It's no secret that the Covid pandemic has hit football clubs hard. With fans unable to attend games, income is down and chairmen are having to be very frugal indeed.
Except at Queen's Park.
Having decided that they could no longer continue as amateurs, they have decided that, if they're going to have to pay players, then they're going to pay them. So the squad is filled with folk who were playing full-time last season, some of whom - Bob McHugh and Lee Kilday, for example - were regulars in the Championship. Most remarkably they've signed Simon Murray, the former Dundee United and Hibs forward who returns from two years in South Africa. Anything other than the title for the Spiders and manager Ray McKinnon would be a catastrophe.
Their closest rivals are most likely to be forever-bridesmaids Edinburgh City, who were promotion challengers in each of the last two seasons and have kept together a squad that includes prolific striker Blair Henderson, fellow attackers Danny Handling and Alex Harris and seasoned defender Conrad Balatoni. Wideman Danny Jardine looks like a good signing from Stirling too. Expect them to be up there but they may yet again lose out to a side with even more megabucks than they do (Cove last year, Peterhead the year before).
After that duo, it's hard to say who might be the third-best side in this division; however one would assume that as the side who have dropped down from League One, Stranraer will have aspirations of at least making the promotion playoffs. They stood behind boss Stevie Farrell despite relegation and shouldn't be short of goals with Joao Victoria and veteran Darryl Duffy up top and Andy Stirling providing ammunition. Certainly they should not emulate previous relegated clubs such as Cowdenbeath, Albion Rovers and Brechin by slumping straight to the bottom end of this tier too.
Elgin City were third in the table when the action was halted in the Spring, and their manager Gavin Price has concentrated on keeping together as much of that squad as possible. But they lost star striker Shane Sutherland and winger Rabin Omar to Championship sides and have been remarkably quiet on the signings front so far. It will be hard for them to emulate last season's success, even though Conor O'Keefe, Kane Hester and Smart Osadolor provide plenty of quality.
Cowdenbeath, who were fourth when play stopped, have also chosen to mostly stick rather than twist, but will miss the departed Jordan Allan and Archie Thomas. Like any Gary Bollan side they will be tough to break down - not least with the legendary Craig Mango Barr in the backline - but goals may prove tough to come by unless loan striker Olly Hamilton proves an astute signing.
Amongst those with genuine promotion playoff aspirations are Stirling Albion, who stood by manager Kevin Rutkiewicz after a poor start to last season and whose 2020 form was pretty decent. They've backed their boss well with striker Andy Ryan joining from Dunfermline and midfielder Jack Leitch from Peterhead. Certainly the club will be expecting an improvement on last season's sixth spot.
Stenhousemuir, who had a rough first half of 2019/20 but seemed to have finally turned the corner just before lockdown, look intriguing. Manager Davie Irons has been well backed and has essentially revamped the squad since his arrival early last season. Defender Creag Little and midfielder Callum Tapping look the pick of the bunch that have pitched up this summer, joining a squad that contains former Falkirk and Swansea City prospects Ryan Blair and Botti Biabi and seasoned strikers Mark McGuigan and Greig Spence.
It seems like every season Annan Athletic lose most of their best players to other clubs, yet Peter Murphy still finds a way of putting out a competitive team. Can he do the same this year? Getting forward Aidan Smith back after a year away at Peterhead will give them a boost, while Jack Purdue and Aaron Splaine could improve their midfield. But it could be tough to keep those standards up.
There was also considerable turnover at Albion Rovers, including in the dugout where Brian Reid has replaced Kevin Harper. Reid has a young squad aside from Paul Cairney, who has come out of retirement, and relying on youths such as Finn Ecrepont and Scott Glover at the back feels like a high-risk, high-reward strategy. Midfielder Callum Wilson was highly-rated a few years ago at Partick and has the chance to jumpstart his career.
And lastly, Brechin City got to avoid an inevitable relegation playoff after the last campaign ended early. Can they avoid such a fate this time around? Two heavy League Cup beatings - albeit to top flight opponents - suggest that manager Mark Wilson still has his work cut out, even though new signings such as Rory Currie, Michael Paton and Connor Coupe should do very well at this level. At the time of writing Wilson has won 3 out of 26 matches in charge of Brechin and unless something changes there those iconic hedges may drop out of the SPFL.
So my (inevitably wrong) prediction for how the season will finish:
1. QUEEN'S PARK
2. EDINBURGH CITY
5. STIRLING ALBION
6. ELGIN CITY
8. ALBION ROVERS
9. ANNAN ATHLETIC
10. BRECHIN CITY
Feel free to bookmark this to point out my mistakes come May...
Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.