Introducing “The Handful”


30472575510_055cfb20d1_kOne is one

Two is a brace

Three is a hatrick

Four is a haul

So how do you refer to someone who scores five in a game? I asked my esteemed colleagues from the Spanish and Belgian press who sat either side of me in the San Mamés stadium at full-time on Thursday night, but neither seemed to know either.  “A handful?” was the best we came up with as we headed down to the press conference to see if either manager knew….they didn’t.

The player in question was the veteran Athletic Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz who had just scored all five goals in the Europa League tie against KRC Genk.  Granted three had been penalty kicks, awarded by English referee Martin Atkinson, but Aduriz could and should have added a couple more.  He was simply head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch.

Let’s rewind a few hours to when I touched down at Bilbao Airport.  I’d replaced the standard English Autumnal fayre of “drizzle” with beautiful, hot sunshine.  For the second week in a row, I was going to be watching football somewhere that was officially “hotter than Greece”.  I was here in one of the most beautiful parts of Europe to visit the new San Mamés stadium for the first time, officially the 2015 Best Stadium in the World at the World Architectural Festival in Singapore no less as well as have an afternoon of bar hopping and sampling some Pintxos, the Basque version of Tapas that is taken so seriously in these parts.

I loaded up with some culture on arrival in the city centre, braving the 45 metre high Vizcaya Bridge walkway across the River Nervion and even went into the Guggenheim Museum, the focal point for all of the regeneration of the city.  I say “went in”, I just visited the gift shop, bought a fridge magnet and left.  I like a Van Gogh like the rest of you, but some of the more “abstract” pieces that were on display would just get me annoyed.  I remember visiting the museum with CMF for the first time 15 years ago and creating that family favourite game “Art or not”, where we tried to guess whether our concept of art, such as a fire extinguisher or a plug socket held as much merit as some of the exhibits.  Of course they did.

The opening of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997 was the defibrillator that the region needed though. Over €500 million was generated for the region in just a few years as over 4 million tourists visited the museum. The regional council estimated that the money visitors spent on hotels, restaurants, shops and transport allowed it to collect €100 million in taxes, which more than paid for the building cost. In economic theory terms, the Return on Investment was bat-shit crazy and everyone benefited, whether it was the bars and restaurants who went Pintxos crazy, the regeneration projects along the Nervion River or the football club who eventually got to swap the historic, but very dated San Mamés stadium, for a stunning new version complete with retractable roof and 50,000+ seats.

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My afternoon was spent in a number of bars around the Old Town with a group of Genk fans who I had bumped into.  We traded football stories – me selling them the concept of the Lewes beach huts, them trying to explain how on earth the Belgian end of season Play-offs worked.  Two hours later, and several 7% plus beers down the line and I was still none-the-wiser. Last season’s eventual 4th place finish had been enough to see the club enter the Europa League where they made light work in qualifying to reach the group stages.  Two wins (both at home including a 2-0 victory over Athletic Club a few weeks ago) saw them top the group but with five of the six games in the group going with home advantage so far, a win for the home side could technically see them leapfrog Genk before the end of the night.

30141331984_6f2b21c887_kWe stopped off for a bit of a sing-song in Plaza Moyua in the heart of the city centre where the fans at least resisted the temptation to not do “an England” as one fan put it to me and jump in the fountain.  It was a very good-natured affair with some Athletic Club fans passing by stopping to share a drink and a chat in sign-language – a Limburgish dialect of Dutch and a local version of Basque made for an interesting mix.  The group started to migrate westwards a couple of hours before kick off along Gran Via and towards the stadium.  As we reached the inner ring road I headed right to find my hotel, which had inconveniently been built slap-bang next to the stadium.  Well, technically, the new stadium had been built next to it, almost within touching distance from my hotel room.

There’s something very satisfying about staying in a hotel so close to a ground.  For a start on a matchday the security on the door makes you feel like a VIP (unless you forget your room card as I did once at The Croke Park hotel in Dublin when the Irish hosted Italy and I had to wait for an hour to get back in), you also have that smug feeling when the full-time whistle blows that you will have a beer in your hand before most fans have made it onto a bus or a train and of course you can you the staple line when checking in of “is there a match on tonight?” – gets them every time.

30137697553_7f44587bb0_kRefreshed, revived and ready for action I picked up my accreditation, which simply referred to me as “The Football Tourist” and headed up to the press box ready to see if Athletic Club could get themselves back in the group or will the Belgians take a massive step towards qualification.

I would have imagined that a delegation from White Hart Lane had headed over to Bilbao to understand how the club built the new stadium whilst playing in the old one next door.  The old ground ran North to South, pressed up against Calles Des Briñas and the supporters bars opposite.  Construction on the new ground, which would run East to West started in 2010 after the demolition of the old Trade Fair site.  With three of the four sides constructed over the next few years whilst games continued in the old ground, the club was able to take up residence “next door” with the first game played there in September 2013.  They then demolished the old ground, finished off the east stand and today it is one of the finest sights in football, up there with the Allianz Arena in Munich or The Dripping Pan.

Athletic Club Bilbao 5 KRC Genk 3 – Estadio San Mamés – Thursday 3rd November 2016
Aduriz will of course grab all of the headlines for his five-star performance but Genk certainly played their part with a never say die attitude which up until the 90th minute saw them pressing for an equaliser.  English referee Martin Atkinson manage to award three penalties, by his own admission something he hadn’t done in a game for years, all of which were converted by the veteran Bilbao striker.

It wasn’t the best of games to start with to be honest, with neither team prepared to risk everything going forward.  The turning point came in the 8th minute with a goal of simplicity for the home side.  Cross from the left, nod back across the six yard box by Garcia and Aduriz nipped in and toe-poked it home.  One became two with the first penalty award in the 23rd minute after Muniain was tripped.  No complaints about the foul but Aduriz’s stutter in the run up to take the kick looked very much like it breached the new rules.  2-0

30736490366_3fc05340db_kFive minutes later and Genk, roared on by their fans get back into the game when the impressive Leon Bailey slots home after a neat through ball. 2-1.  García runs into the box and is blocked by a Genk defender.  Home fans appeal for a corner, Atkinson gives a penalty, with replays showing he got that spot on.  Aduriz steps up, stutters and sends the keeper the wrong way. 3-1.

Half-time and a chance to grab our breath.  Four goals, four booking.  Not bad entertainment.

The second half continued in the same vein.  Aduriz missed a golden opportunity in the first minute before Buffel turns the Athletic defence inside out, crosses to Ndidi and his header flies into the top corner.  3-2.

However, Genk can’t build on that goal and with fifteen minutes left Alvarez’s perfect ball between the centre-backs sees Aduriz race onto it and slot home for his fourth.  4-2.  But back come Genk, as Bailey goes on a mazy run and is thwarted as he is about to pull the trigger but the ball falls to Sušic who slots home. 4-3.

Athletic continue to press and could have quite easily added a fifth before in injury time Atkinson points to the spot again as Ndidi fouls the impressive Athletic substitute Williams and Aduriz does his thing again. 5-3 and full-time. Eight goals from just nine attempts on goal.  In the style of Opta Joe, “clinical”.

The win, coupled with the draw between Rapid Wein and Sussolo means that the four teams are separated by just 1 point with two games to play.  A win for Athletic in their final home game against the Italian’s, assuming they can avoid a heavy defeat in Vienna should be enough to see them through.

I sat in on the press conference, unable to understand a word but felt I should be there, before heading to one of the supporter’s bars opposite the stadium to join up with the Genks fans I’d met earlier.  They were disappointed with the result, blaming me as an Englishman because Martin Atkinson was English too.  Harsh. I told Atkinson that when I bumped into him at Bilbao airport the following morning, narrowly avoiding a booking for dissent.  The Spanish press certainly didn’t have a bad word to say about his performance, nor did they for Athletic Club’s best night in European football for many-a-year.

Bilbao is right up there with the best places to go to watch football in.  A cracking city that is certainly on the up with a vibrant bar scene, excellent food and some really genuine football fans.  The team is more than just a football club – it represents the hopes and beliefs of a whole region.  Some may question their policy of recruitment but it hasn’t done them bad so far and in year’s to come with the new stadium generating more revenue opportunities perhaps they can break the dominance of Real and Barca in Spain.  Without hope we have nothing.

 

More than just a game…North London prepares for a battle royale on Sunday


In November 2017 it will be the 130 anniversary of the first meeting between the teams we know today as Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.  Back in the Victorian age this was of course a North v South of the river clash, with the first ever game between the two rivals being played on Plumstead Common, which today opposite a McDonalds and Belmarsh Prison.  That game had to be abandoned with Spurs leading 2-1 due to “darkness”.

Fast forward 129 years and 183 meetings since, the first meeting of the season between the two rivals has never been more eagerly awaited by the two sets of fans as well as those with an interest in online sports betting.  Whilst Arsenal’s position in the top four of English football has been undisputed for nearly 20 years, Tottenham’s emergence as a challenger to the title has been more recent.  After kissing a number of frogs, the club seems to have found their prince in the form of Mauricio Pochettino who almost brought the first title to N17 for over fifty years last season and is yet to experience defeat in the Premier League this season.

The Spurs fans I know have become much more mellow with things off the field too.  The wisdom of Daniel Levy is now not a heated discussion, especially as the emergence of the new stadium is visible at every home game.  Once complete, it could act as a catalyst to power the club commercially forward.  According to the annual study by Forbes, Spurs are the tenth most valuable football club with an estimated worth of just over £700m, around 50% of the value attached to Arsenal.  The key to creating more value is the bigger stadium with more opportunities to drive commercial revenues.  It is no surprise that the teams that hold the top five places in the list all play in front of sold-out stadiums with capacities over 60,000.  Joining that list is the clear ambition of Spurs in the next five years.  It is clear from the ticket sales for their Champions League games at Wembley so far this season that if you can build it, they will come.

Whilst the Spurs fans are happy with life at the moment, Arsenal fans continue to enjoy a love/hate relationship with the owners and the manager.  Best ever one week when they destroy Chelsea, showing them the door the next when they fail to beat Middlesbrough at home.  There can be no denying that they are a major challenger for the title this season, having scored three or more goals in 60% of their Premier League games so far this term, whilst hitting the back of the net on 17 occasions in their cup games so far, including nine against the Bulgarian champions Ludogorets, already booking their spot in the knock-out phases of the Champions League.  Whilst some fans may bemoan a lack of dynamism in the transfer market, Wenger has managed to shuffle the pack when required this season.

Sunday’s game won’t decide the league title – especially this season where there are half a dozen teams who have a legitimate shout but it will make Monday a potentially uncomfortable day at work for half of North London as the winners will earn the bragging rights until the end of April at least.

Our Road to Wembley is closed for another season


Last week I was criticised by a few people for not being happy enough after our fantastic win against Cray Wanderers, instead focusing on the erratic (and incorrect) decisions of the officials.  This week I’m full of pride for our performance despite a defeat and the end of our national cup campaigns.  The 2-1 score line doesn’t tell anything like the real story of the game, or more to the point, the build up to kick off.

Ten days ago we beat a very strong Walton Casuals side but at a significant cost.  James Hammond picked up a facial injury that required surgery that very same night, whilst two other central midfielders, Jack Dixon and Lloyd Harrington picked up their fifth bookings of the season.  All three would miss this FA Trophy game at Kingstonian.

fullsizerender-6At Three Bridges on Tuesday night after another impressive performance we lost another centre-midfielder, and temporary centre-back Lloyd Cotton through injury.  Then twenty-four hours ago we lost two of our most impressive young midfielders, Charlie Coppola and Ronnie Conlon due to illness.  Six midfielders down, it was going to be a struggle to find eleven fit players, yet alone four who could play in midfield.

Darren’s fear was that all of our recent work and progress would be undone if we lost heavily to a Ryman Premier League side who have the likes of Ryan Moss, Joe Turner, Youssef Bamba and of course Pelayo Pico Gomez even if things weren’t good for them at the moment.  In fact the match report post their defeat against Worthing on Monday read like this:-

“Ks aren’t that good at the moment. It’s difficult to tell how bad they are though. Even over the course of these four defeats they’ve played half decent football, but there’s a few too many, ‘are we too good to go down’ conversations for anyone’s liking”

Mindgames?  Perhaps but we had other things on our mind as we headed to Kingsmeadow on Sunday morning.  Things like can we find 11 fit players and how can we fit them into eleven different positions.  Each week we may joke that we will have our boots when we talk to Darren 24 hours before the game, “just in case”, but I felt that this week it was more of a rhetorical question than a joke.  Even as I sat watching Brechin City v Livingston yesterday I was on the look out for anyone I could sneak back in my hand luggage.

fullsizerender-7At 1.30pm Darren had chosen his team.  At 1.35pm he had changed his team and then again at 1.45pm as the coach arrived at Kingsmeadow.  I met Baz in the tunnel and even then the starting XI wasn’t finalised.  When it was there was one player making his debut, young Jack Whitmore in central midfield, whilst Gus Sow came in for his first start for Lewes, playing his first game after a hand operation on an injury sustained on his debut at Faversham Town.  We had a right-back playing at centre-back, a left-back playing at right-back, a left-midfielder at left-back, a centre-forward in left-midfield, two left-midfielders in the centre and on the right respectively.  We did have a goal keeper in goal and a centre-forward up front so it all wasn’t bad, whilst on the bench we needed a nanny due to their age to protect them from Darren and Ross’s adult language.  What could possibly go wrong?

Kingstonian 2 Lewes 1 – Kingsmeadow – Sunday 30th October 2016
Twenty minutes into this game and Stacey Freeman towered above the K’s defenders to send a powerful header goalward.  With the slightest of flicks, Jonté Smith turned the ball into the net to give The Rooks the lead.  The announcer gave the goal to Stacey but try taking that one off Jonté.  The goal was no less than Lewes deserved.  There was no regard for reputation or league status – we simply looked the better team, with better shape and better desire to win.  The players drafted in, or playing out of position didn’t look incumbered at all.

fullsizerender-5Was the performance a surprise?  Or was it the product of a squad playing with confidence backed by the support of the fans?  About 20/80 I’d say.  I certainly thought we  would struggle but we settled quickly, moved the ball well and looked positive.  We should have had a second when Brotherton headed over from close range and the Rooks certainly went in at the break in a better place than the hosts.

On Tuesday night at Three Bridges we conceded twice in just a few minutes after half-time but came back from 2-1 down to win 5-3.  Last Saturday we came from 2-1 down to win 5-2.  After 55 minutes in this game we needed to do it for a third time in a row.

Two defensive mistakes led to two Ryan Moss goals in the 53rd and 57th minute.  I’m not going to dwell on the goals – players make mistakes but few will beat themselves up over it.  I know that in this case the player at fault will be beating himself up now, hours after the game.  Games change in a fraction of a second and when Moss won possession from the defender in the area and scored his second, we knew we faced an uphill battle.

But battle we did.  Brotherton and Culley came close, a linesman’s flag denied young substitute Robinson as he was through on goal.  But ultimately we couldn’t find a way through.  We were out but there was certainly no shame, just disappointment that we didn’t come away with anything.

The tired old line of “concentrating on the league” comes to mind, although we came into the game in some of the best league form we’ve shown in over five years (six wins, one draw from eight games).  The test comes when we line up against Ramsgate in a week’s time as to whether we put all of the frustrations into that performance.  By then we will welcome back some of the missing players absent today.

One final word on our hosts.  Whilst their fans publicly lamented our relegation at the end of last season as they would be missing “their favourite away game of the season”, visiting today also reminded us of how hospitable they are as a club to guests.  Let’s hope our separation is only temporary.

It’s all in the interpretation


“It’s all in the interpretation”

That was the final word on the matter.  The referee had spoken.  Case closed.

Back in the summer, along with representatives from 71 other Ryman League clubs, sat through a presentation from former Premier League referee Neale Barry, outlining the significant changes to the laws of the game, introduced by IFAB.  He delivered the presentation as you would expect a referee to do so, not taking any back-chat or listening to reasoned discussion, and threatening to send off the club secretary from Wroxham for wearing the wrong coloured cycling shorts (OK – so that last one may not be strictly true).  But it was our jobs to listen and then feedback the rule changes to our management team, and onto the players.

Now at this stage I want to make a very clear statement.  Referees often have a thankless task, knowing that one lapse in concentration or getting a decision marginally wrong can be costly.  Likewise, any contentious decision, and there will be many of these in a game, will be applauded by one team and derided by another.  We’ve seen some outstanding referees this season and last – in fact last Wednesday in our win at Walton Casuals, where the referee booked five players from each side, I thought he was very good and more importantly, worked very well with his assistants.  When we have referees like that I will always make a habit of telling them they had a great game.  Likewise we’ve had some poor officiating teams (and that’s the difference – it isn’t just one man, but three) and again I have no issue telling them in a calm manner or asking for explanations (as we are entitled to) post match.

But what happens when we understand the rules better than the officials?  Well that just leads to confusion and frustration as we saw yesterday in our game against Cray Wanderers.

fullsizerender-2The Rooks had turned around a half-time 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead as we entered the final quarter of the game.  A bouncing ball had Charlie Coppola’s name all over it but a clumsy rather than a violent or malicious high challenge from the Cray full-back Jeysiva Sivapathasundaram saw him given a straight red.  Slightly unfair I’d say.  Charlie was on his haunches holding his side and then the unnecessary pushing and shoving started.  The referee, deciding to focus on the flash point (with his assistant no more than ten yards away staying out of the way) called on our physio to look at Charlie without checking whether he was injured.  Paul runs on and within 30 seconds, whilst the fracas is still being dealt with, Charlie is on his feet.

At that point, according to the new rules (rule 5 subsection 6 I believe) Charlie should now be allowed to remain on the pitch to take the free-kick.  The old rule was very clear that any player treated by the physio had to leave the pitch but it was deemed to be an unfair rule where foul play had taken place.  So the rule was changed to:-

“a player is injured as the result of a physical offence for which the opponent is cautioned or sent off (e.g. reckless or serious foul challenge), if the assessment/treatment is completed quickly” and the explanation for this change was, “It is widely seen as unfair that a player who is injured by a serious foul and the trainer/doctor comes on, the player has to leave the field giving the offending team a numerical benefit”

Our Physio questioned the decision that he had to escort Charlie off the pitch but knew full well he risked a caution himself if he didn’t comply.  I tried to alert the linesman to the fact.  Not even an acknowledgement.  I walked round to the other side of the pitch and asked the other assistant.  He at least responded although his answer of “What do you expect me to do, I am 50 yards away” was perhaps not the right thing to say – they are supposed to be a team and if he sees anything wrong surely he has a duty to tell the referee?

So Charlie has to stay off the pitch, whilst a free-kick in a dangerous position, which more than likely he would have taken, was easily cleared.  Post match according to the referee, Charlie’s injury was not quickly assessed and that is why he left the field, despite the fact he was busy dealing with events elsewhere and thus the game wasn’t held up.  So we are penalised for the fact one of our players was fouled?  Which is exactly why the rule change was brought in.

fullsizerender-3The second incident, in the last few minutes when we led 4-2 saw a Cray player wrestle one of our players to the ground and then strike him.  This happened right in front of the home dug-out.  Darren Freeman naturally ran on to try to protect his players from suffering any further injury or to get further involved.  His involvement then led to a retaliatory action from their bench of also running on.  The Cray player was understandably dismissed but so was Darren for “entering the field of play”.  Fair enough – the rules on that are very clear, but what about their bench?  Does that rule simply become null and void once someone has transgressed?  Does the rule say you only have to punish the first transgression?

Fortunately the 5-2 win was enough to get rid of the annoyance at the officiating but there has to be consistency in how the rules are interpreted.

Who’d be a referee?

Economic Theory explained by Football 19 – Giving before receiving


The term “fallen giant” seems to be one exclusively used by the Footballing world. Our top four divisions are littered with them.  Leeds United, Newcastle United, Portsmouth, Blackburn Rovers, Fulham, Wolves, Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest, Bolton Wanderers, Charlton Athletic.  At points in the last couple of decades you could have included Manchester City, Chelsea, and even Premier League champions Leicester City on the list.

The definition of fallen giant seems to be any club that’s ever won a major honour, has a decent fan base and big stadium, that has through chronic MIS-management found themselves sliding down the leagues.  The Championship is so full of fallen giants that it’s hard not to have at least one game a weekend without the media referring to one side as such.

How much sympathy should we have for them though?  In his book Money and Football, Stefan Szymanaki examines the failure of ITV Digital at the turn of the century and the impact that had on Football League clubs.

The original deal, signed by OnDigital in June 2000 would see £315 million flow into the pockets of the 72 Football League clubs over a three year period from June 2001.  Despite the fact they didn’t have any of the cash yet, during the summer of 2000, spending on players by the Championship clubs was up by 36% year on year.  Twelve months later just before the first payments were due to kick in, they had increased that amount by a further 24%.  Eight months into the TV deal, ITV Digital went bust.

Many clubs then threw their hands up claiming financial distress because of the collapse of ITV Digital but in reality they had spent their pocket money increase before they’d received it.  In other walks of life we’d be more prudent – we’d not agree to buy a book before it was written, buy a car before we’d at least seen a review (I will conveniently ignore property at this point) or buy a ticket to see a film before production has even started.  Football, it seems, is the home of financial imprudence.

That being said, football does have a Teflon coating.  In 1923 the Football League consisted of 88 teams. Ninety years later 85 of those teams were still in existence, albeit it some had changed name.  Compare that to an average High Street over the same period.  How many businesses that existed back in 1923 still exist today?  Think about industry verticals such as airlines.  Twenty years ago the sky was dominated by Pan-Am, Danair and Pacific South-West.  All three have gone to that great airplane graveyard in Arizona (yes, that is a real place). Banking – how about Lehman’s, Barings, Northern Rock?  Even the British High Street has not been immune with Woolworths, Blockbuster, Jessops, Tie Rack and now British Home Stores disappearing. These are businesses that have failed, yet a little-old football club, like Lewes, that ducks and dives for over a century seems to be made of Teflon.

Why? Because we’ve learnt to adapt, we’ve learnt to cut our cloth according to our needs and we’ve learnt the painful lesson of spending that pocket money before we had it and vowed never to do it again.  There’s also more emotional engagement with a football club than a High Street brand.  When Woolworth disappeared we may have lamented the fact that we bought our first record there or we could always sneak a few extra sweets in the pick and mix, but we found other shops to satisfy our musical and sweet tooth needs.  Football clubs represent communities and have emotional attachments.  People have far more invested than simply money.  So individuals will often throw bad money after good (and vice versa) to keep a club alive.

The community-ownership model is slowly becoming the model of choice for clubs who have suffered the financial distress of administration or winding up orders.  I cannot guarantee a successful future but it does mean more of a stress-free one.

 

Which league is winning the sack race?


Question – Which English league has so far seen the most managerial sackings?

For those fans who live in the warm, safe environment of the Premier or Football League I don’t they will know the answer to hand.  For the record there have been eight managers leave their posts since the start of the season, although you could also bundle in the likes of Allardyce and Bruce who left their positions in the pre-season period.  The Championship actually leads the way with three manager’s fired so far this season – Nigel Pearson at Derby County, Paul Trollope at Cardiff City and Roberto Di Matteo at Aston Villa, with League One and Two only having two casualties apiece, whilst poor old Francesco Guidolin being the sole Premier League scalp so far.

However, take one step down from Football League Two and you will find possibly the most cut-throat managerial environment in England.  The National League Premier, aka The Conference Premier has so far seen seven of the twenty-four clubs lose their managers since the opening day of the season.  With almost a third of the season so far played, that number is ridiculous, but why is it over double that of any of the leagues above them?

26138079974_c44c4ab0bd_kThe clubs that have so far changed their managers on the whole would have expected to have been doing better than they had been at the time of the change:-

– Braintree Town – sacked Jamie Day in September.  After finishing in the Play-offs last season expectations would have been high but the loss of former manager Danny Cowley to Lincoln City was a big blow – borne out by the fact that Lincoln City are currently enjoying one of their best seasons in years, sitting in third place at the time of writing.  Day was fired with the club in 22nd place, one place lower that they are today.

– Eastleigh – sacked Chris Todd in August.  The season was only four games old when Eastleigh fired Todd after a shocking start had seen them bottom at the time.  Since appointing Ronnie Moore they have climbed up to 8th in the league, winning six and drawing three of their last ten games.

– Guiseley – sacked Mark Bower in August.  After surviving on the last day of the season with a win over Torquay United, it was somewhat of a surprise that the board at Guiseley decided to act so quickly, despite them being bottom of the league.  They are one of the smallest clubs in the league and keeping their head above water was always going to be a struggle with teams on significantly bigger budget.  Adam Lockwood was appointed as his replacement but they are still in the bottom four.

– Southport – sacked Andy Bishop in early September.  A similar situation to Guiseley where they have been just keeping their head above water for a while.  The former Football League club dispensed with Bishop’s services when the club were in 23rd spot.  He was replaced by Steve Burr and things are still not going to plan with the Sandgrounders currently propping up the rest of the league.

– Tranmere Rovers – sacked Gary Brabin in September, then replaced Interim manager Paul Carden in October.  It doesn’t seem that long ago since Tranmere Rovers were ripping up the Championship (or whatever it was called back then) and playing in a cup final at Wembley every year.  It must be hard being a Rovers fan today having those memories so vivid.  When they fell out of the league in 2015 they hoped to “do a Bristol Rovers” and bounce straight back up.  Under Brabin they finished last season in sixth place, missing out on the Play-offs by 2 points.  With the team in 5th place it seemed the decision to sack Brabin was harsh to say the least to an outsider.  Carden’s brief reign saw a win, a draw and a defeat before former Shrewsbury Town manager Mickey Mellon was appointed.

– Wrexham – sacked Gary Mills in October with the club in 15th place after defeat at Tranmere Rovers had left them in 15th place.  A subsequent home defeat in the FA Cup to Evostik First Division South Stamford, and a potential lucrative tie at Hartlepool United wouldn’t have particularly pleased the fans either.

– York City – Jackie McNamara “moved” upstairs in October.  There doesn’t appear to be much fun had supporting York City at the moment.  Earlier this week they crashed out of the FA Cup at Curzon Ashton, missing out on a tie against the lowest ranked side, Westfields, in the First Round Proper, whilst Chairman Jason McGill had to explain comments he made on national radio about the fans.  Whole situation with McNamara was bizarre to say the least.  He was given one game to essentially save his job, away at Braintree, which he drew and then appeared to have been sacked, only to them be appointed Chief Executive which begs the question why did they go public with the ultimatum in the first place.  Gary Mills, fresh from leaving Wrexham, was appointed this week as the new manager with York in 19th place.

So why has the National League Premier so far produced so much managerial upheaval?  Could it be that the Football League is due to decide next year on whether to completely revamp the structure of leagues, going from 3 divisions of 24 teams to 4 of 20, which would mean an additional 8 teams would join the professional game.  There had been some concern that the proposal may have been a back-door to try to sneak in Celtic and Rangers or some of the Premier League Development Squads, such as had happened in the failing and flailing Football League Trophy.  The “Whole Game Solution” was discussed at a meeting in September where it was agreed by a majority vote that it would NOT include the two previous options of the Old Firm and Premier League DS teams.  At that point the Non-League sides obviously started to rub their hands together, especially when a suggested was tabled for a 14 team expansion, making a Championship to twenty sides and then 22 in Leagues One, Two and Three.  If the Football League had any sense they would have already started down this route by allowing the National League sides to play in the laughable Football League Trophy rather than the Premier League DS sides but that’s another story for another day.

Consequently, clubs in the National League are eager to finish as high as possible to stand a chance to finish above whatever cut-off point is put in place.  Prize money, sponsorship money, TV revenues and so on are significantly higher in the Football League than the Non-Leagues and so clubs appear to be more prepared to make a change earlier in the season when things aren’t going their way (bar perhaps Tranmere who dispensed of Brabin when they were in 5th place).

With the proposals not now due to be discussed until June next year, the chance of any changes happening for the start of the 2017/18 season are very slim indeed.  However, that doesn’t appear to have stopped some teams where ambition may be significantly higher than reality in making managerial changes.  What some of the “traditional” Football League clubs may be missing is that some of the clubs now challenging in the National League are doing so from a stronger position both on and off the pitch.  Current leaders Forest Green Rovers have a multi-millionnaire owner who has invested in the infrastructure and squad over a number of years and it is only a matter of time before they reach the Football League either on their own merits or through the inevitable reorganisation.  Eastleigh and a wealthy backer who wants to deliver Football League status to the club, Maidstone United, Sutton United and Boreham Wood all have business models that have enabled them to build excellent facilities and continue to improve on the pitch.

Currently six points separates six former Football League sides in places 2 to 7 in the table.  Undoubtedly there will be more managerial merry-go-rounds before the year is out as boards of directors all across the league can almost touch the opportunity to play in the Football League (again).

Economic Theory explained by football – 18. The Resource Curse


The resource curse, also known as the paradox of plenty refers in footballing terms to the situation that exists at the highest level of the professional game where the clubs have such an abundance of players that they do not know what to do with them. It is a theory that is significantly harder to find in the Non-League game, although there are classic examples.

The idea that having too many resources might be more of an economic curse than a blessing was first floated by Arbroath fan Richard Auty in the mid-1990s after seeing the Rangers win nine consecutive Scottish Premier League titles. He saw that despite all of the resources at hand both on and off the pitch, rivals Celtic simply couldn’t break Rangers grip on the dominance in the domestic game. His theory on the Resource Curse has since been used to explain how clubs such as Manchester City, Leeds United, Southampton and current Premier League Champions, Leicester City dropped like a stone down the leagues before they realised it wasn’t all about hoarding the most expense resources being wasted through unused.

A study by Lincoln Moorland Railways fans Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Warner concluded that there was a strong correlation between a plethora of natural resources and poor economic growth. Whilst their work may have on the outside focused on some countries in Africa where precious metals were being mined yet economic indicators suggest that they are some of the poorest countries in the world, they also could have been talking about Chelsea’s 2015/16 season.

The Blues were the envy of many at the start of last season. Premier League champions a few months earlier delivered by The Special One and over £68 million worth of new signings to join in the training sessions at the state of the art facilities in Cobham. As well as the 32 man First Team Squad, the club had a further 30-odd players out on loan during the season. They had some of the biggest and best resources in world football yet there are few who saw them lose 9 of their first 16 games and exit from the Champions League in the first knock-out stage. Mourinho paid with his job, whilst the rest of English football rolled around on the floor in laughter. That is the Recourse Curse in full effect – despite an endless stream of Russian Roubles, they couldn’t convert them into success on the field.

And that, ladies and gentlemen is why you could have all the best youngsters in the world, the best training facilities in the land and arguably the best manager yet you still find yourself kidding yourself that it is “all about the Europa League” or even that this is a season of “consolidation’. The Resource Curse is alive and kicking in English football, and one that will get stronger and stronger as each billion pound TV deal season passes.