[B]oth of Cumbria’s County football leagues will kick of on Saturday 19th August in what looks like being another exciting season of football.
The Smurfit Kappa Cumberland County League has eighteen teams in two divisions (Premier and First) and the James Cropper Westmorland League has thirty eight teams in Divisions One, Two and Three.
The Westmorland League’s First Division now consists of twelve teams with Ambleside United retaining their Division One status after the withdrawal of Lunesdale United and Burneside last season, Kendal United’s move to the West Lancs League and champions Pirelli FC move to the Cumberland County League.
The two teams moving up from Division Two are last year’s divisional champions Endmoor KGR (who also won the Westmorland FA Junior Cup) and Division Two runners up Shap FC. With Wetheriggs United losing their reserves side, and having a new manager appointed just a couple of weeks before the season starts, last year’s runners up Keswick and Benevolent Trophy winners Appleby must look like the favourites to fight it out for the league championship this season, with Keswick winning their final friendly against North Lancs League champions Cartmel 4-1.
In the opening day matches, Endmoor KGR are up against Penrith Reserves, Keswick face Kendal County Reserves at Fitz Park, Sedbergh Wanderers have Ian Henderson’s Wetheriggs United at home, and Shap face Windermere SC.
Westmorland League Division Two has thirteen teams in contention, after the late withdrawal of Wetheriggs Reserves, in what looks like a highly competitive division.
Newly promoted AFC Carlisle and Appleby Reserves join the battle for the year’s honours and will face up to the likes of Kendal United Reserves, who had a great 2016-2017 season, winning the Mason & Freeman Cup, and both Carleton Banks and Castletown United have been in fine form pre-season, with Castletown beating Penrith Reserves 3-1 and Carlton Banks fighting for a 4-4 draw against a strong Sedbergh Wanderers side from Division One before beating Greystoke 5-2. On the opening day Eden Thistle take on the currently managerless Braithwaite at Sheepmount in Carlisle, and Ullswater Utd will test AFC Carlisle at Patterdale.
In the James Cropper Westmorland League Division Three, there will be thirteen teams battling it out in the 2017-2018 season, with new entrants Kirby Stephen joining the established sides which include Lunesdale United, Burneside, Penrith Saints and Sedbergh Wanderers Reserves, and a strong looking young Kirkoswald Reserves squad who impressed pre-season.
Relegated Langwathby United will undoubtedly be looking to bounce back into Division Two, and Penrith Academy who demolished a Wetheriggs Reserves team 8-0 in a pre-season friendly on the 19th July, have already lost Christian Hunter as manager, with Matt Rogers temporarily back in charge, but will be looking to build on last season.
Last year’s third placed Ambleside Town have now dropped out of the League, which should mean more players available for Ambleside United Reserves who struggled with fixtures at the end of last season. On Saturday, Kirkby Stephen have Penrith Royal at Parrot Park, and Lunesdale face Langwathby at Maurice Park.
The nine teams in the Cumberland County League Premier Division will be looking to reign in Craig Ferguson’s Workington Athletic, who dominated the League last season, won the Premiership title, won three cups and won the Charity Shield.
Netherhall look to be back to full strength, Benevolent Cup holders Silloth have had a good run of pre-season friendlies, and Aspatria had an excellent pre-season 6-1 win over Appleby at Frenchfield, which bodes well for their season. It will be interesting to see how newly promoted Cleator Moor Celtic and Frizington Whitestar fare in the top flight, with Whitestar having an excellent pre-season 2-0 win over Workington Red’s Reserves. In the first matches, Aspatria face Frizington Whitestar at St Mungos Park, and Cleator Moor Celtic take on Silloth.
Two new teams join Division One, Westmorland champions Pirelli and Crown Newlaithes, whose ladies team have just won the Cumbria Women’s League. They will face opposition from Gosforth and Borough, who were third and fourth placed last season, alongside relegated Whitehaven Miners, and Whitehaven’s Bransty Rangers who had two excellent cup runs last season. On paper (at least) Pirelli should romp home to the title. On Saturday Bransty Rangers have Crown Newlaithes at the Lakes College 3G pitch, and Gosforth take on Pirelli.
The Cumberland County League also have the dubious honour of being one of the 32 grassroots leagues across the country who will be trialling ‘Temporary Dismissals’, more commonly known as ‘sin bins’ during the 2017-18 season to deal with dissent.
Why this has not been introduced in the Premier League is anyones guess, with the FA issuing a number of bland statements including: “It is anticipated that the pilot scheme will deal with misconduct on the day, result in fewer cautions for dissent overall and improve match-day experiences, not only for referees, but for all involved in the game” and Mark Ives, the FA’s head of judicial services, saying “I am encouraged by the level of enthusiasm from County FA’s, leagues, clubs and referees and in their collective commitment to make a difference to our great game at a local level” adding “I look forward to seeing a positive impact during the course of the season.”
It may also result in chaos, confusion and more work on the day for referees and their assistants. With no trial in any of the top flight leagues, one local referee commented “another failing from the FA” and “When are they going to realise that you can’t enforce rules/laws of the game from the bottom up?” Will it work? We shall see!