And so begins another campaign, on Saturday (August 12), with fresh hope and, for the first time in many years, a brand new league sponsor – Bostik.
The deal to pump money into the Isthmian set-up creates opportunities through invaluable funding and for people with a childish sense of humour! This writer is among those who gleefully, (or gluefully), enjoyed learning about the latest backers.
People can possibly guess what comes next - a host of puns related to the niche market in which Bostik operates. Perhaps, if a few are unleashed now it will get them out of the system!
Steve McKimm has gelled together a promising side, hoping they will not become unstuck, particularly on sticky winter pitches.
Anyway, let’s focus on the opening-day opponents. Hendon are a proud club with great tradition and a roll of honour that includes many of the non-league game’s top trophies. Add to the mix high-profile FA Cup runs, notably holding top-flight Newcastle United at St James Park in the 1970s, and Tonbridge welcome a side once one of the capital’s greatest outside of the full-time ranks. The glory years were a few decades ago, although an eventually unsuccessful title tilt was experienced fairly recently.
Fortunes have been mixed of late. Long-serving boss Gary McCann (appointed February 2005) steered his charges to the runners-up spot and the play-off final in 2015. Unfortunately, the team that almost pipped Maidstone to the championship lost narrowly to a Margate outfit at the time benefiting from heavy investment. The Thanet men are now back after relegation from National League South. The ‘Gate provide the midweek opponents, at the coast (Tuesday August 15, kick-off 7.45pm).
In historic Middlesex, the Greens endured a couple of disappointing seasons, following the excitement of near-promotion. After earning second spot, minds have been more focussed on preserving the record of continued membership of the Isthmian top division. Despite a number of narrow escapes, including a major scare last term, Hendon have never been relegated since joining the fold in 1963/64.
The then new-boys achieved top six finishes during their first 11 campaigns, including second place at the end of the debut year. The championship has been clinched twice, the first time in the second season with the most recent in 1973. The FA Amateur Cup was also lifted three times (1960, 1965 and 1972) as well as an equivalent European trophy.
Recent times have proved more challenging. For around a decade the team needed to ground-share (2008-2016) following the sale of their own home to property speculators. The club survived the difficult circumstances and that makes avoiding relegation even more laudable. The Dons have been fan-owned since the summer of 2010 and moved into a local stadium last season. They will be aiming to bring back the glory days once firmly established on their own patch, at Silver Jubilee Park.
The Greens have had a promising pre-season with Niko Muir finding the net during contests against higher-division Ebbsfleet and Whitehawk. The marksman returned during the summer, following a spell at Leiston.
The striker is one of several summer signings and the various acquisitions follow a trio of quality additions during the winter that greatly assisted relegation avoidance (finished 18th out of 24).
The match between Tonbridge and Hendon in the Bostik Premier on Saturday August 12 at Longmead Stadium, Darenth Avenue, is a 3pm kick-off.
Updated 21:02 - 12 Aug 2017 by Jim Rowe