Sunday, 2 July 2017

The Red Rose Football Blog (Number 37)

  Number 37                                                              July 3 2017

                            Red Rose County Footballing Legends (Number 10)

Tom Finney – Preston North End

One club men are rare, one club men born in the street next to the ground where they played all their football are even rarer, but this was Tom Finney. He scored 187 league goals in 433 appearances and 30 international goals in the 76 games he played for England. These are figures to be proud of in any age, but he never kicked a football as a professional until he was 24. He signed for Preston North End when he left school at 14 in 1936 but the outbreak of the war meant that he played his first league game in 1946. This was no physical giant of a man. He was a mere 5’8” tall and scarcely 10 stones wet through, but he had everything that was required to play the game at its highest level. He was virtually two-footed although he favoured his left but as he attacked a full back, he could go either way. He was a right winger who could go round the outside and knock over pin-point crosses or cut in and score with his left foot; impossible to mark out of the game. Throughout his career he won one winners medal; PNE were 2nd Division champions in 1951. He also captained the Preston side which reached the FA Cup Final in 1954 but lost 3-2 to West Bromwich Albion. Preston were a strong side in the 50s, although many referred to them as a one man team; probably unfair as they lost the 1953 title to Arsenal on goal average and were runners up to Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1958. Tom played one more season before retiring, playing as a deep lying centre forward. I saw him against Blackburn Rovers that season where he led Matt Woods, a very competent Rovers centre half, a merry dance at Ewood; North End winning 4-1. Just to add fuel to the “one man team” argument, the season after he retired, his club was relegated and in the succeeding 57 seasons, has yet to return to Tier 1. Many claim that he is the finest ever English player and the statement is difficultlt to refute. What is certain however is that he was a gentleman of the game and the bestowing of a knighthood in 1998 attracted not a single dissenting voice. He remained President of PNE up to his death in 2014 at the age of 91, his funeral bringing traffic to a halt in the city and the famous signed “Splash” photograph of the legend himself at Stamford Bridge, given to me by my sons for my 60th birthday, adorns my wall.

Tom Finney at Stamford Bridge; Can you make out the Chelsea player in the spray?

Post Weekend Musings

When a football manager has worked successfully on a low budget for 4 years, bringing a club with loads of tradition from the earliest years of the game back into the Championship and consolidating that position with two 11th placed finishes, you have to feel somewhat sad when a sleeping giant comes calling. I have no criticism whatsoever of Simon Grayson. He comes across as an average sort of guy, no airs and graces and certainly no ego, but like us all, he will want to progress in his chosen line of work. Sunderland may have been a Premier League joke for the last few years, experts in escapology, but they are a club with far more potential than Preston North End. Even though many of their supporters display a penchant for walking off before half-time, an average gate of 41.286 in a disastrous season says much about the loyalty and dedication of the fans and the income generated. I for one will wish him all the best and also hope that Preston will find a similar type of replacement. Deepdale was something of a fortress last season and if the replacement can build on that, the club may just be in contention for the Play-Offs in this ultra-competitive division, but like many of the Red Rose town clubs, I suspect they require a massive cash boost from a wealthy owner.

                            Simon Grayson with one of his “Manager of the Month” Awards

July is here; the transfer window is now open. It is an exciting time so we can expect to see big Premier League signings from Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool. I suspect the record Pogba transfer fee will be broken, possibly by one of the London clubs.

It is not only the managers that follow the money in those crazy months of summer. Conor McLaughlin is out of contract at Fleetwood Town and half of the Championship clubs seem keen to sign Northern Ireland’s regular right back, voted into the EFL League 1 Team of the Year by his peers. Millwall appear to be leading the hunt and the Cod Army have withdrawn their increased offer of a new contract, a sure sign that they know he is on his way, Similarly Shay McCartan at Accrington Stanley, probably the chief architect of their wonderful late surge up the League last season, has left for Bradford City for an undisclosed fee. The Bantams were close to gaining promotion to the Championship in May, losing out to Millwall at Wembley and the Stuart McCall side will be promotion favourites this time around. Stanley therefore had no chance of hanging on to their exciting prospect. The 23 year old made his Northern Ireland debut earlier this month and he is one for the future. Two sad stories from our poorer clubs but it has been ever thus in professional football.
Even at Premier League level, it is difficult to hang on to your prospects. Michael Keane is a fine centre half and those in the know reckon that he is a shoe in for the 2018 World Cup in Russia should England, as expected, qualify. Unfortunately, the chance of representing Burnley by then is looking remote. There is a certain pecking order in all levels of football and the Clarets are ranked somewhat below the likes of Everton who appear to be at the front of the queue to sign him. As a result, he will leave Turf Moor and Sean Dyche, who is sufficiently pragmatic to understand where clubs stand in relation to each other, will already be looking for the best replacement he can find. Looking at it from the other side, Koeman was extremely scathing of the Everton recruitment policy when he arrived at Goodison last season. Steve Walsh, brother of the Republic of Ireland’s Mickey Walsh who scored important goals for Blackpool and then Porto (via Everton) in the 70s, had only just arrived, having performed wonders as joint assistant manager at Leicester City under both Nigel Pearson and Claudio Ranieri. He has left no stone unturned this year in his role of Director of Football and has moved quickly to set in motion the transfer of Keane to add to the likes of Schneiderlin and the young Lookman in January, followed by Jordan Pickford and the Dutchman Davy Klaassen from Ajax; sending out  notice of intent to their rivals. Steve Walsh is a Lancastrian, a real Red Rose man who worked for years as a Head of PE at Croston near Chorley before moving into the professional game late in life. He spent years working with talented schoolboy footballers in the Lancashire Schoolboys set up, so it is good to see him now reaping the rewards.

Michael Keane; it looks as though he has played his last game at Turf Moor

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

                  Each question has a Red Rose County club connection

1                    The Rowley brothers hold the record for the most goals scored by siblings in English football. Arthur netted a record 434, mainly for Leicester and Shrewsbury and Jack scored 208, winning the FA Cup final and League Championship for which Red Rose club in the 40s and 50s?

2                     Who was the last Englishman to manage Liverpool FC?

3                     Who made 240 appearances in goal for Burnley between 1992 and 1998 before being transferred to Middlesbrough?

4                     Gary Jones captained Bradford City in the 2013 League Cup Final v Swansea City but prior to that he had made a record 463 appearances for which Red Rose club?

                  Gary Jones in Bradford colours with Ashley Williams prior to the 2013 Wembley final

5                     Who is the only member of the Everton starting XI in the 2009 FA Cup Final at Wembley who is still at the club?

6                     Which Red Rose club was managed by Stan Ternent, Neil Warnock and Graham Barrow between 1995 and 2005?

7                     Which club were FA Cup runners-up in 1926, 1933, 1955, 1981 and 2013?

8                     Sam Allardyce made 198 appearances for Bolton Wanderers, but he also played 93 league games for which other Red Rose club?

         9                     Who became the first player to be capped by England whilst playing for Wigan    Athletic in 2007? 
10                 Who was the ex-Manchester United star who managed Morecambe when they were promoted into the Football league in 2007?

Review of the EFL Championship, 2016-17

As I mentioned briefly in Blog Number 36, there was little to shout about in the Championship last season for the Red Rose clubs. Wigan Athletic had come straight back up from League 1 and Preston North End, having finished 11th in their first campaign back in Tier 2, could justifiably hope for a decent shot at the Play-Offs at least. For Blackburn Rovers, a new manager was in place but Owen Coyle had history in East Lancashire, the wrong sort of history for a Rovers fan. He had managed Burnley, sufficient proof for a section of the Blue and White brigade to forever brand him as an untouchable. With previous boss Paul Lambert having left in the summer, citing a complete lack of ambition by the Ewood owners, there was cause for concern from the off. All three of our clubs made disastrous starts. The Latics won only 2 of their first 14 games, at which point the Chairman sacked manager Gary Caldwell. He had been something of a hero as a player, captaining the side in the Premier League and as manager, guiding them back into the Championship. His replacement was Warren Joyce, the highly regarded reserve team manager at Old Trafford but he too found the going tough. He was at the helm for 21 games, winning just 5 and once again, the young chairman handed out a P45; the loyal assistant Graham Barrow being left to try to salvage something from the wreck. Ultimately he failed and Wigan were relegated with 42 points, 9 from safety. Blackburn had sold Hanley and Duffy, their two no nonsense centre backs to Newcastle and Brighton for around £10million in total and spent only £250,000 on replacements, although they did manage to persuade the experienced and talented Charlie Mulgrew to come down from Celtic on a free transfer. By mid-February, with just 7 wins to his name, Owen Coyle was axed, immediately after the 5th Round FA Cup defeat to Manchester United. He was replaced by the experienced Tony Mowbray who lost just 3 out of 15 games, but with 7 draws and too much of a deficit to make up, the Rovers were relegated on the last day of the season with an unusually high total of 51 points. Simon Grayson was well established as manager at Deepdale, entering his 4th season at the club but they too made a poor start, winning just twice in their first 8 games. But from then onwards, particularly at home, they certainly gave their fans value for money. They only lost 3 home games (to Newcastle, Leeds and Norwich) from mid-September to the season’s end and following their 5-0 crushing of Bristol City on April 4th, the Play-Offs were a genuine target, but 1 point from their final 6 games somewhat took the gloss off their season. They finally finished in 11th place once more with 62 points, a whopping 18 behind 6th placed Fulham. Nevertheless it proved to be yet another positive season – a top half Championship position is not to be scoffed at, and until Thursday evening, the PNE faithful would have had much to look forward to from August onwards. However with the loss of Grayson to the north-east, there will be apprehension in the town. But whoever is in the frame, he will need to improve the fire power; Jordan Hugill their top scorer amassed a meagre 10 goals. Sides hoping for glory need a better return than this. Looking ahead, North End will have only Phil Parkinson’s Bolton Wanderers for company from the Red Rose County as the new season commences. Hopefully there will be more to celebrate in 12 months time.

The Red Rose Leading League goal scorer in each of the Top 5 Tiers

Tier 1: Premier League

Romelu Lukaku celebrates one of his 25 goals for Everton

Tier 2: Championship

                 Not even Danny Graham’s 12 goals could save Blackburn Rovers from relegation

Tier 3: EFL 1 

                 James Vaughan; the one-time “wunderkid” knocked in 24 goals for Bury last season

Tier 4: EFL 2 
            Mark Cullen; his 13 goals contributed so much to Blackpool’s late promotion push

                       Billy Kee, also with 13 goals, was leading scorer for Accrington Stanley

Tier 5: National League

                Byron Harrison; his 19 goals came close to guiding Barrow to a Play-Off place

Quiz Answers

1 Manchester United, 2 Nottingham Forest, 3 Marlon Beresford, 4 Rochdale, 5 Leighton Baines, 6 Bury, 7 Manchester City, 8 Preston North End, 9 Emile Heskey, 10 Sammy McIlroy.   

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