Soccer AM/MW - the home of lively and humorous discussion from the Football and Non Leagues

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Big Match Preview

Doncaster Rovers vs. Nottingham Forest
Saturday October 2, 15:00, Keepmoat Stadium

Two sides level on points in the Championship
meet this weekend as Doncaster and Nottingham Forest go head-to-head at the Keepmoat Stadium.

Both teams sit in mid-table, just a win off the top six, and will hope three points on Saturday will take them closer towards those coveted play-off positions.

Rovers will be seeking to return to winning ways after successive defeats in away games at QPR and Coventry in the last week.

Despite controlling the first half against Rangers, the Yorkshire side fell apart late on to lose 3-0, they then conceded another late goal at the Ricoh Arena in midweek in a 2-1 defeat.

Boss Sean O'Driscoll will hope home comforts - Donny are unbeaten at the Keepmoat this term - will see a more profitable return from the weekend's game therefore.

Playing the passing football which has become their hallmark, home wins have been secured against Norwich and Hull, as well as draws against Bristol City and Leeds.

Central for Rovers has been the form of striker Billy Sharp, whose goal in midweek was his third of the campaign. James Coppinger with four, including a hat-trick in their win over Norwich, could also be a key man.

Visitors Forest arrive looking to extend an eight match unbeaten run in the league. Not since an opening day loss at Burnley have they tasted defeat.

Nottingham Forest manager Billy Davies is eyeing the top six again

Although victories have been hard to come by - the East Midlands side have won just twice - Billy Davies's side look typically well organised and are expected to feature towards the top again.

Forest were play-off semi final losers to Blackpool in May, something which may partly account for their slow beginning to this term.

Wily boss Davies has been petitioning his board at the City Ground for further additions to a squad he feels is currently lacking. However, Forest still have one of the strongest teams in the division.

Keeper Lee Camp is arguably the best in the Championship and, with the likes of Dexter Blackstock and Robert Earnshaw, the Tricky Trees shouldn't be short of goals this term either.

Captain Paul McKenna is also a key man dictating things in midfield. His second half goal rescued a point for Forest against Sheffield United in midweek.

Forest's only away success this term was a 2-1 win at McKenna's old club Preston. Draws have also been recorded at Hull and Reading.

Both sides like to play the game the right way and this should be a good match to watch. Davies and Forest will not make life easy for Doncaster though.

With Rovers solid at home and Forest difficult to beat, a draw looks almost too predictable an outcome. So predictable, I wonder if Forest might just edge it.

Nobes' Prediction: Doncaster Rovers 0 Nottingham Forest 1

Nobes' Trivia 1: solutions

At the start of the month, Nobes set you three football trivia questions to get you thinking? Did you get the answers though? Here are the solutions:

Question 1 - Odd One Out

Which of these clubs is the odd one out, and why?

Barnet, Kidderminster, Macclesfield, Stevenage.

Solution: The odd one out are Barnet. All four clubs have been Conference champions twice, but the Bees are the only ones to have been promoted to the Football League on both occasions.

Question 2 - Hidden Link

What have the following clubs got in common?

Bristol City, Carlisle, Coventry, Exeter, Northampton, Norwich, Stockport.

Solution: All of the above clubs have a castle featured on their badge.

Question 3 - General

Accrington Stanley and Barnsley were the only teams to do this in the Football League last season. What?

Solution: These two were the only clubs who won as many games as they lost at home last season. Barnsley tasted both victory and defeat on eight occasions at Oakwell, while Accrington won 11 and lost 11 at home.

Talking Points - September 2010

As ever, there's plenty to talk about. Here's what the lads thought during September.

Saints and Sinners
After Southampton dismiss Alan Pardew, Nobes looks at some of the other shocking sackings from seasons past.

Wednesday show their Steel
Top of League One after the first five games, Turls considers the bouncebackability shown by Sheffield Wednesday.

Fleetwood Dreams Don't Stop Yet
After their bright start to their first ever Conference season, Nobes discusses Fleetwood Town's ambitions.

Right Man for the Right Job
Nobes argues it's suitability which is the most important factor when appointing a new manager.

I Can't Make You Love Me
Why is it that managers, like Carlisle's Greg Abbott, can still fail to win around fans despite winning matches? Nobes investigates.

Setting The Tone
Why managers should show more responsibility in the way they conduct themselves, as explained by Nobes.

Continually Foyled
With boss Martin Foyle resigning, Nobes considers how York are quickly becoming a bit too comfortable in their Non League surroundings.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where are they now - Glossop North End?

Our series on what happened to the clubs who used to ply their trade in the Football League continues with Nobes taking a look at the fortunes of Glossop.

It's the ultimate pub quiz question - which is the smallest town to have ever had a top flight club?

Of course, those under the impression that football began in 1992 - or the Gospel according to Sky, as it's known - would probably latch onto Burnley's season in the Premier League sun last term.

Not even close. Instead, that record belongs to Glossop North End, or simply Glossop, who spent one of their 17 seasons in the Football League among the very best England had to offer.

Indeed, most people are probably unaware the Derbyshire town ever had a Football League club, let alone one which was once among the 18 best teams in the country.

Then again, those days were right at the start of the 20th century - with their last season in the Football League coming in 1914/5.

Glossop's Football League era began with a bang - after being admitted into the Second Division in 1898 - the Hillmen won promotion to the top flight in their very first season.

It was the first season that automatic promotion and relegation had been introduced between the top two tiers, and they took full advantage.

Ultimately, North End pipped third place Leicester Fosse by just a single point to join Champions Manchester City in the First Division.

It was during the summer of 1899, in preparation for their top flight debut, that the club dropped the 'North End' part of their name - and were simply known as Glossop.

Some story for a small town from the High Peak. However, it was an early example of the power a rich and benevolent owner can have on elevating a small club to a platform otherwise beyond its reach.

Surrey Street is the modern day home of Glossop North End

That man was Sir Samuel Hill-Wood, Glossop born and bred, who made his fortune from the cotton industry.

Plowing an estimated £30,000 into the club - a large amount back then - Glossop's money, time, and effort in finding the best professional footballers they could tempt paid off handsomely.

However, making the step-up to the First Division and competing with the likes of Liverpool, Everton and the dominant force of the decade - Aston Villa - proved too much.

Glossop finished their one and only season in the top flight well adrift at the bottom. Relegated, they never returned, spending their remaining 15 years in the Second Division.

They finished 5th in their first season back - a position they never bettered. Indeed, their final league standings gradually worsened with successive finishes of 8th, 11th, and 17th.

A brief revival between 1908 and 1910 saw them post top half finishes of 8th and 6th as well as reaching the quarter finals of the FA Cup, but it was not to herald any future assault for promotion.

Hill-Wood's support had dried up, and he would eventually leave the club during the First World War. He later took over as chairman at Arsenal, where his grandson, Peter, remains chairman of the London club today.

The Hillmen - in the all white - faced Whitley Bay at Wembley in 2009

Glossop's decline had set in and, after twice narrowly finishing above bottom place, they ended the 1914/5 season in 20th - and lost a re-election vote before football was suspended due to the Great War.

The era of professional football at North Road was over and, after the end of the War, the club entered the Lancashire Combination League before switching to the Manchester League where they enjoyed relative success.

They remained changing between the two competitions before, in 1978, becoming founder members of the Cheshire County League and later the North West Counties League.

After spending the '80s yo-yoing between the new league's top two tiers, Glossop's very existence came under threat at the start of the '90s because of large debts and having had their Surrey Street ground sold from under them.

However, the club survived and went on to win promotion back to the First Division - prompting the club's new directors to revert back to their original name and restore the 'North End.'

They remain there today, holding their own in the North West Counties Premier - the ninth level of the pyramid.

The Hillmen's most notable success in recent times though was reaching Wembley in the FA Vase final in 2009. Ultimately, they lost out to Whitley Bay, but it had propelled Glossop back into the limelight.

Barring those pub quizzes, it had been a while. Next time, they'll hope it won't be quite as long.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Continually Foyled

After Martin Foyle's resignation as York boss, Nobes suggests the Minstermen are in danger of becoming part of the Conference furniture.

Martin Foyle twice took City to Wembley during his spell as manager

During his time as York City boss, Martin Foyle was living out of a local B&B for six nights a week.

In contrast, now in their seventh season in the Conference, City's place in Non League's top tier is beginning to look more than simply a temporary residence.

Of course, it could have been very different. Foyle's men were surprise qualifiers for the play offs last term having flirted with the drop 12 months earlier when the ex-Port Vale boss took charge.

However, the 47-year-old engineered a turnaround in fortunes and, after seeing off Luton in the semi finals, they faced Oxford at Wembley for a chance to regain their place among England's elite.

It wasn't to be on the day, with Chris Wilder's side emerging 3-1 victors. It was the closest City had come to getting back into the League though.

They had also qualified for the play offs in 2007, but on that occasion lost out in the semis to Morecambe.

Having had to wait three years after that Morecambe loss to have another go in the play offs, City fans will now be concerned how long they will have to go until they get another opportunity.

Indeed, a look back into the history books makes depressing reading for the Bootham Crescent faithful.

Automatic relegation from the Football League was introduced in 1987, with one side taking the plunge into the Conference before being extended to two in 2003.

Ten different clubs were relegated in those 16 years, and two others - Maidstone and Aldershot - lost their place due to financial problems.

However, of those ten, Lincoln, Darlington, and Colchester all made swift returns to the League.

Halifax returned only to go down again and then out of existence altogether. Scarborough and Newport were not as fortunate - both clubs ultimately folding and phoenix clubs being established in their place.

Chester were relegated in 2000, returned in 2004 but, after relegation in 2009, then went out of business last season.

The other three -
Barnet, Doncaster and Hereford have all since returned after spells of four, five, and nine years respectively, and remain in the 92 club today.

Of those sides relegated since two-up two-down was introduced in 2003, long-standing Football League clubs Shrewsbury, Exeter, Carlisle, Oxford, and Torquay all bounced back.

Kidderminster, Rushden, and Boston - promoted in successive years at the turn of the Millennium - all spent five years in the League before dropping back down to more familiar territory.

That leaves Cambridge United - relegated in 2005 - as the only other traditional League club besides York to currently be enduring a prolonged spell in the Conference.

The U's couldn't have come much closer though, and were beaten play-off finalists in both 2008 and 2009.

Like their League days, York's Bootham Crescent is a thing of the past

However, like City, they too have fluctuated between campaigns of challenging in and around the top five and struggling towards the bottom and fighting relegation.

The key, it appears, is getting out as quickly as possible. The longer you stay down, the harder it becomes to escape.

The problem for both is the longer they spend in the Conference the more the question must be considered: are they actually that out of their place?

After all, despite being the county town, when it comes to the footballing hotbed of Yorkshire, the Minstermen are very much the poor relations.

City will never be able to compete against the two Sheffield giants or Leeds. They will also always play second fiddle to the mining towns of Barnsley, Doncaster, and Rotherham, not to mention a resurgent Huddersfield.

Of course, it's not these clubs who York must try to compete against on the pitch. Instead, it is the wave of new Football League clubs who have made the breakthrough in the last decade.

The likes of Burton, Morecambe, Stevenage, and Dagenham may not have the pedigree of City, but they appear to be upwardly mobile clubs with an eye on the future.

It is reflected in the fact that three of them now play in purpose built stadiums, and the Daggers have been steadily re-developing their Victoria Road ground to coincide with their transition into the League.

A quick look around Bootham Crescent however and, for all its traditional lower league charm, it very much has the look of a past era.

While others clubs have been moving forward, the likes of York - who endured huge financial troubles in 2002 - have been standing still. It's no surprise they have been overtaken therefore.

It's no surprise either then that Minstermen supporters are now pressing hard for the construction of a new community stadium that the club can use. They know, as with many other clubs, it is crucial to their future.

Indeed, it shapes the entire question of where they wish their future to be. Without realising it, York are quickly becoming part of the Conference furniture.

Not only are they facing competition for promotion from an increasing number of former Football League outfits like Grimsby, Mansfield, and Wrexham, but also from wealthy upstarts like Fleetwood and Crawley.

It was a sign of the times that City were unable to hold onto their prized asset - striker Richard Brodie - when the latter came calling with a six figure bid during the summer.

Replacing Brodie, whose goals fired them to the brink of promotion last term, was never going to be an easy task. His loss, coupled with City's slow start this term, probably made Foyle's mind up that he could take the club no further.

The Brodie transfer was a worrying sign, too. In the past, City only lost striker Andy Bishop to a Football League club in Bury and they were able to reject a bid of £200,000 for fellow hitman Clayton Donaldson before he left on a free to Hibernian.

Selling Brodie to a Conference rival - and a smaller, if richer, club at that - would have stuck in the throats of York fans. If they can't compete with Crawley, can they compete at all?

Is the harsh reality that, despite once, during the '70s, spending a couple of years in the second tier of English football, York have now found a more natural level? Is simply returning to the Football League now the height of their ambition?

Just as their surroundings in an historic city hark back to a different era, are the Minstermen themselves going to be consigned to simply being part of the Football League past?

Prediction League Week 8 continued

Unpredictable results contributed to a low scoring weekend on the Prediction League.

More points are up for grabs this evening though with Forest and Preston once again in action.

Leeds United vs. Preston North End

Leeds United 0-0 PNE
Leeds United 2-0 PNE
Leeds United 3-1 PNE

Nottingham Forest vs. Sheffield United

Lakes: Forest 1-0 Sheffield United
Forest 1-0 Sheffield United
Forest 2-0 Sheffield United

Monday, September 27, 2010

Big Match Review: Peterborough 2 MK Dons 1

Peterborough United 2-1 Milton Keynes Dons
Saturday September 25, London Road, (Att: 7,838)

Goals either side of half time helped Peterborough on their way to second in League One as they continued their fine home form against Milton Keynes Dons.

The away side had much of the early possession, and went close through Jermaine Easter's toe poke going narrowly wide of goal.

It was slightly against the run of play, therefore, when Peterborough went ahead just past the half hour mark. Craig Mackail Smith latched onto a flick by striking partner Aaron McLean and outpaced the Dons defence before slotting home.

However, just a minute later, Karl Robinson's men had restored parity through Dean Lewington

Posh failed to deal with a long throw into the box and the ball fell to Lewington to smash past Joe Lewis and send the teams into the break all square.

Just three minutes into the second half though, United found the winner. Skipper Grant McCann's delicious corner inviting McLean to power a header into the net.

Chris Whelpdale almost added a third for Gary Johnson's side from another McCann corner, and then Lee Tomlin had a shot blocked by David Martin in the Milton Keynes's goal.

With time running out, Easter went close again from another long throw, but the Buckinghamshire side were unable to find the equaliser as Posh kept up their 100% home record.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Prediction League Week 8

There was no change to the status quo in the Prediction League during Week 7, as Nobes continues to enjoy a healthy advantage at the top - albeit reduced by a single point to six.

With Lakes the closest challenger in second, the standings remarkably mirror those of last season at the exact same point.

This weekend, PNE and Forest are both in league action, while Boston begin their FA Cup campaign on home soil.

Coventry City vs. Preston North End

Lakes: Coventry City 3-2 PNE
Coventry City 2-0 PNE
Coventry City 3-1 PNE

Nottingham Forest vs. Swansea City

Lakes: Forest 1-1 Swansea City
Forest 2-0 Swansea City
Forest 2-0 Swansea City

Boston United vs. Worcester City

Skyrockets 4-0 Worcester City
Skyrockets 2-0 Worcester City
Skyrockets 3-0 Worcester City

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Big Match Preview

Peterborough United vs. Milton Keynes Dons
Saturday September 25, 15:00, London Road

It's 3rd against 5th in League One this weekend as two of the early front runners - Peterborough United and Milton Keynes Dons - meet at London Road.

Both sides enter the game off the back of midweek League Cup defeats but, with three points again up for grabs, they'll be looking to resume normal service in the league.

Posh went down to a 3-1 home defeat to Championship side Swansea - their first loss in all competitions on home soil. Indeed, their home record is very impressive to date.

In League One, 12 goals have been registered in their three home matches to see off Bristol Rovers, Oldham, and leaders Huddersfield.

Gary Johnson's men were top of the table themselves heading into last weekend's fixtures but were held to a 2-2 draw at Exeter - typical of their inconsistent away form.

Relegated from the second tier last year, the Cambridgeshire outfit expect to be in the running to immediately reclaim their spot in the Championship at the end of the campaign.

Leading that charge, once again, are the dangerous attacking trio of Aaron McLean, Craig Mackail Smith, and George Boyd. With 17 goals between them already - 11 in the league - they are a handful for any defence.

Grant McCann, a summer signing from Scunthorpe, has also proven an astute capture for Posh. As well as a couple of goals to his name, his midfield creativity and threat from set plays are another weapon in United's arsenal.

Aged just 30, Dons boss Karl Robinson is in his first ever manager's job

It's difficult, therefore, not to see a game including a few goals. Particularly since opponents Milton Keynes have already leaked seven in their three away trips.

That's included losses at fellow top six sides Carlisle and Brighton, although the Buckinghamshire team did manage an opening day success at Walsall.

Home form is also the strength of Karl Robinson's men, with three wins being followed by last weekend's 1-1 draw against Rochdale at stadium:mk.

Robinson, the youngest manager in the Football League, also saw his charges go down 3-1 at Premier League Birmingham in the League Cup, and will be looking for an immediate response in their biggest test of the season.

Leading lights in the Dons team include experienced forwards Jermaine Easter and Lewis Guy, both with two goals to their name to date.

However, the pair have been usurped by home-grown talent Sam Baldock. With four goals already, the England U20 international has made an excellent start to the season.

There are many similarities between these two teams early on. Both are stronger at home than on the road, and both are better going forwards than they are at the back.

For those reasons, it's difficult to see past Peterborough continuing their fine home record with another win.

Nobes' Prediction: Peterborough United 2 Milton Keynes Dons 1

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Prediction League Week 7 continued

It was a bad weekend for Turls who failed to score a single point from the three games. Even at this early stage, he now lies a full ten points off top spot.

Lakes was the highest scorer, picking up three points, and there's a further game this evening with Preston in League Cup action.

Wigan Athletic vs. Preston North End

Wigan Athletic 4-0 PNE
Wigan Athletic 2-0 PNE
Turls: Wigan Athletic 3-0 PNE

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What if... re-election hadn't ended?

Our series where we take a look back at pivotal moments in Football League history continues as Nobes asks what would have happened had automatic promotion from the Non Leagues not been introduced?

Walls come tumbling down: change was in the air 23 years ago

It's with a huge degree of bias that I say the following: 1987 was a special year. Indeed, there was plenty going on 23 years ago.

Maggie Thatcher was wrapping up a second landslide victory to stay in Number 10 for a third term. She then gave the go ahead for the Channel Tunnel to be constructed.

It was also the year of the Great Storm - Britain's worst for nearly 300 years - that battered parts of south and east England. Famously,
the previous evening BBC weatherman Michael Fish had dismissed the storm happening.

In popular culture, Americans first caught a glimpse of a TV family called The Simpsons.

After far too many years of an ageing Roger Moore
as James Bond getting cosy with much too young lasses we had a new 007, as well, with Timothy Dalton taking over the reins.

Things, it seemed, were changing. Typified by, perhaps, the most famous quote of all 1987 from US President Ronald Reagan who, on a visit to Berlin, demanded: "Mr Gorbachev - tear down this wall!"

That wouldn't happen for another couple of years. However, one barrier was being removed a little closer to home - that between the Football and Non Leagues.

Up until 1987, clubs seeking to gain promotion to the Football League from the Conference had to be elected by current League members.

It was the ultimate 'closed shop' with members able to prevent new clubs joining in favour of keeping the established order in place.

Indeed, the first eight winners of the Conference - established as the outright top division of Non League football in 1979 - failed to win election to the league.

Things had to change - and, in '87, they did. For the first time, the side who finished 92nd in the Football League would drop out of the top four tiers and be replaced by the Conference winners - as long as their ground met regulations.

So, it was probably appropriate that, in May 1987, Starship sat on top of the UK charts with 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now.' It was the prevailing mood among the ambitious clubs of the Conference desperate for their chance in the big time.

Neil Warnock and Martin O'Neill both led clubs into the Football League

That feeling was exhibited no more than on the North Sea coast - where the seaside town of Scarborough was celebrating their team having soared to the Conference title under the management of an ambitious Yorkshireman called Neil Warnock.

The Seadogs were to take their place in the Football League - eventually replacing Lincoln City - relegated after a frantic final day scrap also involving Torquay, and former English champions, Burnley.

The Imps became the first club to ever automatically be relegated from the 92 club - although they bounced back at the first attempt. No doubt they were thankful for the same rule they were cursing only 12 months earlier.

It was the beginning of the constant flow between the two divisions which - albeit thrice interrupted in the mid-1990s because of the condition of the grounds of the Conference winners - has become a natural feature of the English game.

In doing so, too, it opened the door to so many clubs previously restricted to try and make their mark in the Football League.

Just imagine, for a minute though, what might have happened had re-election not been scrapped? What if the team who won the Conference had to rely on a vote to gain membership of the Football League?

Without the change to the rules in 1987, what would fate have held for the likes of Wycombe Wanderers - Buckinghamshire's first professional club long before the MK Dons came into existence?

The Chairboys gained entry into the Football League in 1993 under Martin O'Neill and soon established themselves in what is now League One - remaining there for a decade.

In the past 17 years, they've also made it both the League Cup and FA Cup semi finals - memorably giving Chelsea and Liverpool runs for their respective money. Without automatic promotion, it may never have happened.

Yeovil Town, too, finally reached the promised land in 2004 after near misses in elections. After winning promotion in only their second season, they're now in their sixth consecutive season in the third tier.

Two clubs who, until the rules were changed, would never have been able to be the credit to the Football League they have become. Two counties in Buckinghamshire and Somerset that would never have enjoyed 92 club status.

Some could argue that they would have got there eventually. With persistence, a vote would have gone their way.

Altrincham's Moss Lane could have been a Football League ground in the '80s

Possibly, but history also shows that clubs who missed the boat have never got as close again.

Take the example of Enfield. The Hertfordshire outfit won the Conference title in 1983 and 1986 - the final season of re-election. They missed out in the vote on both occasions.

It was to prove their high point. The club spiralled back down the pyramid and financial problems eventually saw them wound up and a new club created in 2007.

Altrincham, too, are another club who seemed to have missed the Football League boat. The Greater Manchester outfit won the first two Conference titles but lost out in the re-election process both times.

That included, in 1980, losing out by just a single vote. Although they are still in the Conference, they are now a small fish competing alongside a plethora of ex-League teams. They may never return to those same heights.

For every Yeovil, Wycombe, or Boston - who lost out on a vote in 1978 before finally winning promotion in 2002 - there are clubs like Wealdstone and Runcorn who drifted into obscurity when they didn't win election as Conference champions.

The Football League landscape could look very different to what it does now - and not just with the teams who could have made it, but those who've dropped down.

This season's Conference has more of a look of a 'League Three' about it than the top division of Non League football. True, there are still Histons and Eastbournes.

However, a division including the likes of Luton, Grimsby, Mansfield, Wrexham, York, Darlington, and Cambridge deserves respect.

The second relegation place - following on from the removal of re-election - has not only opened the door to many Non League outfits, but also seen an increase in the quality and size of clubs in the Conference.

It's also unlikely the likes of Carlisle, Exeter, Shrewsbury, or Oxford - all relegated from League Two before being subsequently re-promoted - would have ever lost a re-election vote.

All four clubs dropped down but returned stronger than when they went down into the Non Leagues. Arguably, it allowed them to start again and get things moving in the right direction.

Would the Crewe and Dario Gradi story have been the same without re-election?

With re-election, they could have survived by the skin of their teeth and never found any forward momentum - continuing instead to toil around the lower reaches of the basement division.

The argument could even be extended further - what if re-election had never existed in the first place? With the bottom club immediately being relegated, things could have been massively different.

For instance, how about that bastion of good football, producing young talent, and punching above their weight? Crewe Alexandra may be a neutral's favourite, but no club has finished bottom of the Football League more often.

On eight occasions, Alex have finished propping everyone else up. Most recently in 1984, when they survived re-election and temporarily denied Maidstone United a place in the Football League.

Had they slipped down in '84 - the first season under the management of one Dario Gradi - what would have happened to the conveyor belt of talent that produced the likes of David Platt, Danny Murphy, and Robbie Savage?

The Cheshire club may never have enjoyed the success they did in competing in the second tier for a number of years had they lost any one of their re-election votes.

It's also unlikely the term the 'Rochdale Division' would ever have entered the footballing lexicon had Dale lost one of a number of re-election votes they had to endure.

Most notably, just one vote saw them survive the drop in 1980 at the expense of the aforementioned Altrincham. Even in 1978, it was Southport who took the drop at their expense when Wigan Athletic entered the Football League.

Dale spent 36 consecutive seasons in the basement division until promotion last term - nobody has spent a longer continuous spell in it.

They also hold the dubious record of having the lowest average position of all the continuous members of the Football League in the past 90 years. Crucially, though, because of their continued election victories, they are continuous.

However, had they slipped down into the Non Leagues, what would have happened to the Spotland outfit? With so many clubs surrounding them in Lancashire, how long would they have taken to return, if ever?

Fortunately, such questions are no longer restricted to the hypothetical. Common sense prevailed back in '87. The closed shop opened its doors - improved immeasurably for it - and has never looked back since.

It was 1987, truly a special year.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Big Match Review - Burton 1 Crewe 1

Burton Albion 1-1 Crewe Alexandra
Saturday September 18, Pirelli Stadium, (Att: 3,093)

It was honours even at the Pirelli Stadium as Burton Albion and Crewe Alexandra continued their solid starts to the season with a draw.

The Brewers were the brighter of the two sides early on and after, John McGrath forced Rhys Evans into a save, Richard Walker missed an easy chance from close range to put the hosts ahead.

Alex were then denied a goal by the linesman's flag after a free-kick had been headed in by Joel Grant from an offside position.

It was the home side who opened the scoring in fine style just before the break though.

Sloppy play in the Crewe midfield saw Jacques Maghoma unleashed to run at goal before sending an unstoppable drive high into the net from outside the box.

Paul Peschisolido's side were now on course for a third straight home win of the campaign, but the visitors stepped things up in the second half and Luke Murphy found a leveller just after the hour mark.

When Albion failed to clear a high cross from Clayton Donaldson, Murphy latched onto the ball and whipped a low shot in off the far post of Adam Legzdins's goal.

Both sides pressed in vain for a winner, but ultimately a point was enough to move Burton into the top seven, with Crewe hot on their heels in 9th.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Setting The Tone

Nobes suggests that the way a manager conducts himself can be just as important as his tactics and training methods.

Pointing the finger of blame, but Darren Ferguson should look at himself

In a recent discussion with a pal of mine, we concluded that we were happy to see Peterborough United towards the top of this season's League One.

Rewind the clock two years, and we'd have never said anything of the sort? Why the sudden change in heart, we thought?

Was it because we were appreciative of the type of attractive, attacking football Posh were playing? No. They played the same way in winning promotion to the Championship in 2009.

Was it down to the fact their transfer policy had changed? No, they still appear to signing young players and, undoubtedly, paying decent wages.

It was, we decided, a feeling based purely on the man now picking the team at London Road.

Gary Johnson, we agreed, was a manager we liked. Whose achievements at Yeovil and Bristol City - and the style they were achieved in - merited respect.

Equally, resentment towards Peterborough two years ago had, we determined, stemmed from then-boss Darren Ferguson. A man whose manner is incredibly difficult to warm to.

What a difference a manager makes.

Of course, it's right to point out whether a neutral supporter likes a club has little effect on how successful the said team is. However, how a manager comes across can be very important.

Ferguson has again been in the news this week, with the beleaguered Preston manager being handed a three game touchline ban by the FA for his comments about referee Kevin Friend following North End's defeat to local rivals Burnley.

The 38-year-old launched a scathing attack on Friend's handling of the game saying decisions he made - including the sending off of Preston's Billy Jones - had 'won' the game for the Clarets.

Of course, his broadside was effective in deflecting any criticism away from himself. However, even after being reduced to ten men, leading 3-1 with just ten minutes remaining, North End should never have lost the game.

Their inability to deal with simple balls into the box - symptomatic of their defensive fragility under Ferguson - cost them the game. No surprise he was keen to point the finger of blame elsewhere then.

In doing so, though, Ferguson, much like his father, was doing himself no favours. His comments, while coming across to some as passionate, were actually embarrassing. Bad sportsmanship clearly runs in the family.

Not that he's the only one. Twice in the Premier League last weekend managers walked onto the pitch to berate the match day official.

When you consider how angry managers can get with players who pick up bookings for dissent though, if they act the same way, what right have they to complain?

Managers must keep their cool - not, like Slaven Bilic, join in goal celebrations

A manager must lead by example - and that includes conducting himself properly both on the touchline and when talking to the media.

What good does ranting and raving at the referee do? Is he more likely to give a team a decision based on it? If anything, he is more likely to be annoyed - and possibly send the manager to the stands.

And if so, the manager has let down his players. If they need his guidance on the touchline, he has failed to fulfill his responsibilities by being sat in the stands.

There has been some talk recently, too, focusing on managers celebrating when their team scores. Failing to do is, apparently, a lack of "passion."

Ignoring the temptation to focus on how "passion" is the most overused and irrelevant word used in the game, why does a manager have to celebrate a goal?

Is it not a commonly accepted view that teams are at their most vulnerable when they've just scored? Complacency can creep in, concentration can slip, and a team can soon find themselves leaking one in themselves.

My mind is cast back to, and I apologise for not using an example from the Football League, the European Championships of two years ago.

It's my firm belief that the colourful Croatian manager, Slaven Bilic, hailed for his work with the national team, actually contributed to his team missing out on a place in the semi finals of that tournament.

Why? When his country scored a goal deep into extra time against Turkey he proceeded to run down the touchline and celebrate wildly with the players. "Job done" he thought.

It wasn't. There was still injury time to play. The Turks raced down the other end and the still elated Croats conceded at the death. They went on lose in a penalty shoot out.

It was a game the players thought they'd won. The manager, inexperienced as he was, should have known better. Had he stayed in his technical area, tried to calm his players down, and get them back into a proper disciplined state, they probably wouldn't have conceded.

Emotion took over though. Passion took over. Too much passion.

A manager is a leader. While he must inspire and enthuse, he must also remain calm when decisions need to be made.

In the cauldron atmosphere of big games, he must keep his cool. After all, how can he expect his players to if he doesn't himself?

If players see a manager conducting himself with dignity, they are more likely to respect them. They're also less likely to conduct themselves poorly on the pitch.

Motor mouth managers who look to point the finger of blame elsewhere in post match interviews are simply covering their own back. Fearful of their own job, they look to hide behind the man with the whistle.

Managers, too, who make disparaging comments about their opposition before or after games are simply asking for trouble. How often do we see those words thrown back in their face as their hubris leads to their downfall?

Quite apart from doing the sport as a whole the power of good, managers refraining from making such comments would actually be doing themselves and their own club a favour.

That's because breeding a culture of acting responsibility not only wins friends, it wins points too. Mr Ferguson could do with both.

Prediction League Week 7

Week Seven, and it's by seven points that Nobes leads the way at the top of the Prediction League.

It's a healthy advantage at this stage, but things can all change very quickly. All three sides are in action this weekend, with both Boston and Forest on the road.

Hull City vs. Nottingham Forest

Hull City 1-1 Forest
Hull City 1-1 Forest
Hull City 1-0 Forest

Preston North End vs. Norwich City

Lakes: PNE 0-2 Norwich City
PNE 1-2 Norwich City
PNE 2-1 Norwich City

Alfreton Town vs. Boston United

Lakes: Alfreton Town 0-2 Skyrockets
Alfreton Town 1-1 Skyrockets
Alfreton Town 2-0 Skyrockets

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I Can't Make You Love Me

Nobes looks at some of the reasons why managers like Carlisle's Greg Abbott, despite winning games, still struggle to win around fans.

Greg Abbott and Graham Kavanagh - but who do fans give credit to?

If the key to football management is about winning rather than losing, then that applies to fans almost as much as games.

Lose support from the terraces, and a manager's days are numbered. Win the affection of your club's fans though, and you buy precious leeway for making mistakes and not getting results.

To an outsider it can often seem ludicrous.

Managers so obviously out of their depth can receive unwavering support from fans despite their lack of success. Likewise, opposition fans can be left bemused by fans of a successful club who still haven't taken to the man in the dugout.

Sometimes it can be as simple as fans failing to take to a manager's style of play. Despite taking them to the fringes of the play offs, Oldham fans never took to Ronnie Moore and his direct football.

Equally, despite a poor record in the job, Darren Ferguson's philosophy of playing attractive, attacking football seems to have curried favour with Preston fans willing to accept defeats as long as they're entertained in the process.

Buying into a club's ethos, therefore, is key to winning around fans. Any manager who goes into a club like Norwich or Nottingham Forest will find passing football more of a pre-requisite than an optional bonus to points on the board.

Not having any past connections with rival clubs undoubtedly helps too. Bristol City's appointment of Tony Pulis in 1999 always appeared misguided.

The Welshman had enjoyed two spells with City's neighbours Rovers and winning around the Ashton Gate faithful, despite his good record at Gillingham, never seemed likely. A few months later, he was gone.

Another Welshman, Simon Davey, never managed to fully win around the support of Barnsley supporters unconvinced at the former Academy Manager's appointment at Oakwell.

Even after taking them to the FA Cup semi finals in his first full season, his more pragmatic style of play compared to the free-flowing attacking game practised by his predecessor Andy Ritchie never won around Reds fans.

While results ultimately cost him his job last season, disenchantment with things on the pitch wasn't the only factor in his dismissal. He had failed to convince supporters he was anything more than someone promoted beyond his ability.

You know football management really is an impossible job when fans are chanting against you before you've ever been appointed though. Some managers, it seems, come with a health warning.

Ipswich fans protested vehemently against the appointment of Joe Royle in 2001. As well as once playing for East Anglian rivals Norwich, he had endured run-ins with the Portman Road faithful while manager of Manchester City.

There were also concerns about the brand of football that fans brought up on the passing style of Sir Bobby Robson and George Burley would be forced to watch.

As it turned out, despite financial problems, Royle twice led Town into the play offs only to lose in the semi finals. They were also described as the best footballing side in the division by opposition managers, including Preston's Billy Davies.

Although some fans were still happy to see the back of Royle in 2006, it's worth pointing out that, despite significant money spent, the Suffolk outfit haven't finished in a higher position since his departure.

Ipswich fans protested against Joe Royle before he was even appointed

For whatever reason, some fans seem unwilling to give their manager a chance before a ball has even been kicked.

In the really extreme cases though, a manager can achieve results on the pitch, adopt a decent style of football, and work to a budget, and still not win around many supporters.

Which is the scenario, perhaps unbelievably, still going on at Carlisle United.

After Saturday's win at League One giants Sheffield Wednesday, the Cumbrians sit joint-top of the division and are one of only two sides yet to taste defeat in the third tier this term.

All of which should be a glowing testament to manager Greg Abbott. Especially so when you consider United were in a relegation fight when he took over in 2008.

After engineering a final day escape from the drop, he took them to a respectable 14th place last term as well as an appearance at Wembley, where they lost to Southampton in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final.

However, despite the promising start to this season, some of the Brunton Park faithful are still unwilling to heap praise on the manager.

An American businessman, Dwight Morrow, once joked that the world was split into two groups: "People who do things, and people who get credit." It is something Abbott can probably well identify with.

Despite wins on the pitch, perceived poor PR skills and frustration at his diamond formation tactics have seen some fans struggle to warm to the 46-year-old.

Instead, they put much of the Cumbrians' good form down to the work of assistant manager and former Republic of Ireland international, Graham Kavanagh.

A change to a more positive approach - as well as playing more football - is, they argue, not the work of the manager, but his assistant.

Of course, it's virtually impossible to know exactly where, and how much, credit should be directed for Carlisle's unbeaten beginning to the campaign.

It seems stubborn at best and naive at worst to believe Abbott deserves less praise than his staff though. In the end, the pride of some fans will never allow themselves to admit their initial opinions were wrong.

Ultimately though, it need not matter who gets the praise as long as Carlisle maintain their assault on a place in the Championship over the coming months.

Although, if so, the manager may find himself winning around even his harshest critics.

And, if not, he can bear in mind the thoughts of scholar Benjamin Jowett who claimed: "The way to get things done is not to mind who gets credit for doing them." Abbott should agree.

Big Match Preview

Burton Albion vs. Crewe Alexandra
Saturday September 18, 15:00, Pirelli Stadium

Two sides who've made an encouraging start to the new season meet in Staffordshire this weekend as Burton Albion host Crewe Alexandra.

Both teams currently sit just outside the play off places in League Two after the opening half a dozen games.

Their current form also suggests that those in attendance at the Pirelli Stadium should be able to look forward to two sides who know how to find the back of the net.

Indeed, the Railwaymen are the top scorers in the division, with 14 goals already bagged in their six matches. Half of those were accrued in just one game, too, a 7-0 demolition of Barnet at Gresty Road.

Alex, with their veteran manager Dario Gradi back at the helm, also saw off Bury 3-0 last weekend in a performance of attacking and footballing verve that was their trademark for so many years under his stewardship.

They will hope to continue that form on Saturday as they go in seek of a first away victory of the campaign. So far a loss at Cheltenham has been accompanied by draws against Lincoln and new boys Stevenage.

Shaun Miller, with four goals to his name, has enjoyed a profitable start to the season up front for Crewe. He's joined by former York man Clayton Donaldson, who has bagged himself a couple of goals.

Summer signing from Morecambe, defender Dave Artell, has also scored two for his new side, and is a threat from set pieces.

Paul Peschisolido is in his second season in charge at Burton Albion

It's something Burton will need to be aware of as the home team look to maintain their unbeaten home record so far this season.

The Brewers have already beaten Morecambe and Hereford on home soil, scoring three goals on both occasions. They were also held to an opening day 0-0 stalemate against Oxford.

They also drew last weekend, but in contrasting style. After finding themselves 3-0 down at the break away at Rotherham, Paul Peschisolido's men engineered a stunning comeback in the second period to level matters 3-3.

Instrumental to that fightback was striker Shaun Harrad - who grabbed a hat trick to take his tally for the season to six goals in all competitions.

His partnership up front with Greg Pearson will once again be key to Albion - now in their second season as a Football League club.

This should be a highly entertaining game, with two sides who like to play good football and approach matches with the intention of going for the win.

Both sides should be full of confidence, too. Home advantage might just swing it the Brewers way though as they continue their fine start to the season.

Nobes' Prediction: Burton Albion 2 Crewe Alexandra 1

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fan Files: Shrewsbury Town

We like to think we know a bit about what's going on in the Football and Non Leagues here on your favourite professionally unprofessional blog.

However, there's no substitute from hearing from fans themselves. That's where our Fan Files come in.

For the first one of the 2010/11 season, we headed into League Two and one of the early pace setters - Shrewsbury Town.

Matt Crump has been supporting Town for nearly 40 years.

To begin with Matt, what have been some of the highlights of the last four decades?

There have been a great many best moments over the years. Feats of giant killing over top division clubs which always stick in the mind and remain amongst the very best of memories.

A couple of high scoring victories are also great memories. A 7-4 win over Doncaster at Gay Meadow in one of my early seasons. A game that was just 2-0 at half time went crazy in the second half.

That was the first time I can remember us ever getting mentioned by the national media after a game when we featured on Sports Report on BBC Radio 2 while we were driving from the game. Unheard of in those days, and very impressive to a young Town fan.

Also, an incredible 11-2 FA Cup first round win against Marine at Gay Meadow in 1995 - ironically a game played on November 11!

The best moment though has to be the night we won the old Third Division Championship and with it the promotion which led to ten fabulous seasons in the old Division Two.

There had been many postponements that season due to a bad winter and rearranged games after we had reached the sixth round of the FA Cup.

So, it was a balmy Thursday night in mid-May by the time we played our last game at home to Exeter City, with some other clubs - notably Gillingham - with more games still to complete.

Then and now: the promotion team of 1979 went down in Town history

A win would have give us the Third Division Championship, a draw would see us promoted, but a defeat would leave the door open for Gillingham to pip us to the last promotion place.

We scored very early, typically from the famous Shrewsbury near-post corner, but Exeter equalised shortly afterwards to put the home fans back on edge. The Shrewsbury corner did the trick again, and Jake King put us back in front with his second of the night.

We had breathing space after an Ian Atkins penalty sent us in at the interval leading 3-1. David Tong added a fourth in the second half and then we could really enjoy our night properly.

A pitch invasion followed on the final whistle and I can still vividly remember the slightly surreal feeling of me and my mate pre-empting this, along with many other youngsters, by spending the final few minutes of the game sitting on the grass against the Riverside wall so as to avoid the inevitable crush.

What about the worst moments following Shrewsbury?

Relegation from the old Division Two in 1989 hit very hard at the time, but it was losing our Football League status in 2003 which was undoubtedly the worst. Prior to 1997, we had only ever spent four seasons in the fourth tier - three of which were promotion seasons.

So the period which followed saw our worst years since joining the Football League and the relegation in 2003 was very much the low point of those years.

The warning signs had been there for all to see in 2000 when we escaped on the final day of the season by the skin of our teeth with what was, in truth, a much worse side than we had in 2003.

It was a relegation which really never should have happened. The squad had an abundance of attacking talent and did very well in cup matches, notably the famous Nigel Jemson-inspired win against Everton in the third round of the FA Cup. Defensively we were awful though.

Even as late as March 1 after a home win over Rochdale - which proved to be our last win of that season - we were still fairly well placed.

Town celebrate beating Everton - but they ended the season being relegated

There then followed a sequence of games where we often dominated but lost due to very poor defending, often to very late goals.

The footballing gods had looked like they had decided our fate and so it proved when relegation was sealed with a home defeat to Carlisle which, like other several games, we lost from a winning position.

The greatest irony was that our manager Kevin Ratcliffe, a world class centre back in his playing days for Everton and Wales, couldn't address our defensive frailties.

We had far less problems at the other end with Jemson, Luke Rodgers, and Ryan Lowe scoring 50 goals between them!

There was no shock factor for me that evening against Carlisle though. I was resigned to our fate some weeks earlier, which sort of lessened the blow a little bit.

We then went into the unknown in the Nationwide Conference and fortunately - and it was very fortunately - got out at the first attempt.

Maybe some of the misfortune we experienced the previous season had been balanced out and the footballing gods were smiling on us that season?

So then, onto present matters, and six games gone, just the one defeat, and joint-top of the league - it's been an excellent start to the season. Are you surprised by how well it's gone?

I am a little surprised. Mainly because Graham Turner has introduced a new style of play, but also because of the number of new players he has brought in.

For most games this season there have been seven, eight, or nine new players in the starting line-up.

Salop legend Graham Turner is back in charge of the club again after 25 years

As he, and some of the players, have said though, good players adapt to this sort of thing more quickly and we certainly now have several good players at the club.

Our performances have been a little indifferent in some games, but it is also very evident there is a good spirit and work ethic at the club. The players are also clearly enjoying their football and we should, hopefully, improve as the season progresses.

Graham Turner returned to the club during the summer. Was there any part of you against such a club legend giving the job another go?

I had no doubts about Turner as a manager, having been fortunate to see what he was capable of first time around. His record at his other clubs since leaving us also speaks for itself.

I did have some concerns as to whether he would tarnish his legend status at the club should things go pear shaped, and of course that is still a bit of a concern.

Overall though, I thought it was a great appointment and one made at the right time to give the club a boost.

What about your early impressions of this season's League Two overall? What have you made of the opposition you've seen, and how the division might pan out?

I've only seen our three home games in League Two - against Bradford, Aldershot, and Rotherham.

Of those teams, Aldershot and Rotherham looked like very good sides and caused us a lot of problems. They both look like they could do well again this season.

I think the division looks more open this season, with few really big clubs and none with deduction of points. League Two is difficult to predict this time around, and I'm sure there will be the usual surprises at both ends of the table come next May.

There's been plenty to celebrate early on in the campaign at Shrewsbury

As you've already hinted at, you remember well the days when Town were competing in the second tier against the likes of Chelsea and Newcastle. Do you think they could ever get back to, and stay at, that level in the future?

Getting there and staying there are two completely different things for me. Can we get there again? We definitely can.

Plenty of other clubs have shown that it can be done in recent times - but most of those clubs have also not stayed there for too long either.

Whilst there are now a handful of big-money clubs in League One, such clubs make up and the majority in the Championship and it is much more difficult to compete on our sort of attendances.

Scunthorpe have already been mentioned by people within the club on a few occasions in recent times, and they are the example we need to aspire to if we want Championship football.

Realistically, we would be punching above our weight in the Championship - just as we are now punching below our weight in League Two.

I would be happy to get back into League One, which I feel is our natural level, and consolidate there again. It has been much too long since we were last at that level.

Shrewsbury are one of a number of clubs in the lower leagues who have moved ground recently. Where do you sit on the issue of clubs, including your own, re-locating from traditional homes? Must the head rule the heart on such an issue?

Sadly it is a sign of the times, and a necessity for many lower league clubs to have income streams on as many days of the week as possible - not just match days.

Often the only realistic way to do that is to realise the value of your main asset - namely your stadium site - and sell up to get the money to build something more modern elsewhere which provides the means to generate that extra income.

The scenic Gay Meadow had been Shrewsbury's home for almost a century

In our case, there really was very little choice. At Gay Meadow the club was losing a lot of money year on year. There was little scope to re-develop with three sides of the ground enclosed by a school, a railway line, and the River Severn.

There was also a restrictive covenant in place that limited the site to sport and recreation use, as well as the continual problems with flooding. Even if we could have re-developed on that site, funding it would have been a major issue.

The move has given the club a wholly owned, modern, new stadium with facilities that generate income throughout the week and has also left the club debt free.

The club, unbeknown to them at the club, certainly timed the move very well. The Gay Meadow site was sold to developers for housing but the site still lies empty due to the current economic climate.

Had the club been trying to make the same move now it may have proved far more difficult and the price obtained from the sale of the Gay Meadow site many not have been as favourable.

Town have been in the news recently with former player Joe Hart making his competitive England debut.

As someone who has seen a lot of lower division football, do you think he is an exception, or one of a number of players who could progress from the lower leagues and eventually play at the highest level?

Joe Hart was certainly an exceptional talent. I've seen many promising youngsters over the years at the club who have been talked up as potential stars of the future.

To me, Joe had something very special about him which was very apparent after relatively few games. What he had achieved since leaving the club is no surprise to me at all.

I do think there is plenty of talent in the lower leagues and it is sad that Premier League managers mainly look abroad for their players these days.

Now England's Number One, Joe Hart began his career with Shrewsbury

In years gone by, that wouldn't have been the case and lower league players would have been signed by top division clubs much more often.

Importantly, this also resulted in money working its way back down to the lower leagues and encouraged lower league clubs to produce more home grown talent.

It is good to see some clubs still looking down the leagues - like West Brom with Rochdale's Craig Dawson. Sadly clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal - who often used to sign players in the past - very rarely do so these days.

Finally then, what's the best thing about being a supporter of Shrewsbury Town?

For an exiled fan like me, the link it provides with my home town and with family and friends is very important to me.

Otherwise, it is probably the same sort of things that many fans of other lower league clubs would list. Like the pride which comes from supporting your home town club through thick and thin and the real feeling of being part of something.

Not just supporting some top Premier League club adopted for the kudos of being seen in the right shirt.

Those sorts of fans would never understand or experience the true joy when your club achieves something, or the gut-wrenching feeling at the lowest moment. Or the real camaraderie with of your own club, and the banter enjoyed with opposition fans.

Matt, thanks for talking to us. Good luck for the season.