Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The Red Rose Football Blog (Number 32)


                             Number 32                                                               May 29 2017


Rose County Footballing Legends (Number 5)

                                                 Neville Southall

My abiding memory of “Big Nev” was the size of his hands and the gigantic gloves that covered them. Born in North Wales, he was 22 before Bury signed him from non-league Winsford United. One season at Gigg Lane was sufficient for him to catch the eye of Howard Kendall who brought him to Everton. After an uncertain start, he became a vital cog in the Everton machine as they and Liverpool proceeded to dominate English football in the 80s. Southall was an outstanding shot stopper. At 6’1” tall and with a broad girth, he seemed to fill the goal, his exceptional athleticism enabling him to make saves he had no right to make. His greatest saves were in crucial games, instinctively keeping out a point blank range header from Mark Falco in their 2-1 victory at White Hart Lane in 1985; a win that secured their first title since 1970. In the 1995 FA Cup Final, having conceded just one penalty en route to Wembley, he made a memorable double save from a young Paul Scholes as his unfancied side lifted the trophy. In an Everton career which stretched to a club record 578 league games, he was responsible for a staggering 269 clean sheets. He is the club’s most decorated player with Division 1 titles in 1985 and 1987 and 2 FA Cup winners’ medals in 1984 and 1995. He also won a UEFA Cup Winner’s medal in 1985. For a number of seasons he was considered to be one of the world’s best goalkeepers, an automatic choice for Wales for 14 years, winning a record 92 caps for the Principality. He never achieved the distinction of keeping goal in major finals, coming closest to qualifying in 1986 when denied by a late penalty in a game forever remembered for the tragic death of legendary Scottish manager Jock Stein. Southall soldiered on, being released by the Toffees in 1998. He played 53 games at Torquay United down in Division 3 before bowing out at Bradford City when, as goalkeeping coach, he was forced to play in a Premier League fixture at the age of 41 due to injuries to other keepers. Not always the easiest to manage, he once sat against the post throughout the half-time interval rather than join his team mates in the dressing room after conceding 3 first half Leeds United goals. Nevertheless, the most iconic player at Goodison Park since Dixie Dean is a true Red Rose Footballing Legend.

Neville Southall; a giant of a keeper and a Goodison Park legend

Is there a managerial revolution about to start?

Sam Allardyce, Marco Silva, Garry Monk, David Moyes, Paul Lambert, Harry Rednapp and Tony Mowbray, what have they all in common? Four are ex-football managers who have left their clubs this month. Well nothing strange there. Football managers get sacked all the time, particularly at the end of a season. The difference however is that they have all resigned and Lambert will probably go very soon. Rednapp and Mowbray appear to be staying at their clubs, following talks about future investment on the playing side. Only Lambert of the aforementioned seven has been critical of his employer but it is when you start to dig below the surface that it becomes interesting. Allardyce says he wanted to retire, but I am not buying that. He told the media he was meeting with Steve Parish, the Crystal Palace chairman representing the American owners, to see what money is available for incoming players. Then he announced that he is retiring. I suspect that the shrewd operator who is “Big Sam” felt that the available money was insufficient for him to do anything other than scrap and scrape his way through another relegation battle and he has had enough of them. Easier to say he is retiring. Silva equally must have seen little prospect of Hull City bouncing back to the Premier League at the first time of asking with the scarcity of funds offered by the club’s Egyptian owner, although he was given much more than the unfortunate Mike Phelan earlier on in the season. The Portuguese has therefore moved on, this time to Watford where he will need all the luck in the world to survive a year. Moyes said he was staying and then he met with Sunderland’s American owner Ellis Short. That was enough to make him run away. Short wants to sell the club and Moyes had been given virtually nothing either last summer or in January to rebuild the team. Leaving was a no-brainer. Monk’s shock resignation at Leeds also followed talks with the new Italian owner about the forthcoming season and it appears obvious that this impressive young boss was also dissatisfied with what he heard. Rednapp was initially vague about the future following Birmingham’s narrow escape from relegation, saying he would talk to the Asian owners. He has obviously got what he wanted and the same applies to Mowbray who flew all the way to Mumbai to talk to the Blackburn owners before returning to proclaim that money is available. Lambert at Wolverhampton has been told that the agent Jorge Mendes will be in charge of recruitment (all incoming players being part of his empire no doubt) but the tough talking Scot has told the Chinese owners that if he is the manager, he wants the final say on new players; something Arsene Wenger has been repeating all season. So in a nut shell, we have at least 7 managers who are putting down their collective feet and saying “enough is enough. If I can’t do it my way, I am leaving”. Many would argue that the owners can do what they want with their business within reason, but so many of them have little or no understanding as to what a club means to a town or city. English managers in particular have that knowledge and it surely makes sense to give them every possible opportunity to use all their experience collected from at least 20 years in the industry to run the playing side of the club. So is this the beginning of a managerial fight back against predominantly foreign owners? Now that will be good news for the club, the area and the supporters.

Performances of the last week

It is difficult to place the Manchester United v Ajax Europa League Final into context. The North-West of England had been immune from major terrorist attack since the IRA bombings changed the face of Manchester’s city centre back in 1996. But on that occasion there were no fatalities, largely because the Provisional IRA had given a 90 minute warning. This time at least 22 pop music fans have died, a number of them teenage girls. Thus the Stockholm final was played in the shadow of this tragic back-drop but thankfully, UEFA allowed black arm bands and a minute’s silence, not banning them as part of an anti-political crusade. In the circumstance, both sides played with a passion but it was always a bridge too far for the Dutch youngsters. They needed to turn the United defence, make progress down the wings and cause damage by putting pressure on a back 4 which had been known to go walkabouts at times during the season. The kids showed off their tricks, their improvisation and at times quite staggering ball skills but with no end product. They never came close to threatening Romero in the Red’s goal. Mourinho, as ever, had prepared well and Pogba, Fellaini and Herrera were an impregnable shield in front of Smalling and Blind, being just too experienced, too strong and far too street-wise for the opposition. The English side was disappointing going forward and Pogba’s opener needed a huge slice of luck, his tame shot being deflected past the Ajax keeper. The second goal, a rather slow-motion scissors kick from Mkhitaryan came straight after the interval, ending the game as a contest and allowing United to comfortably see out the second half without the need to throw men forward. In the process they captured their second trophy of the season, qualified for the Champions’ League and have overtaken the arch enemy Liverpool as the English club with most major trophies (42-41); an amazing set of statistics for a side which, by common consent, has performed disappointingly in 2016-17. The game also showed the gulf between the level of professionalism, experience and commitment required by players performing week in and week out in the most physical top league in world football compared to the less than competitive Dutch Eredivisie League. The victory will always take second place of course to the dreadful events at the Manchester Arena, but sport once again proved that if only for a couple of hours, it can enable a city and a nation to come together in an act of unity against the most evil of adversary.  

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

                  Each question has a Red Rose County FA Cup connection

1                     On Saturday Arsenal defeated Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup Final, achieving their 13th victory and moving clear of which club in the all-time list of winners?

2                     Which ex-Bolton Wanderers player starred for Arsenal in this season’s FA Cup Final?

3                     More famous as a manager of Leeds United and England, Don Revie won an FA Cup winners medal with which Red Rose County club?

                              Don Revie; symbolic of football in the 50s

4                     Liverpool’s last FA Cup Final victory was in 2006. Who scored twice for them in open play and then scored from the spot in the penalty shoot-out?

5                     The owner of which Red Rose County Club broke his leg playing for Blackburn Rovers in the 1960 FA Cup Final, causing him to retire from the game?

6                     Which Red Rose County club was hammered 5-0 by Stoke City in the semi-final of the 2011 FA Cup?

7                     Dave Watson captained which Red Rose County club to an FA Cup Final victory in the 1990s?

8                     Malcolm McDonald (Supermac) scored twice in the 1974 Semi Final to prevent which Red Rose County club reaching the FA Cup Final?

9                     Who was the ex-Everton and Manchester City left back who scored for Oldham Athletic in both the 1994 Semi-Final 1-1 draw and Replay v Manchester United?

10                 Which Red Rose County club defeated Eagley 9-0 in their first ever FA Cup game in 1884 but lost this year by a 2-1 margin at home to the eventual winners in Round 3?

Post Weekend Musings

Ask anyone to name the Liverpool 2005 Champions’ League winning side and it is odds on that they will not remember a certain wide player. It was none other than Harry Kewell who predictably limped off during the first half in Istanbul as the Reds were initially overran by AC Milan. It is easy to think of the Aussie as a serial “sick note” but his career was seriously blighted by injury. In spite of this, he produced many magical moments and may have been the best ever Australian export to Europe. He started as a youngster at Elland Road in 1995 before crossing the Pennines to Liverpool in 2003. He also limped off in the 2006 FA Cup Final v West Ham and also came on as a substitute in the 2007 Champions’ League final when AC took revenge for their previous defeat. He later found success at Galatasaray before playing out his days back in Melbourne. I had forgotten about the Socceroo until it was announced this week that Crawley Town from League 2 had appointed him as manager. Kewell could certainly play and he built up a wealth of experience at the highest of levels, representing his native land on 56 occasions and participating in the World Cup Finals of 2006 and 2010. Will this stand him in good stead in the “dog eat dog” world of League 2 football? That remains to be seen but at least he will be protected from injury in the dugout.

Harry Kewell, so talented but ultimately too fragile for English football

We were debating Wayne Rooney prior to the Europa League Final and the view was put forward by a United fan that he had probably never quite fulfilled his true potential at Old Trafford and therefore could never be placed on the same pedestal as Sir Bobby in the pantheon of Manchester United greats. I felt that this was a little harsh as legends generally grow in the years following retirement, so this is probably not the right moment to compare like with like. It appears to be adios to Manchester but not goodbye to football, although it must have been a disappointing and difficult year for the club captain. One minute plus time added on is not the best moment to enter the fray at a European final and in a season of playing bit parts, this was the ultimate walk on role. The news that Gareth Southgate, quite rightly in my opinion, has left him out of the England squad on merit will give him a longer family holiday but will have done little to lift the cloud hanging over him. I do hope we see more of the Croxteth born boy who has grown into a responsible leader of a mighty club as well as his national side. He has almost always behaved with dignity whilst giving his all on the pitch. Is he the best English player of his generation? Arguably yes.

Which colour of shirt will Wayne be wearing next season?

Manchester City have bought the Portuguese attacking mid-field player Bernardo Silva from Monaco for £43million. What is interesting is that the Sky Blues have now made 5 of the 10 most expensive purchases in the history of English football. £232.5million has been spent on Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, John Stones, Sergio Aguero and now Silva. It will of course cause problems for commentators should City play him and David Silva together. Thank goodness the ex-Hull City boss Marco Silva has moved to Watford and not the Etihad.

Bernardo Silva

There is an argument which says that a side which finishes as low as 7th should not be promoted, but whatever the rights and the wrongs of the system, the supporters of Blackpool FC will not have cared two hoots as they returned up the M1 and M6, celebrating all the way. It has been a bizarre season for the Tangerines and one victory, as vital as it was, does not suddenly make everything right at the club. They only took 6,000 supporters to a final at Wembley Stadium on a Bank Holiday Sunday, a figure which shows just how low the football club has sunk in the estimation of the one-time regular supporters of what was once a fine and upstanding club. But this weekend is a time for positives and how overjoyed Gary Bowyer must feel after, having been sacked at one sinking Lancashire club 18 months ago, he was thrust into the manager’s chair at a club in an even worse predicament both on and off the field. Now with his old club’s relegation and Blackpool’s promotion, they can meet as equals in the season ahead. As for the game itself, this League 2 Play-Off was a cracking affair between two equally matched sides. Exeter City certainly gave it everything, but the Seasiders had Brad Potts and Mark Cullen to thank for their narrow 2-1 victory. Potts scored an early opening goal, latching on to a Cullen flick on and then the roles were reversed. An hour into the game, Potts crossed and the striker added to his impressive goal tally, notching what turned out to be the winner and Blackpool’s record breaking 5th Play-Off win.
                                               Blackpool's list of Play-Off final victories

League title at the time
Scunthorpe United
Football League Division 4
Leyton Orient
Football League Division 3
Yeovil Town
Football League Division 1
Cardiff City
The Championship
Exeter City
EFL League 2

Red Rose County Player of the Week

Paul Pogba

It has been a difficult season for the French international, having to live up to the tag of the world’s most expensive footballer. In the Europa League final however he scored one of Manchester United’s goals, albeit with lady luck on his side. Even more importantly, his contribution to a strong defensive midfield created a wall which the youthful Ajax side found impossible to breach, hence his award as Red Rose County Player of the Week.

A Review of the Northern Premier League, 2016-17

Unfortunately the Red Rose County was merely making up the numbers in the Northern Premier League this season. With just 4 representatives in this 24 strong Tier 7 league, only Warrington Town gave any hint of making the Play-Offs. The club from Cantilever Park performed strongly as winter eased into spring, but they fell away at the season’s end to finish in 10th position, acceptable for their first year at this level. Their progressive chairman has made changes to the infrastructure and Blackpool legend Keith Southern has been brought in to oversee the development squad, a production line which will feed younger players into Lee Smith and Stuart Mellish’s first team squad. Ashton United occupied a mid- table position throughout, achieving a number of creditable victories, but could finish no higher than 11th. Marine, the Division’s longest resident, again flirted with relegation and the club brought in Tommy Lawson as manager in the latter part of the season. A veteran of many campaigns at this level, he showed his experience by steering the club to safety by a healthy 9 point margin. There was much to be concerned about at Skelmersdale United, the West Lancashire club ending a 4 year sojourn at this level by scoring less than a goal a game, conceding 118 and finishing rock bottom. Even more seriously, they are probably in need of a new ground from November onwards. Prescot Cables have generously offered them a loan arrangement at Valerie Park but Skelmersdale United are from “Skem” and a new ground within the town must be their first objective as they start next season in the Northern Premier League 1 North.

Quiz Answers

1 Manchester United, 2 Rob Holding, 3 Manchester City, 4 Steven Gerrard, 5 Wigan Athletic, 6 Bolton Wanderers, 7 Everton, 8 Burnley, 9 Neil Pointon 10 Preston North End   

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