Thursday, 10 August 2017


                                         Number 41                                                  August 3rd 2017

And we are off and running

The gossiping, speculating and wheeling and dealing that typifies all modern close seasons comes to an end on Saturday for the three divisions of both the Football League and the National League. Equally this weekend sees our representatives begin their FA Cup journey in the Extra Preliminary Round and the West Lancashire League kicks off. It is a time for the talking to stop and the action to commence. To quote Bill Shankly, the league “is a marathon and not a sprint”; In fact it will be another 9 months at least before we can finally see which clubs have made the most of the short break in terms of recruitment and preparation. During the previous close season, we saw 5 new managers arrive at Tiers 1-4 in the Red Rose area, but this time there have been no sackings. Wigan Athletic finally appointed Paul Cook to the position, replacing Graham Barrow who was filling in on a temporary basis and Simon Grayson, having served Preston North End well, was inevitably tempted by a move to a larger club and joined Sunderland, being replaced at Deepdale by Alex Neil, late of Norwich City. So with little upheaval, our clubs ought to be in a position to hit the ground running, but football is never that simple. Looking at this weekend’s starters, who can we reasonably expect to bring home some silverware next May? The Championship is not an optimistic place to start. With Fulham looking the best bet for promotion and Middlesbrough the strong tip to make an instant return to the Premier League, 2 places may well have already been sorted. Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa will surely be contenders as will Norwich City. Reading and Sheffield Wednesday will try to build on their excellent showings from last time and the sleeping giants at Leeds United and Nottingham Forest will surely improve on 2016-17. All of this makes it difficult for our 2 clubs, Bolton Wanderers and Preston North End, to be anything other than also-rans. Both have small budgets for this League but I feel that Alex Neil should see an experienced PNE squad survive without too many difficulties but Phil Parkinson’s Wanderers could really struggle to retain their place at this level. The Red Rose County has 7 representatives in League 1 and Blackburn Rovers appear to be the pick of the crop. Charlton Athletic and Portsmouth have the support and the pedigree to challenge strongly. Both Scunthorpe United and Bradford City will hope to improve on last season’s Play-Off semi-final and final respectfully but the Ewood Park club were relegated with 51 points last year and now the manager Tony Mowbray has made an impact with the fans and the players as shown by his close season dealings and the friendly results. Of the other 6, relegated Wigan Athletic have made a good managerial appointment but he has much to do to improve on a dismal 2016-17. Blackpool, another club struggling financially, will surely be facing a battle not to go straight back down but close neighbours, Fleetwood Town will fancy their chances to at least equal last seasons’ performance, although they have sold McLaughlan and Ball, their 2 best players. For the 3 Greater Manchester clubs, both Oldham Athletic (John Sheridan) and Bury (Lee Clark) have managers who saved them last time out, but the Shakers have sold their outstanding striker James Vaughan and  the Latics have been forced to return the talented goalkeeper Connor Ripley to Middlesbrough. I cannot see anything better than mid-table here but the prognosis for Rochdale is extremely difficult to ascertain. Keith Hill has done a magnificent job at Spotland but they are run on a shoe string and you worry that they may have considerably over-achieved recently. Hopefully normal service (i.e. a relegation battle) will not be resumed. Both our League 2 clubs are poorly supported; in fact the worst in the Division. Neither club can regularly draw a crowd of 2,000 fans through the turnstiles and I regard it as a minor miracle that Accrington Stanley and Morecambe have survived for 12 and 11 years respectively at this level with so little income. Stanley finished last season like a train while Morecambe struggled towards the end but both have managers who love their club and there is every chance that Accrington, managed by John Coleman, may surprise us all again, but I do think that Jim Bentley’s “Shrimps” could find this campaign difficult. The biggest question mark of all surrounds AFC Fylde. Now in the National League, we all want to know if this tiny village club can climb any further. Tier 5 contains many strong clubs and I believe that a mid-table position will be looked upon as something of a triumph for Dave Challinor and his Coasters. Challinor is in his 6th year of managing the club, a statistic which says much about an owner who will look for longevity from a managerial appointment. I believe that Barrow will once more be battling for a Play-Off spot. They pressed Blackburn Rovers hard in a pre-season friendly and no Southern side likes to travel to the far-Cumbrian coast in the depths of winter. A good home record can be so advantageous. My tip for promotion from National League 1 North has to be Salford City. They have the support, the players and the backing of the famous Five, the legendary class of 92. They came close last season and they will surely be stronger than Chorley, although I expect the Lancastrians to challenge hard once again. Relegated Southport may need a consolidation year at this level. In terms of the FA Cup, 17 of our clubs venture into uncharted waters. In spite of this Round always being a lottery, I would expect Bootle at Hallam and Burscough at AFC Emley to go through against lower ranked Yorkshire opposition. In the following round however, they both face tougher opposition and so if you are looking for a Red Rose club from this level to reach the 1st Qualifying Round, you may just pick up a few quid on Irlam who are at home to Abbey Hey on Saturday and to the winners of Maine Road and Winsford United in the Preliminary Round, all North West Counties League opposition.  

Declan Rudd; PNE’s new goalkeeper signed from Norwich City, the new manager’s old club

Great Red Rose Centre Backs

At a guess, if a poll was conducted as to England’s greatest centre back, I am virtually certain that Bobby Moore would win it by a country mile. There may be a minority, who, preferring the more robust and in your face defender as opposed to the more cultured type, would vote for Terry Butcher on the strength of distant memories of blood-stained head bandages in an international in Sweden, but we are looking at centre backs who have graced the Red Rose County clubs and we have had some “belters”. Once again, using the criteria of 150 League 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: Mike England (Wales, 44 caps), Colin Hendry (Scotland, 51 caps), Ryan Nelsen (New Zealand, 49 caps).

Blackpool: Harry Johnston (England 10 caps).

Bolton Wanderers: Guoni Bergsson (Iceland 80 caps),

Burnley: Michael Duff (Northern Ireland 24 caps),

Michael Duff; a journeyman pro who reached the Premier League with Burnley

Everton: Brian Labone (England 26 caps), Kevin Ratcliffe (Wales 59 caps), David Weir (Scotland 69 caps), Joseph Yobo (Nigeria 101 caps), Phil Jagielka (England 40 caps),

Liverpool: Emlyn Hughes (England 62 caps), Phil Thompson (England 42 caps), Alan Hansen (Scotland 26caps), Mark Lawrenson (Republic of Ireland 39 caps), Gary Gillespie (Scotland 13 caps), Mark Wright (England 45 caps), Sami Hyypia (Finland 105 caps), Stephane Henchoz (Switzerland 72 caps), Daniel Agger (Denmark 75 caps), Martin Skirtel (Slovakia 90 caps),

Manchester City: Roy Paul (Wales 33 caps), Dave Watson (England 65 caps), Richard Dunne (Republic of Ireland 80 caps), Vincent Kompany (Belgium 71 caps).

Manchester United; Martin Buchan (Scotland 34 caps), Brian Greenhoff (England 18 caps), Gordon McQueen (Scotland 30 caps), Kevin Moran (Republic of Ireland 71 caps), Paul McGrath (Republic of Ireland 83 caps), Gary Pallister (England 22 caps), Wes Brown (England 23 caps), John O’Shea (Republic of Ireland 116 caps), Rio Ferdinand (England 81 caps), Nemanja Vidic (Serbia 56 caps), Chris Smalling (England 31 caps).

Preston North End: Tommy Docherty (Scotland 25 caps), Joe Marston (Australia 37 caps), Colin Murdoch (Northern Ireland 34 caps), Bailey Wright (Australia 18 caps).

Wigan Athletic: Gary Caldwell (Scotland 55 caps), Maynor Figueroa (Honduras 135 caps), Paul Scharner (Austria 40 caps),

Games to look forward to this week

Bolton Wanderers will learn so much on Sunday when they host Leeds United in the Championship, a televised fixture kicking off at 16.30. The Wanderers are without a win in their final 4 friendly fixtures but these games are reliably unreliable as a barometer for the forthcoming season. They went close to holding a strong Stoke City side over the weekend, but Phil Parkinson has had little to spend this summer. Adam Armstrong has come on loan from Newcastle United and he will to add competition up front for Adam Le Fondre who scored a cracker of a goal against Stoke, Sammy Ameobi and Gary Madine. They have also retained the services of three extremely strong centre-backs, Wheatcroft, Beevers and Dervite but it will be interesting to see if this is enough to combat a Leeds side which so underachieved towards the end of last term. Garry Monk surprisingly resigned but the players will want to impress Thomas Christiansen, ex of Apoel Nicosia, the latest in their long line of managers. I suspect that Bolton will probably settle for 1 point from this difficult fixture. On Saturday, newly promoted Blackpool travel to Bradford City for their opening League 1 fixture. The Bantams came desperately close to promotion last time out, going down to Millwall in the Wembley Play-Off final and Stuart McCall’s side will certainly be amongst the favourites once more. The Tangerines came from nowhere to clinch their place in the League 2 Play-offs, going on to beat Exeter City at Wembley but Bradford are different class. This could hardly have been a tougher start for Gary Bowyer’s side which has prepared with friendlies against teams from lower Divisions. The manager has signed 12 new players over the summer but whether they will have the required quality at this level will have to be seen. In League 2, Accrington Stanley face Colchester United in a 15.00 kick off. The Essex side finished 8th last season, 4 points above the resurgent Stanley so this ought to be a very close contest. John Coleman has been pleased with the form shown in pre-season friendlies and Billy Kee finished off with a hat-trick at Southport on Saturday. They have inevitably lost the talented Irishman Shay McCartan to Bradford City, but the majority of the side which finished so strongly last year is still there, so there is no reason why the Reds cannot start with a win. AFC Fylde begin their eagerly anticipated life In the National League at home to Boreham Wood. The Hertfordshire side are not the strongest opposition they could have faced so this game hopefully will produce a positive result, a stepping stone to a comfortable season at (for Fylde) this exalted level. The Kirkham based side swapped places with Southport, now down in National League 1 North. They too are at home, to Lincolnshire’s one time Football League outfit Boston United. Like Southport, they have also fallen down the Pyramid and if the Sandgrounders are to achieve anything this season, this is a game they must win. The most interesting FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round tie features two North West Counties Premier League teams, Padiham and City of Liverpool. The Lancastrians are strong opposition at this level but CoLFC, only in their 2nd season, have made a most impressive start to life in football. This result will tell us much about the forthcoming season. Finally, West Lancashire League champions Longridge Town should have too much for their Bolton opponents, Tempest United, in Saturday’s big kick off.

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

                  Each question has a Red Rose County club connection

1                     Of the 4 big City clubs in the Red Rose County (City, Everton, Liverpool and United), which is the only one that was an original member of the Football League in 1888?

2                     Which Red Rose club was founded as a football club in 1880, has never changed its name and played at the same ground since its formation, an English record?

3                     Which current Burnley player was sent off playing for Belgium in the 2014 World Cup?

4                     Phil Brown, manager of Hull City when they were promoted to the Premier League and who also later managed PNE, made 245 appearances as a full back at which local club? 

Phil Brown at Hull City; the famous half-time team talk on the pitch

5                     Which Northern Premier League club play at the Giant Axe?

6                     Who was Manchester City’s last permanent British born manager?

7                     Who won a UEFA Fairs Cup medal with Leeds in 68, a League Cup medal with Stoke in 72, an FA Cup medal with United in 77 and was player-manager at Rochdale in 83-84?

8                     Liverpool have just signed left back Andrew Robertson from which club?

9                     Henri Camara, Nathan Ellington and Emile Heskey have each been the season ending leading goal scorer for which Red Rose club since 2004?

Emile Heskey; scored in England’s famous 5-1 win in Germany in 2001

10                 Who is the Assistant manager at Bury who became the first ever player to be capped for England whilst playing for Glasgow Celtic, the left winger’s one and only cap in 2004?

Post Weekend Musings

I came across an interesting statistic this week concerning the number of players by club who have represented England. Take a look and see if there any surprises in store for you.

From when to when
Players Provided
Tottenham Hotspur
1903 – 2017
1882 -- 1936
Aston Villa
1888 – 2015
1897 – 2017
1890 – 2016
Manchester United
1905 – 2017
1906 – 2017
Blackburn Rovers
1880 – 2012
Manchester City
1904 – 2017
1907 - 2017

Other current Red Rose County clubs and their positions

Bolton Wanderers
1885 - 2011
1889 -2017
Preston North End
1887 – 2007
1923 - 1966
1899 - 1927
Oldham Athletic
1911 - 1981
Wigan Athletic
2006 - 2008

Everton struggled in their away tie to MFK Ruzomberok, before edging out their Slovakian hosts with a late winner from their young substitute, Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The 2-0 aggregate win ensured that they will be in the hat for the Play-Off Round to decide which clubs enter the group stage of the Europa League. Ronald Koeman will be pleased to have proceeded so far but, as in the first leg, there was little to excite the fans, something which will cause a headache or two for the Dutch manager.

England Women’s team, with a number of Red Rose County representatives, were favourites to win the European Championships after defeating France in the quarters and seeing everyone’s fancy, the Germans, eliminated at the same stage. A semi-final victory against the host country Holland did not seem too onerous an ask but the “Lionesses” were technically inferior to their Dutch opponents; now where have we heard that before. A 3-0 score line was perhaps a trifle harsh, but sadly it may be the end of the road for a number of players who have given their all for their country over the last few years.

Quiz Answers 1 Everton, 2 Preston North End, 3 Steven Defour, 4 Bolton Wanderers, 5 Manchester City, 6 Mark Hughes, 7 Jimmy Greenhoff, 8 Hull City, 9 Wigan Athletic, 10 Alan Thompson.







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