Monday, 27 March 2017
Red Rose Football Blog (Number 23)
Wigan Athletic; their finest hour
Wigan has always been recognised as a Rugby League town and the Latics, founded in 1932 were the fifth attempt to establish a strong football team in the town. From 1921 to 1986, the bottom 4 clubs in the Football League had to seek re-election in a vote off against successful and well-resourced non-league clubs. During those 59 seasons, only 13 league clubs failed to be re-elected as the Football League came to be regarded as a closed shop; Hartlepool United successfully re-applying 14 times for example. Since 1987, there has been automatic promotion but Wigan made 33 attempts to join the League, once bizarrely applying to join the Scottish League, such was the frustration in the non-league game at that time. Wigan Athletic was an extremely strong non-league outfit, winning the Cheshire League and the Lancashire Combination 4 times each before twice being Northern Premier League Champions. There was no Conference at that time but in 1978, promotion to the Football League finally beckoned, replacing close neighbours Southport. Progress was steady as they inexorably climbed the leagues, winning promotion to the Premier League in 2005. They never achieved a top ten finish but held their own with the Premier League big boys and by the start of the 2012-13 season, Roberto Martinez had been manager for 3 years. The club struggled in the league but was on a roll in the cup, winning 4-1 at Huddersfield in the 5th Round, 3-0 at Everton in the last 8 and defeating Millwall at Wembley by a 2-0 margin in the semi-final. The FA Cup Final appeared to be a lost cause, drawn against the reigning Premier League champions Manchester City. They boasted world class players in Tevez, Aguero, Silva, Toure, Nasri, Kompany and Hart. Possession was generally shared throughout the match but City were slipshod, most of the exciting football being played by Wigan for whom winger Callum McManaman was outstanding. With 6 minutes to play, full back Zabaleta was dismissed and Wigan piled on the pressure as injury time loomed. Shaun Maloney sent over a corner and Ben Watson’s head did the rest. Wigan fans were ecstatic as Emerson Boyce received the trophy, but the sky-blues slumped away, their trophy cabinet empty and manager Roberto Mancini was sacked. The Wigan club was unable to extricate itself from the relegation mire, finishing 18th and setting an unwanted record. They were the first team to be relegated after winning the FA Cup and the team broke up with manager Martinez moving to Everton, taking with him Robles, Kone and McCarthy. The season ended on a bitter-sweet note but it was definitely Wigan Athletic’s finest hour.
Being born and bred in Darwen, I suppose it was inevitable that I supported Blackburn Rovers. The first games I saw as a 7 year old were at Darwen FC; my parents considered me too small to go to Ewood Park, but my father and assorted relatives were all Roverites. My first game was on Good Friday 1954; the Rovers comfortably defeated Leicester City 3-0. I was hooked and for better, and often for worse, I still have a season ticket. There have been times when I have been unable to see many games. Playing regularly, studying in Leeds, being heavily involved in organising schoolboy football and living in France for 7 years are quite formidable obstacles to the cause and I did scout for Burnley for 7 years which stirred up all sorts of emotional turmoil in my head and heart. But wherever I have been in the world, my Saturday evening enjoyment has always been dictated by the Rovers’ score. My mother knew the result by looking at my face when as a schoolboy, I would walk through the door about 5.30 on a Saturday tea-time. Fifty plus years on, my wife reads it from my body language. I know so many of you have similar stories to tell but I am always fascinated as to why a particular person supports a certain team. For many like me it is obvious. But who would I have supported if I had been born in a large city. Geography must determine the outcome in London, Manchester and Birmingham, but what about Liverpool and Dundee where the grounds are side by side. It is religion in Glasgow, whilst family influence and possibly the mates you hang out with could be a factor. But who would I support if I lived in Cornwall or the Lake District? Tragedies can make a difference. The world wide support for Manchester United was fuelled by the Munich Air Crash. Quite rightly there was sympathy for them and neutrals were drawn towards the club. Success is also a massive factor. There were many Liverpool supporters around the North of England in the 70s and 80s and the Old Trafford Reds have gained support in the 90s and the 1st decade of the new millennium. It is also de rigeur for a celebrity to support a famous club; Arsenal, Chelsea or United. They never say that they support Bury or Morecambe because presumably that is uncool. But is there not a touch of inverted snobbery in those of us who support the likes of Blackburn? Can it impress people who may think we are martyrs for the cause? Err…..well perhaps not, but nothing will ever stop us from keeping the faith because that is what a genuine supporter does.
I was there on the 5th February 1955 when he scored 7 goals v Bristol Rovers.
In League 2, Blackpool has leapt 2 places to fifth after a less than convincing 2-1 win over Hartlepool United. They had keeper Dean Lyness to thank for several outstanding saves, but although an automatic place seems beyond reach, they are now one of the bookies favourite to make the Play-Offs. Also in League 2, Accrington Stanley is virtually safe after a last minute free kick from Shay McCartan sailed into the Grimsby net to give them a 1-1 draw. It was the ex-Burnley trainee’s 7th goal in 10 games in what was his 101st appearance for Stanley.
On the non-league scene, Barrow’s National League Play-Off hopes received a boost when they won 4-2 at Solihull Moors and Southport hauled themselves off the bottom with a Liam Nolan winner in their hard fought 1-0 victory over Boreham Wood. The wheels seem to be simultaneously dropping off the promotion challenges of AFC Fylde, Salford and Chorley as they all lost at Nuneaton (4-1), at Boston (2-0) and 3-0 at home to Curzon Ashton respectively in the National League North.
Skelmersdale United’s sorry season hit new depths, crushed at home 10-1 by Ashton United who set a record away win for the Northern Premier League. Matty Chadwick had a night to remember, scoring 4 with 4 assists as the Skelmersdale youngsters were destroyed. Meanwhile Warrington Town’s stubborn refusal to give up on the chase for a Play-Off spot continued as they won yet again, this time 1-0 at home to Hednesford Town. In the Northern Premier League 1 North, there were wins galore for Red Rose County clubs with the highlight being Lancaster City moving clear again at the top following a comprehensive 3-0 win at Radcliffe Borough. Trafford, Colne and Clitheroe kept alive their hopes of a Play-Off spot, the latter having won at then leaders Farsley Celtic in mid-week. Droylsden, marooned in mid-table throughout the season, suddenly came alive and knocked 6 past one time league leaders Ossett Town.
North West Counties Premier leaders Atherton Collieries stayed in front following a 3-1 win over neighbours Ashton Athletic, assisted to some extent by Bootle losing 2-1 at home to fellow title contenders Runcorn Linnets. At the other end of the table, AFC Darwen’s shock 2-0 win at AFC Liverpool on Friday evening makes it even less likely that Nelson, defeated 2-1 at home by Hanley Town, will escape the drop. In Division 1, Charnock Richard savaged Daisy Hill 7-1 away to move into 3rd place, 9 points behind leaders Litherland REMYCA (who scraped past lowly Atherton LR 2-1), but with 4 games in hand.
There is much uncertainty at both ends of the Championship and Preston North End is still potentially one win away from being Play-Off contenders. They are a physically strong side and Paul Gallagher has the skill to unlock any defence in this league but Saturday’s opponents Nottingham Forest have a new manager. They may benefit therefore from the Mark Warburton bounce but all PNE fans want to know if Tom Barkhuizen will score again?
Into his 30s, but still a class act in the mid-field jungle
Suddenly Uwe Rosler’s Fleetwood Town are experiencing the less attractive side of the game; namely that you cannot win them all. They face Swindon Town in the EFL League 1 on Saturday and it is a game they should win. Bolton has stolen a march on them in the last few days so the Cod Army will have every incentive to gain 3 points to put the pressure back on their rivals. A few miles round the corner on the Fylde coast, Blackpool will be heading to Luton for what must be their most important game of the season in League 2. The Bedfordshire side are side by side with the Tangerines in the Play-Off positions, occupying 5th and 6th places. Blackpool is unbeaten in their last 9 games and 3 points will be sweet music to the ears of the fans at this beleaguered club.
2 Who is the Oldham Athletic goalkeeper and the son of a member of Blackburn’s Premier League winning side, who has recently been voted into the League 1 team of the year?
3 Which Red Rose County club playing in the Northern Premier League has a home ground called Cantilever Park?
4 Zlatan Ibrahimovic has only played in La Liga for one season; for which team?
Wherever he goes he scores goals
5 He played in the Premier League for Blackpool, was transferred to Queen’s Park Rangers and is now at West Bromwich Albion. Who is he?
6 Aiden McGeady, the Preston loanee from Everton, plays for which national side?
7 He scored the 5th England goal in their 5-1 thrashing of Germany in 2001 and was bought by Wigan Athletic in 2006. Who is he?
8 Who was the Blackburn Rovers winger born in Bolton who was a member of the Premier League winning side in 1995?
9 Who did Everton sign from Standard Liege for £15 million in 2008 and sell in 2013, making a cool £12.5 million on the deals?
10 Leroy Sane started in midweek against England but which other Red Rose County player came on after 66 minutes for the Germans?
Played the full 90 minutes for Germany v England
He has had an outstanding season in the Premier League
March 31st is the deadline for clubs to ensure that their grounds will meet the grading criteria for next season. Rumour has it that several North West Counties Division 1 sides had plenty of work to do after the January inspections and there was the threat that irrespective of the final league positions, clubs not meeting the requirements would be relegated. Two clubs from Tier 11 have applied to join, Wythenshawe Town from South Manchester and North Staffordshire’s Abbey Hulton. If all clubs pass the “ground test”, Wigan’s Ashton Town and Eccleshall from South Staffordshire seem almost certain to be relegated.
The London press as well as Sky Sports and Talk Sport Radio seem undecided between Alli and Kane when discussing England’s best. They are both outstanding players, in particular the mid-field player who has the physicality and eye for a goal to complement his impressive skills set. But what about Adam Lallana? He would surely be everyone’s first pick in a school yard match because nobody would take the ball from him. Adept going left or right, with radar vision and Mo Farah stamina, he dominated during the International week. Perhaps a few more goals would force even the blinkered southern journalists to sing his praises.
The following Red Rose County players started games for the 5 Nations of the British Isles in the last week. Burnley:- Keane (England), Hendrick, Ward (Republic of Ireland). Everton:- Coleman (Republic of Ireland), Williams (Wales). Liverpool:- Lallana (England). Manchester City:- Stones, Sterling (England). Manchester United:- Smalling (England). Blackburn Rovers:- Mulgrew (Scotland). Fleetwood Town:- McGlaughlin (Northern Ireland).
Nowadays it is rare for a rookie England player to stay on the pitch for all 180 minutes of his first 2 international games but this has happened to Michael Keane. Injuries to Jones and Smalling plus Cahill’s suspension may have helped the Burnley starlet but his ever so mature performances against Germany and Lithuania will have pushed him close to the front of the queue of centre backs hoping to go to Russia for the 2018 World Cup. The worrying question however is will our “Player of the Week” still be at Turf Moor at that stage of his career?
Lower Breck FC
Five seasons ago, Lower Breck was a pub team. Known as the “Famous Grapes”, it moved up from the legendary “I Zingari League” and changed its name, linking it to its geographical location. The Lower Breck area of the city is between Walton and Queens Drive and the club now play on a 3G pitch at the Walton Sports Centre at the end of the East Lancs Road or at Lower Breck Playing Fields. Their rise in the last 4 years has been staggering and, currently topping the table, they now have a chance to win the Liverpool County Premier League. They have a 3 point lead, but Aigburth Peoples Hall, champions for the last 3 years have 3 games in hand. The standard of football is high in this league but because the city has such a shortage of private enclosed grounds, the majority of games are played at Sports Centres or Playing Fields. Unless clubs like Lower Breck can find a solution to this problem, promotion which is warranted by level of performance, will always be blocked by failure to meet ground criteria. With 4 games left to play, title success is out of their hands and they will have to depend on other sides beating their Aigburth rivals. Scoring goals however has not been a problem, averaging 4.6 per game and Lower Breck have certainly made their mark at this level of football in 2016-17.
1 Billy Hamilton, 2 Connor Ripley, 3 Warrington Town, 4 Barcelona, 5 Matt Phillips,
6 Republic of Ireland, 7 Emile Heskey, 8 Jason Wilcox, 9 Marouane Fellaini, 10 Emre Can,