Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The Red Rose Football Blog (Number 49)


Red Rose Football Blog Edition 49

September 25th 2017

Red Rose Player of the Week

Simon Mignolet; Liverpool

There may be arguments to suggest that the goalkeeper is the most valuable member of a football team, although this is not reflected in the transfer market, but there are few sides that have “got away with” a dodgy keeper. Perhaps Brazil and Real Madrid/Barcelona have managed it from time to time but that is when they have world’s greatest outfield players. So for the vast majority of elevens, a reliable and inspired last line of defence is absolutely essential. There are question marks about Simon Mignolet (pictured); in fact I remain to be convinced that he has Juergen Klopp’s total confidence but in one specific area, the Belgian is in a league of his own. So when Liverpool were under fire trying to hold on to a 3-2 lead as the clock ticked down and Jamie Vardy was lining up a penalty, the “Reds” needed something special. The record books tell us that Mignolet has saved 7 out of 15 penalties conceded by Liverpool since he joined the club over 4 years ago. When you consider that a spot kick is virtually a free hit, that is an amazing statistic. Leicester City’s Vardy always lashes the ball goal wards, often down the middle, but “cometh the hour, cometh the man” and the keeper guessed right, stood tall and somehow kept the ball out of the net. It may well be a pivotal moment in Liverpool’s season. It has catapulted them into 5th place and no doubt restored some confidence at Anfield. I have my doubts as to whether history will list Mignolet amongst the Liverpool legends but his performance in that 60 seconds at the King Power Stadium certainly earns him the accolade of the Red Rose County’s player of the week.   

Red Rose County Local Football Heroes

Barry Roche; Morecambe

Barry Roche was born in Dublin way back in 1982. He was spotted by Leeds United and joined their Academy under its successful coach Paul Hart. When the son of the Manchester City legend Johnny Hart moved on to Nottingham Forest in 2000 and was quickly appointed manager, he brought Roche to the City ground where he gained his solitary international U/21 cap in goal for the Republic of Ireland. Although the young Irishman was always around the First Team squad, he played only 10 games in almost 5 years and when Roy McFarland, the ex-Derby County and England centre back invited him for a trial at Chesterfield, he jumped at the chance. It was never easy at Saltergate, but he made the goalkeeping position his own, making 126 appearances from a potential 138 league games in 3 seasons. There was a relegation to League 2 in 2007, but the new manager Lee Richardson, the ex-Blackburn Rovers and Oldham Athletic midfield player, kept faith in him. The following summer however Sammy McIlroy, then manager at Morecambe, persuaded the “Spireites” to release him and he quickly became a fans’ favourite at Christie Park and latterly at their new ground, The Globe Arena.

Apart from the 2014-15 season, he has been an almost ever-present in the Shrimps’ goal in what is now his 10th season at the club. Morecambe have often flirted with relegation in these years and there is no doubt that the athleticism, bravery and technique of the 6’4” keeper has played a huge part in retaining their place in the “pro game”. He is much respected by the long serving manager Jim Bentley who appointed him team captain in 2010, a move the “boss” has never regretted. The goalkeeper has even scored a goal, at home to Portsmouth in 2016. One down in the dyeing seconds of the game, Roche went up for a corner and nodded in the equaliser. He is still the first choice every week and has clocked up 368 league appearances for the Lancashire side which, when added to the games at his previous clubs, gives him an overall total of 507. If you count the number of 1st team games in all competitions, he has just crept past the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Danny Blanchflower and Alan Shearer, but he still only sits around 275th in the all-time English records. We know that keepers generally have a longer career than outfield players and at the age of 36, there is perhaps a lot more to come, but it is his longevity at Morecambe that really makes him stand out. League 2 is famous for its regular turn-over of players, but Roche has been at the same club for a decade, has played almost every game in that period and is still the first name on the team sheet. He is a local hero, maybe someday a footballing legend both at this still relatively infant club and in the town also.

  Performances of the last week

Three Red Rose County sides have progressed to the last 16 of the Carabao EFL Cup, more commonly known as the League Cup. Both Everton and Manchester United won comfortably at home against limited opposition. Dominic Calvert Lewin enhanced his growing reputation with a couple of goals as Sunderland were beaten 3-0 whilst over at Old Trafford, the “Reds” cruised past Burton Albion by a 4-1 margin, Marcus Rashford scoring twice. These were expected victories, but Manchester City had a far more competitive fixture, finally defeating West Brom down at the Hawthorns 2-1; Leroy Sane also notching a double. Both Manchester clubs made 9 changes from the weekend but ominously, both elevens had a full complement of internationally capped players with veterans Michael Carrick and Yaya Toure making their seasonal debuts.

Back to the bread and butter of league football on Saturday, four of the five Red Rose County Premier League clubs recorded wins. “Ain’t no stopping us now” was a two million selling hit single for R&B duo McFadden and Whitehead in 1979 but it could easily be the current catch phrase for Manchester City. Following their  5-0 home win over a goalless  Crystal Palace, “City” have now scored 5 goals in three successive top flight games, the first since Blackburn Rovers hammered Newcastle United, Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the start of the 1958-59 season. Incidentally, the “Rovers” then failed to win any of their next 8 games, something we hope does not happen to the club from the Etihad. Much to the relief of the blue half of Liverpool, Everton came from behind to defeat AFC Bournemouth 2-1 at Goodison Park, courtesy of a late double strike by Senegalese striker Oumar Niasse (pictured).

The south coast club had controlled much of the game, but Niasse, selected by the manager for the first time in 16 months, came off the bench for a blood-stained Wayne Rooney and might just be the striker the manager has been craving for. Southampton, another English Channel based club, could also feel aggrieved. They gave Manchester United more problems than any of their previous five opponents, but still narrowly lost. That man Romelu Lukaku scored his 6th league goal of the season and “United” managed to hang on from then on in. Nonetheless, the “Reds” sustained the pressure on their city rivals, although they now trail them on goal difference as opposed to alphabetical order. You can never accuse Liverpool of failing to produce excitement. On their second visit to the King Power Stadium, the Merseyside “Reds” managed to turn the tables on Leicester City but had a late Jamie Vardy missed penalty to thank for their narrow 3-2 win. Having led 2-0 and 3-1, it should have been plain sailing, but once again it was the fire power of Salah, Coutinho and Henderson rather than dominant defending which saw them over the line.

If the Premier League offered rich pickings for North West clubs, the situation was completely reversed in Tiers 2-5. The sole winner in any of the four subsequent leagues was at Spotland where Rochdale comfortably saw off Gillingham 3-0 in League 1. Early goals from Ian Henderson and Joe Rafferty enabled the home side to pull clear and when the “Gills” had a player dismissed on the stroke of half-time, it was game over. Henderson could even afford to miss a penalty before Matt Done sealed victory late on, moving “Dale” out of the relegation zone.

There were important victories for Chorley and Salford City in the National League North. Matt Jansen’s Lancashire side are in a rich vein of form after a poor start and they dominated AFC Telford United with first half goals from Josh Wilson and Marcus Carver. Unfortunately Anson was sent off just after the break and the Shropshire side roared back, scoring twice, but Carver used his pace to net a breakaway goal, giving Chorley a 3-2 victory as they moved to within 3 points of the Play-Off zone. The “Ammies” showed their professionalism, grinding out a 1-0 victory over the lowly Gainsborough Trinity in Lincolnshire. A vicious close range strike from Michael Phenix (pictured) was sufficient to guarantee all three points and Salford and Harrogate Town continue their neck and neck struggle at the top of the pile, a lead which has stretched to 6 points over the chasing pack.

In the Northern Premier League a Matthew Chadwick double helped Ashton United to stay in contention at Nantwich Town, although they almost conceded a 3-0 lead as the Cheshire side scored twice in time added on before the “Robins” completed a 3-2 victory. The best performance in the Northern Premier League 1 North was at Trafford where the home side lifted themselves towards mid-table security by defeating a disappointing Droylsden side 3-0.

The all Liverpool clash in the FA Vase 2nd Qualifying Round saw City of Liverpool emerge as 2-0 winners at the ground of rivals AFC Liverpool, Daniel Dalton and Thomas Peterson providing the goals in front of 492 spectators. There were also wins for Red Rose County clubs against South Yorkshire clubs. Ashton Athletic were 3-1 winners over Maltby Main, Burscough hammered Armthorpe Welfare 6-0 with 2 goals apiece from Lee Healey and Peter Henerty and Irlam had the edge over Parkgate with a 2-0 score line. AFC Darwen had an encouraging 4-2 win at West Yorkshire’s Glasshoughton Welfare, Mark McKay being another double scorer and West Didsbury & Chorlton aided by 2 early goals from Joe Shaw, edged out Stockport Town in a 4-3 thriller. In all Red Rose County ties, Charnock Richard comfortably saw off Bacup Borough 3-0 and Litherland REMYCA had a close 3-2 victory over Chadderton, coming from two down after an Andrew Bainbridge double in the first 10 minutes. Earlier in the week, rock bottom Squires Gate eventually put some points on the board when an early strike by Dean Ing gave them victory at AFC Darwen in a North West Counties Premier League encounter whilst Bootle stepped 3 points closer to the summit with a tight 2-1 win at Barnoldswick Town. The best performance in NWC League 1 was Atherton LR’s surprise 4-1 win at New Mills, Jordan Arklie-Young scoring twice in the first half. Down in Tier 11’s West Cheshire League, South Liverpool won a table top battle with Ashville 2-0 to move into top spot.

Games to look forward to this week

It is a busy mid-week for football; Champions’ League and Europa League group matches plus a full fixture list from the Championship and Leagues 1 and 2. And all of this before the usual mix of weekend action. Liverpool kick off proceedings on Tuesday with a long flight to the Russian capital to take on Spartak Moscow. After 10 games of Russian Premier League action, the Muscovites are languishing in 10th place of a 16 team league, so this is surely an opportunity for Juergen Klopp’s side to stamp its authority on the group and fly back with 3 points. On the same evening, Manchester City take on Shaktar Donetsk, reigning Ukrainian Champions. The opposition is experienced in European football but it will surely take a much higher pedigree continental side to stop the Sky Blues in their tracks. Manchester United are also in Moscow this week, taking on CSKA on Wednesday. The Russians have made a stronger start than their city rivals, occupying 4th place, but although United have potentially the toughest task, I would not be surprised to see them return with the spoils of victory. Everton are at home to Apollon Limassol in the Europa League on Thursday. The standard of football is now much improved in small nations such as Cyprus, but anything other than a win for the Toffees will seriously affect their chances of qualification for the knock-out stages.

Without a doubt, the game of the weekend is the Premier League encounter at Stamford Bridge between the reigning champions Chelsea and current leaders Manchester City. Kicking off at 5.30 on Saturday, this game will tell us much about the final resting place of the 2017-18 Trophy. City have made a flying start but apart from the game against Liverpool, ruined to some extent by the first half dismissal of Sadio Mane, have they played a side which will hit them as equally hard, defend all day and punish them on the break? A fascinating game is in prospect. Manchester United will probably have gone top by the time the Sky Blues kick-off, because it is difficult to see bottom placed Crystal Palace holding the rampant United at Old Trafford. The three other Red Rose County clubs play on Sunday with Everton entertaining Burnley in the mid-afternoon match. Burnley seem to have found a way of grafting out a result on their travels after last season’s shambles away from home and Everton have yet to convince anyone that they can put on a performance. It will be a dour encounter. Late on Sunday afternoon, Liverpool travel to Tyneside and this too is a difficult fixture to predict. Newcastle United have found a winning formula after a year in the Championship and although the “Reds” ought to have sufficient class to take home all 3 points with Philip Coutinho (pictured) back in the side, it will take grit and skill to prevent the 52,000 St James’ Park army from roaring the Toon to victory. 

There will be no shortage of irony around Deepdale on Saturday. Simon Grayson returns to the club he left during the summer, presumably having believed that his career was taking a huge step forward at one of English football’s traditionally major clubs. Looking at the current Championship league table and noting the 17 places between Preston North End and Sunderland, Grayson must privately be shaking his head. On current form, anything other than a home win would come as a surprise. If only life was so rosy for Bolton Wanderers. They travel to meet another former giant of English football, Aston Villa. Steve Bruce’s Villa have been disappointing thus far, but they are firm favourites to knock another nail into the Wanderers’ coffin. The game of the day in League 1 is at the Highbury Stadium where Fleetwood Town play host to Charlton Athletic. Both sides have made decent starts to the campaign and they occupy 7th and 10th places in the league. The London club has played at a far higher level than the Cod Army in the past but that will count for nothing when the referee’s whistle blows. There ought to be comfortable home wins for 4th placed Wigan Athletic v Walsall and Blackburn Rovers against a lowly Gillingham side. Blackpool will be confident of taking at least a point from an unpredictable Southend United down in Essex, but there are difficult (and long) away trips for Rochdale against the physical giants of AFC Wimbledon and Oldham Athletic at the extremely well-supported Portsmouth. Finally Bury, the third of our sides bogged down in the relegation mire, entertain Milton Keynes Dons but the mid-table Buckinghamshire side may have too much for the struggling Greater Manchester outfit. Accrington Stanley and Morecambe have similar, but contrasting journeys into the south west. Stanley, with Shaun McConville (pictured) directing operations, will have the scent of promotion in their nostrils as they head for Gloucestershire’s Forest Green Rovers, the League 2 bottom club in their first season at this level. The “Shrimps” on the other hand travel even further, down into Devon to meet 2nd placed Exeter City.  The “Grecians” will be strong favourites here.

AFC Fylde visit East London to cross swords with Leyton Orient, a fixture which pits two sides with vastly contrasting histories. It is the new kids on the block versus an Orient, once briefly in Tier 1 for the 1962-63 season and FA Cup semi-finalists in 1978, losing 3-0 to Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. Last season’s relegation ended 112 years of continuous Football League membership, so it will be interesting to see what happens on Saturday when young meets old. Barrow meanwhile have a more straightforward looking National League fixture when hosting Maidstone United. The FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round takes centre stage for clubs from Tiers 6 -10, but the Red Rose County has just 4 representatives. Two of them clash in the David v Goliath tie of the round. The Ashton Athletic v Chorley match-up is being streamed live on the BBC web site at 12.30 from Brocstedes Park in Ashton-in-Makerfield, a small town to the south of Wigan. Although there can surely be only one winner, it is so refreshing to see such an unpretentious club mixing it in the draw with six former post-war Football League clubs. One of these is Stockport County who play host to FC United of Manchester. Although both these sides are from the same league, County are having a much better season and FCUM will have to show lots of improvement to progress to the final qualifying round. Finally Lancaster City play fellow Northern Prem side Shaw Lane Association in Barnsley. The two sides met the other week, the Dolly Blues producing an outstanding performance to win 2-0 at the Giant Axe. This should be a corker of a rematch. Amongst other important non-league fixtures, the struggling Marine welcome Lincolnshire’s Grantham Town who are settled mid-table in the Northern Premier League, and Colne play host to Trafford, needing a win to kick-start their climb into the safer reaches of the Northern Premier League 1 North. In the North West Counties Premier League, the game of the day is at Mossie Park where Charnock Richard clash with Bootle, both sides desperately chasing runaway leaders Runcorn Town. In the NWC League 1, Nelson will desperately need points to climb off the bottom spot against a usually poor Eccleshall side.

Post Weekend Musings

The word “appellation” can be found on most French wine bottles e.g. Appellation Bordeaux Controlee, but in English it means “tag on to” or “add on to”, in our case the principal name of a football club, e.g. Oldham Athletic. Of the 92 professional Premier and Football League teams in England, 68 do actually have an appellation. “City”, “Town” and “County” have geographical or administration links, ”United” indicates the joining of two or more clubs and “Athletic” is a word in common sporting usage, popular Stateside. “Rovers” and “Wanderers” hark back to the days when a club did not have a permanent base and “Albion”, which is mentioned in Shakespeare’s King Lear, is the oldest known name of the islands which we inhabit. Virtually every appellation follows the name of the town/city except for the recently popular AFC which precedes the name (AFC Bournemouth and AFC Wimbledon). If you class yourself as a nerd or an anorak, I am sure that you want to know which is the most popular. The answer is actually a dead heat, “United” and “City” claiming 13 each with “Town” close behind with 12. “Rovers” come next with 4 and “County”, “Albion”, “Wanderers” and “Athletic” have 3 each. There are 12 appellations mentioned once. Can you think of them all?

 Rochdale gave a debut to Daniel Adzhead on Tuesday evening at Bury in the EFL Trophy, a game they won 4-0. Adzhead was aged 16 years 17 days, a club record, but he had to change away from the adult players because of Child Protection regulations. Yes, the world has gone crazy.

Barrow have now made a permanent managerial appointment to replace Paul Cox. Micky Moore, a former Derby County and Swansea City player who had been assistant to Cox, will now be number 1.

Managers are paid to put the interest of their club first. Pep Guardiola (pictured) is paid an obscene amount of money to do this and it can therefore be argued that when he makes derogatory noises about the League Cup and the Sky Blues future part in it, he believes that non-participation will only benefit the club.

At this stage of the campaign, the League takes precedence with every stakeholder. After Christmas, with a potential Wembley appearance and Europa League place at stake, it is a somewhat different story, but I do agree with how he must be feeling at the moment. There is much more to worry about than a tricky midweek away cup tie at West Brom. There are two areas however where I do take issue with the Catalan. Prior to 2010, the Sky Blues had won nothing since 1969, apart from the then Division 1 title (now Championship) in 2002 and……2 Cups; the Football League Cup in 1970 and 1976. In the ensuing 33 years, they would have done anything to win this particular trophy. “City” may be a massive club now but English football is all about peaks and troughs and you can be certain that somewhere down the line, there will be another massive trough. Secondly, how long will Guardiola be at the Etihad? It cannot be money that is his driving force; Bayern would have paid him the earth. It cannot be simply winning titles; that was a given at Barcelona. This is no Sir Alex and if he does more than a 5 year stint in Manchester I will be amazed. So listen to him if you will, but these are selfish words of a man thinking only about his club during his stewardship; certainly not “City’s” long term needs or the good of the game in this country.

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

1                     On which North West ground did Brazil (often with a limping Pele) play all 3 of their group games in the 1966 World Cup?

2                     From whom did Manchester City buy the Brazilian international Robinho (pictured) in 2008 for £32.5 million, smashing their transfer record in the process?

3                     Which current Football League club holds the record for playing for 90 consecutive seasons in the league, never being relegated out of it but has never been promoted  in to the top two levels of English football?

4                     Chris Waddle, one of England’s greatest post war wingers and infamous for missing a penalty v the Germans in a World Cup semi-final, only managed for 1 year; for which club in 1997-98?

5                     Who captained Manchester United from 1997-2005, a period in which they won 4 Premier League titles, 2 FA Cups and one Champions’ League trophy?

6                     Kevin Nolan (pictured in the West Ham United colours) is now having success as the Notts County manager, but he started his career with which club?

7                     He retired from the game in 1958, having spent the last 5 years of his playing career at Accrington Stanley. He was then simultaneously, coach at Leeds United and memorably the England trainer during the 1966 World Cup. Who was he?

8                     Preston North End’s only defeat this season up to September 22 was away from home against which team which had former Deepdale favourite David Nugent leading their attack?    

9                     Reading had played at Elm Park for many years but in 1998 they moved to which new ground, named after their Chairman?

10                 Who was Liverpool’s first £1million signing, a player whom the Reds signed from Newcastle United in 1987?

Red Rose County Non-league Club of the Week

West Didsbury & Chorlton

Football clubs founded before the 1st World War often had an affiliation to a church; Manchester City for example can trace its origins back to St Mark’s, Gorton. Likewise West Didsbury and Chorlton started out as Christ Church in 1908 before changing its name to West Didsbury to better represent its geographical location. This suburban area is on the south side of the city of Manchester, just inside the M60 and for many years, the club played in the Lancashire and Cheshire League, a strictly Amateur organisation. “West” had a permanent pitch on Christie Fields. It was Council owned property but the elected body, doing what elected bodies regularly do, sold the land for building. As a result, the club had a nomadic existence for several seasons, playing on various other Council pitches until they took the plunge in 1987. Assisted by a number of grants and fund raising activities, they took over the dilapidated Brookburn Road Stadium (pictured) in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, a football ground that was enclosed.

Season by season, the stadium was improved and in 2003, to take cognisance of the change of location, the name of the club was also changed to West Didsbury and Chorlton. The new ground was a catalyst for all things good as they moved to the more competitive Manchester League in 2006, dominating the prestigious Murray Shield and racing through the Divisions to reach the Premier League by 2011. By this time floodlights had been erected and, along with a refurbished club house, land was purchased to provide pitches for an ever expanding Junior Section. In 2012 they were elected to the North West Counties League 1, gaining promotion at the first time of asking and in the four subsequent seasons, have settled into the NWC Premier League, finishing 5th and 6th in the last two campaigns. In the 2015, they set the highest winning margin in the FA Vase, defeating Dinnington Town from South Yorkshire by a colossal 15-1 score line. This season, West Didsbury & Chorlton, playing in  white and black shirts, have shown consistency under manager Steve Settle and they regularly pull in crowds of 200 plus. Their progress over the last 20 years hints at far more to come although they are not quite ready for a promotion from an “on the field” perspective. In terms of meeting ground grading criteria to reach the Northern Premier League, more work is required but this club is an example of what a club can do if the committee and volunteers are prepared to be positive. “West” could have thrown the towel in when the Council sold their pitch, but they are now the city of Manchester’s 4th best side. 

Quiz Answers:  1 Goodison Park, 2 Real Madrid, 3 Rochdale, 4 Burnley, 5 Roy Keane, 6 Bolton Wanderers, 7 Les Cocker, 8 Derby County, 9 Madejski Stadium, 10 Peter Beardsley.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017


Red Rose Football Blog Edition 48

September 18th 2017

Red Rose Player of the Week

Sergio Aguero; Manchester City

In the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the 60s and 70s, the music paper would place an image of a bullet next to any disc which was climbing, hence the expression “Bohemian Rhapsody is #4 with a bullet”. Casting an eye down the list of all-time Premier League goal scorers, it can be seen that Sergio Aguero is #12 with a bullet. His hat-trick at Watford on Saturday has drawn him level with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink with 127 strikes and Robin van Persie on 144 is next in his sights. Only the Dutchman and Thierry Henry of the foreign contingent have now netted on more occasions and of the current crop of strikers, only Wayne Rooney and the ageless Jermaine Defoe are higher up the list. Aguero does not resemble a traditional centre forward. At 5’8”, he is definitely on the small side, but as Phil Neville suggested on “Match of the Day”, his strength is his lack of size. In the same way that Messi and before him Maradona were so difficult to “shift” off the ball, Aguero can keep the ball and his balance at speed, despite the attempts of defenders to out-physical him, no doubt because of his low centre of gravity. With five from five so far this season, can he be the first striker to net 30 in a campaign since Luis Suarez in 2013-14 or even challenge the record of 34, held jointly by Alan Shearer and Andy Cole?

Red Rose County Local Football Heroes

Leon Osman; Everton

Strong boys tend to dominate in both club and schools’ football; even in the Academies where skills are supposed to be paramount. You do have to be strong, athletic and physical to make your presence felt on a football pitch to complement the essential skills, techniques and footballing intelligence, but unfortunately, decisions about a boy’s future generally take place in their 15th or 16th year. As youngsters develop physically at different ages, the small 15 year old who inevitably struggles to make an impact can be shown the door, even though there is an amount of evidence to show that some physiologically mature so much in the subsequent three years that they can be playing first team football at 18. This was the case with Steven Gerrard, where thankfully Steve Heighway at Liverpool was shrewd enough to be patient with the future England captain. Similarly Leon Osman (pictured) at Everton had Ray Hall in his corner. He too was allowed to develop at his own pace and it had been apparent from watching him perform well at County level for Lancashire Schools’ FA that this was going to be some player, with the proviso that he eventually matured physically. Leon was from the Skelmersdale area, a fertile hunting ground for Everton scouts and he joined their Academy as a youngster. Although always competitive, intelligent and an excellent passer of the ball, his lack of inches plus a serious injury sustained shortly after being part of Everton’s 1998 FA Youth Cup winning side, severely hampered his progress. Consequently he was 23 before he broke into the First Team at Goodison Park. For the next 10 years he was a virtual ever-present in a Toffees team which, although comfortably retaining their place in the Premier League, rarely threatened to win anything. They did reach the Final of the FA Cup in 2009, Osman starting as they lost out 2-1 to Chelsea. He had managed 2 games in their Champions’ League season  of 2005-06 and he played a total of 16 UEFA Cup games as David Moyes’ side became the nearly men of English football between 2008 and 2010, with a final Europa League swan song under Roberto Martinez in 2014-15. By then he had reached the pinnacle of his career, being selected by Roy Hodgson to represent England against Sweden in a friendly fixture and in a World Cup qualifier v San Marino during the 2012-13 season. At the age of 31, he was never going to be a long term prospect, but he played in every Premier League game the following season before his career began to peter out, making just 30 appearances in his last two seasons. Retirement came in 2016 for this one club man, a terrier of a midfield player who scored 43 times in 352 league appearances. He has played in more Premier League games than any other Everton player and although rarely a headline maker, the fans at Goodison Park loved this ultra-competitive local boy.  He was 100% reliable each time he pulled on the blue shirt, the hallmark of all local heroes.

  Performances of the last week

It was a golden opportunity to snatch some money from the bookies; a treble on the three Red Rose County representatives to win their opening Champions’ League encounters.  Manchester United let no-one down (except possibly their manager), when comfortably outclassing FC Basel at Old Trafford. United have not tasted defeat at home in any competition for over a year, but Jose Mourinho was annoyed that his side took their foot off the pedal after cruising to a 2-0 lead, accusing them of "Play Station football”. They do however seem certain to top Group A. Manchester City travelled to Rotterdam to play Feyenoord in Group F, the shock winners of the 1970 version of this competition. But that victory over Glasgow Celtic was from an age long since departed and the Dutch side were making their first appearance in the group stages of the Champions’ League since 2002. City stormed to 3-0 after 25 minutes and it would have been a cricket score had not Giovanni van Bronckhorst, manager and ex-Arsenal full back, packed his defence for the rest of the game. The tactic had some success as the Sky Blues only added one more to the final score; an unlikely second for John Stones (pictured). City, likewise, are long odds-on to win their group.

Unfortunately the “treble bet” went down at Anfield. To be fair, Sevilla are always a good side; undoubtedly the 4th best in Spain. After a dodgy start, the Reds seemed in total control but Robert Firmino hit the post with a penalty that would have made it 3-1. From then on, the Spaniards were always in with a chance and no-one was surprised with their second half equaliser. Once again it was less than convincing defending that was Liverpool’s downfall but with Spartak Moscow and NK Maribor also sharing the points, Liverpool can convincingly qualify, although probably in second place in Group E. It was far, far worse for their neighbours across the park. Playing away in Italy, Everton were 3-0 down v Atalanta before half-time in the first group game of the Europa League. The Toffees managed to steady the ship from then onwards but the score remained the same to the bitter end. There is no doubt that Ronald Koeman has a difficult job on his hands, in spite of splashing out a massive amount of money pre-season. He has still to solve the problem caused by the exit of his striker Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United but a score line of this nature asks serious questions about the defensive capabilities of the side. Until these questions are answered (and they certainly weren’t at Old Trafford this weekend), there may be many more dismal performances of this nature. As of this moment, the Goodison side is not favourite to exit Group E and qualify for the knock–out phase of Europe’s second most important competition.

In the immortal 1996 words of Baddiel and Skinner, “football’s coming home” for the good citizens of Manchester. No doubt narked by the capital’s success in last season’s Premier League, both Manchester City and Manchester United have hit the ground sprinting. After a mere 5 matches, phrases such as “a two horse race” are being used and purely alphabetical order is separating the two clubs at the head of the table. Watford have made a very decent start under the ex-Hull City boss Marco Silva, but they were contemptuously swept away at Vicarage Road as the Sky Blues, with three in each half, administered six of the best without reply. The following day at Old Trafford, the “Reds” left it late to deliver the coup de grace to Everton, but with three in the last 10 minutes, there was no arguing with a 4-0 score line. This battle royal could make it a season to remember. Compliments are also in order for Burnley who yet again have successfully travelled to Champions’ League contenders. Liverpool are the latest to feel the frustration after the Clarets’ fully deserved 1-1 draw at Anfield. Was it only last season when they were clueless away from home?   

Alex Neil took Norwich City out of the Championship at the first time of asking. Can he possibly similarly achieve with Preston North End? It was a good day to travel to play Birmingham City who are in a sorry state, but 3-1 is an emphatic score line. Jordan Hugill and Tom Barkhuizen, both prominent goal scorers last season, were both on target as North End ran rampart in the second half; scoring three times in 11 minutes to move into 4th place. Blackpool and Wigan Athletic are similarly placed in League 1, both winning comfortably at home on Saturday against useful opposition. The Tangerines have surprised many so far this year, capitalising on their late promotion run via the Play-Offs in May. This was an entertaining performance with all three goals scored from outside of the penalty box, Kyle Vassell twice and Callum Cooke being the ones to oblige. The Latics’ cause was made easier with the 30th minute dismissal of a Bristol Rovers defender; Nick Powell (pictured) smashing home the resulting free kick. Further goals from Will Grigg and Gavin Massey ensured that the score line reflected the one-sided nature of the game. With Shrewsbury Town’s unexpected 5 point lead being certain to be whittled away, the two Red Rose clubs are definitely in the promotion mix.

It was a good Red Rose County day in League 2, Accrington Stanley putting their woeful home midweek defeat to Grimsby Town behind them to win 2-1 at Chesterfield. This victory keeps them in the automatic promotion slots and Morecambe will be relieved by their 2-1 home win over the much improved Newport County which moves them 4 points clear of relegation in 16th spot. Once again Billy Kee was on target for Stanley, along with Leeds United loanee Mallik Wilks, whilst veteran striker Kevin Ellison netted twice for the Shrimps.

The FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round brought scant success to the North West, although Lancaster City comfortably defeated Droylsden 4-0, Ryan Winder netting a couple in the last few minutes before an encouraging crowd of 301 spectators. Chorley as expected won 3-1 at lowly Stalybridge Celtic from the league below, the Josh Wilson/Jason Walker partnership once again featuring on the score sheet. Both the struggling FC United of Manchester and the high-flying Warrington Town live to fight another day following 1-1 draws at Handsworth Parramore and at home to Hyde United respectively. The most magnificent Cup performance of the week however came in Bradford where Ashton Athletic have reached the 3rd Qualifying Round for the first time in their history by crushing the host club Albion Sports 4-0, Joshua Nicholson grabbing a hat-trick. In the Northern Premier League 1 North, Radcliffe Borough, now managed by the former Preston North End striker Jonathan Macken eased their relegation fears with a thumping 4-1 win over Skelmersdale United. Stanislav Zhekov was twice on target for the Borough but “Skem’s” woes continue as they view the possibility of a second successive relegation. In the North West Counties Premier Division, City of Liverpool FC rekindled their promotion charge with a 4-2 win over Barnton. They have two 2 games in hand, but Runcorn Town are way out front with their 100% record still intact. There was good news at last for St Helens Town supporters in NWC Division 1. They eventually gained their first points of the season, albeit at the bottom of the league FC Oswestry Town, enabling them to happily travel back to their newly built Ruskin Drive home following a 3-0 victory.

Games to look forward to this week

The midweek action concerns the last 32 of the EFL Cup. Six of our teams are still involved, the 5 Premier League sides plus Bolton Wanderers who visit the Olympic Stadium to play West Ham United. The Burnley v Leeds United match-up is interesting if only because it gives the Clarets’ Kiwi international Chris Wood the opportunity to play against his old side. Manchester City could have a battle on their hands at the Hawthorns against the uncompromising West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool could have asked for an easier task than an away trip to Leicester City as they bid to return to winning ways. Everton have had to endure some difficult fixtures recently but they ought to rediscover the taste of winning when a struggling Sunderland come down to Goodison Park whilst Manchester United must surely come through against the Championship’s Burton Albion whichever eleven Jose Mourinho chooses to start with.

For once, all of our Premier League clubs play on Saturday. The closest encounter should be at Turf Moor where Huddersfield Town are the visitors. The Tykes, as newly promoted sides often do, made a stirring start but after 5 games, only goal difference separates them and Burnley in the top half of the table. The Yorkshire side can play some excellent football but whether that leaves an impression on the Clarets or not will be revealed by 5.00 on Saturday. Manchester United have a potentially tricky trip down to the south coast to meet the unpredictable Southampton. The St Mary’s side appear to have recruited well once again so the Reds will have to be at their best to prevent any slip-ups because Manchester City must surely defeat a pointless Crystal Palace at The Etihad. In a game between two extremely flaky sides, home advantage may help Everton to overcome AFC Bournemouth, but such has been the form of both clubs this season that you would be brave to predict a victory for either one. In a bizarre twist to the fixture list, Liverpool make their second visit to Leicester City’s King Power Stadium within 4 days for the Tea-time fixture. I am somehow confident that the Merseysiders will fashion a victory in at least one of the meetings, but expecting Juergen Klopp’s men to win two on the bounce at the moment is a big ask. It is not out of the question for 15 points to be collected by the Red Rose clubs, but this is the ultra-competitive Premier League where the majority of accumulator bets more often than not go down.

Both of our Championship sides have home advantage with Bolton Wanderers having an excellent opportunity to break their duck. They worked extremely hard last weekend before going down 2-0 to a fancied Ipswich Town with Gary Madine (pictured) twice going close.

Brentford, who currently occupy a relegation place along with the Wanderers, are the visitors on Saturday. It is a chance that Bolton must take if they are to begin their long climb out of danger. The sun is shining on Deepdale at the moment and Preston North End can continue their impressive run of form against Millwall. The South London side, who came up via the Play-Offs last season, have drawn at Queen’s Park Rangers and beaten leaders Leeds United in their last two games and so they will be a test for North End, but PNE are famously difficult to beat at home. The League 1 computer has produced three tasty fixtures for this weekend. Blackpool can do little wrong at the moment but it will not be easy to win away at Bristol Rovers, but even more exciting are Wigan Athletic’s visit to 2nd placed Peterborough United and Blackburn Rovers’ away trip to leaders Shrewsbury Town. The Cambridgeshire side is my tip for promotion but the Latics have the ability to cause a minor upset here and the Rovers were on a run of 4 victories before the dreadful home loss to AFC Wimbledon last Saturday, so they have the fire power to dismantle the Shropshire surprise package. Fleetwood Town ought to have too much for a Southend United side which has failed to achieve a victory since the season’s opener and Rochdale, with home advantage, ought to scrape through against Gillingham who sit alongside of them in the league; 20th and 21st. Unfortunately the two Red Rose County clubs who currently need the most help both have difficult fixtures. Bury have to cross the Thames into south-east London to face a Charlton side which is on the fringe of automatic promotion and Oldham Athletic, who have shown glimpses of better form recently are away in South Yorkshire to an unpredictable but “deadly on their day” Rotherham United. Bury were desperately unlucky not to have beaten Plymouth Argyle last weekend when the recently signed striker Michael Smith (pictured in his Portsmouth strip) could have scored at least three.

Oldham likewise should have had at least a draw against pacesetters Shrewsbury Town so both sides will look to build on Saturday’s performances as they face difficult away opposition. In League 2, Accrington Stanley should have little trouble in defeating a struggling Cheltenham Town, although we have had similar thoughts before, but Morecambe will not find the long trip to Stevenage easy, although the Hertfordshire side has yet to consistently find the form that almost brought promotion last time around.

Barrow have an immensely difficult game on Saturday in the National League. They face recent league leaders Sutton United, once famous for defeating Coventry City, reigning FA Cup holders in Round 3 of the 1987-88 season. They are more recently infamous for having the rotund Wayne Shaw on the bench for their 5th Round FA Cup defeat to Arsenal last winter. Shaw, the reserve goalkeeper, was heavily fined by the FA for conspiring to influence a bet placed on him, eating a pasty in full glare of the TV cameras during the game. Back to this weekend, the Bluebirds will struggle to return north with even a point, judged on recent results. AFC Fylde have had few problems scoring goals in their debut season at this level but have been conceding far too many also. They will find Woking strong opposition and just behind the leaders in a very compacted division, but the Coasters need points to prevent being sucked into a relegation dog fight. In the National League North, Salford City who were unexpectedly turfed out of the FA Cup by York City, ought to return to winning ways and continue on their assault at the league title by winning at Gainsborough Trinity, some 18 points and 18 places below them. Marine are having to fight for survival once again in their 39th consecutive season in the Northern Premier League. They travel to Whitby Town, one point below them in what even at this stage of the season is a “6 pointer”. Two of our more unpredictable sides in the Northern Premier League 1 North clash on Saturday at Mossley’s high altitude ground. Atherton Collieries need the points more than Mossley, but picking a winner is almost impossible. It is FA Vase day yet again and the all Liverpool clash will not be one for the purists. AFC Liverpool are at home to City of Liverpool with a place in the 1st Round proper plus £750 from the FA prize fund at stake, not to mention the bragging rights within the city. It should be explosive.

Post Weekend Musings

The breaking news on the Bolton Wanderers web site was categorically clear. The transfer embargo is no longer active and normal service has been resumed at the Macron Stadium. Whilst this is excellent news, there are undoubted knock-on effects from what has probably been the lowest point in the history of this great Championship club; one of the twelve founder members of the Football League of course. They can immediately begin to buy players, except they can’t because the “transfer window” is now closed and will be until New Year’s Day. On current form, the Wanderers could be 10 points from safety before they begin the process of introducing fresh talent to the squad and as near neighbours Blackburn Rovers discovered last season, you can have a relatively successful second half to the campaign and still be relegated. Bolton fans can only hope that in the short term, Phil Parkinson can bring solidity to a group which thus far has been unequal to the task; damage limitation to see them through the next two and a half months. It will then be up to Ken Anderson and his Board of Directors to support him financially as the New Year begins. It will be frustrating for the loyal fans, but they have to be patient and support, support and support.

It may not be football, but it is certainly Red Rose County related and I have rarely come across a football fanatic who is not enamoured by the sound of leather on willow. So many, many congratulations to Burnley’s own Jimmy Anderson on becoming only the sixth cricketer in the long history of test cricket to take over 500 wickets. The “Burnley Express” learned to bowl in the shadow of Turf Moor’s Cricket Field Stand which backs on to Burnley Cricket Club. This undoubted Lancashire hero was educated at St Theodore’s RC High School in Burnley, always recognised locally as an academy for sport long before the word was in popular use educationally. At 35, he is still in his prime and with Courtney Walsh’s total of 519 wickets in his sights; he could well become a member of the all-time top five on “the down” under Ashes tour this winter.

The draw for the 3rd Qualifying Round of the FA Cup has been made, ties to be played on Saturday September 30th. Barrow, AFC Fylde and the other 22 clubs from the National League join the competition in the 4th Qualifying Round. The Red Rose clubs involved are…… Ashton Athletic v Chorley, Shaw Lane v Lancaster City, Stockport County v Handsworth Parramore or FC United of Manchester, Boston Town v Hyde United or Warrington Town.

He may no longer be a Red Rose County player, having been sold to West Bromwich Albion during the summer, but Gareth Barry (pictured) has played his part with both Manchester City and Everton, making 132 and 131 appearance respectively.

He has been capped by England on 53 occasions, covering a twelve year period but history will probably recognise him as the man who has made the most Premier League appearances. His appearance for West Brom against West Ham United on Saturday was a record equalling 632, matching the feat of Ryan Giggs of Manchester United and if all goes well, he will probably beat Giggsy’s total next Monday evening at the Emirates against Arsenal. It is a wonderful achievement for the 36 year old and a testimony to his skill, character and the way he has looked after himself. Have Everton have missed his steadying influence this season in midfield? I think many Toffees fans would say “yes”.

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

1                    Which Premier League club did Sven-Goran Eriksson (pictured) manage after leaving the England job?

2                    What is the club that replaced Accrington Stanley in Division 4 on their liquidation in 1962 and was then replaced by Stanley in 2006 on their return to League 2?

3                    Who, of the current Burnley squad, has made the most league appearances for the club?

4                    The only non-British player to make over 500 Premier League appearances was a goalkeeper with Middlesbrough, Fulham, Chelsea and Leicester City. Who is he?

5                    Who is the last Englishman to have permanently managed Everton, leaving the club in 1998?

6                    Ryan Bertrand has played 16 times for England, but from whom did Southampton buy him for a reported £10million in 2015?

7                    Craig Conway (pictured) was signed by Blackburn Rovers in January 2014. He had been on loan at Brighton but which then Premier League side actually sold him to the Rovers?

8                    Who scored the winning goal for Arsenal in the final seconds of the final game of the 1988-89 season against Liverpool, giving the Gunners the title over Liverpool on goals scored, before being signed by the Merseyside club and going on to make 124 league appearances at Anfield?

9                    This former Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers and Leicester City striker played 10 times for Scotland and, during this current decade, managed Oldham Athletic. Who is he?

10                Jesse Lingard scored the winning goal in the 2016 FA Cup Final for Manchester United during extra time in their 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace, but which United player had scored their equaliser during normal time?

Red Rose County Non-league Club of the Week

Padiham FC

There has been football played in the small north-east Lancashire town of Padiham since the club bearing the town’s name was founded in 1878, six years before its near neighbour Burnley FC. They had a ground on the banks of the River Calder, close to the centre of the town and attendances in the thousands watched games against the neighbouring local town clubs. The rise of professionalism during the 1880s badly hit the smaller teams but they played in the 1884 FA Cup, going out to eventual winners Blackburn Rovers in Round 3. Padiham played without success in the Lancashire Combination from 1894 through to 1915, but the loss of available players due to the 1st World War caused the club to fold and it was not revived until after the 2nd World War.

In 1949, The Arbories Memorial Sports Ground (pictured with Padiham playing in blue) was opened, which included a league standard cricket ground adjacent to a small football stadium and stunning views of the town church and the Pennine Hills.

The reformed Padiham FC was given use of the ground and immediately re-joined the Lancashire Combination. Success continued to be hard to come by, with just a solitary promotion to Division 1 followed by an immediate relegation in 1962. In 1968, the “Storks” as they are known in the area, quit the Combination to play locally. They returned in 1977 and remained in that league through the period of the name change to the North West Counties. Once again success eluded them and from 1990, financial constraints forced them down into the second level of the West Lancs League. Money was raised and the ground developed to Tier 10 standard and since 2000, they have played in the NWC Football League, eventually in the Premier Division. Floodlights have been installed, covered seating added and in 2013, they were promoted as champions to the Northern Premier League 1 North. This was the standout achievement of their modern history, the highest level of the game that the club has been involved in for a century. It lasted for 3 years before relegation caused them to drop down to the NWC Premier League once more. This season is proving to be tough and 17th position does not breed confidence, but they are still in the FA Vase after thumping Thackley from West Yorkshire by a 5-0 margin. With an average attendance well into three figures, a new management team and a well organised committee, this historical club now needs a successful run on the pitch to propel itself up the league. 

Quiz Answers:  1 Manchester City, 2 Oxford United, 3 Ben Mee, 4 Mark Schwarzer, 5 Howard Kendall, 6 Chelsea, 7 Cardiff City, 8 Michael Thomas, 9 Paul Dickov, 10 Juan Mata.