The 2020/21 National League season was an unforgettable one in more ways than one as Sutton United made history to not only win the title but in the process secure their first promotion to the EFL in their 123 year history.
Yet despite their historic success it was achieved against the backdrop of poor corporate management as the National League threatened to implode at several points both due to coronavirus outbreaks and the loss of grants in the second part of the season.
Several clubs started the campaign under the proviso grants would be provided to help see them through in the absence of fans, yet at the turn of the year these suddenly turned into loans with several clubs forced to make difficult financial decisions to complete the season.
The abandonment of National League North and South ensured no National league club could be relegated but as a result it created a mismatch between the haves and have nots.
But with fans now back for the 2021/22 season and full revenue streams up and running again – London clubs Barnet, Bromley, Dagenham and Wealdstone may well be looking at Sutton’s example and sensing anything is possible…
Machel St Patrick Hewitt takes a look at the chances of all four London sides ahead of the new campaign…
If anything encapsulated the farce that was the National League last season it was the sight of Barnet going through five managers and a constant revolving door of players.
Having made an early season decision to cut his cloth accordingly, Bees chairman Tony Kleanthous witnessed a poorly prepared and unbalanced squad nominally finishing last and only avoiding relegation due to the curtailment of the National League North and South.
The high-profile acquisition of Harry Kewell as head coach in the close season suggests Barnet will be a more serious proposition and Kleanthous has funded the arrival of several experienced new faces to ensure this.
Proven National League experience in the form of Mitch Brundle, Adam Marriott and Josh Payne have been supplemented by the arrival of two former National League winners from Leyton Orient in Joe Widdowson and Jamie Turley.
It may well be a stretch to suggest Barnet can make a Play-Off challenge but they should definitely have enough about them to avoid a genuine relegation battle.
For many Barnet fans after the horror show that was last term, a season of risk-free mid-table mediocrity may well be just what the doctor ordered.
Bromley were the London club that came closest to emulating Sutton last season.
After replacing long-serving manager Neil Smith with Andy Woodman in March, they only lost one of their final 13 games to sneak into the Play-Offs on the final day of the season.
While they fell at the first hurdle to eventual Play-Off winners Hartlepool United, Woodman will feel the foundations are set to mount a better promotion challenge this season.
Their summer recruitment has been headlined by the return of former talisman Louis Dennis following his release from Leyton Orient and if he can reproduce the form that saw him bag 22 goals for the Ravens and fire them to the FA Trophy final four seasons ago then it is likely Bromley will have another good campaign.
In Michael Cheek they also possess the National League’s top scorer and Woodman will be hoping his side can maintain their defensive solidity to maximise the goals he guarantees.
Off the pitch, Bromley chairman Robin Stanton Gleaves continues to develop the club at a pace that suggests they want to be in the football league sooner rather than later and, having surprised many last season, few would bet against another promotion challenge this year.
Dagenham & Redbridge
If Dagenham and Redbridge had started last season the way they ended it – we would possibly be talking about a possible promotion campaign for the East London side.
It’s hard to believe that the Daggers are now into their sixth season in the National League since relegation from League Two but even harder to believe they have only made the Play-Offs once in that time.
Daryl McMahon has opted for continuity going into the new season, putting his faith in the squad that showed such great consistency at the back end of last season and arguably, in former West Ham, Leyton Orient and Barnet striker Paul McCallum they have the most lethal frontman in the league if they can keep him fit.
McMahon has also been shrewd in that the two additions he has made to his squad are very experienced at this level.
Sam Ling rejoins the club from Leyton Orient having won the National League with the O’s and exciting youngster Josh Walker joins from Barnet to supplement the forward line.
Dagenham will be one of at least 12 clubs who harbour serious ambitions of promotion this season but with the amount of money being thrown around by the likes of Stockport and Wrexham they cannot afford to be playing catch up at any point.
Just up the road from Barnet, their closest rivals Wealdstone will feel this season will truly represent their return to the top division of non-league football after 22 years.
Although last season was the real historic one for them – without the famous Wealdstone fanbase in to witness it, the club will want to make this season one to remember.
Wealdstone were one of the handful of clubs in the league that felt press-ganged into taking loans in order to complete the season and maintain the integrity of the competition.
That came with the need to cut their cloth accordingly and several players were placed on furlough as The Stones struggled to draw or win games in the second part of the season.
As a part-time club they will be up against it this season and have lost their best player Jacob Mendy as well as Conor Smith to Boreham Wood.
Stones manager Stuart Maynard will be pinning a lot of his hopes on the signing of former Charlton striker Josh Umerah to finally fulfil his promise and fire in the goals to keep Wealdstone in the National League.
Image of Barnet boss Harry Kewell supplied with thanks by Barnet FC.