Monday, 31 July 2017

Red Rose Football Blog (Number 40)


                             Number 40                                                              July 28th 2017

Great Red Rose Full Backs

Way before becoming a star of television, Michael Parkinson was an extremely talented journalist and I remember in the late 60s and early 70s, waiting with anticipation for the Sunday Times each week to read his latest offering in the sports pages. He tended to parody football and cricket and no-one was left in any doubt about his south Yorkshire roots. One of his articles looked at the physiological differences between those who plied their trade as a forward and those whose role was to defend. He claimed that whereas centre forwards were the strong and handsome pin-up boys, the inside forwards had longer hair and gave off an intellectual air. The full backs were a different breed altogether; thick necked, short back and side haircuts and a capacity to kick the ball or the opposing winger as far as possible. My early recollection of such players was at Burnden Park, one time home of Bolton Wanderers. We occasionally travelled over the moors from the Blackburn area to watch in awe and astonishment as Roy Hartle and Tommy Banks literally put the fear of God into their opponents. They were hard men who played hard. “When you’ve finished with him Tom, kick him over to me”, Hartle is alleged to have shouted across the pitch. This last week, Manchester City have paid £45 million for Kyle Walker, a barn-storming attacking full back from Tottenham Hotspur who is already established as the number one first choice for England. He probably spends more time in the opposition half, somewhat different from the Bolton duo for whom it was a dereliction of duty to stray over the half way line. Things have changed over the years in the game and the way it is played, but what is certain is that the Red Rose county has produced a number of excellent full backs and hopefully Walker will be yet another. Using the criteria of 150 games and 10 caps whilst playing for their club, here are the best of the breed from the north-west since the 2nd World War.

Blackburn Rovers: Bill Eckersley (England 17 caps), Keith Newton (England 27 caps), Henning Berg (Norway 100 caps), Lucas Neill (Australia 96 caps).

Blackpool: Jimmy Armfield (43 caps).

Burnley: Alex Elder (Northern Ireland 40 caps)

Everton: Ray Wilson (England 63 caps), Tommy Wright (12 caps), Gary Stevens (England 43 caps), Leighton Baines (England 30 caps), Seamus Coleman (Republic of Ireland 43 caps).


            World Cup winner Ray Wilson of Everton;  technically perfect when in an England shirt

Liverpool: Phil Neal (England 50 caps), Steve Nicol (Scotland 27 caps), Stig Inge Bjornebye (Norway 76 caps), Jamie Carragher (England 38 caps), John Arne Riise (Norway 110 caps), Steve Finnan (Republic of Ireland 53 caps), Glen Johnson (England 54 caps).

Manchester City: Willie Donachie (Scotland 35 caps), Danny Tiatto (Australia 23 caps), Sun Jihai (China 80 caps), Micah Richards (England 13 caps), Pablo Zabaleta (Argentina 58 caps), Aleksander Kolarov (Serbia 68 caps), Gael Clichy (France 10 caps).

Manchester United: Johnny Carey (Republic of Ireland 38 caps), Johnny Aston (England 17 caps), Roger Byrne (England 33 caps), Shay Brennan (Republic of Ireland 19 caps), Tony Dunne (Republic of Ireland 33 caps), Arthur Albiston (Scotland 14 caps), Jimmy Nicholl (Northern Ireland 73 caps), Mike Duxbury (England 10 caps), Denis Irwin (Republic of Ireland 56 caps), Gary Neville (England 85 caps), Phil Neville (England 59 caps), Mikael Sylvestre (France 40 caps), Patrice Evra (France 81 caps), Antonio Valencia (Ecuador 89 caps),



Patrice Evra; one of a number of outstanding Manchester United left backs

Preston North End: Graham Alexander (Scotland 40 caps),

Wigan Athletic: Emmerson Boyce (Barbados 12 caps),

Fleetwood Town: Conor McLaughlan (Northern Ireland 25 caps)

The big kick-off gets closer and closer


As the clock ticks inexorably on and we have our usual moan about yet another miserable English summer, the attention of our Red Rose County football teams is on one date; the start of the forthcoming season. Arnold Palmer, the legendary American golfer, once said that if you don’t birdie the first hole, you cannot birdie them all. The same sentiment applies to our national game which is why an opening day victory is so important. For our Football League clubs (all 3 Divisions with the exception of Bolton Wanderers who kick off at home to Leeds United the following day), Saturday August 5th is the date that the managers will have circled on their calendars since the previous season ended. The same date sees the commencement of the National League and National League 1 North plus the FA Cup. The Extra Preliminary Round gives all of our North West Counties Premier League sides as well as Nelson and Litherland REMYCA from League 1 a chance to  dream, if only fleetingly, of Cup glory. It is the first competitive match of the season for our Tier 9 sides; that always strikes me as being a tad harsh. The remainder of Division 1 kicks-off in earnest on Saturday August 12th, as do all of the Northern Premier League games, both Premier and Division 1 North. The results and reports of these games however will be buried somewhere in tiny corners of the national newspapers because the big event of that weekend is the start of the Premier League season. There is an Arsenal game on the Friday evening then Liverpool open proceedings in the lunch time game at Watford on the Saturday, Burnley at Chelsea and Everton at home to Stoke City are the three o’clockers and Manchester City travel to Brighton for the tea-time fixture. Manchester United have the prime 4.00 TV spot on the Sunday when they entertain West Ham United. Typical TV dominated planning and there is no doubt that Sky and BT know which clubs draw the largest small screen revenues; fascinatingly Chelsea are not on the bill. The Tier 11 games kick off on different dates. The West Lancashire League is first into the fray with a full fixture list on August 5th.  The Cheshire League follows with midweek fixtures on August 8th and 9th. The Manchester Football League makes its seasonal debut on August 12th, a date favoured by the West Cheshire League apart from a couple of fixtures which kick-off the previous evening. The Liverpool County League has yet to make its fixtures known to the general public. Of course avid fans will have known their important first fixture for several weeks; Southend United at Roots Hall on August 5th for the Rovers.


                                    


                     Danny Graham; 5 goals in 6 pre-season friendlies, watch out Southend United


                             Red Rose County Footballing Legends (Number 13)


Steven Gerrard Liverpool FC

Steven Gerrard was on his way to legendary status from the half way point in his career. Born in Huyton on Merseyside, he was a Red from birth. He came through their academy, being almost tiny in his mid-teens but his skills brightened up any football pitch. I watched him on several occasions between 13 and 15, a youngster with everything except the required physique. I next saw him 3 years later and was shocked by his growth and muscular definition. By the age of 20 he was a permanent fixture in the Anfield mid-field and he made his England debut the same year. Sadly he never won a Premier League medal. He could have signed for Chelsea where he would have collected at least 3 but his loyalty to Liverpool FC was paramount. Nevertheless he twice won FA Cup medals, collected 3 Football League Cup winners’ medals and a UEFA cup medal in 2001; this being part of the trio won in the same season as Liverpool achieved the mini treble. The piece de resistance however came in 2005 when he contributed to the club’s most unlikely Champions League success in Istanbul against AC Milan. This victory on penalties after extra-time following a 3-3 draw was Gerrard inspired and he quite rightfully was voted UEFA Footballer of the Year. He made 504 league appearances in total, scoring 120 goals, an excellent return for the modern phenomenon; the box-to-box midfield player. He possessed the energy of a Grand National winner, he was certainly quick enough, sufficiently combative defensively to stick a foot in to win the ball and his long and short passing was always crisply accurate. His dynamite-laced boots enabled him to score regularly from distance, his dead ball delivery reliable and he regularly picked up the pieces in the opposition’s box, often arriving late to knock a goal. This was a player who ticked every box. Internationally there was a certain disappointment. He was capped 114 times (4th place on the all-time list behind Shilton, Rooney and Beckham), scoring 21 times. He was captain for 5 years, but even though he was part of the “Golden Generation”, he never came close to winning a medal at any of the 6 Championships in which he was involved. He was at the centre of the long ongoing media debate about playing alongside Lampard in midfield and there have been a few more technically gifted and creative players on the world stage, but this one club man was adored at Anfield, respected at Goodison and even begrudgingly so at Old Trafford. Many have aspired to that, but rarely has it been achieved; proof indeed of Steven Gerrard’s legendary status.


                                       Steven Gerrard; Istanbul 2005, surely his finest hour

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

                       Each question has a Red Rose County club connection


1                    Which former Burnley player captained Manchester United in the 1974-75 season?


2                    The Turkish international Tugay Kerimoglu was one of the best midfield players ever to play for Blackburn Rovers but from whom did they buy him in 2001?

3                    Craig Madden scored 153 goals between 1977 and 1986 to become the record goal scorer at which Red Rose county club?


                             Craig Madden in more recent times as coach at Fleetwood Town

4                    Who (not Ryan Giggs) played for Manchester United in the 2011 Champions’ League Final v Barcelona at the age of 40 years and 211 days?

5                    Ian Woan, Assistant Manager at Burnley made 218 appearances from 1990 to 2000 (many in the Premier League) and played in an FA Cup Final for which club?

6                    Manchester City have just paid £35 million for Ederson, a goalkeeper from which European club?

7                    Which Red Rose club reached the 4th Round of the FA Cup last season, losing 1-0 at Middlesbrough, their best ever FA Cup performance?

8                    Who captained Liverpool to their first European Cup Final victory in 1977?

9                    Which Everton player made the first of his 22 England appearances v Moldova in a World Cup qualifier in 2013?

10                Graham Alexander who made 354 appearances for Preston North End from 1999-2007 is now manager of which League 1 club?


                            Graham Alexander; the penalty king for PNE, Burnley and Scotland


Post Weekend Musings

It is always hard to believe that a big English club can be playing a serious European competitive game on July 27th, but that is what Everton have had to endure this week. MZK Ruzomberok from Slovakia is a new one on me but like so many European sides, they can defend and are difficult to beat. Ronald Koeman has lost Lukaku to Manchester United and Ross Barkley is “injured”. It was an opportunity to throw Wayne Rooney, Davy Klaassen, Sandro Ramirez, Michael Keane and Coco Martina into the fray and the “Toffees” produced enough quality to win (just) and keep a clean sheet. A Rooney goal would of course have thrilled everyone, but it was left to the experienced Leighton Baines to rifle in the only goal of the evening from distance. Everton will have to be on their mettle when they journey to Eastern Europe next Thursday because elimination at this stage would be nothing short of embarrassing. I suspect that the manager will have his best eleven out for that one.

It is interesting that Jose Mourinho should sound a warning to clubs about the cavalier attitude to spending money on transfers this close season. Following his world record purchase of Paul Pogba last summer, words such as “hypocrite” and a simile containing “pan, kettle and black” spring to mind. On this occasion however I agree with his every word. It is an “out of control transfer market” and it may well come crashing down sometime soon. The clubs allow Sky and other TV stations to control the fixtures because they are the de facto paymasters, but the Murdoch TV Empire is rumoured to be wobbling and if only one major player was left in the game, the money on offer would naturally fall. As PSG have shown in France however with the hullabaloo surrounding a possible Neymar transfer, the more than mega wealthy owner does not need to fuel his signings from the income generated from the Canal Plus TV Channel, currently paying £0.7 billion less than in England. Owners such as Onyx Qatari Sports Investments are richer than rich and a Neymar signing for around £190 million may just enable them to bring home the Champions’ League Cup to an extremely bare international section of their trophy cabinet. We have come a long way since Bolton Wanderers won the FA Cup in 1958 with an eleven which cost exactly £110; 11 times the signing on fee for a home grown player, something we will never see the likes of again.
                                                      Close season club movement

Each season, mainly because of the promotion and relegation throughout the top 11 Tiers of English football, there are changes to the complement of every one of the country’s 90 Leagues. As far as the Red Rose County is concerned, there are 15 relevant leagues and here in summary form are the changes that affect our 122 clubs.

League
Joining
Red = Promoted
Blue = Relegated
Green = New club
Leaving
Red = Promotion
Blue = Relegation
Orange = Transfer
 Red Rose clubs in League
Premier League
-
-
5
EFL Championship
Bolton Wanderers
Blackburn Rovers
Wigan Athletic
2
EFL 1
Blackburn Rovers
Wigan Athletic Blackpool
Bolton Wanderers
7
EFL 2

Blackpool
2
National League
         AFC Fylde
Southport
2
National League 1 North
Southport
AFC Fylde
5
Northern Premier League
Lancaster City
Skelmersdale United
4
Northern Premier League 1 North
Skelmersdale United
Atherton Collieries
Lancaster City
Burscough
11
North West Counties Premier League
Burscough
Widnes
Charnock Richard
City of Liverpool
Atherton Collieries
Nelson
15
North West Counties League 1
Nelson
Ashton Town
Widnes
Charnock Richard
City of Liverpool
10
West Lancashire League
Burscough Richmond
Haslingden St Mary’s
Eagley
Lostock St Gerard’s
16
Manchester Premier League
Bolton County
Heyside
Prestwich Heys Reserves
Elton Vale
13
Liverpool County League
AFC Liverpool Reserves
Alder
Custy’s
Page Celtic
15
Cheshire League
Ashton Town
Warrington Town R
Billinge
Garswood United
8
West Cheshire League
Marshall’s

7



Quiz Answers 1 Willie Morgan, 2 Glasgow Rangers, 3 Bury, 4 Edwin van der Saar, 5 Notts Forest, 6 Benfica, 7 Accrington Stanley, 8 Emlyn Hughes, 9 Ross Barkley, 10 Scunthorpe United.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Red Rose Football Blog (Number 39)



            


                           Number 39                                                              July 19 2017



Great Red Rose County Goalkeepers

From the legendary Frank Swift at Manchester City to the current Spanish number 1, David de Gea at Manchester United, the North West has had its share of great post-war goalkeepers. It is so difficult to compare players over that period of time, but below is a list of keepers who have gained an overall total of 10 international caps and made at least 150 appearances whilst at their Red Rose club. There are others who have just failed to meet the criteria. David James gained just 1 cap when playing over 200 times for Liverpool then gained 12 caps at City, but played less than 100 games. The great Bert Trautmann never played for Germany for political reasons. Please do not expect a “best ever” or even a top ten, that is for you to ponder over, but in alphabetical order of club, the contenders are…….

Blackburn Rovers: Tim Flowers (England 11 caps), Brad Friedel (U.S.A. 82 caps).

Blackpool: George Farm (Scotland 10 caps).

Bolton Wanderers: Eddie Hopkinson (England 14 caps), Jim McDonagh (Republic of Ireland 25 caps), Jussi Jaaskelainen (Finland 56 caps).

Everton: Jimmy O’Neill (Republic of Ireland 17 caps), Neville Southall (Wales 92 caps), Tim Howard (U.S.A. 115 caps).

Liverpool: Ray Clemence (England 61 caps), Bruce Grobbelaar (Zimbabwe 33 caps), Pepe Reina (Spain 35 caps),

Manchester City: Frank Swift (England 19 caps), Joe Hart (England 71 caps).

Manchester United: Harry Gregg (Northern Ireland 25 caps), Peter Schmeichel (Denmark 129 caps), Edwin van der Saar (Holland 130 caps), David de Gea (Spain 21 caps).

Preston North End: Alan Kelly Senior, (Republic of Ireland 41 caps).

Wigan Athletic: Roy Carroll (Northern Ireland 44 caps).


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


                  Each question has a Red Rose County club connection


1                     Going back 90 years, who holds the record for most goals scored in a season for both Blackburn Rovers and Preston North End?

2                     Which former England goalkeeper made two appearances for Bolton Wanderers, one  being in the 1995 Division 1 Play-Off semi-final v Wolves aged  45 years and 239 days?

3                     We all know the year of the Hillsborough disaster, but in what year did the Heysel Stadium tragedy, which also involved Liverpool FC supporters, take place?

4                     Which Manchester City player scored the winning goal in time added on to steal the 2011-12 Premier League title from cross town rivals United on goal difference?

5                     Sean Dyche, approaching 5 years in charge at Burnley, is the club’s longest serving manager since which man?

6                     Which Red Rose club has a Manager and Assistant Manager who are brothers?

7                     From which club did Manchester United buy Michael Carrick for £14 million in 2006?



     Michael Carrick; recently appointed club captain at Manchester United


8                     Which Wigan Borough club won the North West Counties Premier League last season?

9                     The father of which Red Rose county manager twice won European Cup Winners medals with Nottingham Forest?

10                 Oldham Athletic legend Andy Ritchie, who once scored a Wembley hat-trick for England Schoolboys against Germany, started his career at which other Red Rose County club?





Andy Ritchie; a century of goals and then a managerial stint at Oldham Athletic


Red Rose County Footballing Legends (Number 10)

Nat Lofthouse Bolton Wanderers

The words Nat Lofthouse and Bolton are synonymous to so many people. He was born in the town, lived in and worked as a miner there during the Second World War and most famously played for the Wanderers for the whole of his 503 game Football League career. That alone would have assured legendary status within the borough but his links with the Wanderers continued up to his death in 2011, 51 years after his retirement. He was coach, chief scout, manager, executive manager and finally president, a man who stood up and represented his club throughout the subsequent good times and bad, undoubtedly Mr Bolton Wanderers. The town supported the erection of a statue outside the Macron Stadium where one of the stands has been named in his honour. His career was stalled by the abandonment of the professional game from 1939 to 1946, only making his debut at the age of 21. He inevitably scored twice and quickly became a centre forward to be reckoned with in the top tier of English football. In an era when goal scoring forwards were ten a penny, it was 1950 before he made his England debut, again notching twice. His reputation as both a strong and skilful number 9 was cemented after an amazing performance in a 1952 international in Austria, then one of the world’s best sides. He withstood every physical challenge imaginable in scoring and leading the Three Lions to a 3-2 victory, hence the famous nick-name of the “Lion of Vienna”. Bolton provided the opposition in the 1953 Matthews Final and he scored yet again to vindicate his footballer of the year award, but Bolton surrendered a 3-1 lead as the Wanderers failed to contain the inspirational Sir Stanley. He was England’s leading scorer at the 1954 World Cup as they lost to Uruguay in the quarter finals and then it was back to Wembley in 1958. Nat scored twice in a 2-0 victory, the second by barging the Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg into the back of the net, a goal which would be disallowed these days. In a career played exclusively at the highest level of the English game, he scored 255 league goals, placed at 7th on the all-time list. Even more spectacularly he scored 30 times in 33 international appearances, the 6th equal Englishman alongside Finney and Shearer; his 0.91 goals per game ratio being better than any other plus 10 goal post war scorer. A Red Rose legend? Absolutely!!




Nat Lofthouse; Two goal FA Cup winning hero in 1958


Women’s Football

Throughout my schooldays in the 60s, there were a number of girls who were athletically talented. We spotted them at Sports’ Day and the Swimming Galas, the hockey and netball results were regularly read out in Assembly but I can honestly say that I never saw a girl kick a football. There was a definite divide between female and male sports. They played the above mentioned games plus rounders and tennis; we played football, cricket and occasionally basketball and table tennis. Possibly only badminton occasionally threatened to cross the great divide. As we all know, there is now scarcely a sport which does not open its doors to both men and women. On physiological grounds, competition still generally remains within one gender but in terms of skill level, there is little difference. As can be seen from the debate at Wimbledon every year, there is still a feeling that it is the male sports which draw the crowds, hence the prize money differential. Certainly the difference in attendance at a Manchester City v Chelsea Premier League game and the identical fixture in the women’s WSL counterpart is massive. Nonetheless let us celebrate that women’s football is on the march and the quadrennial European Championship kicks-off in the Netherlands this week. England take centre stage on Wednesday in a local derby v Scotland, but it is of course Germany, gunning for their 7th successive title, whom they all have to beat. In England, club football mirrors the men’s game with Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool the most wealthy. So who are the Red Rose stars that we need to look out for in the coming days. Of the 23 strong England squad, 10 represent either Manchester City or Liverpool, with 7 playing at the Etihad complex. Karen Bardsley the goalkeeper, Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton and Jill Scott may not be household names but you may recognise them and Liverpool’s Casey Stoner has received her share of publicity. Realistically speaking, anything less than a semi-final berth will be a disappointment, but a win is not an impossible dream. Historically the Lancashire area is famous for women’s football. During World War 1, women took over the work of the absentee men who were fighting for their country at the Somme and other battle grounds. The men that remained struggled to find sufficient participants for their lunch time kick-about in the factory yard so women were invited to join in. At Dick Kerr’s Munitions Factory on the edge of Preston Docks, this became the daily ritual, so much so that a Women’s factory team was formed to play in Charity games. The “Munitionettes” actually pulled in a 10,000 crowd at Deepdale on Christmas Day 1917, raising a phenomenal (for those days) £600 for the War Effort and there were subsequent unofficial fixtures against other Ordnance Factories of the day. The team continued until 1965, winning 758 and drawing 24 of 828 friendly games. The building at the end of Strand Road in the city now belongs to Alstom and there is a commemorative blue plaque on the wall, paying tribute to probably the most successful women’s football team ever.



Pre-Season Friendlies; an Indicator of Status in Football

There are lots of indicators as to the relative strength and wealth of clubs; league position, activity in the transfer market, condition of ground, average attendance, reputation both worldwide and locally, the effects of merchandising and of course the number of media references. To that fairly comprehensive list, pre-season friendlies can be added. There is no doubt that the financial footballing muscle in the North-West is based in Manchester, a conclusion rubber stamped with the summer programme of both City and United. They are both in the United States, playing friendlies with football royalty in the shape of Barcelona and Real Madrid, albeit in a meaningless International Champions Tournament. The 2 Manchester giants will actually meet in Houston Texas, a game which may or may not offer indications as to the prospects of each side in the forthcoming Premier League season which kicks off on August 13th. Liverpool are in Hong Kong for the Asia Trophy, whereas Everton, having returned from a tour in East Africa, play a couple of friendlies in Holland and Belgium against Europa League level opposition; intelligent planning considering the Toffees are in competitive action on July 27 in the 2nd qualifying round of the said competition. Burnley, conscious of their budget when planning a pre-season programme, play away friendlies at Preston North End and Notts Forest before hosting Tier 1 sides from Europe, Celta Vigo and Hannover 96. PNE complete their preparations with games against Newcastle United and Fleetwood Town while our other Championship club, Bolton Wanderers, are using opposition from lower leagues to reach match fitness, apart from a home game v Premier League regular Stoke City. Blackburn Rovers, still with aspirations above their current station, were on tour in Austria and came extremely close to holding Czech Republic giants Sparta Prague. Wigan Athletic’s special event was to welcome Liverpool to the DW Stadium, a real money spinner with J├╝rgen Klopp bringing a number of household names; a game which the Latics managed to draw. Further down the pyramid, Oldham Athletic have an interesting friendly at Boundary Park against Girona, a newly promoted La Liga side, as preparation for the Football League season which kicks-off on August 5th. The ambitious Fleetwood Town have also completed a training week in Austria and play host to Bolton Wanderers this Saturday. Another interesting fixture sees Rochdale at home to Championship favourites Middlesbrough whilst Bury lost 3-1 at home to Premier League debutants Huddersfield Town. Accrington Stanley entertained an Everton U/23 side and Preston North End, while Morecambe are busy playing local clubs, the most prominent being North End and the Rovers. Blackpool have planned their pre-season games around local non-league opposition including Southport, Chorley and  Salford and in the National League, AFC Fylde are setting their sights high for their 1st season at this level with matches against Bolton, Rochdale and Morecambe. Meanwhile to the north, Barrow test themselves against Blackburn Rovers, Motherwell, Crewe and Notts Forest. At the lowest level of the Pyramid (Tiers 9 and 10), preparations centre around the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round on August 5th.   Here victory brings £1500 added prize money, a trifling amount higher up the pyramid but the equivalent of 300 extra spectators; vital in terms of survival at this level.

Post Weekend Musings

There are individuals in the game who spring from nowhere with potential to burn; youngsters who can really excite and you note their names and follow their ensuing progress. For some it can be a golden career, for others it can all end in disappointment. This week, Old Trafford has seen departures from both sides of this particular coin.  Wayne Rooney has finally returned to Everton and a pantechnicon was probably required to transport his international caps, medals and trophies. Around the same time Adnan Januzaj, the 22 year old Belgian international of Albanian extraction was slinking away to Real Sociedad, the ex-David Moyes managed club which has its home in the popular Basque sea-side resort of San Sebastian. He burst on to the scene at Manchester United in the 2013-14 season, lighting up the football horizon like a November 5th sky rocket, dyeing away almost as quickly as potential never quite materialised into the finished article. He was a box of tricks with pace over a few yards, lacking only the decision making skills which seemed certain to arrive with experience. He became a fringe player at Old Trafford and then was loaned out first to Borussia Dortmund and then to a down trodden Sunderland, a team devoid of talent in most areas. He impressed at neither club so it was no surprise that the United hierarchy wanted rid of a player who simply had not delivered but hopefully in a less pressurised environment, he will be given a second chance to produce. It is a familiar story around football. Thankfully there will always be the “Rooneys” to rock our world, but sadly there are far more “Adnan Januzajs”.

It is also goodbye to Paul Robinson, one time England goalkeeper who kept 4 clean sheets out of the 5 2006 World Cup Final games in Germany. The East Yorkshireman had a glittering career at both Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur before he became Paul Ince’s first signing at Blackburn Rovers in 2008. A stalwart of the Sam Allardyce side which regularly retained their place in the Premier League, he was ultimately a victim of the post Steve Keane appointment by the Venkys, finally becoming surplus to requirements in 2015. He moved to Burnley as cover for the immaculate Tom Heaton and memorably played three Premier League games last season. An old back injury then flared up and, unable to train seriously in the close season, he has announced his retirement after 424 league appearances and 41 England caps in 19 seasons.

                              Paul Robinson; 189 league appearances for the Ewood Park club


There has been yet another sparkling performance by an England youth side. The U/19 side has triumphed, winning the European Championships by beating Portugal in the final at the remote east Georgian city of Gori, interestingly the birthplace of the infamous Russian dictator Josef Stalin. Once again a Red Rose County player stole the headlines; Manchester City’s Lukas Nmecha scoring in both the semi-final and final. The striker was actually born in Hamburg and City brought him over from Germany as a young boy. Now having lived here for a number of years, he is eligible to play for the national team. The only other Red Rose boy who started in the final is also at City. Isaac Buckley is actually a Manchester boy who has been a prolific scorer in the club’s youth and Academy teams.



Lukas Nmecha; celebrating yet another goal for the Manchester City youngsters


The close season is a time to look forward; a time to sum up the prospects of your team and bravely make predictions for the forthcoming 9 months. Will it be a triumphal season, a year to mark time or simply a disaster? These discussions will be happening throughout the North West at all levels, but the club that particularly fascinates me is the pride of North East Lancashire, Burnley FC. From 47 until 71 and then from 73 to 76, they were a First Division club, more often than not amongst the country’s top ten sides. Then it was all downhill and it was only when sound financial management arrived that they were gradually able to tilt at the Premier League. Financially, as probably the poorest club at that level, life has been difficult and it is something of a miracle to be playing back to back seasons at Tier 1. They have had to sell their best player (Michael Keane to Everton) but their shrewd manager has signed Cork from Swansea and Walters from Stoke, both experienced pros plus the promising Charlie Taylor from Leeds. With £15 million still available from the Keane sale, there will probably be other signings. If, as in North American sport, there was no promotion and relegation, Burnley would never be offered a franchise. They would be left out in the cold. But the Clarets punch above their weight and make life difficult for the billionaires who have to visit Turf Moor. Underdogs are the life blood of sport and long may this continue. After all, they are one of only four founder members of the Football League playing at the highest level of English football next season.

Quiz Answers 1 Ted Harper, 2 Peter Shilton, 3 1985, 4 Sergio Aguero, 5 Stan Ternent, 6 Everton, 7 Tottenham Hotspur, 8 Atherton Collieries, 9 Gary Bowyer, 10 Manchester United.