feels his side can "seriously challenge for a top six spot, which would give us promotion."

"We have a strong squad with a great deal of character and determination in the side, and I feel a top six is a realistic challenge for us as we finished twelfth last season after falling away dramatically in the second half of the season."

Key man: Tony Cook. "Once he is fit he will make a huge difference to the quality of the side, as I think everybody in the club acknowledges that he is the best passer of the ball," commented Cowley.

Spartan South Midlands Football League

Kings Langley

Position 2000/2001: 2nd in Herts County premier League

In: Ross Conian (Harefield), Steve Tobin.

Out: Kevin McKenna (Hillingdon Borough), Paul Hobbs (Bovingdon).

After suffering heartache on the last day of the season, Kings Langley were left with the consolation that they will be playing in the South Midlands Spartan League Divison One this season after finishing runners-up.

"We have kept the nucleus of the side together and our aim is just to consolidate," said secretary Andy Mackness, who has worked tirelessly to ensure the Gaywood Park Ground is up to standard.

A 3-2 victory over Essex Senior League side Eton Manor was probably the highlight of an different pre-season, which also marked the return to full fitness of striker Steve Stratford, who scored a hat trick.

"It will be a real challenge, playing against different teams, and I'm looking forward to it, and so are the players," added Mackness.

Colin Jones' side looked impressive, despite a 3-2 defeat in extra time against Somersett Ambury V&E in the Herts Charity Shield, and begin a new chapter in the club's history with their first league match at home to Letchworth Bridger, a side they defeated in the Herts Centenary Trophy last season.

Key man: Mark Congalton: "If he plays well, then the team play well," commented Mackness.