Plenty of talent in reserve as quality of Thurlow Nunn First Division goes up a notch

Joe Jackson has this summer rejoined Swaffham Town. Picture: Ian Burt

Joe Jackson has this summer rejoined Swaffham Town. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

The quality of an already strong Thurlow Nunn First Division is sure to reach new levels come today's big kick-off.

While champions Cambridge University Press will no longer be plying their trade in the Eastern Counties League second tier – having dropped down a level due to groundsharing issues – five new teams have joined.

Promoted Haverhill Borough may provide something of an unknown quantity but the four new reserve sides will add bags of young talent.

Higher-level clubs AFC Sudbury, Braintree Town, Dereham Town and Needham Market have all had second string outfits accepted into this term's First Division. Had Lowestoft Town been allowed a team, there'd have been even more class on show.

What the new quartet – who have all made a gentleman's agreement not to play contracted players in their reserve sides – will bring can only boost the profile of the Step Six league.

Better grounds, better facilities and better players who are desperately trying to make their mark and impress in the hope of securing a shot with their respective outfits higher up the semi-professional game's pyramid.

The new boys are not eligible for promotion to the Premier Division but the top three finishing eligible teams will be promoted come the end of the campaign. Newmarket Town and Brightlingsea Regent have gone up and no Premier Division side have dropped down – due to the need to boost numbers in the top tier.

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So what of the rest? Who can hope to challenge for the title, or at least secure a passage to promotion via a back door? There is always a surprise somewhere across the region. A money man ploughs funds into a club to turn them from also-rans into the big boys.

But while there will be some teams with bigger budgets than others, you'd be hard pressed to look past last season's 'top' sides in the shape of Ipswich Wanderers, Fakenham Town and Saffron Walden Town.

Fakenham have signed well-known marksman Robbie Harris and he's bound to score between 10 and 20 goals as they look to improve on their fifth-placed finish. But don't look past Paul Hunt's Swaffham Town. They fell away at the end of last term, due to injuries, but look strong. Plus they have a top striker of their own after Joe Jackson returned to the club from Wisbech Town.

- This article appeared in our 'The Big Kick-off' supplement on Friday August 9.

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