Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Red Rose Football Blog (Number 34)


                       Number 34                                                               June 12 2017

Red Rose County Footballing Legends (Number 7)

Jay Jay Okocha

It may be correct to say that true footballing legends play with one club for virtually an entire career. The likes of Bobby Charlton, Ryan Giggs and Steven Gerrard as well as those going back like Tom Finney, Ronnie Clayton, Nat Lofthouse and others are proof of that. There are also players who have been at a club for a much shorter period such as Cantona at Old Trafford, Suarez at Liverpool and Shearer at Blackburn who lit a trail through the Red Rose sky which will never be extinguished by those who saw them play. Jay Jay Okocha may just come into this category. It was inevitable that the Wanderers fans would take the words of the 1978 Gerard Kenny classic hit single (New York, New York, so good they named it twice) and sing it from the terraces, substituting the Nigerian international’s nick names for NY, NY. He was 29 when he rolled up at Bolton in 2002, arriving on a free transfer from Paris St-Germain. Prior to that, he had made his name in the Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt and then Fenerbahce in Turkey. Once under the tutelage of Sam Allardyce at the Reebok Stadium, he stunned the crowds with his exceptional ball skills. He was the ultimate box of tricks and his step-overs often sent even the crowd the wrong way. He had an awesome reputation as a deadly deliverer of free kicks and scored from distance on a number of occasions throughout his career. In 2004, he captained the club to reach the final of the League Cup; played at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium that year. In spite of being 2-0 down in 7 minutes, they rallied but finally went down 2-1. Jay Jay also played in the UEFA Cup. Bolton lost 2-1 against Marseille from France in the last 32, having qualified in 6th place in the Premier League. He played 124 times for the club, scoring on 14 occasions, coincidentally the same number of goals he scored for Nigeria in 75 Internationals. The highlight of his time with the “Super Eagles” was when winning gold with the greatest ever Nigerian side at the Atlanta Olympics of 1996. He was approaching the veteran stage when he left Bolton in 2006, playing in the desert for Qatar SC. He was considered the best African player of his generation and was possibly the finest Wanderer since Nat hung up his boots 45 years before. He was fleetingly a Red Rose legend, but a legend none the less.

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

                  Each question has a Red Rose County club connection

1                    Burnley have a terribly difficult fixture on the opening day of the forthcoming season. Against whom are they playing?

2                    Who was the only player with a Red Rose club to play against England in Paris on Tuesday evening?

3                    Peter Whittingham, recently signed by Blackburn Rovers from Cardiff, started his career at which then Premier League side where he won 7 England U/21 caps?

4                    Neil Young scored vital goals for which Red Rose club in the FA and UEFA Cup Winners Cup Finals at the end of the 60s?

                         Neil Young; also played at Preston North End for a couple of seasons

5                    Who was the Dutch international who netted the last goal that Liverpool have scored in a Cup Final (excluding penalties)?

6                    Joel Robles, Everton’s Spanish goal keeper is the possessor of an FA Cup winner’s medal, gained whilst on loan to which Red Rose club?

                            Joel Robles; was David de Gea’s understudy at Atletico Madrid

7                    Tom Clarke, the Preston North End captain was signed from which club in 2013?

8                    Billy Ayre, Steve McMahon and Simon Grayson have each managed which club to promotion success between 1992 and 2007?

9                    Conor McLaughlin has gained 23 Northern Ireland caps whilst playing for which Red Rose club?

10                In which Northumberland mining village was Sir Bobby Charlton born?

Post Weekend Musings

When Charlie Mulgrew knocked the ball back to his keeper with his thigh in the Scotland v England World Cup qualifier on Saturday at Hampden Park, I was shocked when Craig Gordon actually picked it up. I was expecting Scotland to be penalised by the referee but I have since been reliably informed that it is only when a goal keeper handles the ball that is either kicked or shinned back to him by a team mate that an infringement actually takes place. It just goes to show that you are never too old to learn something new.

It is understandable that the English media were beside themselves with joy when England won the World Cup last weekend in South Korea. When the nation has waited for 51 years to pick up a gong on the world stage, excitement is difficult to contain but I find it difficult to equate this victory with that glorious day on July 30th, 1966. Surely an Under 20 competition is somewhat small fry compared with the old Jules Rimet Trophy and it does not help when you discover that the opposition came from Venezuela, minnows in the South American game. But I must put my Victor Meldrew instincts to one side and give credit where it is due. The South Americans were an exciting side full of quality players and England came out top of a qualifying group containing Argentina, South Korea and Guinea. They then went on to defeat Mexico, Costa Rica and Italy en route to the final. There is a strong red Rose connection also. The England squad included 5 Everton starlets, the final goal scorer Calvert-Lewin, Lookman, Kenny, Dowell and Connolly. There are 2 from Liverpool in Ojo and Ejaria plus Solanke who joins the Merseysiders from Chelsea on July 1st. The coach also has a strong local connection. As an exciting winger, Paul Simpson played 121 times for Manchester City, starting his career in 1982. He finally totalled 679 league appearances including 76 at Blackpool. He began his management career at Rochdale and was in charge at Preston from 2006 - 2007 before being sacked. The big talking point centres on how many of these young stars will break through. It surely has to happen but it will require a change of attitude at the head of our top clubs. What adds a touch of irony is that immediately after the U/20 triumph, the senior England squad struggled to draw with Scotland and then lost to 10 men in Paris. Alan Hansen said that you never win anything with kids but we certainly need to give the class of 2017 every chance to progress.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin; already made 11 appearances for Everton last season

The Transfer Window; fact and gossip

There was a time when, in English football, transfers could take place at any period in a year with the exception of the last 6 weeks of the season. Once the deadline date was passed, no transfer activity could occur, ostensibly to prevent rich clubs who were in trouble from splashing out huge amounts of money to prevent relegation. It was in 2002 that FIFA brought in the concept of a Transfer Window to add some stability to the league structures. It is binding throughout the world but because of geographical and climatic considerations, the dates are different across the globe. In England, the “window” is throughout the month of January and from July 1st to September 1st inclusive. So technically no transfers can be ratified at the moment, but if one reads the back pages of the sporting press, it appears that it is already open season on deals. Agents and clubs will be working over time during the month of June, sounding out potential targets, scouring the retained lists of clubs throughout the world in order to spot released players and checking agents to find out who (probably in spite of having a long contract at his existing club) can be tempted by even more money or who may take a slight drop in wages to play every week instead of simply keeping the “Subs” bench warm.  Unofficial activity is not illegal and we already know of several transfers, although the player continues to be an employee of his previous club until June 30th. It is in the interests of the club of course to publicise interest in new players. Early summer is when season tickets are sold and so (for example), Blackburn Rovers have shown intent to the fans by buying Peter Whittingham from Cardiff City, hoping that they in turn will pay out money up front for their seat. Looking at the papers today, I note that Lucas is leaving Liverpool to join former manager Benitez at Newcastle (well he might be), Man United are continuing their chase for Alvaro Morata, allegedly offering £65 million for a striker who struggles to make the Real Madrid starting XI and Chris Smalling may be moving south to join the Hammers; a case of returning back to his roots for the Greenwich born player. One move that appears to have some legitimacy however is that Huddersfield Town are about to sign the Aussie Aaron Mooy from Manchester City. He arrived from City’s affiliate club Melbourne City last summer. He is a good player and has been on loan at the Kirklees Stadium, being influential in their successful pursuit of p
romotion to the Premier League. £10 million is the reputed price. It all sells papers in what is a dull period for British sport, but remember that a transfer is never sealed until the ink is dry on the contract.

     Chris Smalling; perhaps unhappy at the criticism he receives from Mourinho at Old Trafford

Review of the National League, 2016-17

The National League was better known as the Conference, changing its name just 2 years ago. It is the country’s 5th Division and virtually all of the clubs are now run on a professional basis. Only 2 Red Rose clubs have been Champions, Accrington Stanley in 2006 and Fleetwood Town in 2012. Morecambe have also been promoted through the Play-Offs in 2007. In the season which has recently finished, there were hopes that Barrow would also reach the Play-Offs. In early January they were well placed and this good run of form coincided with a thrilling FA Cup run to the 3rd Round, winning at Bristol Rovers in front of the TV cameras before finally going out to a very useful Rochdale side, losing 2-0 at Holker Street, From then onwards they were always playing catch up and eventually finished the season in 7th place. Byron Harrison, a 6’3”” striker with Football league experience, scored 18 goals in 28 games and his injuries in the second half of the season blunted the Bluebird’s attack. The only other Red Rose club in the League have also been a Football League outfit. Like Barrow, Southport were voted out of the 4th division in the 70s and have never really looked like regaining their place. The Sandgrounders have had a dreadful 2016-17 season and it came as no surprise when they were relegated in 23rd position. The merry-go-round of managers cannot have helped the cause and whereas Barrow have successfully persisted with Paul Cox at the helm for 2 seasons, Southport have made 4 changes in the last 12 months. They now drop into the National League North, a Division from which they escaped in 2010. Fortunately for the Red Rose County, AFC Fylde have taken their place and in August, they will go head to head with the cream of non-league football for the first time in their history.

Byron Harrison; the Barrow goal machine in the Bluebird’s away strip

Quiz Answers

             1 Chelsea, 2 Paul Pogba, 3 Aston Villa, 4 Manchester City, 5 Dirk Kuyt,  

 6 Wigan Athletic, 7 Huddersfield Town, 8 Blackpool, 9 Fleetwood Town, 10 Ashington.   

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