Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Red Rose Football Blog (Number 27)


                                    Number 27                                                                   April 24 2017

Red Rose County players in PFA Divisional Teams of the Year

The professional players have voted for their best XI in each of the top four divisions. Our area contains 17.4% of the teams in the 4 leagues so to have only 7.6% (7 players) selected indicates a disappointing Red Rose season. Of the 44 selected, 27 are from clubs currently in the top two positions of their leagues. Bolton is our only club so well placed, therefore the “poor show” was to be expected. But where were Ibrahimovic and Silva in the Premier League selection and Connor Ripley, the Oldham goalkeeper must have come close in League 1? With the impact that Accrington Stanley’s Shay McCartan has made over the last few months, a place in the eleven for him would not have come as a surprise although a lack of Championship players is no shock. Here are those honoured by their peers.  

Premier League:- David de Gea (Manchester United), Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Romelu Lukaku (Everton).

There are no representatives from our three Championship teams.

Division 1:- Mark Beevers and David Wheater (Bolton Wanderers), James Vaughan (Bury).

Division 2:- Kelvin Mellor (Blackpool).

Marc Beevers; one of the reasons why Bolton have conceded only 36 goals this season

Is the success of English football slowly killing English football?

These are strange times for the English national game. In days gone by, England was the flag bearer for football world-wide. The organisation of the game through the FA Cup and the Football League was the blue print for the rest of the world. The national side never lost at home to foreign opposition, leading to the FA refusing to enter the first three World Cups on the grounds that it was a second class competition. There were scarcely any non-British players plying their trade and the stadiums at the top level were packed as working class men poured in at 3.00 pm on a Saturday, standing throughout the games where gates of 50,000 and more were not uncommon. It was well publicised, mainly through the back pages of the newspapers and occasional Pathe News films prior to the main film at the local cinemas. The footballers were heroes then, but very much working class heroes. Did not Tom Finney sit upstairs on the bus amongst the spectators when travelling to home games? There have been massive changes since then of course with the advent of television, the internet and digital technology plus the ubiquitous motor car, increased leisure time and far more choices as to where and how we spend our money; changing society forever. Football has changed with it, the players now being socially out of reach of the masses and money is swilling around the game. Some of our leading clubs have as many supporters in random countries across the globe than at home. Foreign players, coaches and even owners fight to be employed and involved in English football, the Mecca of the world game, drawn by the bottomless pit of money that underwrites the Premier League. English football should be out of sight in the race for honours, but reality tells a different story.  The national team will qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but hand on heart, how many of us truly believe that Southgate’s squad will be capable of progressing further than the last 16. It is a similar tale with our club football as the Premier League, over indulged by the media, markets itself as the best in the world. In terms of merchandising and in excitement, there is an obvious case to be put but in terms of quality and judged by recent results, it is simply untrue. We have known golden ages in European competition; in the 10 years leading up to 1985 and from 2005, but in the last 4 years, there has been little to shout about. Our last Champions’ League winner was Chelsea in 2012, last runner-up Manchester United the year before. Last semi-finalist was Manchester City in 2016, but only Leicester City in the last 8 this time around. This is not what we expect from clubs representing the greatest league on earth. Manchester United is now the World’s richest club, but the richness of their play does not match their income. None of our top clubs now employ English coaches and there is an average of 3 Englishmen starting each Premier League game. This average drops to around 1.5 amongst the top 6 clubs. Even more worrying is that since August 2016, 336 adult sides in this country from Tier 11 down to local amateur leagues have folded. When I started to play in the Blackburn Combination in 1970, it had 5 Saturday afternoon divisions. Now there are 2, a statistic which is replicated across the country. Yet the Premier League, bolstered by massive influxes of TV money from across the globe grows ever stronger, but could it be true to say that the financial success of English football is slowly killing English football?

The latest on who is going up and going down in Tiers 1 to 10

Teams close to going down:- Tier 1 Burnley (just possibly) 2 Wigan Athletic (almost definitely), Blackburn Rovers (probably).

Teams Relegated:- Tier 5 Southport, Tier 7 Skelmersdale United, Tier 8 Burscough, Tier 9 Nelson, Tier 10 Ashton Town.

Teams Promoted:- Tier 6 AFC Fylde, Tier 8 Lancaster City, Tier 9 Atherton Collieries, Tier 10 Widnes

Teams close to automatic promotion:- Tier 3 Bolton Wanderers (probably), Fleetwood Town (just possibly). Tier 10 Charnock Richard (most probably), Litherland REMYCA (just possibly).

Teams challenging for Champions’ League places:- Tier 1 Manchester City (possibly), Liverpool (possibly), Manchester United (probably).

Teams in Play–Offs:- Tier 3 Bolton Wanderers (definitely), Fleetwood Town (definitely), Rochdale (just possibly). Tier 4 Blackpool (possibly), Accrington Stanley (just possibly). Tier 6 Chorley (possibly), Salford City (possibly). Tier 8 Colne (definitely), Tier 10 Charnock Richard (definitely),  City of Liverpool (definitely), Litherland REMYCA (definitely).

The class of 92; will they see Salford City promoted again?
Since May 1st 2016, 63 clubs out of the 116 in the country’s 5 professional leagues (53.5%) have changed their managers. The principle reason for change is the sack, although the phrase “by mutual agreement” is appearing more and more. Does this mean the same thing? The answer is almost certainly “yes”. We might have hoped that the Red Rose County, usually more traditional in its ways, may have contributed somewhat less to this figure, but regrettably this is not the case. Of the 18 clubs in the 5 Divisions, 11 have made the change; a percentage of 61. Messrs Dyche and Klopp from the Premier League, Grayson from the Championship, Hill from Division 1, Bentley and Coleman from Division 2 and Cox from the National League are the survivors. Hopefully there can be some stability over the summer, the traditional time for the night of the long knives, but I am not betting on it.   

                                                   Performances of the last week

Manchester United edged their way into the last 4 of the Europa League by beating RSA Anderlecht 2-1 and then won away at Burnley 2-0 three days later to enhance their prospects of qualifying for next season’s Champions’ League. Once again in the cup tie, it was a case of how many do you miss, as United failed to take advantage of numerous chances created; the exceptions being an early Henrikh Mkhitaryan opener and yet another classy finish from Marcus Rashford towards the end of extra-time. The opposition for the Reds in the semi-final will come from Northern Spain’s Celta Vigo, currently 10th in La Liga. Wayne Rooney scored at Turf Moor, a collector’s item these days to add to Anthony Martial’s opener but Burnley have only won once in their last 11 games.  

In the Championship, four out of the six bottom clubs recorded victories, the exceptions being Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers. Both teams produced goalless draws, the Latics at home to Cardiff City making their escape from relegation almost impossible. The Rovers drew away to Wolverhampton Wanderers, a decent result in normal circumstances but one that now makes it difficult to avoid the drop.

The result of the day was Fleetwood Town’s come from behind 3-2 win at Gillingham to keep them in the race for automatic promotion from League 1, but Bolton Wanderers retain their 2 point advantage following a 2-0 win at Port Vale. Bury are almost safe after thumping Northampton Town 3-0 with two from goal machine James Vaughan. Oldham Athletic and Rochdale fought out a 1-1 draw in the “EL Flatcapico”, the Dale still hanging on to a possible Play-Off spot if the final results go their way next Sunday, whilst Oldham are absolutely safe.

Accrington Stanley’s 15 game unbeaten run came to an end on a ploughed field at Newport County, blowing away their Play-Off hopes in League 2. Blackpool however comprehensively despatched Cheltenham 3-0 and 4 points from their remaining 2 games ought to ensure a Play-Off spot.

The champagne corks were popping at Boston United as AFC Fylde won 3-0 to wrap up the National League North title, Danny Rowe’s double strike taking him past the 100 goal mark for the Coasters in just 3 seasons. In the race for the Play-Off spots, Salford City strengthened their claim by winning 2-1 at lowly Worcester City whilst Chorley twice came from behind to draw 2-2 at Gloucester City.

It was the final league fixtures in the Northern Premier League and Marine signed off with a crazy 5-5 draw against Buxton. In Division 1 North however, Lancaster City scored 5 before half-time, Jordan Connerton netting another hat-trick en route to a 5-2 win at Glossop North End. Even more importantly, the win gave them the title and promotion to the NPL next season. In the fight for the Play-Offs, both Colne and Trafford could only draw, the East Lancashire side battling out a 0-0 score line at home to Droylsden, a result which squeezed them into the all-important 5th place. Trafford’s 1-1 draw at Ossett Town meant they missed out by 1 point.

Atherton Collieries beat Abbey Hey 1-0 to clinch the North West Counties Premier League and are promoted to the NPL Division 1 North, playing at Tier 8 for the first time in their history. In Division 1, Widnes have gone from strength to strength and after edging out Charnock Richard 2-1, are now Champions. Charnock Richard only managed a draw at City of Liverpool but will almost certainly be promoted. Litherland REMYCA and City of Liverpool are secure in the Play-Offs.

Games to look forward to this week

The game of the week is on Thursday evening; the Premier League fixture between Manchester City and Manchester United. It has consequences which may seriously affect next season. City have one opportunity to reach the Champions’ League, by finishing 4th or above. United have a similar scenario but with a fall-back position; winning the Europa League. Failure to qualify will be disastrous for both sets of fans as it will also for Liverpool who visit Watford on Sunday. The result of each of these games is vital to all of the three Red Rose County clubs. Only two from three can qualify. Which will be the odd one out?

                      Jesus Navas; his selection at right back has not pleased every Sky Blue fan.

The sands of time are ebbing away for Blackburn Rovers as they attempt to remain in the Championship. On Saturday they play host to Aston Villa, a fixture of great historical significance. The Rovers won their first home clash against the Villa by a 5-1 score line in 1888 but any victory this Saturday will satisfy the Ewood faithful and enable them to travel to Brentford the following weekend with a hope of staving off relegation to Tier 3 for the first time since 1979.

The situation in League 1 is simple. The games kick off at 12.00 on Sunday and if Bolton Wanderers draw against Peterborough at the Macron, they are up. If they fail to do so, a Fleetwood Town victory over Port Vale will steal their spot. The odds say that the Cod Army will have to go through the Play-Offs where they may be joined by Rochdale, providing they can defeat Bradford City at Spotland and other results go their way.

League 2 spotlight is on Blackpool who travel to meet a Notts County side resurgent under ex-Bolton star Kevin Nolan. The Tangerines need at least a draw to reach the Play-Offs.

In the National League North, Chorley (home to FC Halifax Town) and Salford City who play host to Darlington have tough hurdles to negotiate if they are to feature in the Play-Offs. Both sides of course are playing clubs with a much stronger fan base and with Football League traditions, but home advantage may give them the edge. Everything is settled in the  North West Counties Premier League, but in the North West Counties League 1, the game at St Helens Town where Charnock Richard are the visitors, will give the village side an opportunity to bag automatic promotion; a draw being sufficient to consign Litherland REMYCA to the Play-Offs. In the Manchester Premier League, if Rochdale Sacred Heart beat East Manchester, they will probably be crowned champions.

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

                  Each question has a Red Rose County connection

1                     Who in 1976 became the first man to win the Football League Cup as a manager, having previously been on the winning side as a player?

2                     Two clubs have eliminated Manchester United on 4 occasions from the knock-out stages of the European Cup/Champions League since 1956. Real Madrid and .......?

3                     The career of which Blackburn Rovers forward never recovered after a near-tragic holiday motor cycle accident soon after almost making the 2002 England World Cup squad?

4                     When promoted in 2009, which town is reputed to be the smallest ever to host a Premier League club?

5                     What is the nationality of Alberto Moreno, the Liverpool left-back/left wing back?

         Alberto Moreno; struggled to keep his place due to outstanding form of James Milner

6                     Who captained Everton from 2007 to 2013 including in the 2009 FA Cup Final?

7                     Chris Maxwell the Preston North End first choice goal keeper was signed from which Red Rose County club in the summer of 2016?

                                                      Chris Maxwell; a future Welsh international?

8                     In 2012, the Bolton Wanderers player Fabrice Muamba momentarily died on the pitch during a Premier League game; thankfully recovering. What was the ground?

9                     Which Tameside club which plays at the Butcher’s Arms in the Northern Premier League North, is nicknamed the “Bloods”?

10                 Bury’s fixture with which club is known as the M66 derby?

                                                   Post Weekend Musings

London had cornered the market in the Premier League and has now completed the double by adding the FA Cup to its list of 2016-17 conquests. Following Chelsea’s defeat of Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-final on Saturday, Arsenal achieved a 2-1 extra-time victory over Manchester City on Sunday, qualifying to meet the West London club in the Wembley final. It will be the first all London final since the same two sides clashed in 2002, but it is the first time ever that the capital has provided both finalists plus the top two in the Premier League/1st Division in the same season. Red Rose County clubs have long been more successful than their southern rivals and have actually performed this outstanding double 5 times since the war, namely 2013, 1995, 1986, 1985 and 1977.

Tim Sherwood, winning Premier League captain in that great Red Rose County season of 1995
In the West Cheshire League, the hopes of 4 clubs from the Liverpool area lie in tatters as Newton from the north of the Wirral cruised to the Division 1 title with 3 games remaining. Each of Rainhill Town, Maghull, Mosley Hill Athletic and South Liverpool forced themselves into contention during the season, but Newton have emerged as worthy champions.

Meanwhile in the Cheshire League, Wythenshawe Town from South Manchester is the only Red Rose County club to have met ground grading criteria for promotion to the North West Counties Division 1. They are currently in 2nd position and with a top 5 finish, they will be promoted. They have however played far more games than at least 4 of their rivals, each of whom can pass them in the next 3 weeks. Wythenshawe must win their last 2 games and then pray for a miracle.

In January of this year, Southport FC went public with their plans to ensure Football League status by 2019. Since then they have sacked their manager, been relegated to Tier 6 and now the Chairman and Vice-Chairman have resigned; the plans for the future no doubt binned. It is a stark reminder of just how difficult it is to be successful in non-league football, particularly in a holiday resort like Southport where the fan base can be transient and where the competition from the two Merseyside giants must be suffocating in the extreme.

Red Rose County Player of the Week 

Marcus Rashford, Manchester United
Mourinho’s insistence in playing Ibrahimovic at every opportunity has severely limited the opportunities for Marcus Rashford to play in his best position. Now with the Swede injured, the young Mancunian will have that opportunity but the fans need never have worried. His  winner in the Europa last 8 tie, this time an assured finish with his supposedly weaker left foot proved that he is both the real deal and the Red Rose County Player of the Week.

Tier 10 Club of the Week

Ashton Town

Although Ashton in Makerfield is now part of Wigan Metropolitan Borough, Ashton Town, founded in 1953, originally played out of town. Having dominated the Warrington and District League, they were admitted to the Lancashire Combination in 1971. For the next 15 years they moved between the Cheshire, North West Counties and Manchester Leagues before finally settling in the North West Counties Football League in 1986 where they have remained to this day. Unfortunately their status after 31 years is hanging by a thread as they sit bottom of Division 1 with the prospect of relegation fast becoming a reality. The club has never been promoted since finally settling at Tier 10, their best performance being a 6th finish in 2013, a rare excursion into the top half of the table. They have finished bottom on 3 occasions, but never been relegated. This season looks different with 2 clubs in waiting for promotion but in the world of Tier 10 football, the constitution of leagues is never clear until the end of June. Nonetheless the prospect for the Ashton Stadium club seem bleak which is a shame because the club has a solid infrastructure and they are heavily involved in supporting local charities. Their only chance of escape is if a couple of clubs either fail to pass a ground grading test or decide to resign from the league; long shots but you never know.

                                           The Ashton Stadium; home to Ashton Town FC

Quiz Answers
1 Tony Book, 2 AC Milan, 3 Matt Jansen, 4 Burnley, 5 Manchester City, 

6 Phil Neville, 7 Fleetwood Town, 8 White Hart Lane, 9 Droylsden, 10 Rochdale.

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