Tuesday, 19 September 2017


Red Rose Football Blog Edition 48

September 18th 2017

Red Rose Player of the Week

Sergio Aguero; Manchester City

In the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the 60s and 70s, the music paper would place an image of a bullet next to any disc which was climbing, hence the expression “Bohemian Rhapsody is #4 with a bullet”. Casting an eye down the list of all-time Premier League goal scorers, it can be seen that Sergio Aguero is #12 with a bullet. His hat-trick at Watford on Saturday has drawn him level with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink with 127 strikes and Robin van Persie on 144 is next in his sights. Only the Dutchman and Thierry Henry of the foreign contingent have now netted on more occasions and of the current crop of strikers, only Wayne Rooney and the ageless Jermaine Defoe are higher up the list. Aguero does not resemble a traditional centre forward. At 5’8”, he is definitely on the small side, but as Phil Neville suggested on “Match of the Day”, his strength is his lack of size. In the same way that Messi and before him Maradona were so difficult to “shift” off the ball, Aguero can keep the ball and his balance at speed, despite the attempts of defenders to out-physical him, no doubt because of his low centre of gravity. With five from five so far this season, can he be the first striker to net 30 in a campaign since Luis Suarez in 2013-14 or even challenge the record of 34, held jointly by Alan Shearer and Andy Cole?

Red Rose County Local Football Heroes

Leon Osman; Everton

Strong boys tend to dominate in both club and schools’ football; even in the Academies where skills are supposed to be paramount. You do have to be strong, athletic and physical to make your presence felt on a football pitch to complement the essential skills, techniques and footballing intelligence, but unfortunately, decisions about a boy’s future generally take place in their 15th or 16th year. As youngsters develop physically at different ages, the small 15 year old who inevitably struggles to make an impact can be shown the door, even though there is an amount of evidence to show that some physiologically mature so much in the subsequent three years that they can be playing first team football at 18. This was the case with Steven Gerrard, where thankfully Steve Heighway at Liverpool was shrewd enough to be patient with the future England captain. Similarly Leon Osman (pictured) at Everton had Ray Hall in his corner. He too was allowed to develop at his own pace and it had been apparent from watching him perform well at County level for Lancashire Schools’ FA that this was going to be some player, with the proviso that he eventually matured physically. Leon was from the Skelmersdale area, a fertile hunting ground for Everton scouts and he joined their Academy as a youngster. Although always competitive, intelligent and an excellent passer of the ball, his lack of inches plus a serious injury sustained shortly after being part of Everton’s 1998 FA Youth Cup winning side, severely hampered his progress. Consequently he was 23 before he broke into the First Team at Goodison Park. For the next 10 years he was a virtual ever-present in a Toffees team which, although comfortably retaining their place in the Premier League, rarely threatened to win anything. They did reach the Final of the FA Cup in 2009, Osman starting as they lost out 2-1 to Chelsea. He had managed 2 games in their Champions’ League season  of 2005-06 and he played a total of 16 UEFA Cup games as David Moyes’ side became the nearly men of English football between 2008 and 2010, with a final Europa League swan song under Roberto Martinez in 2014-15. By then he had reached the pinnacle of his career, being selected by Roy Hodgson to represent England against Sweden in a friendly fixture and in a World Cup qualifier v San Marino during the 2012-13 season. At the age of 31, he was never going to be a long term prospect, but he played in every Premier League game the following season before his career began to peter out, making just 30 appearances in his last two seasons. Retirement came in 2016 for this one club man, a terrier of a midfield player who scored 43 times in 352 league appearances. He has played in more Premier League games than any other Everton player and although rarely a headline maker, the fans at Goodison Park loved this ultra-competitive local boy.  He was 100% reliable each time he pulled on the blue shirt, the hallmark of all local heroes.

  Performances of the last week

It was a golden opportunity to snatch some money from the bookies; a treble on the three Red Rose County representatives to win their opening Champions’ League encounters.  Manchester United let no-one down (except possibly their manager), when comfortably outclassing FC Basel at Old Trafford. United have not tasted defeat at home in any competition for over a year, but Jose Mourinho was annoyed that his side took their foot off the pedal after cruising to a 2-0 lead, accusing them of "Play Station football”. They do however seem certain to top Group A. Manchester City travelled to Rotterdam to play Feyenoord in Group F, the shock winners of the 1970 version of this competition. But that victory over Glasgow Celtic was from an age long since departed and the Dutch side were making their first appearance in the group stages of the Champions’ League since 2002. City stormed to 3-0 after 25 minutes and it would have been a cricket score had not Giovanni van Bronckhorst, manager and ex-Arsenal full back, packed his defence for the rest of the game. The tactic had some success as the Sky Blues only added one more to the final score; an unlikely second for John Stones (pictured). City, likewise, are long odds-on to win their group.

Unfortunately the “treble bet” went down at Anfield. To be fair, Sevilla are always a good side; undoubtedly the 4th best in Spain. After a dodgy start, the Reds seemed in total control but Robert Firmino hit the post with a penalty that would have made it 3-1. From then on, the Spaniards were always in with a chance and no-one was surprised with their second half equaliser. Once again it was less than convincing defending that was Liverpool’s downfall but with Spartak Moscow and NK Maribor also sharing the points, Liverpool can convincingly qualify, although probably in second place in Group E. It was far, far worse for their neighbours across the park. Playing away in Italy, Everton were 3-0 down v Atalanta before half-time in the first group game of the Europa League. The Toffees managed to steady the ship from then onwards but the score remained the same to the bitter end. There is no doubt that Ronald Koeman has a difficult job on his hands, in spite of splashing out a massive amount of money pre-season. He has still to solve the problem caused by the exit of his striker Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United but a score line of this nature asks serious questions about the defensive capabilities of the side. Until these questions are answered (and they certainly weren’t at Old Trafford this weekend), there may be many more dismal performances of this nature. As of this moment, the Goodison side is not favourite to exit Group E and qualify for the knock–out phase of Europe’s second most important competition.

In the immortal 1996 words of Baddiel and Skinner, “football’s coming home” for the good citizens of Manchester. No doubt narked by the capital’s success in last season’s Premier League, both Manchester City and Manchester United have hit the ground sprinting. After a mere 5 matches, phrases such as “a two horse race” are being used and purely alphabetical order is separating the two clubs at the head of the table. Watford have made a very decent start under the ex-Hull City boss Marco Silva, but they were contemptuously swept away at Vicarage Road as the Sky Blues, with three in each half, administered six of the best without reply. The following day at Old Trafford, the “Reds” left it late to deliver the coup de grace to Everton, but with three in the last 10 minutes, there was no arguing with a 4-0 score line. This battle royal could make it a season to remember. Compliments are also in order for Burnley who yet again have successfully travelled to Champions’ League contenders. Liverpool are the latest to feel the frustration after the Clarets’ fully deserved 1-1 draw at Anfield. Was it only last season when they were clueless away from home?   

Alex Neil took Norwich City out of the Championship at the first time of asking. Can he possibly similarly achieve with Preston North End? It was a good day to travel to play Birmingham City who are in a sorry state, but 3-1 is an emphatic score line. Jordan Hugill and Tom Barkhuizen, both prominent goal scorers last season, were both on target as North End ran rampart in the second half; scoring three times in 11 minutes to move into 4th place. Blackpool and Wigan Athletic are similarly placed in League 1, both winning comfortably at home on Saturday against useful opposition. The Tangerines have surprised many so far this year, capitalising on their late promotion run via the Play-Offs in May. This was an entertaining performance with all three goals scored from outside of the penalty box, Kyle Vassell twice and Callum Cooke being the ones to oblige. The Latics’ cause was made easier with the 30th minute dismissal of a Bristol Rovers defender; Nick Powell (pictured) smashing home the resulting free kick. Further goals from Will Grigg and Gavin Massey ensured that the score line reflected the one-sided nature of the game. With Shrewsbury Town’s unexpected 5 point lead being certain to be whittled away, the two Red Rose clubs are definitely in the promotion mix.

It was a good Red Rose County day in League 2, Accrington Stanley putting their woeful home midweek defeat to Grimsby Town behind them to win 2-1 at Chesterfield. This victory keeps them in the automatic promotion slots and Morecambe will be relieved by their 2-1 home win over the much improved Newport County which moves them 4 points clear of relegation in 16th spot. Once again Billy Kee was on target for Stanley, along with Leeds United loanee Mallik Wilks, whilst veteran striker Kevin Ellison netted twice for the Shrimps.

The FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round brought scant success to the North West, although Lancaster City comfortably defeated Droylsden 4-0, Ryan Winder netting a couple in the last few minutes before an encouraging crowd of 301 spectators. Chorley as expected won 3-1 at lowly Stalybridge Celtic from the league below, the Josh Wilson/Jason Walker partnership once again featuring on the score sheet. Both the struggling FC United of Manchester and the high-flying Warrington Town live to fight another day following 1-1 draws at Handsworth Parramore and at home to Hyde United respectively. The most magnificent Cup performance of the week however came in Bradford where Ashton Athletic have reached the 3rd Qualifying Round for the first time in their history by crushing the host club Albion Sports 4-0, Joshua Nicholson grabbing a hat-trick. In the Northern Premier League 1 North, Radcliffe Borough, now managed by the former Preston North End striker Jonathan Macken eased their relegation fears with a thumping 4-1 win over Skelmersdale United. Stanislav Zhekov was twice on target for the Borough but “Skem’s” woes continue as they view the possibility of a second successive relegation. In the North West Counties Premier Division, City of Liverpool FC rekindled their promotion charge with a 4-2 win over Barnton. They have two 2 games in hand, but Runcorn Town are way out front with their 100% record still intact. There was good news at last for St Helens Town supporters in NWC Division 1. They eventually gained their first points of the season, albeit at the bottom of the league FC Oswestry Town, enabling them to happily travel back to their newly built Ruskin Drive home following a 3-0 victory.

Games to look forward to this week

The midweek action concerns the last 32 of the EFL Cup. Six of our teams are still involved, the 5 Premier League sides plus Bolton Wanderers who visit the Olympic Stadium to play West Ham United. The Burnley v Leeds United match-up is interesting if only because it gives the Clarets’ Kiwi international Chris Wood the opportunity to play against his old side. Manchester City could have a battle on their hands at the Hawthorns against the uncompromising West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool could have asked for an easier task than an away trip to Leicester City as they bid to return to winning ways. Everton have had to endure some difficult fixtures recently but they ought to rediscover the taste of winning when a struggling Sunderland come down to Goodison Park whilst Manchester United must surely come through against the Championship’s Burton Albion whichever eleven Jose Mourinho chooses to start with.

For once, all of our Premier League clubs play on Saturday. The closest encounter should be at Turf Moor where Huddersfield Town are the visitors. The Tykes, as newly promoted sides often do, made a stirring start but after 5 games, only goal difference separates them and Burnley in the top half of the table. The Yorkshire side can play some excellent football but whether that leaves an impression on the Clarets or not will be revealed by 5.00 on Saturday. Manchester United have a potentially tricky trip down to the south coast to meet the unpredictable Southampton. The St Mary’s side appear to have recruited well once again so the Reds will have to be at their best to prevent any slip-ups because Manchester City must surely defeat a pointless Crystal Palace at The Etihad. In a game between two extremely flaky sides, home advantage may help Everton to overcome AFC Bournemouth, but such has been the form of both clubs this season that you would be brave to predict a victory for either one. In a bizarre twist to the fixture list, Liverpool make their second visit to Leicester City’s King Power Stadium within 4 days for the Tea-time fixture. I am somehow confident that the Merseysiders will fashion a victory in at least one of the meetings, but expecting Juergen Klopp’s men to win two on the bounce at the moment is a big ask. It is not out of the question for 15 points to be collected by the Red Rose clubs, but this is the ultra-competitive Premier League where the majority of accumulator bets more often than not go down.

Both of our Championship sides have home advantage with Bolton Wanderers having an excellent opportunity to break their duck. They worked extremely hard last weekend before going down 2-0 to a fancied Ipswich Town with Gary Madine (pictured) twice going close.

Brentford, who currently occupy a relegation place along with the Wanderers, are the visitors on Saturday. It is a chance that Bolton must take if they are to begin their long climb out of danger. The sun is shining on Deepdale at the moment and Preston North End can continue their impressive run of form against Millwall. The South London side, who came up via the Play-Offs last season, have drawn at Queen’s Park Rangers and beaten leaders Leeds United in their last two games and so they will be a test for North End, but PNE are famously difficult to beat at home. The League 1 computer has produced three tasty fixtures for this weekend. Blackpool can do little wrong at the moment but it will not be easy to win away at Bristol Rovers, but even more exciting are Wigan Athletic’s visit to 2nd placed Peterborough United and Blackburn Rovers’ away trip to leaders Shrewsbury Town. The Cambridgeshire side is my tip for promotion but the Latics have the ability to cause a minor upset here and the Rovers were on a run of 4 victories before the dreadful home loss to AFC Wimbledon last Saturday, so they have the fire power to dismantle the Shropshire surprise package. Fleetwood Town ought to have too much for a Southend United side which has failed to achieve a victory since the season’s opener and Rochdale, with home advantage, ought to scrape through against Gillingham who sit alongside of them in the league; 20th and 21st. Unfortunately the two Red Rose County clubs who currently need the most help both have difficult fixtures. Bury have to cross the Thames into south-east London to face a Charlton side which is on the fringe of automatic promotion and Oldham Athletic, who have shown glimpses of better form recently are away in South Yorkshire to an unpredictable but “deadly on their day” Rotherham United. Bury were desperately unlucky not to have beaten Plymouth Argyle last weekend when the recently signed striker Michael Smith (pictured in his Portsmouth strip) could have scored at least three.

Oldham likewise should have had at least a draw against pacesetters Shrewsbury Town so both sides will look to build on Saturday’s performances as they face difficult away opposition. In League 2, Accrington Stanley should have little trouble in defeating a struggling Cheltenham Town, although we have had similar thoughts before, but Morecambe will not find the long trip to Stevenage easy, although the Hertfordshire side has yet to consistently find the form that almost brought promotion last time around.

Barrow have an immensely difficult game on Saturday in the National League. They face recent league leaders Sutton United, once famous for defeating Coventry City, reigning FA Cup holders in Round 3 of the 1987-88 season. They are more recently infamous for having the rotund Wayne Shaw on the bench for their 5th Round FA Cup defeat to Arsenal last winter. Shaw, the reserve goalkeeper, was heavily fined by the FA for conspiring to influence a bet placed on him, eating a pasty in full glare of the TV cameras during the game. Back to this weekend, the Bluebirds will struggle to return north with even a point, judged on recent results. AFC Fylde have had few problems scoring goals in their debut season at this level but have been conceding far too many also. They will find Woking strong opposition and just behind the leaders in a very compacted division, but the Coasters need points to prevent being sucked into a relegation dog fight. In the National League North, Salford City who were unexpectedly turfed out of the FA Cup by York City, ought to return to winning ways and continue on their assault at the league title by winning at Gainsborough Trinity, some 18 points and 18 places below them. Marine are having to fight for survival once again in their 39th consecutive season in the Northern Premier League. They travel to Whitby Town, one point below them in what even at this stage of the season is a “6 pointer”. Two of our more unpredictable sides in the Northern Premier League 1 North clash on Saturday at Mossley’s high altitude ground. Atherton Collieries need the points more than Mossley, but picking a winner is almost impossible. It is FA Vase day yet again and the all Liverpool clash will not be one for the purists. AFC Liverpool are at home to City of Liverpool with a place in the 1st Round proper plus £750 from the FA prize fund at stake, not to mention the bragging rights within the city. It should be explosive.

Post Weekend Musings

The breaking news on the Bolton Wanderers web site was categorically clear. The transfer embargo is no longer active and normal service has been resumed at the Macron Stadium. Whilst this is excellent news, there are undoubted knock-on effects from what has probably been the lowest point in the history of this great Championship club; one of the twelve founder members of the Football League of course. They can immediately begin to buy players, except they can’t because the “transfer window” is now closed and will be until New Year’s Day. On current form, the Wanderers could be 10 points from safety before they begin the process of introducing fresh talent to the squad and as near neighbours Blackburn Rovers discovered last season, you can have a relatively successful second half to the campaign and still be relegated. Bolton fans can only hope that in the short term, Phil Parkinson can bring solidity to a group which thus far has been unequal to the task; damage limitation to see them through the next two and a half months. It will then be up to Ken Anderson and his Board of Directors to support him financially as the New Year begins. It will be frustrating for the loyal fans, but they have to be patient and support, support and support.

It may not be football, but it is certainly Red Rose County related and I have rarely come across a football fanatic who is not enamoured by the sound of leather on willow. So many, many congratulations to Burnley’s own Jimmy Anderson on becoming only the sixth cricketer in the long history of test cricket to take over 500 wickets. The “Burnley Express” learned to bowl in the shadow of Turf Moor’s Cricket Field Stand which backs on to Burnley Cricket Club. This undoubted Lancashire hero was educated at St Theodore’s RC High School in Burnley, always recognised locally as an academy for sport long before the word was in popular use educationally. At 35, he is still in his prime and with Courtney Walsh’s total of 519 wickets in his sights; he could well become a member of the all-time top five on “the down” under Ashes tour this winter.

The draw for the 3rd Qualifying Round of the FA Cup has been made, ties to be played on Saturday September 30th. Barrow, AFC Fylde and the other 22 clubs from the National League join the competition in the 4th Qualifying Round. The Red Rose clubs involved are…… Ashton Athletic v Chorley, Shaw Lane v Lancaster City, Stockport County v Handsworth Parramore or FC United of Manchester, Boston Town v Hyde United or Warrington Town.

He may no longer be a Red Rose County player, having been sold to West Bromwich Albion during the summer, but Gareth Barry (pictured) has played his part with both Manchester City and Everton, making 132 and 131 appearance respectively.

He has been capped by England on 53 occasions, covering a twelve year period but history will probably recognise him as the man who has made the most Premier League appearances. His appearance for West Brom against West Ham United on Saturday was a record equalling 632, matching the feat of Ryan Giggs of Manchester United and if all goes well, he will probably beat Giggsy’s total next Monday evening at the Emirates against Arsenal. It is a wonderful achievement for the 36 year old and a testimony to his skill, character and the way he has looked after himself. Have Everton have missed his steadying influence this season in midfield? I think many Toffees fans would say “yes”.

Quiz of the Week (Answers at the foot of the Blog)

1                    Which Premier League club did Sven-Goran Eriksson (pictured) manage after leaving the England job?

2                    What is the club that replaced Accrington Stanley in Division 4 on their liquidation in 1962 and was then replaced by Stanley in 2006 on their return to League 2?

3                    Who, of the current Burnley squad, has made the most league appearances for the club?

4                    The only non-British player to make over 500 Premier League appearances was a goalkeeper with Middlesbrough, Fulham, Chelsea and Leicester City. Who is he?

5                    Who is the last Englishman to have permanently managed Everton, leaving the club in 1998?

6                    Ryan Bertrand has played 16 times for England, but from whom did Southampton buy him for a reported £10million in 2015?

7                    Craig Conway (pictured) was signed by Blackburn Rovers in January 2014. He had been on loan at Brighton but which then Premier League side actually sold him to the Rovers?

8                    Who scored the winning goal for Arsenal in the final seconds of the final game of the 1988-89 season against Liverpool, giving the Gunners the title over Liverpool on goals scored, before being signed by the Merseyside club and going on to make 124 league appearances at Anfield?

9                    This former Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers and Leicester City striker played 10 times for Scotland and, during this current decade, managed Oldham Athletic. Who is he?

10                Jesse Lingard scored the winning goal in the 2016 FA Cup Final for Manchester United during extra time in their 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace, but which United player had scored their equaliser during normal time?

Red Rose County Non-league Club of the Week

Padiham FC

There has been football played in the small north-east Lancashire town of Padiham since the club bearing the town’s name was founded in 1878, six years before its near neighbour Burnley FC. They had a ground on the banks of the River Calder, close to the centre of the town and attendances in the thousands watched games against the neighbouring local town clubs. The rise of professionalism during the 1880s badly hit the smaller teams but they played in the 1884 FA Cup, going out to eventual winners Blackburn Rovers in Round 3. Padiham played without success in the Lancashire Combination from 1894 through to 1915, but the loss of available players due to the 1st World War caused the club to fold and it was not revived until after the 2nd World War.

In 1949, The Arbories Memorial Sports Ground (pictured with Padiham playing in blue) was opened, which included a league standard cricket ground adjacent to a small football stadium and stunning views of the town church and the Pennine Hills.

The reformed Padiham FC was given use of the ground and immediately re-joined the Lancashire Combination. Success continued to be hard to come by, with just a solitary promotion to Division 1 followed by an immediate relegation in 1962. In 1968, the “Storks” as they are known in the area, quit the Combination to play locally. They returned in 1977 and remained in that league through the period of the name change to the North West Counties. Once again success eluded them and from 1990, financial constraints forced them down into the second level of the West Lancs League. Money was raised and the ground developed to Tier 10 standard and since 2000, they have played in the NWC Football League, eventually in the Premier Division. Floodlights have been installed, covered seating added and in 2013, they were promoted as champions to the Northern Premier League 1 North. This was the standout achievement of their modern history, the highest level of the game that the club has been involved in for a century. It lasted for 3 years before relegation caused them to drop down to the NWC Premier League once more. This season is proving to be tough and 17th position does not breed confidence, but they are still in the FA Vase after thumping Thackley from West Yorkshire by a 5-0 margin. With an average attendance well into three figures, a new management team and a well organised committee, this historical club now needs a successful run on the pitch to propel itself up the league. 

Quiz Answers:  1 Manchester City, 2 Oxford United, 3 Ben Mee, 4 Mark Schwarzer, 5 Howard Kendall, 6 Chelsea, 7 Cardiff City, 8 Michael Thomas, 9 Paul Dickov, 10 Juan Mata.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Red Rose Football Blog (Number 47)


Red Rose Football Blog Edition 47

September 11th 2017

Red Rose Player of the Week

James Tarkowski; Burnley

The temptation when choosing players for an award is to go with strikers. They capture the headlines and receive all the congratulations. Success however, with the exception perhaps of a Barcelona, Real Madrid or in the glory days of Manchester United (Best, Law and Charlton et al) is based on a strong defence and for this reason my nomination this week is a centre back. Tarkowski (pictured below) is of mixed Polish/English descent and his early career was spent in the lower reaches of the Football League. A Manchester boy, he served his apprenticeship at Oldham Athletic before Brentford lured him south. Burnley paid money for him in January 2016 but he was an understudy to Mee and Keane until the latter’s sale to Everton this summer. He has grabbed the spare centre back berth with both hands and at 6’3” tall and tough as old boots, he was able to physically match the handful that is Christian Benteke and secure the points for Burnley against Crystal Palace.

Red Rose County Local Football Heroes

      Graham Alexander; Preston North End

Born in Coventry and eligible to play for Scotland, this defensive player was certainly not a one-club man. In fact by the time he arrived at Deepdale, he was pushing 30 and had already chalked up 311 league appearances at Scunthorpe United and Luton Town. That he should then go on to amass a further 372 games in two stints at Preston North End, interspersed with 154 up the road at Burnley is truly remarkable.  He was mainly a lower league player but he did manage a season in the Premier League at Turf Moor in the 2009-10 season. In fact he is the 6th oldest goal scorer in this elite league at the age of 38 years and 67 days and was the oldest player to make his Premier League debut. It was at North End however where he was most revered. He signed at the beginning of the 2000-01 season and established himself as a right back of note, although his speciality was the dead-ball kick. In 837 football league games (3rd highest in English football behind Peter Shilton and Tony Ford), he scored 107 goals, the vast majority being either direct free kicks or from the penalty spot. While he was at Preston, he was an integral part of the team that remained in the championship throughout his time there, initially under David Moyes, then Craig Brown, Billy Davies and Paul Simpson. He made his Scotland debut in 2002 at the age of 30, going on to gain a total of 40 caps. Ironically he left PNE in 2007 because the club was reluctant to give him a further 2 year contract because of his age. To confound them, he made a further 154 league appearances for Burnley, including 33 in their one season stay in the Premier League, memorably scoring his 100th league goal against Arsenal from the penalty spot. He returned to Deepdale for one final throw of the dice in 2011, making 18 more appearances and being appointed temporary co-manager with David Unsworth following the sacking of Phil Brown. He announced he would retire at the end of the season, having celebrated his 40th birthday and although he had not played for a few weeks, the new manager Graham Westley brought him on for the last 10 minutes of the final game of the season against Charlton Athletic. PNE were 2-1 down during time added on when they were awarded a free kick just outside the area. Up stepped Alexander and with the ultimate touch of his career, smashed the ball into the Charlton net to salvage a draw. It was a fitting end for this Red Rose County local hero who has of course gone on to show his worth as a manager, gaining promotion for Fleetwood Town and almost taking Scunthorpe United into the Championship last season.

Performances of the last week

Hands up if you bet on Manchester City beating Liverpool 5-0. I thought so, not a single hand in sight. At first glance, it appears to be a Premier League result which sets a marker to the rest of the field. And it may well be that the “Sky Blues” will go on and return the title to the Etihad for the first time since 2014., but once again a crucial game of football was decided by a refereeing judgement. “City” were already a goal up, Aguero having waltzed around the keeper to finish coolly, when Sadio Mane chased a through ball which had split the home defence. In trying to flick the ball over the onrushing Ederson who was forced to try to clear with his head because the ball had not quite reached the 18 yard line, Mane’s high foot made contact with the keeper’s head and the Brazilian appeared to be seriously hurt. Because of the wording of the law, it was a difficult decision for referee Jon Moss, but Mane was soon on his way to an early bath, the game being ruined as an equal contest. Manchester City are an irresistible attacking force for eleven men to defend against when they are on song. With 10 men it is virtually impossible, especially when the “Reds” have a less than water-tight back four and goalkeeper. As a result, Liverpool crashed to their worst defeat since Juergen Klopp took over nearly 2 years ago, Jesus and Sane each helping themselves to a couple of goals. Was it a sending off offence? Possibly yes (according to the rule book) but there was no intention on the part of the Senegalese to maim. It was scarcely reckless and he would have been given a torrid time by pundits like Shearer if he had given the keeper a free clearing header. If only we had a sin bin. Fifteen minutes in the cooler would have been a fair and just punishment and the game would not have suffered, but it takes an eternity for football’s governing bodies to introduce regulations which other sports quickly (and successfully) take on board. It was another 3 points for Burnley, moving into the top 7 as a result of a somewhat fortuitous 1-0 win over pointless Crystal Palace. New signing Chris Wood made it 2 out of 2, seizing on to a miss directed back pass to score within 3 minutes, but they then generally surrendered possession to a hard working but  blunt edged “Palace” side. Burnley will not worry about the 35-65 percentage possession deficit. This is the way they play, but they were reliant on centre backs Tarkowski and Mee to keep the threat posed by Christian Benteke at bay. It will be another long season for Sean Dyche’s men, but they will be delighted with their start.  

Before Saturday’s fixture, Preston North End had scored a Championship Divisional low two goals and conceded a Divisional low one goal. Nearly 13,000 fans turned up at Deepdale on Saturday to witness the 6th game of the season and were rewarded for their patience with 1-1 draw, this time against Barnsley. “North End” are nobody’s push-over and have a formidable home record. Neutrals said it was an interesting and at times exciting game, but fans want to see goals and “PNE” are simply not delivering. Manager Alex Neil is possibly fairly content with a current 11th spot in the table and was no doubt pleased that new signing Sean Maguire from the League of Ireland club Cork City was on target but training this week will surely concentrate on hitting the back of the net. Incidentally veteran midfield player Paul Gallagher (pictured below) made his 500th appearance in all competitions spaced across 6 different clubs and the top 3 tiers of the English game. Only one of the 7 Red Rose County clubs in League 1 was a winner on Saturday, a rejuvenated Blackburn Rovers winning 3-0 at Rochdale. This is now three on the trot for the Ewood Park club in spite of both outstanding centre backs Mulgrew and Lenihan being out injured. The “Rovers” had far too much class and far too much ability for a struggling “Dale” side which cannot buy a win this season. Consequently they occupy a place in the bottom 4 whereas Blackburn, helped by goals from Smallwood, Antonsson and Danny Graham, have now cruised effortlessly into the top ten. It is getting better every week for Accrington Stanley. Carlisle United could have provided dangerous opposition but an inevitable opener from Billy Kee and two sublime finishes from Sean McConville gave the unusually large crowd of 2,120 plenty to cheer about, not least that “Stanley” now occupy the runners-up spot in League 2.

AFC Fylde continue to find life tough in the National League, but they are nothing if not fighters. Bromley, from the South London borough of the same name, seemed in total control, leading 2-0 after 50 minutes. The “Coasters” however refused to lie down and goals from Serhat Tasdemir and goal machine Danny Rowe gained them a well-earned point which keeps them 3 points clear of the relegation places. In the National League North, three of our five clubs were on the winning side. Pride of place goes to Salford City who toppled Brackley from top spot after a 2-0 victory. Leading scorer Jack Redshaw (pictured below), recently signed from Blackpool, scored both goals either side of the half time break and the “Ammies” are now joint top with Harrogate Town, looking extremely serious contenders for promotion. Chorley, after a shaky start have moved into the top half of the table following a third consecutive win, this time at bottom of the league North Ferriby. Jason Walker and Josh Wilson, joint leading scorers, shared the goals. It was celebration time at Curzon Ashton as they defeated FC United of Manchester 1-0, their first ever victory over their Greater Manchester rivals. The Ashton side is now in 16th position with 12 points from 10 games, 5 points clear of “FC” who are perilously close to a bottom 3 spot.

The outstanding performance in the Northern Premier League was Lancaster City’s 2-0 win over table-toppers Shaw Lane at the Giant Axe. Goals from Craig Carney and Hannu Tam keep the “Dolly Blues” in title contention in their first season back in Tier 7 since financial problems caused them to seek administration following the disastrous 2006-07 season. To win automatic promotion, they will have to leap over Warrington Town who moved back to the top after a 4-2 victory over Yorkshire’s Farsley Celtic. A Tony Gray double and goals from Connor Hughes and Sean Williams helped the “Yellows” on their way at Cantilever Park against top six opposition. There were important wins for two of our struggling sides in the Northern Premier League 1 North. Clitheroe had made a poor start to the new term, but they managed to hang on for a 2-1 win at bottom of the table Goole AFC. Radcliffe Borough had been bottom but 2 goals from Thomas Owens helped them to their first points following a 3-2 home victory over Tadcaster Albion. Mossley defeated Prescot Cables 2-0 in an all Red Rose County fixture, stalling the Merseysiders’ charge up the table but Ramsbottom United took the plaudits, beating Trafford 3-1 to move into 2nd place, a point behind leaders South Shields. Heavy rain in the Lancashire area played havoc with the FA Vase Preliminary Round ties but there were emphatic wins for West Didsbury & Chorlton, 6-1 winners over an outclassed AFC Blackpool from the league below and Charnock Richard who went one better, thrashing Selby Town from the Northern Counties East League 1 by a 7-1 margin. Litherland REMYCA also progressed to the next round with a surprisingly close 1-0 victory over Ashton Town, the Wigan club relegated to the Tier 11 Cheshire League at the end of last season.

Games to look forward to this week

Champions’ League games begin this week, the first of 6 fixtures in mini-leagues of 4 clubs. Our three representatives are all in action and all three ought to win. Manchester United entertain FC Basel from Switzerland on Tuesday, whilst Liverpool are at home to Spain’s Sevilla on Wednesday. On the same evening, Manchester City make the relatively short European journey to Feyenoord in Holland and all three have been drawn into groups with a low degree of difficulty. Something will have to go seriously wrong if any of them miss out on qualification for the last 16. On Thursday, Everton fly off to Atalanta, one of the less well known opponents in the Europa League. The “Toffees” have struggled so far this campaign and Lyon are in their group. A point at least will be an essential requirement for Koeman’s side from their visit to this Northern Italian club which finished 4th last season in Seria A.

In the weekend’s Premier League fixtures, Burnley travel to Liverpool. The “Reds” will be desperate to re-float their league campaign, but Burnley will be their usual obdurate self. The first goal will be the key to the game. If the “Clarets” nick it, a tense and frustrating afternoon is in store for the Anfield faithful, but if Liverpool score first and Burnley have to chase the game, there could be goals aplenty. Another problem for the Turf Moor side is that they are without their captain and inspirational goalkeeper Tom Heaton (pictured below); possibly until the turn of the year, having dislocated a shoulder in Saturday’s game v Crystal Palace. Manchester City have no cakewalk either. An away trip to a much improved Watford, occupying the 4th Champions’ League place as of Sunday evening, could just test the capabilities of their defence without the yet again injured Vincent Kompany, their only natural leader.  Manchester United, sharing the top spot with their city rivals, are at home to Everton in the late Sunday afternoon slot. Jose Mourinho has assembled probably the physically strongest squad in the league and they will surely be too powerful for the Goodison side.

Both Preston North End and Bolton Wanderers have away fixtures in the Championship. “North End” have the easier task at a completely mis-firing Birmingham City, but the “Wanderers” have to travel to Ipswich. Both will face sides with a wealth of managerial experience, but whereas Harry Rednapp has been unable to build upon the great escape that he engineered in May with the “Brummies”, Mick McCarthy’s “Tractormen” have made an extremely strong start to this campaign. With 3 consecutive losses behind them and only 2 points to show for their efforts so far, Bolton are in desperate trouble. Let us hope that their Board does not have the trigger-happy instincts of their counterparts at Crystal Palace, for Phil Parkinson (pictured below) worked so hard to achieve promotion last term. With the current financial position at the Macron, no-one can guarantee safety so why sack a boss who has shown that, given half a chance, he can make the most of what is a terribly difficult situation. In League 1, Blackburn Rovers appear to have the easiest task as they attempt to continue their winning run, the minnows of AFC Wimbledon providing the opposition. Bottom of the table Oldham Athletic have by far the most problematic fixture, but at least they are at home to shock leaders Shrewsbury Town. Both Blackpool (home to Oxford United) and Wigan Athletic (hosting Bristol Rovers) will have to be at their best to continue their promotion pushes whilst anything can happen when Fleetwood Town travel to meet the unpredictable Portsmouth. Bury will have to fight tooth and nail to take the points away from Plymouth Argyle at Gigg Lane and Rochdale will have to find punch up front if they are to trouble the inconsistent Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire. In League 2, Morecambe may be able to garner much needed points when they welcome Newport County and Accrington Stanley will fancy their chances of hitting top spot by overcoming 23rd placed Chesterfield in Derbyshire. In the National League, Barrow can surely put some distance between themselves and the relegation spots by defeating the hapless Torquay United but AFC Fylde have a difficult journey down to the South Coast to take on Eastleigh.

The National League North clubs enter the FA Cup at the 2nd Qualifying Round stage and the tastiest match-up is at Salford where York are the visitors; a real “Tale of Two Cities”. There is an all Northern Premier League meeting between two in form sides, Lancaster City from the Premier and Droylsden, now topping the League 1 North table. Finally, Ashton Athletic, the sole Tier 9 representative from the North West Counties Premier League travel across the Pennines to Bradford to meet the Tier 9 Albion Sports from the Northern Counties East League.

There are a number of Northern Premier League 1 North fixtures, the most interesting being at Mossley where the home side take on the much improved Ramsbottom United, now sitting in the runners-up position. Likewise there is a virtually full North West Counties fixture list and Bootle, desperate to make up ground on the leaders, are away to Northwich Victoria, a club which has definitely seen better days. The game of the day in Division 1 sees Litherland REMYCA welcoming Whitchurch Alport in a 3rd v 2nd clash.

Post Weekend Musings

I am not certain if this story has ever been authenticated and it goes back to the days when the number of the shirt stayed with the position and not with the player as it does today. Bolton Wanderers had a tough competitor called Peter Nicholson (pictured below) who made 352 league starts between 1971 and 1982, playing mainly in the number 2 shirt. He was however a manager’s dream in that he would play wherever he was asked, giving his all in every game. It is claimed that he actually started at least one Bolton game in every single outfield position; i.e. he wore every shirt from 2-11. Is that a record? I don’t honestly know and I don’t know where to begin looking for evidence, but if anyone knows of any other………….?

Way back at the start of the current millennium, Juventus paid Parma an astronomical £33 million for Gianluigi Buffon, a then world record for a goalkeeper. That “Juve” have had their money’s worth is undisputable. He may be the greatest goalkeeper who ever lived, but I wonder if we will be making a similar comment about Ederson Moraes in 2033. By that time, the Brazilian, signed by Manchester City from Benfica for a new world record £34.8 million, will be the same age as Buffon is now. If he is then still at the Etihad, he will have proved himself to be as great a “keeper” as the Italian. Now that is really a dream worth chasing.

The Red Rose County has 4 clubs involved in Europe this coming season. Here are the groups in which they are involved.

Opponent 1
Opponent 2
Opponent 3
Champions’ League
Manchester City
Shaktar Donetsk
Champions’ League
Spartak Moscow
NK Maribor
Champions’ League
Manchester United
FC Basel
CSKA Moscow
Europa League
Apollon Limassol

If ever there was evidence needed that the English game is competitive from top to bottom, one only needs to start searching for clubs with a 100% record. It will not take long to compile the list because with just 4 fixtures completed in the Premier League and mainly 6 in Tiers 2, 3 and 4, there is exactly zero. Should you wish to include the 3 Divisions of the National League (Premier, 1 North and 1 South), there is not a 100% record in sight either. Competitive football is what we have in this country.

Quiz of the Week (Answers at the foot of the Blog)

1        The 1999 Champions’ League Final was rather unique in that each side had a goalkeeper as captain; Oliver Kahn and which other keeper?

2        Jim Iley (pictured as a Newcastle United player) was manager of which Red Rose County club when they were relegated into the then 3rd Division (Tier 3) for the first time in its history in 1979?

3        Which midfielder played 84 times for Everton and gained 3 England caps, was sold to Manchester City for £12million and then to Sunderland for £10million, a club at which he is now struggling?

4        Which former player was manager of Burnley the day they survived relegation from the Football League, defeating Leyton Orient on the final day of the 1986-87 season?  

5        Which Yorkshire born defender made 42 league appearances for Preston North End in the 2016-17 season, scoring 4 goals?

6        Bolton Wanderers were sponsored in a variety of ways from 1990-2014 by which kit manufacturer which was founded and based in the town?

7        In 1999, Liverpool sold Steve McManaman (pictured) to which European Club where he won 2 Champions’ League medals?

8        Who is the manager of the Northern Ireland national side which has won its last 5 World Cup qualification games?

9        Of the 5 all-time Premier League leading goal scorers, only one has scored all of his goals for the same club, doing so between 1999 and 2007 plus one more he scored whilst on loan in 2012. Who is he?

10    Graham Jones, who holds the record for most goals scored in a season at Wigan Athletic, is now assistant head coach for which European national side, one which has already qualified for Russia 2018?

Red Rose County Non-league Club of the Week

AFC Liverpool

Back in 2007, the city of Liverpool suffered more than most from the financial meltdown which hit the western world. Employment was difficult to find and those that did were generally paid low wages. The city has always been extremely working class but take away the work and you had a large conurbation wondering where the next meal was coming from. It became an easy target for drug pushers and the crime that inevitably goes hand in hand with it. Aspects of the city immune from the credit crunch were the football clubs. With TV money becoming awash in the game and the successful players from the Red half of the city earning more per week than the total benefit being paid into a small housing estate, the cost of watching their heroes rapidly escalated to the point where the poorer folk simply could not afford a ticket. As a result busker/folk singer/social and community music festival organiser Alun Parry gathered together a group of like-minded people to form a football club which was not a rival to Anfield. It did however give those who wanted to support a city club, bearing its name and playing in an all red kit, a chance to do so at prices they could afford. Thus the infant AFC Liverpool was born but because of the lack of anything resembling a soccer stadium within the city, apart from at either end of Stanley Park, the club had to play on the Prescot Cables pitch situated in the neighbouring borough of Knowsley. Competing well in the North West Counties League 1 for three seasons, they were promoted to the Premier Division in 2011 which is where they remain. After a shaky first campaign, they have become known as a mid-table outfit, although after six games of the current season, they are sitting in a comfortable 6th place. Three years ago they left Prescot and now ground share with Marine at Rossett Park in Crosby, this time within the Borough of Sefton. The manager is Chris Stammers (pictured), experienced at this level of the game, and he

will try hard to put pressure on the two Runcorn clubs who are threatening to run away with league. I prefer to see clubs working their way upwards, slowly but surely from the grass roots level within the football pyramid system rather than  being parachuted in at a decent level of the game without proving their worth on the pitch; usually because they have a strong committee, resources, finance….in short a solid infrastructure. But with the game in the city of Liverpool stagnant at Tier 11 because of a lack of appropriate venues, I can see that there was a need for AFC Liverpool. If only they could channel their resources into building a football ground within the city.

Quiz Answers:  1 Peter Schmeichel, 2 Blackburn Rovers, 3 Jack Rodwell, 4 Brian Miller, 5 Tom Clarke, 6 Reebok, 7 Real Madrid, 8 Michael O’Neill, 9 Thierry Henry, 10 Belgium.