The Luxury Fan’s Ryman Premier Prospects

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Will Magee returns to TFN with a look at the brightest young prospects in the Ryman Premier…

Young people. What are most of them up to these days? Going to the cinema, learning to drive, being educated, discovering the true meaning of heartbreak, drinking litre bottles of cider in the park; all of these things rank high on the average young person’s list of pastimes. Then there are those special young people, those who are really quite good at playing football. Many of them occupy themselves not by indulging in ordinary activities, but instead by playing in the seventh tier of the English footballing pyramid – the Ryman Premier League. Some of them are doing an exceptionally good job of it, and deserve a bit of recognition. Who the ruddy hell are these bright young things? Well, let’s find out.

Nathan McDonald, goalkeeper, Enfield Town

24-year-old Town keeper Nathan McDonald was superb this campaign. A vital part of the side’s ill-starred push to the play offs, he played in all forty-six league fixtures and kept eighteen clean sheets in the process. He received five club ‘Man of the Match’ awards, plus a luxury accolade from me for his valiant performance in Enfield’s one-nil home loss to Dulwich Hamlet. Rumours that manager Bradley Quinton has taken to calling him ‘Doctor Octohands’ are as yet unconfirmed. Continue reading

Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley and a very English problem

Joshua Faulkner wonders if footballing talent equates to excellence or mediocre versatility…

Jack Wilshere and Ross Barkley were considered two of the most prodigal talents in the country, sculpted and crafted to lead England’s assault to International acclaim. Well, that was at least the idea. Both individuals however, continue to struggle with the idea of honing and mastering a set position.

Wilshere has failed to create an identity midfield; is he a tenacious ball-winning midfielder or the more appropriately tuned English Andrea Pirlo (Jack Colback aside) that is able to tactically control the tempo of a game and spray precision passes across the field? Barkley meanwhile had claimed in the past he would be best played as a central striker, whilst his managers at both club and International level have utilized him in central midfield, the no 10. role and, on the odd occasion, out wide. Continue reading

What’s the point of Champions League Qualification?

With clubs putting as much importance into qualifying for the next season’s Champions League as performing well in the current, Simon Smith asks what the point of the competition is…

Much has been made in recent weeks of the apparent unwillingness of Premier League clubs to participate in the dreaded Thursday football squad exhauster that is the Europa League. The earlier season push for Europe reached its absolute peak with victories over Arsenal for Southampton’s on New Year’s Day and Tottenham’s in the north London derby keeping the victors in the Champions League places on both occasions. But, with predictable familiarity, the enthusiasm for European football seems to have left both squads once the top prize became out of reach. Spurs and Saints have joined Liverpool on the list of suitors seeking to avoid the booby trap fifth place that consigns a team to the Europa League.

The size of the competition, endless travel to far off destinations in Turkey and Ukraine, and distraction of continually playing on Thursdays and Sundays are often touted as legitimate reasons for the Europa League being a poisoned chalice. One need only look at what Liverpool achieved – well, almost achieved – in their season bereft of midweek continentalism to see the damage it can cause, and so on. This is well covered ground.

What I want to know is, why don’t we see the same sort of thing in the Champions League? I mean what has the top level of elite European Club football ever done for the Premier League clubs? Besides the televisual and marketing exposure, commercial opportunities, additional revenue and pulling power when attracting players in the transfer market, is there an actual footballing reason for being in the competition? Continue reading

John Carver and the 5 worst managers in Premier League History

After Newcastle slumped to an eighth consecutive defeat at the weekend, James Dutton looks back at the worst managers in Premier League history…

As Newcastle lurched from a long malaise to a full blown crisis with their 3-0 defeat at Leicester on Saturday, conversations started to turn towards the capabilities of manager John Carver. The loss was the club’s eighth in a row, and the 12th they’ve suffered in 17 games under the Geordie, who replaced Alan Pardew in January. So bleak is the situation that having not picked up a point since February 28, Newcastle have been sucked into a relegation scrap and their manager’s record is being likened to that of some of the very worst managers the Premier League has seen since 1992. Join TFN as we trawl through the archives and relive the sad tales of some of the league’s least well remembered characters… 

Ricky Sbragia (Sunderland)

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Poor old Ricky Sbragia could barely muster a smile during his time on Wearside. His furrowed brow was a weekly occurrence on Match of the Day, be it after a 4-1 win over Hull or a 3-0 defeat to Everton, that sorrowful stare into the reporter’s eye looked the same. It had all started so well for ol’ Ricky, beginning with a narrow 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford before smashing four goals past both West Brom and Hull in the lead up to Christmas. Coming after Roy Keane’s departure, hastened by a miserable 4-1 home loss to Gary Megson’s Bolton, he was the good cop the Black Cats dressing room needed.

But it wasn’t to last long as Sbragia managed to win only three more games after Christmas, ending the season by losing eight of the last 10. Finishing 16th with 36 points the Mackems avoided relegation by virtue of being marginally better than Alan Shearer’s Newcastle and Phil Brown’s Hull, who won only once from the start of December.

Sbragia can now be found moulding the finest young Scottish talent at U19 level, or telling the 6ft 1inch Real Madrid player Jack Harper that he hadn’t been selected because he wanted “more height”, rather than someone who would “float all over the place.”  Continue reading

The Premier Election: the General Election Re-imagined

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Jonny Singer reimagines the 2015 General Election in footballing parlance…

Football and elections go together like lamb and mustard. It’s not really how things are meant to be, but occasionally someone decides the two should be combined.

Who can forget that Arsenal, never relegated from the top flight, have also never been promoted, but were in fact elected to the Premier League (loads of people, actually, but not, it transpires, Spurs fans)? Who can forget that Tony Blair basically won his general elections because he pretended to like football (again, lots of people, because it’s not really true, but you know, it’s a nice thought)?

Anyway, it seems that now is one of those times where football and elections should, once again, cross paths. In just a week we’ll have a new government, almost certainly a Premier League winner, and two FA Cup finalists. If that doesn’t represent an opportunity for tenuous, disarmingly accurate and occasionally witty connections between sport and politics, what does?

So, here are the parties for the Premier Election (the best politics in the world™):

SNP – Celtic: 

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Popular in Scotland, but ignored in England, despite occasional interest when first team minister Nicola ‘Deila’ Sturgeon tries something different. Obsessed with staying in Europe but have very little control over that. With no real rivals north of the border they try and get involved down south, but it’s not going to happen.

Continue reading

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: A battle with insignificance

Making his TFN debut, Harry Wallace looks at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s struggle for the limelight at Arsenal…

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s career has been oddly inconsequential. He was uncapped when he was called up to the England squad for a major tournament. But this was Euro 2012, when Roy Hodgson had been hurriedly planted in the manager job. Everyone around the country, press and fans alike, swiftly agreed that this tournament was a free hit. There hadn’t been enough time to amass a plan, let alone a squad to fit it.

In the Euros Oxlade-Chamberlain would start the first game against France and make two late substitute appearances in the other group games, before being an unused sub against Italy. On his debut he was lively the few times he had the ball, as many young fresh-faced players are. However he was restrained by one of Hodgson’s now stigmatized formations against France, looking to protect in only his third game in charge. It was also partially due to Rooney’s suspension, and Oxlade-Chamberlain could count himself unlucky not to feature ahead of a slumping Ashley Young in later matches. But the whole tournament lacked the pressure or scrutiny that has formed such a bemoaned companion for England. Certainly it was no comparison to Wayne Rooney’s dazzling Euro 2004, or even Raheem Sterling repeatedly scaring Italian defenders in Manaus. The Ox’s official arrival on the international scene was barely even a sideshow.

A year later, England traveled to the hallowed Maracana to face Brazil. Following a characteristically tepid England first-half performance, Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Glen Johnson. He then scored a goal that was a god send to narrative-seeking writers covering the game, a stunning drive in the same stadium that his Father had played in 29 years prior. It was a magnificent moment, or at least as great as it possibly could have been. After all, it was merely an exhibition game that not many would quickly recall now. Continue reading

CFU Club Championship 2015: Group Stage Review

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Nathan Carr, editor of The Home of Caribbean Football, looks back at the group stage of the CFU Club Championship…

This year’s CFU Club Championship is the 17th edition since its inception in the late 1990s. Widely regarded as the Caribbean’s premier club competition, it pits the crème of the crop against each other to determine the region’s three representatives at the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL). The Championship has a couple of entry requirements: it is open to all 31 CFU member associations’ league champions and runners-up, as long as their respective seasons finished by the end of last year. Each club must pay a fee by a set deadline, which in this year’s case was 7 January. For 2015, a total of 15 teams from nine member associations entered and were placed in four groups. Here’s how the action panned out…

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Group 1:

From the outset this group had only three participants because of the uneven number of total teams. It was expected that Guyanese champions Alpha United, a team that featured in last year’s CCL, would battle with Central FC of Trinidad & Tobago for the number one spot, but it was actually the latter that came out on top and secured progress through to the semi-finals. Founded just three years ago by former Soca Warriors defender Brent Sancho, now the country’s Minister of Sport, Central boast a strong squad and are coached by Englishman Terry Fenwick. They play good football and have several stand-outs who have experience playing with the national team, like Willis Plaza, Ataullah Guerra and veteran goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams. Plaza was the star of the show against Surinamese champions Inter Moengotapoe, scoring two second half goals within the space of four minutes. The Sharks had to follow that win up with another when they faced Alpha, who had also beaten Inter two days previously. Continue reading