(Originally set to be published in the Radcliffe friendly programme before the venue switch)

It’s that time of the year again when we see football returning to The Riverside and, with our league campaign starting at the end of this month, it’s an even earlier start than usual.

So, where to start as it has certainly been an eventful summer break at the club and a completely different Ramsbottom United to the one that ended last season which has given the supporters plenty to discuss over the past few weeks.

I guess we should start by giving Steve Wilkes a warm Rammy welcome as he becomes our third Manager in less than six months, quite a feat as Chairman Harry isn’t known for being too trigger happy in that respect, and there can’t be many people out there with more experience of football at this level than him. Although we had heard rumours at the end of last season it was still something of a bolt out of the blue for most of us when we heard Steve was coming in to spearhead our campaign for the new season.

Initially there was plenty of sympathy for Chaddy who had come in last season, far too late to save us from the inevitable relegation crash course we were on, and improved the style of football and given us some hope for the future. However, in the cold light of day and after much debate on the Rammy supporters WhatsApp groups I feel most of us are now in agreement that we have the right people in place to move us forward on the pitch and put a couple of woeful seasons behind us. Of course, it has helped that Chaddy has since been announced as the new Manager at Atherton Collieries and I’m sure we all wish him the best in his endeavours there.

Joining Steve Wilkes on the coaching side is Scott Campbell, no stranger to these parts having assisted Mark Fell during his tenure here, and I’ll certainly look forward to catching up with him over a couple of beers during the season.

Despite all the warning signs, our inevitable relegation from the NPL has seen the club return to the North West Counties League for the first time since 2012 and, despite the initial doom and gloom we felt about this situation, this is a season we can look forward to and fully embrace.

With several new grounds, towns and pubs for us to visit, most within a hours drive of Ramsbottom, and the chance of actually competing at the top end of the table gives us something to look forward. Saying that, and lets not fool ourselves here, the landscape of the NWCL has changed dramatically since we were last playing at this level and getting back to the NPL is going to take a momentous effort from everyone involved with the club.

The Counties is no longer the level playing field it was a few years ago with some clubs having money pumped into them and, how can we forget, just down the road from us we have Bury FC who, with their support base, will take some stopping this season.

Whatever, and I hope this doesn’t come back and bite me on the bum, I think we can look forward to a more enjoyable season than in the past couple of years.

Bring it on and I’ll see you all on the plane to the Isle of Man!