THE new season is starting to feel more real for Mark Bower, with his Bradford (Park Avenue) side seeing the National League North fixture list hand them a long trip to Kettering on the opening day next month.

But Avenue have a jam-packed pre-season before that August 14 clash, starting tonight at fellow Bradford side Campion.

It is the competitive action which has caught Bower's eye, and he said: "Kettering is one of the longest trips of the season but we've had Brackley here on the opening day before and we went a long way in my first year at Avenue, so it happens.

"Kettering struggle with their pitch in the winter too so it's better to go now."

That clash down in Northamptonshire forms part of a tough-looking August for Avenue against quality non-league sides in Hereford, Chorley and Boston.

But Bower mused: "Every season we say the same about it being a difficult start, but there are no easy games.

"There's maybe 18 teams of the 22 who'll be disappointed not to get top seven and the play-offs and only four or five like us whose aim is to stay in the division."

Avenue are understandably cautious about their prospects, given their budget is dwarfed by some of the bigger sides in the division, but could the proposed 2022/23 National League salary cap soon change that?

Bower said: "I'm not sure on a salary cap because as you've seen with Financial Fair Play higher up, teams that have the money find a way around it anyway.

"It would be interesting to see a cap in theory, but how it would work in practice remains to be seen.

"As a football club, we're just trying to build with getting crowds back in, making use of our 3G pitch and expanding our academy."

As for how the first-team squad is shaping up, Bower said: "We were pleased with the balance of the squad when we stopped in January and the majority have stayed.

"We've lost Lewis Knight to Notts County, Harry Boyes' loan ended, Will Longbottom is struggling with injury and Tabish Hussain has moved on, while we've brought in new faces in Rob Guilfoyle, and one more we're yet to announce.

"We'll be using pre-season to check out some trialists, then we'll look to use the EFL loan market once the season is underway."

As for the make-up of Avenue's hectic pre-season, Bower said: "Against Campion (tonight) and Liversedge (Saturday) we'll look to play one team in each half, so all the lads should get 90 minutes over the two games.

"We've not had much football recently, so we want to break the players in and not try to do too much, too soon, as it's not about July 8, it's about August 14.

"We've got a good mix of games for pre-season though. It's great that Bradford City are coming down next week and there should be some interest with it being Derek Adams' first game.

"We've got a couple of real tests before the start of the season too in Altrincham and then Scarborough Athletic, so it will be good to see where we're at."


Sat Aug 14 Kettering Town A
Sat Aug 21 Hereford H
Sat Aug 28 Chorley A
Mon Aug 30 Boston United H
Sat Sep 4 Darlington A
Sat Sep 11 AFC Fylde H
Sat Sep 18 Emirates FA Cup 2Q
Sat Sep 25 Curzon Ashton A
Sat Oct 2 Emirates FA Cup 3Q
Sat Oct 9 Gloucester City A
Sat Oct 16 Gateshead H Emirates FA Cup 4Q
Sat Oct 23 Kidderminster Harriers A
Mon Oct 25 Blyth Spartans H
Sat Oct 30 Alfreton Town A
Sat Nov 6 AFC Telford United H Emirates FA Cup 1
Sat Nov 13 Spennymoor Town H
Sat Nov 20 Farsley Celtic A
Sat Nov 27 Buildbase FA Trophy 2
Sat Dec 4 Brackley Town H Emirates FA Cup 2
Sat Dec 11 Leamington A
Sat Dec 18 Buildbase FA Trophy 3
Sun Dec 26 York City H
Tue Dec 28 Guiseley A
Sun Jan 2 York City A
Sat Jan 8 Chester H Emirates FA Cup 3
Sat Jan 15 Southport A Buildbase FA Trophy 4
Sat Jan 22 Kettering Town H
Sat Jan 29 AFC Telford United A
Sat Feb 5 Alfreton Town H Emirates FA Cup 4
Sat Feb 12 Spennymoor Town A Buildbase FA Trophy 5
Sat Feb 19 Farsley Celtic H
Mon Feb 21 Leamington H
Sat Feb 26 Brackley Town A
Wed Mar 2 Emirates FA Cup 5
Sat Mar 5 AFC Fylde A
Sat Mar 12 Curzon Ashton H Buildbase FA Trophy 6
Sat Mar 19 Gloucester City H Emirates FA Cup Quarter-Final
Tue Mar 22 Blyth Spartans A
Sat Mar 26 Gateshead A
Sat Apr 2 Kidderminster Harriers H Buildbase FA Trophy Semi-Final
Sat Apr 9 Chorley H
Fri Apr 15 Boston United A
Sat Apr 16 Emirates FA Cup Semi-Final
Mon Apr 18 Guiseley H
Sat Apr 23 Hereford A
Sat Apr 30 Darlington H
Mon May 2 Chester A
Sat May 7 Southport H
Sat May 14 Emirates FA Cup Final
Sun May 22 Buildbase FA Trophy Final