THE league will, weather permitting, begin this weekend in what is already destined to be the most dramatic season in its illustrious 110-year history, writes Chris West.
Last summer witnessed disquiet among the member clubs about the North East pyramid system – leading to moves towards forming a second division, and then a decision that there would be no relegation in 2011 – something that effectively sounded the death knell of the pyramid.
A winter of discontent followed, with the North East Premier League moving swiftly to try to form a second division of their own – they are now well on the way to achieving that with a start date of 2013 fixed, and invitations issued to 10 clubs, including five in the Senior League.
With Norton having already applied to, and been accepted by, the NYSD League, it is possible that the Senior League will be left with a nucleus of seven clubs, something that greatly concerns the new chairman, Ian Linsley.
He said: “We, along with the Coast and County Leagues, have been asked to submit proposals about 2013 to the DCB by early May, and we will meet in the middle of that month to consider the submitted proposals.
“The process now needs to run its course before any further speculation takes place on what might and might not happen.”
With all this going on in the background, the cricket has almost become a side issue, but there are many clubs who feel they will want to put their notch on the honours board in such a momentous season.
Boldon, champions in 2010 and second last year, look certain to be among the front-runners again, with skipper Chris Ellison confident that his largely unchanged squad can do the business once more. Keeper Andrew Doherty returns to the club from Percy Main.
It is 11 years since Burnmoor finished outside the top three, and they look poised to continue that run having signed South African quickie Brandon Scullard as their overseas player, a young man making his way in the first-class game back home.
Even though the accomplished Barry Dews has retired from Saturday cricket, the arrival of James Waller (Chester-le-Street) and Bradley Skinner (South Shields) has bolstered a squad that looks like seeing a lot of the master blaster Jimmy Daley this year.
Eppleton finished a whisker behind Burnmoor last time out, and have brought in former Phili pro Aamir Sohail, an off-spinning all-rounder. The team will be led by Joe Dodd, who has joined from Bill Quay, while Neil Young is another handy addition from South Hetton.
Philadelphia have Aussie club cricketer Rob Johnston as their overseas interest, while keeper Tom Skilbeck has arrived from Sunderland and Andrew Robinson has returned from Eppleton.
The Bunker Hill club feel they underperformed last year and that their batting line-up should be strong enough to lift them up the table, despite Neil Mulvaney taking a year out.
Whitburn have gone for stability – they have an entirely unchanged squad – but the same can’t be said of last year’s wooden spoonists, Durham City, where the revolving door has been swinging frantically.
Aussie Mark Woodhead is back at the club to lead the much-altered side, and he has been joined by 17-year-old countryman Nick Hobson, a batsman who has experienced A grade cricket in Perth.
Tim Stonock, a former junior, is another recruit, but, on the debit side, six of last year’s team, including skipper Paul Price, will not be playing for one reason or another.
South Hetton expect to conclude the signing of an Indian all-rounder shortly, and John Leslie is back at the club to offset Neil Young’s move to Eppleton.
Another team boosted by an overseas player from India is Castle Eden – 24 year-old all-rounder Ryan D’Souza has some first-class experience and joins a settled team seeking a top-half finish.
Horden are oozing with quiet confidence. The much travelled Masood Mirza has been engaged to support new skipper Adrian Hedley, and, with Palav Kumar, Max Bailey and Brian Brolly also on board, they could well improve on last year’s sixth-place finish.
After a year in the County League, Marsden are back in the Senior League. As if to prove their point about players being concerned at the amount of travel last year, a raft of their former players have returned to the fold.
Paul Hobson, a big player for Marsden, is fully recovered from a cruciate ligament injury that sidelined him for 18 months. Pakistani student Mirza Baig is the overseas interest – an all-rounder who bowls leg spin.
Champions Kimblesworth have seen Woodhead and Colin Myers move on, but Adam Tinnion has been signed from Burnopfield and 19-year-old Aussie club cricketer Steven Tombsett comes with a good reputation.
Elsewhere, Felling have a new skipper in Chris Taylor, and Richard Smith has been signed from Gateshead Fell, while Norton go into the campaign without a single change in their personnel.