TODAY (Saturday) sees the start of the Wessex League season — a date many thought ambitious after last season was unceremoniously declared null and void and the way lockdown during the pandemic was panning out.

But like last season at this stage, the optimism is back and, just as importantly, are the fans, as Cowes Sports, Newport and East Cowes Vics return to action.

Cowes Sports, fresh from their 1-0 mid-week victory over Totton and Eling in the FA Cup’s extra preliminary round (see match report and pictures on page 71), are away to Brockenhurst — a side who beat them 4-2 at Westwood Park on the opening day of the Premier last season.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Ahead of the game, the Yachtsmen’s prolific striker, John McKie — who scored the winner against Totton — was upbeat about the campaign ahead.

“We’re all excited. We’re starting to really see an identify form in our style of play — thanks to the great work our coaches, Alex Smith and Steve Taylor, have been implementing,” said McKie, who has set himself a 35-goal target for the season.

Isle of Wight County Press: Cowes Sports boss, Max Draper.Cowes Sports boss, Max Draper.

In Division 1, Newport will have put behind them the disappointment of the season ending how it did — especially with the form they were in for the promotion run-in.

In fact, Newport were on a scintillating ten-match unbeaten run, which they hope to continue against Andover New Street — the team lying second when the curtain came down in March.

In the corresponding fixture last season, Andover won an entertaining match 3-2 with a late goal.

Isle of Wight County Press:

“It will be a very tough one to start with, but we’ve had a good pre-season, the lads have worked hard. They can’t wait to get going,” said Sampson.

“Four go up this season and, fingers crossed, we can get one of those spots.

“The fans are keen to get back up there. We’re hoping for some good attendances.”

Isle of Wight County Press: Newport manager Andy Sampson.Newport manager Andy Sampson.

Like Newport, East Cowes Vics have had a good pre-season and will be buoyant, especially given the much improved form they were in as last season was drawing to a close.

Tomorrow, Vics face Ringwood Town, who were getting dragged into a battle down the bottom when coronavirus struck.

Isle of Wight County Press: East Cowes Vics manager, Richie Woodburn.East Cowes Vics manager, Richie Woodburn.

Although Vics were hammered 4-1 in the corresponding fixture last season, on the opening day of Division 1 campaign, they turned the tables with a 1-0 home victory — the last game before lockdown.

“Pre-season has gone well, the lads are fit and if we can get the ball down and play, we could get a result at Ringwood,” said Woodburn.

“We’re in a good place, but Ringwood will be wary of us.

“We’re ready, but it’s important to get some points on the board early.

Isle of Wight County Press:

“On our day, we can beat anyone in this league.”

Please note Newport's game against Andover New Street will kick-off at 2pm this afternoon.

The Yachtsmen and Vics will kick off their campaigns at 3pm.