Monday, 9 January 2017

Number 12                                                                                         January 9th 2017

Claustrophobic; does that describe North West football

It is not inconceivable that both AFC Fylde and Chorley could be promoted to the National League at the end of this season. This is the 5th Tier of English football, a professional league where costs rocket. Both have reasonable support at the moment, but to succeed in the National League, they will each probably need another 1000 supporters. This is where the problem lies. Putting it simply, there are too many professional clubs in this area, too many chasing too few spectators. For example, the Lancaster/Morecambe catchment area has traditionally been poached by North End. This club will also take fans from Chorley and the Fylde, and will compete for potential fans against Blackpool to the west, Blackburn to the east plus Wigan and Bolton to the south. This fails to take into account the support for the two Merseyside and the two Manchester clubs because both United and Liverpool in particular have a strong cohort of fans throughout the area. This is not just a Central Lancashire problem. Wherever you look in this Red Rose area, the giants are hoovering up the floating spectators, the  middle range clubs (those that have tasted Premier League football in the recent past) are fighting to hold on to their traditional fans and the likes of Rochdale, Oldham, Bury, Accrington, Morecambe and Fleetwood are picking up the scraps. It has its advantages of course in that there are a number of local derbies with supporters able to travel short distances to watch their favourites. But with approximately a third of a million football mad spectators currently watching locally, it begs the question. Where can two extra clubs find new fans in the claustrophobic footballing areas of the North West?

Same “claustrophobic problem” but it is on a smaller scale. The Borough of Tameside has no professional team but it has 6 well-established and well-supported clubs. (See below)

Curzon Ashton
Stalybridge Celtic
Ashton United
Hyde United

With 2000 watching local football in the Borough, would an amalgamated Tameside United survive in the EFL Division 2 (Accrington has for 11 seasons on less)? I suspect not because traditions die hard in the North West; folks do not easily change their alliegances.

THIS was their Finest Hour

Bolton Wanderers FC

There were tears, it was a day to remember absent friends and never has “Abide with me” been sung with so much sincerity. It was a game where the thoughts of a nation were on one club and one club only, a phoenix literally rising from the ashes. Bolton Wanderers, their players and fans were the supporting cast, the nation rooting solidly for Manchester United. It was understandable because the 1958 FA Cup Final was being played less than 3 months after the Munich disaster. The air crash had taken the lives of 8 Manchester United stars and had brought premature retirement to several others. Only 4 of their large pre-Munich squad started the Wembley final. It was a miracle that the patched up Red Devils had made it to Wembley but their manager Sir Matt Busby was still too ill to attend. United had an inexperienced side fielding just 3 internationals. There was the Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Gregg and two England Internationals, Dennis Violet and the new golden boy of English football, Bobby Charlton. They were a far cry from the Busby Babes, a team crowned champions in the 2 previous seasons which had played and entertained with so much charisma. Bolton in comparison were a team of artisans. Amazingly, every player had come through the ranks, costing just £110, the sum of 11 signing-on fees. They had England’s goalkeeper Eddie Hopkinson and leading the line was Nat Lofthouse. He would have been their “poster boy” if such a term had existed in those days. Nicknamed the “Lion of Vienna” for his exploits in an England shirt, he was perhaps the finest centre forward in the land. The game itself was somewhat one sided. The renowned Bolton defence lived up to its reputation for toughness and United could not handle Lofthouse. He scored early in each half, the second one being controversial even by the standards of the day when a shoulder charge against a goalkeeper was permitted. Holden floated over a cross, Harry Gregg caught it and before his feet could return to terra firma, Nat barged him over the line. It was shoulder versus chest and should not have counted, but the Wanderers were deserving winners. Millions mourned the result across the country but United would return to their former glories. For Bolton, it was their finest hour and sadly their last major trophy.

Charlton finds no way past the resolute Tommy Banks. Would this be a red card today?

Top performances from last weekend

West Ham United 0 Manchester City 5 (FA Cup Round 3)

Who would have predicted this score line? The Hammers hammered and City keeping a clean sheet. The last time the Sky Blues scored more in the FA Cup was a 6-0 thrashing of Norwich City back in 1981, the year they reached the final. But West Ham was so poor, neither playing the required pressing game nor knocking in crosses. As a result, City dominated the game as they always will when Silva and de Bruyne are given time and space to play. It was nice to see a smile on the manager’s face but as for it being the sea change with regard to future results, the jury is still out until tougher opposition is in town.

Accrington Stanley 2 Luton Town 1 (FA Cup Round 3)

A fog bound Accrington but this did not prevent Stanley from seeing off the 1959 finalists and banking £67000 from the FA Cup bonus pot. There was nothing between the sides but Sean McConville’s 25 yard screamer put the hosts one up, only for the play-off candidates to equalise early in the second half. The Reds pushed on, Omar Beckles nodding home a McConville cross and Accrington held on to clinch victory. It was what the doctor ordered for John Coleman’s ailing side who can now dream about potential round 4 opposition.

       Sean McConville’s goal plus an assist help Stanley reach round 4 for only the second time

Salford City 3 Kidderminster Harriers 0 (National League 1 North)

Such a tremendous performance from the “Ammies”. Kidderminster, second in the league and AFC Fylde’s main rivals, were bulldozed in the second half by a goal-hungry Salford side who scored through Josh Hine twice and Jordan Hulme. The club has moved up to fourth and although it would take a massive collapse for Fylde to be caught, the opportunity is there for another promotion through the play-offs for the team owned by the class of 92.

Shildon 1 Atherton Collieries 4 (FA Vase Round 4)

Performance of the week. Shildon, reigning Northern League champions and competition favourites took the lead 10 minutes into the second half but were then hit by an avalanche of Atherton goals as Ben Hardcastle, Mark Battersby, Daniel Lafferty and Jordan Cover each scored in a 27 minute period. The Wigan side had taken their never say die spirit up to Durham and now Round 5 (Last 16) awaits; another stepping stone on the road to Wembley.

Games to look forward to next weekend

Manchester United v Liverpool (Premier League) Sunday January 15, 16.00

The constructions of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway, Manchester Ship Canal and the East Lancs Road were all massive events in English history which linked the 2 great cities. The most discussed link nowadays however is the twice yearly football confrontation between these two clubs. Their previous encounter was a dour goalless draw at Anfield. Mourinho was struggling to find a permutation that worked and Klopp was concerned about being caught on the break. United are now flying and perhaps Liverpool will adopt snatch and grab tactics, so there could be goals. This game is as important as any in the past. Chelsea hinted at vulnerability mid-week and it is a game which both clubs are desperate to win.

Burton Albion v Wigan Athletic (EFL Championship) Saturday January 14, 15.00

Manager Warren Joyce needs to start winning league games if his fledgling career is to have any longevity at Wigan. A visit to the Midlands beer capital can provide the catalyst. Nigel Clough has over achieved at this tiny club but they are just above the relegation zone. So if the Latics are to stay up, they need to repeat last weekend’s FA Cup display v Notts Forest, a team coincidentally managed by the young Clough's great father.

 Cambridge United v Blackpool (EFL Division 2) Saturday January 14, 15.00

Like their neighbours Preston North End, Blackpool win a couple then come unstuck. Although in different divisions, they both need consistency if they are to reach the play-offs. A disastrous home defeat to lowly Mansfield Town followed by a stirring FA Cup performance against a decent Tier 2 side in Barnsley sums up Gary Bowyer’s season. He has players who can perform at this level although like the Tangerines, Cambridge have reached Round 3 of the FA Cup. A win is the order of the day for the Seasiders.

Southport v Wealdstone (FA Trophy Round 2) Saturday January 14, 15.00

It is the turn of the senior non-league clubs to think about Wembley. This is the round of the last 32 and the Southport Board have set plans in motion for promotion to the Football League by 2019. As perennial strugglers at this level, much will have to change for their plans to reach fulfilment, although the cash from a good cup run will help. They ought to beat Wealdstone, a so-so National League South (Tier 6) club from London, but will they? 

Ossett Town v Colne (Northern Premier League Division 1) Saturday January 14, 15.00

Whisper it not too loudly, but Colne FC is one of this season’s success stories. They were promoted from the NWCFL last May and have settled comfortably in mid-table. There is stability at Board level, Management level and on the pitch where they have put together a 5 match unbeaten run. Currently 10th, they have a difficult task at 2nd placed Ossett Town, but tricky Trans-Pennine trips always give the players a chance to prove themselves.

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

Each question has a Red Rose County connection

1             Jermaine Defoe converted 2 penalties last week. Against which opponents?

2             Two Manchester United icons feature in the all-time top 4 list of players who have captained England on the most occasions.  David Beckham and who else?

3             From which club did Burnley sign George Boyd in 2014?

                                   George Boyd, training at Gawthorpe

4             In December 2007, Wigan Athletic beat Blackburn Rovers 5-3. Roque Santa Cruz scored all 3 of the Rovers goals but who scored a hat-trick for Wigan?

5             Which Everton goalkeeper kept 15 clean sheets in the 2013-14 season?

6             Who is Bury’s leading goal scorer this season who is more famous for scoring in the Premier League at the age of 16 years and 271 days in 2005 for Everton?

      7             From which Eastern European club did Manchester City sign Fernandinho in 2013?

                  Fernandinho, having a great season, suspensions apart

8             Josh Windass was sold to Glasgow Rangers in July and has made 11 appearances thus far. From which Red Rose County EFL Division 2 side was he bought?

9             This Red Rose County club play in the National League North at a new stadium called Mill Farm. Their average gate is 1888. Who are they?

10         Dennis Tuart scored a spectacular overhead kick to win the 1976 Football League Cup for which Red Rose County team?

Post Weekend Musings
I felt sorry for Mike Phelan, the ex-United defender and later Assistant Manager who was unceremoniously sacked as manager of Hull City last week. This position was truly a poisoned chalice but did we seriously expect anything better from a sulking owner who then handed over to a son with no experience of running a football club? The reason? He was prevented from changing the name of the club to “Hull Tigers”. Phelan, born in Nelson and an ex-Lancashire Schools’ U/15 player prior to becoming an apprentice at Burnley, was given zilch to spend in the transfer window. The newly promoted team did not have 11 signed players after Steve Bruce, having seen the writing on the wall, suddenly quit. Phelan behaved with great dignity throughout but the club has delivered yet another kick in the privates to English football. It has appointed a Portuguese with no experience of the Premier League on the say so of a super-agent. I have nothing against Hull, its people or players, but I will shed no tears if they go straight back down. This is yet another example of the chaos that foreign owners have brought to our great game. English football  deserves better.

I do not altogether understand the reasons why Bailey Wright has left Preston North End for Bristol City. The Australian international defender played over 200 games at Deepdale in 6 years and appears to have been well thought of by management and fans alike. On the face of it, not a particularly positive career move, but he certainly wanted to leave. Hopefully Simon Grayson can replace him and their good form will continue.

                                     Bailey Wright; The PNE Socceroo is off to pastures new

Well done Wayne Rooney! To equal Sir Bobby Charlton’s record haul of goals for the club is a great achievement; one that I am sure he will go on to beat. Wayne has not always had the best press coverage but I believe that he has matured into a much respected and responsible individual, carrying the burden of massive expectations with great dignity. History will show that this ordinary lad from Croxteth was not only the best British player of his generation but that he was an outstanding ambassador for the game of football.

Red Rose County clubs in the draw for Round 4 of the FA Cup are Manchester City, Manchester United, Accrington Stanley, Rochdale, Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic. Those needing a replay are Blackpool, Bolton, Liverpool, Fleetwood and Burnley.

There are 2 applicants from Tier 11 to the North West Counties League (subject to meeting ground criteria), Wythenshawe Town from the Cheshire League and Abbey Hulton United from the Staffordshire County League. If they are successful, it could mean relegation from NWC Division 1 for Ashton Town and possibly AFC Blackpool or Atherton LR.

I had a stark reminder of the strength of some Premier League squads when I looked at the Manchester United FA Cup side. Nine changes from the West Ham game (only Carrick and Rojo retained), but the team still contained 11 internationals with a keeper who played in the last World Cup Final. The bench included 5 internationals, Pogba, Ibrahimovic and Mkhitaryan being most prominent plus a World Cup winner in Bastian Schweinsteiger. If Sean Dyche, manager at Burnley pondered on this too long, he would wave the white flag.

Tier 11 Club of the Week

Turton FC; - The original but no longer the greatest

Turton, tucked away to the north of Bolton, has always been a small village but for Lancastrians, this is where football began. Shrouded back in the mists of time, the club was founded in 1871; probably the first in the county. It was certainly where the Lancashire Football Association was formed in 1878 and it reached the 3rd round of the FA Cup in 1880-81, losing to (Sheffield) Wednesday. Their original ground, Tower Street in the adjacent hamlet of Chapeltown, is still regularly used by Old Boltonians in the Lancashire Amateur League. It is probably the oldest still-functioning football ground in the world. As professionalism flourished in the 1880s, Turton soon ceased to be an important club. Twice it has folded and the side playing in the West Lancashire Premier League is the third incarnation. The club won promotion from Division 1 last summer and under the guidance of manager Neil Hart, a mid-table position is being maintained. So just an average Tier 11 side now……..but with a history worthy of being remembered in perpetuity.

                                       Turton FC; Lancashire Junior Cup Winners 1901-02

Quiz Answers

1 Liverpool, 2 Bryan Robson, 3 Hull City, 4 Marcus Bent, 5 Tim Howard, 6 James Vaughan,   
7 Shackhtar Donetsk, 8 Accrington Stanley, 9 AFC Fylde, 10 Manchester City,

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