Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Who expected 0-0? Stoke City vs the Mighty.



Where do fish and plates come from now? 

I considered driving to Stoke and parking as near as I could to the Britannia and watching the game on my phone. I then thought this would probably class as mental ill health. So, instead, I've been sensible. 

I've driven 85.5 miles round the Lancaster one way system. In the final few laps, I utilised a post industrial diorama I'd made from old cereal boxes, consisting of dated high rises, streets of terraces and the squat remains of the ceramic industries kilns represented by upturned Muller Lite pots.

By gluing this to my bonnet, I was able to get the impression of arriving in Stoke, a feeling I further enhanced by leaving my car in the coldest, greyest windiest car park I could find and walking through the squalls of rain back home. Once there, I frisked myself before squeezing through the front door, but not before role playing a minor panic about where my tickets were. (in my pocket where I'd put them, as always)  

I then waited by the fridge door for 10 minutes before allowing myself a very cold, particularly low quality can of Carling and took my seat on the couch to muse about how Stoke is really like 5 Chorleys stuck together to make a big place that's a bit like a huge inland Fleetwood, before the more vocal element of the support get here. I muse that Stoke used to make the plates upon which Codwood's fish once sat and then snap myself out of a reverie on decline, decay, alienation and despair. Cos it's Saturday innit. Save that shit for another day.

I think instead about how Graham Potter should manage them just for the craic and I can't think of anyone nominatively suited to manage us apart from Matt Bloomfield of Wycombe. That doesn't inspire me much so I stop trying to think of ex players called Dave Seagull, Billy Seaside or Kevin OnlysurvivingfirstgenerationtramwayintheUK and move on. 

I've positioned my better half in the front room to shout 'fuck's sake Blackpool' and 'you're havin' a laugh Madine' at random intervals and asked the boy to go upstairs and shout 'No 1... Chris Maxwell' 'No 3... James Husband' down the hoover tube so I can cheer their names in a manner that seems to have gone out of fashion but I'm determined to reintroduce into football. 

It's here and it's real and I'm fucking ready for it. Bring it on. 

Except it's only the Carabao Cup. Even though I'm generally a fierce defender of tradition and am still bemoaning the end of unlimited replays in the FA Cup and grieving the death of the precarious excitement of the knockout European competitions, I find really hard to understand how the Carabao cup still exists. It's a competition which even the winners seem to forget they've won about 2 weeks later and whose final always surprises me by lurking in March and then jumping out of the fixture schedules and making me go 'oh, I'm going out tomorrow and I don't care whether Man City or Chelsea win it again anyway'. I can't remember the last league cup game I was interested in. 

I also wonder sometimes when I'm alone on a starry night, by a river, with just the sound of water and the hum of the universe for company... 'Why can you only buy Carabao energy drink in Home Bargains?'

But fear not reader. I have the antidote to such apathetic cynicism right here. Like Maxim Reality from off of the Prodigy I possess both the poison and the remedy. It's a 2 part treatment.

1) Our death or glory football is more obviously suited to cup football than anything I've seen for ages. We've got loads of players who can score and no one will want a draw in a game like this, so there's a perfect incentive to just go total attack and try and get one more than them. I haven't really followed Stoke so I imagine they still have loads of massive ugly defenders who can't turn around very quickly, so we'll definitely batter them. 

2) Even though we've only signed one player from Wiltshire, it is oft mooted that we're really Swindon in disguise. We're obviously not, but it would be class if we went on and did the only thing Swindon are remembered for aside from dodgy finances in the late 80s and being spectacularly shit in one season in the Premier League. If we win the league cup as a third tier side, that would be fucking mint. 

So, now I'm really ready, after months of thinking about existential stuff, the survival of the game as we know it, death and economies and all that shite. We've got over excited about some (albeit mostly decent) kickabouts and now we're going to play Stoke City in an empty ground. It's for an immediate prize of 5 grand, but really, it's a first step on a road to Wembley and another mark to sit alongside our many previous ones in the Big Book of Football Myth and Legend. 

----

My carefully constructed illusion of reality is shattered by 5 minutes of iFollow faffing before I can see a thing. I tell myself the lad has chosen a ridiculous moment to go to the toilet or something. 

Then, finally, we're in and immediately CJ Hamilton with a crisp low shot is the first sight, warming the tangerine heart by looking every inch the player he seemed in preseason. 

What I see of the opening battles looks cagey, Keshi Anderson makes the only mistake over elaborating and letting Jordan Thompson steal it before scything him down from behind. Unsurprisingly Thompson hits the turf hard, but to be fair, Anderson is very lucky not to see a card. 

Yates has the next moment, but wants too many touches to bring the ball down and turn and the moment is gone. 

We look composed and quite creative in comparison to Stoke, who are keen to exploit the pace of Afobe and Mclean but don't seem to be especially adventurous in finding those two.  

Then a moment which, were I at the game would probably have been astonishing drama, football on the telly happens but you don't feel it the same - Initially Ekpiteta does well to beat Afobe to the ball but his touch is loose. Afobe steals it and hares wide, Maxell dives to cut out the cross but Turton has the same idea and the ball pops up from a combination of both and drops to a Stoke forward... but a stunning sliding challenge from Big Marvin, who appears from nowhere, saves the day. 

Yates runs at the defence but then leaves it for Keshi who pops a fairly tame shot at goal. Minutes later, a lovely 5 or 6 pass move where we slice our way down the pitch in neat, quick triangles sees KaiKai tamely end the move in a similar fashion. 

A swinging free kick from the right hand side of the penalty box almost finds Nottingham at the far post. He slides in and collides with the post, just after after colliding with Maxwell at the other end. 

Anderson has a divine run down left flank which doesn't quite come to anything. Kaikai puts a simply beautiful cross from the byline but the arriving CJ Hamilton gets under it and loops it on to the roof of the net.  

Yates intelligence as a centre forward is apparent in his link play. He slips KaiKai through, into acres of space on the left flank. Sullay again weighs a gorgeous ball that causes complete chaos with Stoke eventually getting the ball half away. It balloons to Yates on the penalty spot, too deep to convincingly try at goal so he nods to Hamilton who is unlucky to see his downward header hit a Stoke defender.

Last five minutes, and loose passing from both Yates and Anderson lead to Stoke efforts. They have the best of the end of the half including one moment where a Stoke forward leaves Marvin for dead but wastes the chance to play a pass that would surely have led to a goal.  

----

Half time and the defence has done ok, if at times looking out muscled and out paced by the clearly dangerous Afobe. The midfield has used the ball well in the main, but we've not quite summoned the blitzkrieg of attack we saw against Everton, though this is an organised if thus uninspired opposition from a higher level. 

---- 

Maxwell has been great with the ball at his feet but he starts the half by playing Ekpiteta into trouble. The big man does really well, shielding the ball and finding Yates via Robson. The striker spins and sees Hamilton 1 on 1 with his man. The body and brain don't follow each other as he drops the pass about 15 yards too short. Moments laters, Yates, frustrated, goes through the back of Thompson who seems like a man with a target on his back, but again, there's no yellow. 

Nottingham cuts out a dangerous cross as Stoke maraude down the left. They seem a bit more like you'd expect from a Championship side with their resources this half. 

A lovely spell of passing finishes with Kaikai having come to the centre, and running at the heart of the Stoke defence. He's tripped as it looks like he's about to glide past the lot in that way that makes him look for a few seconds, the greatest player in the world. 

Then there's a weird move where Hamilton stumbles and seems to cede possession but Stoke are lazy in taking advantage. We steal it back without ever really losing it and Kaikai is going through on the left but hitting a wall of Stoke bodies. He's lays it back for a deep cross which Ward heads over despite minimal pressure. 

Michael Nottingham does fantastically twice in a few minutes, first saving Ward's blushes when an errant layback ends up setting Afobe free, but fortunately Stoke's star man decides to take Nottingham on for pace rather than strength. Then it's Nottingham who dives in to cut out probably Stoke's best move so far, a cut back cross seemingly made for an cavalry charge of Stoke forwards to bury. 

Keshi, robs possession, careering into aStoke player like a bumper car at a fairground  and Pool have two minutes of dominance. This features a through ball to die for from KaiKai, more good work from Anderson and passing glaore but for all the lovely build up of a move that ebbs and flows, dies and comes back again, there's no real moment of danger. I've said before that Critch's team reminds me of Macca's team and that was pure 2002, pass after pass after pass but not quite unlocking the door.

Maxwell is very alert to charge down a Stoke man on the chase for a long ball and put him off his stride.  Stoke then really should score as a looping clip forward finds James Chester about 8 yards out but he mercifully nods tamely over despite having been left to his own devices by Nottingham. 

Stoke bring on Steven Fletcher, who I'm delighted to see now looks like a man who drinks spirits from a paper bag. I'm expecting to see his toes popping out of his boots and him trying to cadge a roll up from the centre backs. More footballers should eschew the beauty treatment. It gives them character. Fletcher makes a difference as he gives the defence more to think about and what he does, he does pretty well. 

He's almost immediately setting up a goal with a one touch through ball that sees a Stoke forward completely outpace Ekpiteta, leaving Husband diving in desperately for what is either a brilliant tackle or an extremely lucky escape from what seemed a very reasonable shout for a spot kick. 

Nottingham's afternoon in the trenches gets worse and this time he can't continue. Jordan Thorniley comes on whilst Virtue replaces Ward. 

Virtue is in quickly adding a little more bite to the midfield, stealing possession and starting a move which sees Hamilton cross beautifully again but no one claims it. Virtue does ok in the midfield and his willingness to burst forward in the box is notable, if frustratingly not noted by the rest of the team on one cross where Yates tries to put his name on it, taking it from Virtue who is better positioned. 

Robson plays another dangerous cross from a free kick but Husband can't quite climb above Steven Fletcher at the far post. 

Stoke respond with a couple of moves of their own; a cross that evades everyone and one moment of defensive ping pong where no one can convincingly clear it and Maxwell has to neatly hang on to a drilled near post effort.  

8 or 9 minutes go by scrappily, Yates is replaced by Sarkic in a move that rather suggests Critch doesn't fancy the goal machine. 

Robson delivers a corner that hangs like a drone tempting visions of a bullet header but skims off a stoke head instead. 

Then in the dying embers of extra time, the flame of hope flickers in the form of two corners in quick succession 

They're both decent and hang in the area, from first Robson and then Sarkic. Stoke stand firm. Our delivery has been been pretty good and I do genuinely hate to say this, but what I wouldn't have given for a 20 minute Armand cameo given the angles of attack in the last portion of the match. 

So it's pens...

There are sadly no panenkas to report. Stoke's keeper looks massive compared to Maxwell but we're neck and neck through 7 penalties. Sarkic is unlucky with a low shot well saved. Anderson does great stutter, looking very confident and finds power but the keeper is equal to it. Jordan Thompson is amongst the Stoke failures and every Pool player that steps up aside from Robson I'm convinced will miss, but eventually it's Ollie Turton blasting wide that brings the game to a close and defeat to the Mighty.

There's a nice moment at the end where Critch clearly can be seen saying 'these things happen' to our Ollie. 

It's only the Carabao Cup. A trophy that never really ever had glory days outside of when there was no European football. It's sponsored by a knockoff Red Bull that you can only buy in the shit shop that sponsors Horwich.

It's beneath us. It would be quite undignified to have to put such a tacky competition on our honours list. 

----

When all is said and done, we've more than matched a Championship side with some decent players. We never quite clicked into the clinical form we showed at times in preseason and for the first time, I felt that possibly we lacked a real presence in the centre of attack.

I was very impressed with Ethan Robson today and thought he looks years older than he really is and more experienced than he has any right to be. 

In Ekpiteta (strong as fuck but not very fast) and Nottingham (fast but gets knocked over) we've got a perfect centre half if only we can splice them together. Maybe Jamie Devitt could be experimented on if he's not going to do owt else for the rest of the year? For all the fears of defensive calamity we did OK at the back today and particularly later on, Stoke had some decent firepower on the pitch. 

It was a frustrating game, we played really well at times but didn't really carve out that many clear cut efforts. It mostly showed us was what we already know in terms of individuals. We're good enough to match Stoke, to trouble them and play the better football. We possess some very, very good players and in aesthetic terms, we've come an absolute mile, but we're not the finished article. Of course we aren't.

Critch has had 3 proper games.

We're just getting started. 

UTMP


Death today, but glory tomorrow



Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Are we made of sugar? the Mighty vs t'Rovers


Questions to be answered tonight include: 

- What happens to Critchball in the rain and wind? What if it turns out to be a summer sport? 

- Who is the trialist that isn't the left back with interesting hair? (no one seems to know) 

- How will we get on against a side who aren't half asleep (Everton) but also aren't clearly not as good as us (the other pre season games) 

- Will tonight be the match in which Jamie Devitt announces himself in a tangerine shirt as the embodiment of everything that is good about football? It seems unlikely but I'm always here for the underdog and if Devitt isn't going to be shifted from the squad, it would be great if he turned out to have other attributes other than floppy scarecrow hair and a name. 

What a foul evening. The far side of the pitch is disappearing into a grey soup and Blackpool's mostly reserve side seems a throwback to the period in the mid 90s when everyone seemed literally bigger and stronger than us. I'm a bit worried Teddy Howe might have to wear a shirt with stones sewn into it to stop him blowing away. 

The trialist centre back who no one know steps out nicely once, but trying to repeat the action two minutes later gives it straight to Rovers who fashion a shooting chance. The lad couldn't have shouted "Look Neil, I'm a ball playing centre half" more loudly if he'd had a neon sign over his head. He doesn't do too badly in the half overall but I can't make my mind up if he's doing what comes naturally or trying to fit to the way he perceives he's got to play in order to win a contract. 

Rovers cut through Pool with ease and a cross from the right is glanced in. It feels like there's barely a shadow of a tackle in the move and we're a goal down. 

Nottingham plays a raking ball through the murk, Feeney controls beautifully but is denied by a sliding challenge. Then Pool fashion a nice move, Sarkic feeding Virtue who eventually finds Feeney who finds the keeper's chest. 

Nottingham wins a footrace to concede a corner from a nice through ball. That's where he looks best, running against a defender. His speed is surprising, given he lopes about but he really does have an electric turn of pace and seems to time a challenge well. He's impressed me. I liked Beneghan but Nottingham seems to do most of what he did and runs faster. 

A terrible square ball (from potential player of the year Devitt) nearly gifts Rovers a goal, but Jack Sims makes a good save. From the resulting scramble, a long ball emerges and sets Feeney free who neither hits the bottom corner or the awaiting Nathan Shaw who would have had the goal at his mercy.  

Several times Rovers nearly breakthrough, first from a dodgy pass from Howe, that Antwi has to be at full stretch to deny. Then 'Super' Jamie Devitt plays a lovely through ball but for the wrong team and Sims again spares his blushes. Good belligerent defending from Demitri Mitchell denies Rovers as they look like they're trying to pick the lock on an open door. Jack Sims then tries to back heel/Cruyff turn his way from an onrushing forward and has trialist centre half to thank for an industrial challenge on a Rovers attacker who looks poised to punish the impetuosity of youth. 

For Pool, the quality is lacking and meaningful forward play is limited to one foray by Demitri Mitchell who has played well. Mitchell though gets caught the wrong side of his man as Blackburn simply pass the ball through the middle and score, the second slipped neat and low past Sims and again it's hard to identify a challenge in the whole three pass move. 

Nothing worthy of mention happens until Nathan Shaw has a run just before half time, squares to Devitt who slips, misses his chance to shoot, but receiving the ball again plays a lovely slide rule pass that Sarkic can't quite finish. It's a moment where you think 'ah! that's what Terry Mc saw in him' but he's done far too little overall to suggest he's got any chance of playing his way into this team for real. 

Then, out of nowhere, Virtue is bearing down on goal on a through ball from Nottingham and finishing for a goal that Pool don't really deserve. Virtue has been typically Virtue. Neat and tidy without pulling up any trees, but the lad can certainly finish and he's a water carrier for more skillful players. He hasn't really had better players around him and hence he's not had any real influence. 

The half finishes fittingly on a looping Feeney cross to noone. 

---

At half time it's difficult to see if anyone has really taken their chance. It's a horrible, horrible evening to play football so it's maybe unfair to expect the same champagne football from summer afternoons on a dry pitch in these conditions. Nottingham has had some decent interceptions and probably looked the most comfortable to my eye at the back and maybe the best player on the pitch. 

Devitt's use of the ball has been less than careful to say the least (I'm being polite) and he can't have impressed Critchley by losing his rag and committing a clumsy, deliberate, frustrated foul in a meaningless preseason game for no reason other than he's had a shit game. That's not the kind of player I think Critch is interested in. 

Nathan Shaw has had a hard time getting into the game on the right (why is he on the right and Feeney on the left?), but his delivery from corners has been very good, he's got the knack as I observed in the last game of delivering a hanging ball. Sarkic has been tidy enough without setting the world on fire and seems to be playing out of position as well. It's just felt disjointed and quite uncomfortable with two trialists at the back. The left back has been ok overall but the centre back I'm not sure about. 

---

The cult hero Garrity joins the action along with Jordan Thorniley. Twitter will be happy. I am happy. I want Ben Garrity to be brilliant even more than I wanted Jamie Devitt to score a hatrick. 

Pool press a bit more but Rovers, like a parent arm wrestling a child soon force us back and keep us pinned there for ages. They're dominant without really forcing a shot on goal. The first 20 mins go by with barely anything to remember. Pool nearly have a nice move where Mitchell combines with Shaw who spins and finds Sarkic who almost threads the ball through the Rovers defence. That's more or less it. 

Pool are more solid defensively but still lacking in the verve and edge that's needed to pressure Rovers. 

I get excited as Rovers make a daft pass at the back and the man Garrity is free, but I don't really understand why he offloads it when he's got a world of space in front of him. The players around don't either as none of them were anticipating the pass. 

A nice ball from the trialist centre half sees Sarkic away but his shot never worries Rovers' sub keeper. Like Feeney in the first half, Sarkic has a few efforts that I never think are going in. 

The new keeper, (Fojtieck) makes two good saves at the feet of Rover's strikers and seems quite calm with the ball. 

The half is sluggish. It's clear both sides have got their fitness and practice in and the sooner this is over the better. Critchley is steadfastly refusing to make changes. 

Nathan Shaw nearly benefits from some lax defending, getting a chance to turn on a loose ball, the turn is neat and nimble but the shot is always rising. 

Some more football happens but it's mostly dismal and grey and obscured by water on the camera lens. 

Then it's Shaw again, shoulder charging and winning possession, skipping past two and threading a perfect ball to Feeney who looks scared to score and balloons the ball over the bar rather than run at the keeper. Shaw's work was probably the best bit of football of the match. As I said above, he's not been outstanding but he's 19, playing on the wrong side of the pitch and in a totally disjointed side and I think he's been one of the better players. I like his determination and his technical ability. 

We concede again as Fojicek undos what was a decent half's work by him and the defense in general as he settles on a loose ball then inexplicably tries to beat, not one, but two Rovers players at the same time - it's one of those moments, where as soon as you see what he's trying to do you think 'that's going to end badly...' and it does, as he twists, spins and falls over leaving the simplest of tap ins. 

We finish with Husband cantering forward into a defender and Grant Ward having a shot so lame, he might as well have just picked the ball up and walked off, so obvious is it that preseason is over for everyone on the pitch. Lets just crack on now, with the real thing. 

---

It was an odd game from the moment the line ups were released. A strong Rovers were far too good for a second string Blackpool. The incredible hunger we saw in other preseason games simply wasn't there and some of the players on show didn't really seem to have the same zest or verve, the same desire to win or ability to play quick football and interlink. Whether some of them don't want to or just can't, I doubt any of the more senior lads who got a chance did their prospects any good. 

Some have questioned Jerry Yates in preseason, wondering if he's the clinical man we need, but his absence was so sorely felt as we put no real pressure on the backline. Without him pulling the defence about, it never looked as if the midfield or wingers might score. To be fair, though I've questioned the Goal Machine fitting into this side, he'd certainly have made a difference as well tonight. Sarkic looked a tidy player but certainly not the man to lead the line. Similarly the constant buzz of Anderson and the electric pace of Hamilton were conspicuous by their absence and given the impression these players have made, it was always a stretch to imagine Jamie Devitt filling the gap left by them. 

Feeney was particularly disappointing, played on the left he really did little other than spurn a couple of chances and he must have gone 20 minutes without seeing the ball in the second half. Yes, he had the most chances but not one of them really ever looked like being a goal. Antwi did ok for a young lad but I think expecting him to be the fulcrum of the midfield as maybe his earlier performances suggested is a stretch. The calm ball playing of Ethan Robson was missed as the midfield really didn't keep the ball well at all for the majority of the game. 

Garrity had a run around but I think if he's going to be league footballer he needs a year at somewhere like Morecambe or even in the National League. That's not intended to be a scathing critique because what kind of twat would lay into a lad who was playing part time earlier this year...? It's just what I honestly think the lad needs to maximise his chances of making a go of it. Similarly, Howe tried very hard and threw himself about but he looks like he needs to strengthen before looking like a full back proper. 

The two trialists had fairly solid second halves. The young left back looks worth a longer look. I'm not convinced about his defensive positioning, but he's certainly got something and has a good attitude, retains the ball well and plenty of pace and skill. Jordan Thorniley is convincing me more each time I see him. He seems more assured with each game and uses the ball well and I could see the Nottingham of the first half partnering Thorniley to reasonable effect. 

Maybe that's what Critch learned, but I suspect he's going to play Big Marvin and see if he can retain the shirt before he picks Nottingham though. I was slightly worried by the weird wingers on the wrong side business, he's otherwise seemed to make all the right moves but anyone who's ever watched Feeney play could tell you, he needs to play on the right. 

Overall, it felt a bit like going to a lovely place in the Lake District for a walk but in unexpectedly shit weather. You look forward to it, but then you trudge round miserably in the rain because now you're here, you might as well do it. You can't see the views you expected and the picnic is dismal affair, but you get on with it anyway because it was arranged.  

I think the whole fixture felt like that. Critchley knows what he knows already. He knows, aside from a couple of questions about the defence, exactly who his first 15 or 16 names are, and what he's learnt tonight is little more than a few of the fringe players aren't going to add much to the squad. No one got injured and very little changed really. 

Sadly, I can exclusively reveal that Jamie Devitt is definitely not the new Charlie Adam. 

UTMP

 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

A proper test passed: the Mighty vs Everton

This lad tho. 

As the teams come out, Everton are all hair bands and topknots. Neil Critchley and Blackpool look positively smart in comparison, like an RAF training sergeant and his troops. I can imagine Critch as a 1940s PT instructor and Ollie Turton as the captain of a Lancaster Bomber. Ancelotti as a fashion designer and his lot strutting about in absurdly cut grey waistcoats and half mast tweed trousers with bamboo sandals on.

I digress. 

I think this is going to be much harder than Barrow. 

And yet... It's a lightning start. From the kick off we seem determined to give everyone a touch of the ball, then a lovely move down the pitch, where the confidence in the passing and movement is evident, wins a corner. Ward swings it across box to Kaikai, who last year would have run his man and tried to do it alone but he slips it back to Anderson who weighs an inch perfect through ball to Hamilton who finishes clinically, running on to it with his explosive pace and tucking beyond the hand of Jordan Pickford. 

Everton get a foothold after a few more minutes of Pool dominance. A clattering challenge from Holgate a sign of the respect that Blackpool have earned. 

Their foothold doesn't last as Hamilton dummies a ball forward, Yates peels off his man and squares it to an unmarked KaiKai who curls it beautifully inside the post. Sullay has had a quiet pre season in some ways but I feel he's been quietly effective. He just seems to be deferring to others and doing simple things more than trying to win the game alone and thus he's popped up in space in several games and reaped the reward of not being the man the opposition notice. 

But wait. It's not 2-0, it's 3-0! Seconds later Holgate is charged down by Hamilton and the ball rebounds to Anderson, he wiggles and wriggles and shoots against a defender, the ball drops to Grant Ward who hammers it home as if Pickford isn't there. This is a bit mad. I know it's just practice and Everton look like they've drunk a couple of bottles of Night Nurse each but we've been electric and it looks like we could get ten. 

There's a moment where a drowsy Everton show their class. Sigurdsson slips Digne a lovely blind pass but Nottingham heads convincingly away. At 3-0 Everton's ego seems bruised and they harry and chase a bit more but then the ball is at the other end and the shaven headed Yates shows exactly how you do it properly, ratting and snarling at two consecutive defenders and nearly creating another error. 

Tom Davies (much maligned by some Blues fans) is looking their most interested players and he releases Digne after some neat footwork, but the cross is cut out by a sliding Ekpiteta. Digne swings across a ballooning corner which is met powerfully by Dominic Calvert Lewin, the ball taking a flailing Michael Nottingham into the goal with it. 

Do Pool heads go down? Is the bubble burst? 

No. On the right hand side Hamilton hares away from Branthwaite like he's not there, only foiled by a desperate (and well timed) tackle from the ex Carlisle kid. From the corner the ball eventually breaks to Grant Ward who drills it straight at Pickford. It could and perhaps should have been a goal. 

Whilst it's clear that Everton are really not at anything like top gear, I'm just thinking how well we've played their attack, and sprung the offside trap... when the questions about our defense are brought into sharp focus. 

Nottingham tries to be clever by flicking the ball square to his centre half partner but it awkwardly bounces off his body presenting Calvert Lewin with a chance to run at Ekpiteta. The big lad shadows him and then as he heads into nowhere Ekpiteta stumbles into him, a kind of part challenge part body check, seemingly not realising that Calvert Lewin was looking for him to make contact... DCL is no fool and goes to ground and the whole thing just looks clumsy. Sigurdsson executes the penalty with the air of a butcher slamming a cleaver into a block, low hard and sending Maxwell the wrong way. 

Everton are now dominating and Nottingham redeems himself a little with good header and a brave block in front of a drilled Iwobi shot. 

Ethan Robson breaks that spell with a crunching challenge to set Yates away and he and Kaikai combine well to force a corner. Hamilton has starred this half and from the loose ball he shimmers and twists his man and swings a lovely deep cross on his wrong foot. Moments later he's nodding the ball down from a booming long clearance as well as Madine ever could, setting Yates free, then finishing the move by firing wide after reviewing a return ball.

Moises Kean slides a dangerous low cross that evades everyone then the half comes to an end with a lovely, lovely bit of control and bustling sprint from Anderson that sees him just run out of space before he can cause any damage. 

------

I wondered out loud before the game if we'd really worry Everton up front who will be well used to mobile, energetic and skillful strike forces. The answer is clearly yes. We could have had more than we've had and going forward we've put more good moves together than I can write down. We couldn't score from anyone but Armand last year, but now it doesn't seem to have mattered that Yates hasn't had an effort because his linking with the pace and power around him and his role in harrasing the backline has worked well. 

I also wondered where the weak links would prove to be. Digne has been Everton's most effective outlet on their left though I haven't really seen Turton make a mistake. Husband has been defensively solid but has hit a few aimless balls forward. That's a harsh critique, but such are our new standards, they stand out. It's the centre half pairing that worries me. Nottingham has done some good work, but got caught out playing football and as with every other game, Ekpiteta looks just a little raw. To be fair to them, they are playing against an England and an Italy international. Defending in a side that bombs forward and exposes the defence is never easy but the pair just don't sit right for me. Nottingham is on his wrong foot and I'm not sure either is coaching each other through the game. 

_____

The second half starts with Ward and Notts leaving the play and Matty Virtue and a trialist (apparently an ex United kid called Demetri Mitchell) joining it. Husband comes into the middle and the new lad goes to left back. 

Everything comes for Blackpool down the right hand side. The best move being when Hamilton again shows his centre forward credentials in laying it off on his chest to Virtue. Virtue calmly brings it forward and feeds the on running Hamilton who looks as if he's about to run the full back ragged but offloads with equal composure to Turton who has overlapped and whose flat cross is dangerous enough to win a corner. 

The second half is calmer but 'Pool are playing well despite Walcott sliding just past the post on Iwobi's nice through ball. Virtue's presence seems to have given a measure of class to the midfield. He's doing the simple stuff well and quickly. 

It's Virtue himself crossing well and quickly from the right, then it's KaiKai with a lovely precision freekick from deep, both causing danger in the air, showing a different angle of attack from the first half.

Ekpiteta looks calmer alongside Husband and it's all going very well until... 

The flawless Virtue displays a flaw, as he is caught in possession after a heavy touch. A deep through ball releases Walcot. Trialist lad with interesting hair hares back and makes a good tackle, but despite it seeming a) offside and b) a fair challenge, the referee gives a free kick on the D. Sigurdsson puts a beauty in the top corner. If the penalty was ruthless, this was artful. 

That's the cue for widespread changes and naturally the flow goes to pieces till Madine makes his mark with a brilliant piece of aggressive hustling and Pool click again. Trialist lad with interesting hair and Shaw both put lovely balls across in the space of thirty seconds, the latter which hangs and floats in the way great crosses do and nearly finds Madine at the far post. The more I see Shaw, the more I like him. He's now playing on the right of attack, yet that doesn't seem to phase him at all. 

Antwi looks a bit untidy, for the first time this season anything other than assured. The half a yard faster reactions of Everton players seem to catch him out slightly. Howe looks a bit rushed as well and Sarkic isn't quite at the pace either, until he turns neatly in the box receiving Feeney's pass and squaring for Virtue who ghosts in and hits the chest of the Everton sub keeper.  

There's a smart save from Maxwell somewhere in there as well but the game peters out, getting messier as it goes, Nkoku for Everton causing a bit of trouble and Big Marvin dealing well with a couple of tricky moments. 

-----

It's a really good display from 'Pool - We've had more clear cut efforts than them and they're worth about 100 times more than us but you wouldn't know it. Anderson and Hamilton have been really good, direct, dangerous and skillful. Yates has moved the defense around and caused a lot of indirect problems for the Everton backline. Ethan Robson is really composed and used the ball very well and as I said previously, Sullay looks like a team player, not a wildcard free role gamble. 

At the back, it could have been better and it could have been worse. Maxwell really impressed me with his feet and couldn't really be faulted for anything. The full backs did ok, though I thought the trialist looked a bit raw, he certainly had skill and wanted to go for it. The centre halves looked better with Husband in the middle - It seemed like he and Marvin had a bit of communication and the big man improved and looked pretty good second half, though, to be fair to the first half pairing, Everton took off Calvert Lewin who was a proper unit and a handful early in the second half and Nottingham was playing on the wrong side. 

We've beaten teams weaker than us and held teams stronger than us and played really well. What more can you ask for? Again, there was desire and real verve in the way we played. I honestly thought Everton might hold us at arms' length and just let us run out of steam but we were irresistible early on. There's so many goals in this side if it clicks. 

Today I was blown away by Hamilton, not just his pace, but his tenacity, his work off the ball and even in the air with his back to goal. Most of his decision making was decent too. He's not simply the 'very fast but frustrating' player I thought he might be. He was brilliant in my humble opinion but he wasn't so far ahead some of the rest of the side, Anderson in particular.

That's what makes me optimistic we can do well, that simple fact - if one player doesn't do it, there's 3,4,5 others who can and more on the bench who might. Yes, we're short in a few places but for once let's appreciate what we've got, let's look at the abundance of talent and the level of application in the squad. We could have won that, we didn't just outplay Everton at times, we blew them off the pitch. Whilst we made mistakes, the sort of football we are seeing comes from encouraging a team to play and take risks and we showed real bottle to do it against a side of the class and value of Everton. It would be easy to go into our shell, easy to fight out a 'creditable 2-1 defeat' and no one make any ricks but that's not how we're going to do it. It seems churlish to hang players out to dry for making mistakes when the good stuff is dependent on the bravery of our style of play. 

Not that it matters anyway. It was a practise match after all and they were half asleep. But by god, do we look fit. 

Bring on the season. I don't think we need to play Blackburn. Ring up Mowbray, call it off, get Plymouth on the phone and we'll take them on on Tuesday. Cannot wait. Start the season now. 

Brilliant. 

UTMP.  



Preview: The Mighty vs Everton



I don't normally do a match preview, because let's face it, we're usually playing Rotherham or someone and who would want to write (or read) 1000 words about Rotherham?. To be fair, if we weren't and we were playing Southampton, Leicester or Man City, it probably wouldn't make much difference because they're all a bunch of fly-by-nights not fit to rub shoulders with a club of our class and majesty but there's few grander, older teams than Everton. 

Of all the other, lesser sides in the football world, Everton are the one for which I have the softest spot. 

Goodison is a wonderful place. A time warp that when it's rocking and if you squint a bit and ignore the logos on the shirts and block out the exotic names of the players, allows you to imagine that football is as it ever was. The looming loss of Goodison makes me sad. It's just about the only place in football where the architecture of my childhood football mind still exists in reality. It's one of the few places where you can see the same stands that framed grainy black and white photos playing host to the new world of Football 2.0 (tagline: 'Football, but with added geopolitics and debt') 

Does that matter? I don't know, but do manor houses matter? Do the kind of places that the National Trust charge you £17 to walk around and look at oil paintings and four poster beds from behind thick red ropes matter? This is a ground that has seen Dixie Dean, Sandy Young, Big Nev, Colin Harvey and Preki to name but a few. A ground that has existed on the same spot for 128 years and still squeezes in 40,000 every week, still rises up, sheer faced and stoic from amidst terraced streets and grim looking pubs. Countless millions have squeezed through turnstiles and spent the best (and worse) parts of their week there. Not a few rich people kipping in a posh bed and ordering servants about, but the living breathing masses of a city. 

I don't want to depress you before the season has started but...(whisper it...) life can be shit. Most of us are unremarkable, most of us achieve little or nothing other than turning a handle in a system we don't understand and those 90 minutes of football are the vivid technicolour dreamlike moments that stand in contrast to the grey sleepwalking anxiety of the rest. Few things are experienced as intensely as football when watched live. Few places as have played host to so much of that intensity as Goodison.

If buildings are important in anyway, if buildings have any soul or symbolise the human spirit and experience that passed through them, if history matters at all, then bulldozing Goodison is like bulldozing the colosseum in Rome and saying 'yes, but the new one will have a tunnel club and more catering, it's all about revenue streams these days.' 

I want it transported, brick by brick, in complete form, to Beamish as a reminder of our history. I couldn't give a fuck about the lord of the manor's toilet or an oil painting of Vice Admiral Roislip the Third. There's barely a brick of our football history been saved and Goodison would work as a placeholder for every great ground that now lies beneath a housing estate or industrial park. Why can we only preserve the history of the rich and wars? Is a lawn and gardens any more valid than an Archibald Leitch grandstand? 

I also like Everton for being resolutely pointless for ages. It doesn't seem to matter what they do. Spend nothing, or spend the family silver, they're broadly the same. They're like a great constant. A massive club that isn't massive. They're huge. They're global, they're a monolith, a leviathan, but they don't seem like it. There's a resigned pessimism in Everton fans that makes you feel like they're there for the right reasons. They go, because it's Everton and nothing else. Somehow, despite being the longest constant in the top flight, they feel a bit separate from it.  

So we've established I like them more than Rotherham. Do you care? Probably not. 

----

I wouldn't ever try to do some sort of Sky Sports preview where I bluffed my way through knowing about other teams. I'm not arsed about anyone else other than us but Everton are a bit different than most to me so here's my take on them. (literally what I said I wouldn't do. I know. Sue me) 

They seem to have undergone an identity crisis for about 5 or 6 years. I don't know if that's the right word. Possibly they've attempted to undergo an identity crisis but failed. Like having a makeover but someone just dresses you up in your own clothes. 

For years they were 'backs against the wall, tooth and nail plucky fighters, paying for players with bags of Everton mints and some money off vouchers for Bill Kenwright's West End shows.

We knew where we were with them. Under Moyes they fought without footballing as much as they wanted, under Martinez they footballed without fighting as much as they wanted. Stuff seemed broadly equal to me. Different routes to the same end.

Then they got one of those interchangeable foreign billionaire owners who I can't be arsed remembering cos they're boring as fuck and bought loads of players and we thought they were going to be bang on it now. Like Wolves or whoever is the latest club people  who get paid money to talk shit about football say 'You've got to admire what they've done there...' but it didn't make any difference.

So then they brought in Big Fat Sam which was a good laugh for everyone except them and didn't make any obvious difference and now they have Carlo Ancelotti, who seems like a lovely fella but doesn't seem to have made all that much difference all in all. 

I'm sure they feel the difference, I'm sure they'll point out the heroes and villains and the ups and downs but from the outside, it feels a bit like, no matter what they do, the line stays pretty straight. We've been up to the top and back to the bottom of the whole structure, whilst they've moved up and down a mini league of about 5 places. 

The one game where I've noticed them in recent times was when they beat Chelsea with Duncan Ferguson and played 1990s football but really really well and Chelsea were confused and frightened and Goodison was primal. 

I don't know the squad in depth. Richarlison is obviously class, Pickford is a very good keeper if a bit reminiscent of Zebedee from of off the Magic Roundabout and maybe one of those players who'd be better playing for a shit team because I feel like he gets bored.

I like Dominic Calvert Lewin, even if I suspect he's doomed to be not quite as good as everyone wants him to be. They've got really good kids and I like that they give them a chance. They've also got loads of nippy runners they bought from big clubs who didn't want them in the hope the big clubs had got it wrong but generally, it turns out that the big clubs hadn't and whilst none of them are shite, I can't imagine any of them winning the league either. I think they've got a European lad who plays wide who is sometimes dead good but I can't remember his name. Reminds me a bit of Pat Nevin when I've seen him. Little and tricky and glides.  

Point is though, compared to what we've played, these lot are unreal. What I want to see today is: What happens to Michael Nottingham and the like when they come up against some serious opposition? What happens to Teddy Howe when Iwobi runs at him. I think we need this test to see how weak the defence is. We all feel it's an issue, but how much of an issue is it? We don't need a stonewall to win games if we can score a few, but we can't afford a sieve either. 

Our new attacking style is also something that will be no stranger to Everton. The last derby match was dire, but Everton did a good job in nullifying their neighbours and whilst our rotating forwards and overloading down the flanks is canny stuff that might blow the minds of some League One sides, there is a danger that it will be met with a weary roll of the eyes from Everton's highly coached, highly experienced pan-global squad that will just hold us at arms length until we tire ourselves out then score at will till they get bored. 

The better the opposition, the more likely they'll target the weakness. Will Shaw and Antwi be able to look as comfortable if they play. Will Thorniley get matched up with a player who is not only big, but also very skillful? (basically either of their forwards?) What about Big Marvin's creative use of the ball at the back? Will that get punished again? Dare we do the weird goal kicks where we start a move from our own six yard box? 

It's only a friendly and Everton might just jog round a bit so we'll learn nothing, but none the less, it's a test for Critchley's fearless brand of football. We've not really played anyone we should have approached with fear, nor anyone who probably wouldn't have been beaten by Larry last year. Lest we forget, we swiped Morecambe aside a few times without even breaking much sweat and thus, whilst we've played well against Barrow and Port Vale, we've not been tested and mostly been able to control the play. We've conceded a few but not really faced more than about 20 minutes of concerted pressure across all three games. 

For me, the most intriguing thing about our new style is how we play when it doesn't work or when we're the lesser set of players on the pitch. Fitness and skill should see us beat teams, but we won't always be more fit and sometimes we'll be less skillful. 

I hope today's game either shows we're stronger than we thought at the back or conversely, exposes exactly where the weaknesses are. 

---

Finally, the £5.99 thing. 

I have done some actual journalism. I know. How unlikely! I spoke to a source who works in a media team at a football club with their own broadcast unit/team (not Everton fwiw.) He suggested that between £5k-£10K was an absolute base cost for broadcasting a game (with a single camera) in anything resembling a professional manner. Once you add in HD/4K quality to the stream, replays, multiple angles, mixing etc, he suggested 'costs could rise rapidly' - as well as the need for further cameras if you have 'a presenter' and increasingly complex mixing the more voices you use in the production) 

He estimated an ifollow type feed would be cheaper but would still cost about £5k to produce, mix and broadcast. 

I add this in as the price of the game has been a source of debate and some disappointment amongst the fanbase.

It's clear the club spent money bringing the previous games to us for nothing. It might only have been a couple of thousand quid, but it was money. The production of this game is apparently a cut above with a professional feel to it. If we're looking at multiple angles, then we're talking at very least £10k+ to broadcast. 

I feel really uncomfortable saying supporting a club is linked to a financial spend and telling working class fans to go and give a hedge fund manager their money 'because he deserves it', but the truth is, Sadler has already spent way, way more than he'd have likely budgeted for and not put a foot wrong to date in terms of what he's trying to do. He's had every excuse to stop 'steaming ahead' with his plans but doesn't appear to have taken them. The price of this game is what it is, as the cost of providing a professional set up, dictates it needs to paid for. We don't have that set up in house, so we have to buy into Everton's. There is no chance on earth a Premier League club would have agreed to us broadcasting a rival stream for free. None.  

If the club make a few quid, great. We've never had this service before and we've had three games for nothing. It's an event and the club have tried to be professional about it. If they'd done the same as last games, inevitably someone would have called them 'tinpot.'

Season tickets sales are half of what they were and I would imagine shirt sales are thus suppressed too with less people going to the shop. Sponsorship will be down across the board and there's no immediate prospect of matchday revenue. Essentially we're working on an income probably 30-50% of last years, and yet we have new signings, optimism and positivity. They've got to pay people and sadly, success costs. It is what it is. No one has to pay it and it doesn't make you a better fan for having money or paying for things. That's not the point. I think the point is more that it's damned if you do and damned if you don't for the club. 

Never mind all that pseudo reasonable shite I just wrote. We're playing Everton at home. Can't wait. Who gives a fuck about broadcast costs anyway? 

UTMP

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Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The worst match report in history: the Mighty vs Barrow.


I've got sort of used to football without crowds but this is different. It feels like I've arrived early and everyone is yet to come. I feel like I've switched on on the wrong day. 

This isn't some soulless enormodome with plastic football being played for the edification of corporate glory whores and the petrochemical industry. This is Bloomfield and it feels really odd that's it empty. I suppose it shouldn't because it doesn't look that much different to those even stranger times* when I barely cared about the outcome of games and would occasionally watch the YouTube highlights of some players I can barely recall win or lose against a backdrop of empty stands and feel just about nothing but a sense of regret and resignation. 

*I'm not sure the bizarre experience of a football club being held hostage by an insane scarecrow and his curmudgeonly son is more or less odd than a global pandemic. In the unlikely event that any non Blackpool fans are reading this, the level of oddness of the whole surreal Oyston saga can perhaps be understood by the fact I'm not sure if Covid19 is stranger or not. 

The empty ground is echoing to sound of seagulls and backdropped by grey skies and how I feel now the metaphorical clouds have lifted from the club is indicated by the fact I haven't done anything since getting in from work other than dump my bag by the front door and switched on the video even though this match doesn't matter one bit. I'm hanging on every bit of team news from Chissy and it's only fucking pre season.

I need to have a word with myself. 

I have a word with myself. 

Myself answers me back and says 'shut up, sit down and watch some champagne football' 

---

Barrow acquit themselves well early on. They're neat and tidy and quite brave with ball, if lacking a player with a really dangerous edge. Michael Nottingham is a presence and Nathan Shaw, playing again at left back, an unlikely star in a team of attackers as he delivers some nice crosses. I'm on Madine watch again and clearly his best work is with his back to goal and the plan seems to be to use him as the pivot for the attack with Sullay and CJ getting around him. At this point, I realise I'm using the players first names which is the sort of informality that I imagine they do on shite like Arsenal TV and matey japey podcasts where inane banter is fired around and people pretend they're friends with the players they pay to watch. I might write the rest of the report in a 1950s idiom as penance. 

Pool are on top, without creating much. Possession and pressing but not much penetration until Thorniley plays a ball from the left and Ward controls it, but always looking a little awkward scoops a difficult chance past the far post. I've noticed that Thorniley in possession at the back does a little prancing movement, like a pony. I wonder if that's natural or if he's simply trying to show Critchley that he's trying his best to be a cultured centre half by radiating 'on his toes alertness' to possible passes. 

Ex Seasider Scott Quigley is wrestled to ground. The resultant free kick forces a good low save from Maxwell who looks assured and alert all 45. 

Nathan Shaw, is boxed in but gets tricky in the corner and a lovely swinging cross results from a situation he seemed to have no hope in. Antwi was great in the last two games, but Shaw is just as good in what I see today. 

CJ Hamilton evades 3 defenders, he seems to change form like mercury and just run through, around, between them beating more than he needs to but still getting a low shot away that cannons into a defender. 

It's hard to tell if Kaikai is quiet or showing positional discipline. Is he less interested or is he doing a job? I watch him closely and he's a key part of part of next two chances. He slips a lovely slide rule pass to (that man) Shaw who puts another dangerous cross in. 
 
Then KaiKai interchanges with Hamilton who races through again, he's like a pull back car that's been pushed to the limit of its spring and let go, he's explosive, rocket fuelled, absolute lightning. His shot forces a sharp save from the keeper and the rebound is just out of Hamilton's reach. The resultant corner leads to another corner and then Sarkic (who has looked tidy and assured) puts it on a plate at far post for Thorniley to thump home a classic centre backs goal. 

It has to be said, goal aside, Thorniley who has looked far more comfortable alongside Nottingham who himself has looked pretty assured. It also has to be said that whilst Quigley is a presence, Barrow aren't exactly pumping balls into the box again and again and the defence is more comfortable than with Vale's more direct style and the cunning and power of Tom Pope barrelling round. 

Kaikai whistles a deflected curling shot past the post. 

As the half comes to a close Barrow slip the defence, and a neat through ball has their forward free but Maxwell does very well to convincingly stop it. 

At half time I think we've looked more solid but less threatening. It feels like the same story with Madine. He's good with his back to goal but several times I feel like he's lingered on the ball instead of offloading it. He doesn't seem to be quite on the wavelength of the others. He is the heart of the best move of the half, a beautiful one touch move that happens so quickly and comes to nothing but takes in a ball into the Goal Machine where for once he offloads instantly to the runners who surround him. 

Nottingham has seem more assured than Ekpiteta did in the same role and whether that's transmitted to Thorniley or he's just benefitted from the game time I don't know but I'm slightly more convinced by the centre backs. Robson has been calm and neat and tidy and I feel there's more to come from him. 

I'm looking forward to the second half and then. 

----

The screen goes dead. The video has gone. The club has pulled it from YouTube. 

I could make up the second half I suppose. 

Charlie Adam lands in a helicopter, signs a contract and throws open the gates of Bloomfield Road, thousands stream in and Neil Critchley vacinates them all and Covid is over.

To celebrate, the FA award Blackpool the 1939/40 title and a smiling Simon Sadler tells the assembled crowds, arm in arm, hugging and cheering, singing and chanting, friend and foe united in joy :

"I'm delighted. To be honest, I asked Jamie Devitt to have a look at it. He'd been hanging around doing sweet FA for a year, so I gave him a 'my first chemistry set' and said 'see if you can crack this Jamie cos you don't do much else m8' and thankfully, he did."

I think that's what happened anyway. Doesn't seem too far fetched against recent events. I'll never know for sure.  

----

Is it wrong to be really bitter that I missed out on seeing Jamie Devitt play? 

UTMP

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Tougher test: the Mighty vs Port Vale

I don't think there's a tunnel club at Vale Park. I hope not. 

A match report from a game I didn't go to in a place that doesn't exist. 

This a chance to test our mettle against a higher class of opponent. The Southport game was convincing but it has to be said the opposition were limited. Whilst Port Vale  do play a league below us, we're facing a side who finished the season in good form and emerged from their FA Cup tie against Man City with some credit. I've always quite liked Port Vale. They're filed alongside Notts County as 'they never seem to have any luck' and are a bigger club than their league position would suggest. I'd call them 'proper.' I used to work in Burslem as well and it was indeed, proper. 

Vale Part is one of my favourite English grounds. Not because it's a particularly auspicious place to watch football, (though I do like its dated but roomy ambiance,) but because it represents an example of history that never happened. Reading plans that never came to fruition and unfulfilled dreams of generations long gone is a fascinating window into the fantastical. The long forgotten vision for Vale Park as a Wembley at the heart of the country sits alongside images of Maglev railways and airships travelling the world as invoking strange nostalgia for something that never was. When Spurs spend a billion quid on a stadium and justify that as the base price of entry to a new world of income, there's something heart wrenching about Vale Park as the living ghost of a world where ambition cost a lot less and amounted to little more than a lot of shale with some concrete poured onto it. It doesn't matter that it was never fulfilled. It was a dream nonetheless and dreams are beautiful. Reality only spoils them. 


Nostalgia is not the name of the game at Bloomfield as Neil Critchley has resolutely swept a new broom through the corridors and we've even got a much upgraded portakabin. We're dreaming our own dreams and there's nothing ghostly about them at all. All is good with the world (baring all that obviously isn't but lets not talk about that shite again.)

Another the chance to see how our newest signings fare is very welcome. Yates and Anderson firmly impressed in the previous game and I want to see if they're consistent. Other questions I want to see answered include whether Antwi can looks as assured against some stronger opponents, whether Nuttall and/or Madine can combine with the rest of the side to pose a threat to an opposition defence and to what extent Feeney can make a case for having a role to play. 

----

The game takes place on a weirdly compressed version of Vale Park's usually spacious meadows and struggles to get going early on. Vale, clearly several cuts above Southport, put pressure on the backline early on and force a few shaky passes and hurried moments. Pool start much more directly than in the Southport game. Cameron Antwi settles back into the level of performance we'd seen in the last friendly, looking calm, controlled, using the ball intelligently and showing, showing, always showing for the ball. If this is the unfinished article, there's a real player here when the lad's done. 

Jerry Yates also impresses from the off, his running, pressuring and high standards evident. It's probably a bit early to compare him to certain legendary forwards who ran every channel and made things happen by the force of will but I think we can definitely go so far as to say 'it's at least as exciting as if Chris Long had been any good.' I'm not getting carried away, but I really like this lad.  

As the half wears on, the Mighty gain a bit of control. Antwi (him again) shows a lovely bit of vision to play in Teddy Howe, who in turn wins a corner, from which the ball bounces about until Liam Feeney cracks a shot so hard that it's deflection lands out of play behind him. 

Keshi Anderson runs at the Vale defence and has a good shout for a penalty turned down. Anderson is all over the pitch in the 60 minutes he's on it, appearing on the right, on Yates' shoulder, coming deep and letting Virtue move forward. He's got a lovely touch but a bulldog physique and his reaction to not getting the penalty shows a player with real determination and fire. 

The strengths and weaknesses of this performance are epitomised in the next move as Big Marvin, who has looked both class and chaos in the same body plays Teddy Howe into trouble and the whippet right back concedes a free kick. From Vale's short free kick it's Jerry Yates back winning possession with a strong challenge then as Pool break, it's Yates again receiving the ball a couple of passes later after haring upfield and in turn, feeding Anderson who brings a good save from the Vale keeper. 

Howe has a decent half going forward, he delivers a couple of decent balls and interlinks well with both Feeney and Anderson on the attack but he looks pretty fragile when under pressure defensively and as Vale swing what looks like a harmless ball across, Howe, faced with the bulk of Tom Pope, seems to panic and shove him over.

It's blatant spot kick. (except, it isn't when I rewatch it and Pope has made a meal of the lightest of touches from Howe whose eyes don't leave the ball)

The star of social media looks calm and collected and ready to dispatch the ball with ease as he steps up and sends Maxwell the wrong way. As the keeper does that slow motion crumple they always do, when they know they guessed wrong, looking like an empty carrier bag that has fallen from a kitchen work top, the ball strikes the outside of the post and Pool are redeemed. 

Vale maybe deserved a goal for their endeavour, but buoyed by the let off, Pool maraude forward. Howe slips in Feeney who produces one of his classic 'experienced' crosses, driving the ball low into the defender to force a certain corner. From it, Yates spins and I think it's going in, but it isn't, Big Marv hooks it towards goal again from an awkward angle and the ball comes back to the near post and from nowhere, KaiKai who has done nothing else in the half, ghosts in and tucks it away very nicely. 

---

At half time Pool just about deserve the lead on the balance of play. They've not looked as slick as in the previous game, but what is really pleasing is the way most of the new signings have again impressed and the young players have done well.

Nathan Shaw has manfully filled an unfamiliar left back role and played a couple of really lovely raking crossfield balls in the bargain, notable for their accuracy and stood up to a bit of physical buffeting with one particularly well timed leap at the far post against a powerful Vale forward standing out. He's good with ball and he'll hold his ground. Antwi only gets better as the game goes on, one moment popping the ball up off his chest and nodding it forward accurately standing out in the memory as does his ability to retain possession when his youth would suggest he might have made the wrong choice. He's got a trick or two but he seemed to deploy them sparingly. Both do their chances no harm at all today. 

---

Second half, the only change on 45 is the keeper, with Fojticek, the more impressive of the two trialists from the previous game given a run out. Early on, the defence are playing seemingly endless triangles and the keeper plays a short ball out to Big Marvin who is under pressure. His hurried and lax touch lets in a nippy Vale forward who tucks a lovely finish away. It's almost as if Critchley has said 'Go out and piss about at the back then we'll see if this trialist lad can play' 

It's clear we are going to have to accept that the way we're going to play will mean we concede goals that a more agricultural approach would have avoided. The flip side will hopefully be we score goals that a more agricultural approach probably wouldn't. If we are allowed back under some kind of post apocalyptic 'no shouting, no chanting' rules, then it's a good chance the first person ejected from the stadium will be bellowing 'FOR FUCK'S SAKE! JUST GET RID' as we tikitaka about in defence. At least Ryan Edwards has gone, so we're spared that.  

Pool hit back straight away. Nathan Shaw hits a long ball (on his right foot as well) that Yates springs for and not only wins but controls beautifully. He plays the ball for Keshi Anderson, but it's not quite the right one and Vale clear their lines. Except they don't, they dally on the ball and in response to our error, show their own frailty, it's like an AA meeting for lower league teams with footballing pretensions...  Anderson out muscles their man and suddenly has the goal at his mercy. He shows none at all as he executes a beautiful, precise side footed finish into the bottom corner and caps a cracking show with a really well deserved goal. 

On 60 minutes, it's all change and the start of the CJ Hamilton show. This lad is quick. No, he's not quick. He's fucking quick. And a bit quicker than that. 

He gets his performance going by racing inside the fullback onto a lovely ball from deep (possibly from Grant Ward), like fire melting ice... he just surges away from him leaving him reeling and forces a sharp save. 

Then Super Joe goes down with a knee injury and young Nathan comes back on. Probably because the older lads made him. 

Hamilton is back on it, with a run from inside his own half where he goes past several defenders like they aren't there but (in what I feel may be a clue as to why we were able to get a player of such obvious attributes and thrilling potential) finishing the run by passing the ball tamely into the hands of their keeper. Fans of Martin Bullock (of which I am very firmly one) may have found their new hero.

Sarkic is playing deeper than we expected from the brochure in the showroom but he looks calm and composed. He seems like a player who will stroll thoughtfully rather than run headlessly. Robson looks really good on the ball and several times we have the kind of move we'd go games without witnessing last year, where we pass and move and progress up the pitch by merit of players finding space, moving for each other and interchanging well. 

Fojticek redeems himself with a vary smart save when Vale get a one on one.

Grant Ward fizzes a lovely cross from the right that no one quite can put their name on.

Turton and Nottingham form an unlikely but actually quite effective partnership and the former in particular looks really steady, whilst our Ollie's distribution is good.

New cult hero Ben Garrity does ok in an unfamiliar right back role and puts one lovely lofted ball through that almost releases Ward from deep. 

I do spend a lot of the 30 mins Gary Madine on the pitch pondering the same question I've pondered since realising Critchball is for real. How is he going to be a part of this? He jogs about up front and is tidy enough but without really affecting the game. Again, I thought Nuttall in his few minutes looked more part of things than the goal machine but in the dying minutes, he controls the ball and slips Hamilton away who is again foiled. Maybe the big lad and the quick lad isn't so outdated... Maybe with his back to goal and the likes of Anderson and Hamilton haring off him, Madine could be class. I'm still not sure. 

-----

This felt like a good work out. It was a decent test and after what was little more than an exhibition match, that was exactly what we needed. We've learned that our scouting has been decent and that we've got some potentially frightening attacking power. We've also seen again, that some of our new players look to have an excellent mentality. Yates and Anderson in particular looked like they wanted to win and though Ekpetita wasn't quite the Rolls Royce we want, his reaction to an error was to carry on playing the same way which is what you want to see and there were moments he looked great. If anything, it felt like him and Thorniley hadn't really gelled. I didn't think Thorniley did much wrong I can point too but they didn't look like the foundation to build the house on. 

We still look a player or two short - Certainly a real experienced/classy head at the back and maybe a similar central midfielder (can't think of one currently unemployed though...), but for all that, we've also discovered that Antwi and Shaw look ready to play a part. Sterner challenges await for both, but this was a much authentic test than last week and both did well. They seem to have the brain for it as well as the skills. They're not going to be the lynch pins around which a season revolves, but as players who can do a job, be on the bench, put pressure on and bring their enthusiasm and energy to the squad, they're valuable. They're even more valuable when you consider them as 'free hits' in a salary cap squad. 

Bring on Barrow and David Dunn then bring on the Bluenoses. Who cares about a bit of defensive wobbliness.

We'll score one more than anyone! 

UTMP 

*after being a bit snide about the feed last week, this was a top job by both clubs and the picture and commentary was excellent. 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Salary caps and hyper inflation: A long read


A different sort of cap, from a different sort of era.

So the sun has risen on a new era of salary caps. Is this a post covid football austerity that crushes the ambitions of lower league clubs or a brave new dawn of sensible finance?

Here, we'll explore some of the potential outcomes of the decisions as well as expressing some of the questions this new legislation throws up.

The first few parts are quite positive. The final part descends into some frankly astonishing stats and explores a wider picture. We'll look at the way players salaries are increasingly indicative of a an era in which football seems to resemble to separate games, separated by a financial chasm that shall ne'er be bridged.

The basics:

Leagues 1 and 2 confirmed a cap of £2.5 million and £1.5 million respectively. Rumour suggests that Championship clubs may agree to a somewhat more generous £18 million salary cap though at the time of writing that was far from certain.

How drastic are the numbers?

On the surface, £2.5m is a huge drop from the average wage budget of approx £7m in League 1. The 1.5m cap in League is being placed at roughly 50% of the average squad cost in 19/20. However, there a number of aspects that make the headline figures a bit misleading.

- Firstly, any high earners who are in contract will be treated as earning the 'divisional average' for the length of their contract. With several League 1 players earning around £1m a year, this caveat is significant in both the short and long term. In the immediate future, it will protect the likes of Will Grigg at Sunderland from needing to be offloaded immediately and in the longer term, it will mean any sides relegated from the Championship won't be required to engage in a spectacular fire sale.


Will Grigg's (not) on fire(sale)

- Secondly, players under the age of 21 aren't included in the total cap so a club with a strong emphasis on youth development and a significant number of youth players involved in their squad won't need to cut back this provision and will be well positioned to use their salary cap aggressively.

This said, there is no question that these figures are significant attempt to cut costs. Blackpool's last published wage bill was around 4.5 million per/annum (total salaries, not playing budget alone) though that represents figures from the 18/19 season, as opposed to those relevant to the current regime. Under the previous regime, Blackpool didn't have a spectacular budget for anything and yet we'll be required to bring our budget to levels that even the famously frugal (a very generous description) Oystons didn't manage.

Squad size...

Last season, the average squad size at League 1 level was 28 players (26 at league 2). Over the last 30 years, we've seen a gradual creep in the size of football squads and a belief growing that you need at least two players to cover every position and that 'competition within a squad' leads to good performances on the pitch.

In 1980/81 Aston Villa won the league championship using only 14 players with 7 players ever present. That side was then good enough to lift the European Cup 12 months later.


Frankly, we're knackered...

Whilst it's unlikely we'll see squads cut quite so thinly, there are interesting potential effects of the salary cap.

1) The return of the utility player.

For me, this role is epitomised by Alan Harper who played almost every position on the pitch for Everton such was his versatility. In the 1980s, substitutes were limited and thus a player like Harper who could slot in almost anywhere and do it well was worth his weight in gold. In an era where the more players you have, the less competitive the wages you can offer, having a player who can cover two or three positions in reserve becomes valuable.

Look at the difference in salaries:

28 man squad - average wage = £1,700 p/w
20 man squad - average wage = £2,400 p/w

With talk of a limitations on squad size yet to come (rumours being 22 senior players, falling to 20 over a two year period) that need to embrace flexibility may come sooner rather than later.

Will we see a return to managers reinventing players to fit particular needs? I have (possibly false) memories of Dave Bamber filling in a centre back right at the end of his career in a crisis and more definitely recall both Paul Warhurst and Chris Sutton being converted from one end of the pitch to the other. Necessity is the mother of invention and all that...

Back to the future?

2) Youth players filling gaps.

Will we see managers more likely to risk younger players in first team action? If you really want compete with rivals in order to sign a few high class footballers, then it would make sense to make some of the best players from your youth system step up. For each u21 player, you potentially double the amount you can pay your stars as they're a free hit against your salary cap. For me, this is no bad thing as it makes league 1 and 2 arguably more attractive to young players in giving them a more clear pathway to first team involvement.

At Blackpool, we've seen a couple of youngsters given game time and being talked up by the manager. Is this part of a strategy around wages to maximise our potential negotiating power when it comes to further player signatures?

3) Loan wages will count

Whilst it's very rare for a lower league club to take a really highly paid player on loan and cover his wages in full, the costs of loaning players from the Premier League is substantial. Whilst players like Kieran Dewsbury Hall and Seamus Coleman are amongst some of the best signings we've made, there have been numerous flops and with wages tighter than ever, will clubs be as willing to pay for the chance to trial other teams' youngsters? If the limit on squad sizes is to come into play, then there will be interesting maths to consider

Last year Blackpool had six players on loan at any one time in a squad over 30 deep. With a maximum squad size potentially as few as 20, a high number of loans will place considerable pressure on the squad, especially if the club's stated aim is to develop and progress its own talent. Many of the players who can't get anywhere near a game at the top level are 21 and over. What will happen to them? Will they be more likely to need to go abroad for experience of competitive football if English lower league clubs are less inclined to take them?

Will we see Premier League clubs 'giving' loans away in order to get their players much needed competitive experience?

On the surface, loans seem to be an easy way for lower league clubs to get high class players playing for them now, but at any club with an emphasis on financial stability, it's clear that am over reliance on this method undermines their ability to promote and nurture their own assets.

On the other hand, clubs could see themselves almost duty bound to take X number of youngsters from the EPL reserves given the monopoly on young talent that huge academies and lifting of restrictions on signing young players has created. Are clubs in a position to promote the future of their own talent when Premier League sides have hoovered up so much of the available pool? Do we see the lower leagues as a defacto proving ground for the elite clubs?


Actually, no, I'm not signing. Pass me the phone, I want to speak to Critch...

4) Squad mentality versus star and supporting cast?

One of the most interesting aspects for me, is the tactics behind operating in a capped structure.

Will we see managers try and build a true footballing 'ensemble' - essentially offering the first team the same wage and aiming for a togetherness and egoless footballing style in which the sum of the parts is bigger than the whole, or will they dismiss that as hippy happy claptrap and try and tempt a few key players with higher than average wages and support this pay by accepting the players alongside them will be lesser footballers.

The impact of the salary cap in US Sport can create some astonishing disparity in pay as a franchise superstar earns multi-millions whilst a reserve player (who may be called into action to play for the first team) earns something close to an everyday wage.


The sum of the parts etc...

5) The end of player power?

The salary cap has predictably been criticised by the PFA. Whilst I find Gordon Taylor repugnant, I think the PFA do have a valid case around a lack of consultation. It's sad (but not entirely unexpected) to see that football governance does consist of (mostly men) in suits talking about how they want the game to be run.

Whilst players have had a very good deal in the last few decades, they, alongside supporters are the game itself. There's two vital ingredients of the football match outside of some grass and ball. Neither of them are club owners.

The biggest impact of the change is likely to be the readiness of sides to award contracts to journeymen pros with limited sell on value. With player sales representing a significant income for most clubs, the pressure to ensure your squad of (as few as) 20 is as full of potential salable assets will be considerable and it's likely that it's the 32 year old reserve left back nursing an ongoing injury who is going to suffer.

It feels wrong in a lot of ways that the largesse of the Premier League which has driven the wages and price of success up goes unchecked, whilst journeymen lower league players face the scrapheap. At the best of times, football can be a cruel, cruel mistress and a precarious existence in the lower leagues and this measure will make it even more so. We'll expand much more on this below.

6)Karl (son of an estate agent) Oyston's dream comes true... Wither agents?

The flipside of the pitiful sight of a balding ex fullback with a dodgy knee limping his way to the labour exchange is the potential of the change to impact on the world of football agents as fees paid to them count towards your salary cap total.

This shadowy world is often maligned but seen objectively, it does make sense that young lads have some kind of advice and support when embarking on signing contracts. I've never, ever understood why the role of the agent can't be wrapped up in the PFA's role, whereby a player can receive independent advice and guidance from a registered figure.

I've also never understood why a standard fee can't apply to agents, nor why an agent deserves to remunerated in the millions for doing what often seems to be obvious work that would have happened anyway regardless. At a lower level, an agent probably has more of a useful role to play. A mega transfer yields a major fee but Real Madrid didn't need an agent to bring Gareth Bale to their attention. Nor does it seem a particularly unique skill to sit in an office and say "Gareth wants more money" till you reach the breaking point of the team who want to sign him.

Further down the pyramid there are thousands upon thousands of hopeful or out of work footballers who need someone to showcase their abilities to clubs whose scouting networks don't extend to every corner of the globe. This is where a good agent comes into play, finding a player work where there may otherwise not be any and ensuring the player isn't exploited in the bargain. Lower league players are often in the opposite position to the likes of Bale, wherein the power lies with club. This in and of itself isn't a problem, but the size of the payments received are surprising and ultimately are lost to the game.


"So, let me get this right... we can either buy the right back or we can give the agent a new swimming pool extension, but we can't do both?... Leave it with me..."

Ipswich Town last season paid agents around £325,000 - Compared to the money spent in the elite leagues, that's a drop in the ocean but in a new salary capped world, that represents 13% of their entire salary cap. That's worth more than 2 or even 3 players in these straightened times. Players who are prepared to pay their own agents fees or deal directly with a club will possibly be in a much better position than those with agents who demand excessive fees. With smaller squads and lots of released players and the aforementioned youth bias built in, it's not a time for agents to be asking players to wrap in a 100k sweetener for themselves...

The Ipswich figures suggest that even in the third tier the sort of one off sums paid for routine transfer dealings are equal to or greater than yearly salaries paid to club employees.

I've no figures to back this up, but we're oft told that football is an entertainment industry and that 'what fans want' is the ethos behind the governance of the game. I'd imagine if you asked the majority of supporters who they felt offered more value to their experience from the following list:
...

- ticket office staff
- the community liason team
- football agents

... then the latter might see themselves bottom of the voting by some margin.

7. The return of 'the gaffer?'


Not undermined by his superstar players...

The salary cap applies to players alone (currently.) Over the last 30 years, there has been a gradual disempowerment of the role of 'the boss.' It's routine for managers whom are ultimately responsible for results to be paid significantly less than their star players. Even the most elite managers can't expect to take home more money than the best players can, despite them arguably shouldering a much higher and more constant workload. Even Pep (the absolute definitive modern 'super manager') earns less than his star players.

With 'ambitious' club owners more limited than ever in terms of spending sprees for players, it would make sense that those who want to use their wallet to assert influence on their team's prospects of success turn to the backroom staff and seek the absolute best manager available.

Whilst clearly, no one goes out and deliberately signs a 'duff' manager, there's unquestionably an interesting debate about whether a manager with a small budget who keeps their club mid table is actually a better manager than one with an open cheque book who wins the league. That chequebook manager is going to find things harder in League One and Two.

Will we see good managers able to get players to play above themselves venerated again in a way that runs counter to the direction of many years? With much less room to spend, it will be harder for directors to demand 'instant results' and arguably the importance of youth, getting the most out of what you have, an eye for an unpolished gem and the ability to motivate players will all become more important.

8: What happens to the excess money? (if there is any...)

It's seems that the low bar has been set in order to to mitigate against empty stadia or low crowds and take into account revenue already lost. Add in the cost of continuous Covid testing for an as yet unknown period of time and there's plenty of reasons why even some of the bigger clubs supported a cap this tight.

By my reckoning, Blackpool are somewhere between the 8th and 10th biggest club in the division and if we were relying on season ticket revenue alone for a season, our total income would be around £1.5 million pounds, leaving us needing to sell £1 million worth of shirts and sponsorship to cover just the playing budget (leaving aside maintenance, coaching, other staffing etc) - Blackpool is fortunate in having other revenue streams and a benevolent owner, as well as a newly enthused and engaged fanbase but other clubs in the division don't have this luxury. For some, even with the cap in place, the season will not be a walk in the park.

However, there are other clubs whose potential income dwarfs the salary cap. The obvious case in point are Sunderland. If we set aside the fact that Sunderlands real wage bill won't be 2.5 million (unless they don't get promoted until all their contracts have expired) and set aside the covid issues which may reduce crowds then we can see a circumstance where they are making money hand over fist...

Sunderland reported 8.6m income from gate receipts alone for their first season in League 1. It doesn't take a genius to work out that leaves over 6.1million pounds of excess income. Of course, a club like Sunderland has to pay the rest of the staff, maintain a stadium and so on, but operating within salary capped restrictions could become very tempting for a business person who knows the cost of the product at this level will be potentially 7.2 times lower than in the division above.

In that circumstance, what will Sunderland do with that money? In their particular position, you'd hope it would be *clear the debts and get the club on an even keel* but that assumes responsible ownership as a norm.

It seems far fetched, but Mike Ashley has run Newcastle in a deliberately unambitious way for many years, knowing that the status quo would happily net him his dividend. For years at Blackpool a feeling persisted that the Oyston's actively didn't want promotion and the increased costs that would yield.

Whilst a salary cap isn't going to net Andy Holt at Accrington a mega windfall any time soon, it could see 'frugal' owners exploiting larger clubs where the gates will take some years and much disenfranchisement to fall below a break even level. With such a huge gap to Championship spending levels, a side like Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds or Sunderland in the third tier are strangely more lucrative than competing at a higher level.

The mantra that 'football is a business these days' is an oft repeated one. If that's true, then we should expect businesses finding their niche and working to maintain their place in the market. A store like Home Bargains provides a product that sits at a particular price point. It doesn't seek to become Marks and Spencers or Harrods because that doesn't suit its business model.

Mike Ashley exposes the problem with the 'football as business' model by running Newcastle like a business. If we do see similar issues in League 1 as a result of the financial opportunity, it might perhaps be wise to review the truism that has underpinned much of football thinking in the last 30 years.

9: Shenanigans.

I'm not going to give undue attention to this section for the details of clubs daring attempts to circumnavigate existing legislation are writ large in various sources. Today's stadium sales and cunning rebadging of debt and assets aren't directly related to salary caps, but you can be sure that clubs are already calculating how to exploit any loopholes.

A 5% overspend margin punishable by a financial penalty is an odd inclusion. Can it be that hard to add up the wages of 20ish footballers. I've got a grade C in GCSE maths from a fairly ropey comprehensive school and I reckon I could do it. There are such things as spreadsheets and calculators these days as well. It's almost certain that clubs will gamble that the reward of promotion will outweigh the financial cost of the punishment and once one does it....


Tip for chairmen: (1700*52)*28=2500000 (+ you can even do this on your phone these days!)

Going right back in history, the early days of non professionalism were filled with players doing non-jobs in the week, ostensibly employed in the owners mill or mine, but rarely if ever setting foot there.

In the maximum wage era, creative ways to reimburse players abounded with business opportunities, cars and competitive rents on property being a few examples of off book sweeteners.

Imagining this won't happen is naive. That said, news travels faster and scrutiny is more intense than in the era above. Because a law will be broken shouldn't mean a law isn't made and if nothing else, creative speculation on exactly what has tempted the clubs star striker to sign on the dotted line will add a bit of colour to up till now predictable conclusion of 'more cash'


Lionel Messi today signed a 100 million pound contract to pick litter for an hour a year at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. In his spare time he is expected to play for Blackpool FC. As a hobby.


10: The decision in context of the rest of football:

Fans are rightly concerned about the impact on 'ambition' - but in and of itself measuring ambition simply by the amount of money an owner is willing to spend on player wages is a narrow definition.

Were a sensibly tiered salary cap applied to the whole of the professional game, I'd argue (and have done so) that we could see 'ambition' expressed in more effective ways which would benefit the game as a whole - Spending on coaching, youth development, stadium improvements and so on could take the place of hyper inflated player wages which offer diminishing returns.

There's really no argument against the fact we're seeing hyper inflation in football - In the final season of the Football League, Division One players earned an average wage of £1,600p/w or 83,200p/a. The most recent figure for the average top flight wage is £61024 p/w or a cool £3.17 million p/a.

That's an astonishing (I had to resist the urge to put that in tabloid style capital letters) increase of 3714%.

The cost of living has increased by 116% since 1991 so in basic terms, footballers salaries have increased by 3598% more than the average salary.

The average house price (an oft quoted figure used to warn of the unsustainability of modern economic thinkong) of has risen from 62,445 to to 231,885 - a measley 271.2% increase, worrying on a real world level, but practically non-existent when placed alongside the fantastical dreamland context of footballers wages.


It takes an average person about 9 and a bit years to pay for this. An average Premier League footballer can buy one every five weeks.

If we set this increase alongside an average supporters wage - In 1991, the typical top flight footballer earned around £1,285 more than the typical fan per week (1991 average income - all full time adult males), £314 pw . Their wages dwarfed the average fan by around 400%. Even then, people (well, my mum for one) complained about over paid pampered prima-donna footballers but now those wages look incredibly good value for money when we consider the next figure.

In 2019, the difference between the average wage and footballer's wages is about 10500%

These statistics are of course, not entirely relevant to the lower league footballer whose average wage is a modest £2300 per week (rising to 4,500 p/w for the average highest earner at a club) or about 450% higher than the average supporter. Third tier wages in 1991 were around £420 p/w average - today's wages representing a 471% increase - still higher than house price increases or the rise in the cost of living but signficantly lower than the average wage increase in the Premier league. (more than 3200% smaller.)

They're shared as a reminder of the astonishing level of wage inflation in the the Premier League. A final stat will serve to underline this further. In 1984/5 a top flight player earned on average about 2.1 times the salary of his (then) Div 3 counterpart. By 1991 the gap had grown to around 2.9 times the salary. Now, an average Premier League player can expect to earn 26.5 times more than their lower league counterparts.

All of this begs a very clear question. If we're serious about tackling the burden of player wages, why have we started by addressing the salaries which have shown the least inflation? It's a bit like asking the shop floor workers to take a pay cut whilst the executives continue to pay themselves bonuses. As if that would happen in the real world eh?!

The hyper inflation in football hasn't been driven by Rochdale or Accrington players but it is they who will find their earnings capped as a result of their clubs striving to keep up with the spending in leagues above them. The cost of ambition has risen and so therefore has the cost of just staying afloat.

The real danger of a salary cap is that when done partially, it fails to have the intended effect. By manufacturing an even vaster gap than already exists between the divisions there's a genuine concern that any talent in league and two will become even easier for the top clubs to pick off. Without measures against this kind of talent grabbing (such as squad limits in the divisions above) then it becomes even cheaper to tempt the leading lower league players away from their clubs.

Trying to build a squad capable of challenging in the league above becomes considerably harder and the same issues that currently haunt the championship (the financial dominance of relegated clubs due to parachute payments) could impact on League One in a different form. Let's imagine a big spending club, let's say for sake of argument, Derby County, falls into League One.

Clubs who've played at that level for a while will be at most spending 2.5 million per/annum on their wages, whilst Derby could theoretically maintain an entire squad of players worth 18 million (or even more if they like Sunderland fall twice in two years)

On a practical level, that gap doesn't trouble me too much. For a start, if that squad has been relegated twice, can it really be worth that money?

Furthermore it's quite rare for Premier League clubs to sign players directly from Leagues One and Two - it's simply not fashionable to do so when a Premier League brand demand exotic and seemingly 'ambitious' signing to satiate the fan base. (Youth players are a different matter as you can pass of a player filched from another club's system as 'one of our own.')

If Championship clubs agree a salary cap, then the same limitations on their squad development will apply. They'll want to have the maximum quality within the available number of players and will want to pay the biggest wages they can to attract the highest quality players possible. It's not in their interests to stockpile players from the league below for the sake of it so I'd argue we'll see the players who would have been targeted anyway being subject to moves to the Championship.

My real concerns are more structural and moral than that my side will be any more at risk of rapacious evisceration by giant vultures than it already is.

When the Premier League was formed, it had one purpose in mind. To allow the biggest clubs to get bigger and attract the sort of money to the game that would make those at the top table rich and powerful. It has succeeded at that goal, beyond, I'd suggest, the wildest dreams of even those who dreamt the idea up in the first place.


Imagine your job being listed as 'investor.' Just imagine that.

The cost of that has been the togetherness of football. A sense of a fluid league where competition is at its heart. As you saw above, in 1984, whilst Liverpool dominated Europe, the difference between the earnings of the top and third tier footballer was relatively small. Now, that gap has grown to an astonishing level and the only real competitive justification is the performance of a few elite sides in Europe. 

The argument that 'money makes players better' or 'hungrier' is palpable nonsense. Liverpool's Ray Kennedy inspired European success in Rome was preceded just 2 years earlier by the Aston Villa triumph mentioned above, which in turn was preceded by 2 wins for Nottingham Forest. English footballers were paid well, but like paupers in contrast to today's money. That didn't prevent them being the best players in Europe. Times have, of course, changed and now a few elite leagues compete for a few elite players and we all literally pay the cost for that. 

The figures above show just absurd the gap between the rich and the (relative) poor has become. Of course, it's hard to call a footballer earning around 100k a year 'poor' but it's an economy of scale. The salary cap is borne of necessity and of the relative penury of lower league sides. It speaks of a schism in finances wherein Premier League sides are gifted well over £100 million every single year and League One sides get £700 thousand, League 2 sides less again. It speaks of a game that is fractured, where the self interest of the richest clubs wins out because they've taken their ball to a different field.

It's a football world where a league 1 or 2 side is literally told that its value to the game as a whole is worth less than 1% of the value of a Premier League club. Sooner or later that has to have an impact on the idea of the English game as a glorious whole.

Whilst there is no question that Manchester United or Liverpool are bigger and more marketable than Rochdale or Tranmere, the 'bigness' and the 'glamour' of clubs is relative. Being the biggest and best of 92 (or indeed an entire pyramid) is a worthy achievement. Being the best of a self contained league of a few clubs has far less satisfaction, sporting merit or competitive validity.

The EPL is like a powerful group of people gathered in a penthouse level, quaffing champagne whilst the base of the building crumbles, refusing to imagine that should the structure be compromised it might also affect them. Perhaps they have a helicopter at the ready, ready to head to the land of a Super League and more and better champagne... but some of the suits should note, it only seats 6 at most.


There has been more or less silence from the elite on the issues facing the clubs lower down the pyramid and that speaks of the sheer absurdity of the way football is governed. It's not the EFL's fault that they can't tackle wage inflation at the top of the game, because the EFL have no say in what happens in the top flight.

It's an almost surreal situation, as the purpose of every club within the league structure is to try and get to the Premier League (and ultimately to try and win it) but at any one time most of them have no say over the way it is governed. It has become an Emerald City, a far off dream, a fantastical destination but if your currently Bradford City or Newport County, then you've as much chance of affecting any change to the way it runs as you have of influencing a mirage.

Within the football league, we know there are clubs at risk and that risk applies even with salary caps in place, if the current situation persists over winter, some of those at risk clubs will be in a very parlous state indeed. Outside of the league, we've seen clubs going right to the brink and beyond, with little or no financial help from the top table even though the sums involved are the sort of money the Premier League would pop in a copper jar.

I don't know the exact sums required to keep Dover Athletic running as a professional club, but I'd be very surprised if the wages of Andy Lonergan (Liverpool's 4th choice goalkeeper) wouldn't have sorted the problem in an instant (and with some left over). Certainly a fraction of the performance payments based on league position would have done so.

A responsible structure would recognise that inflation running at well over 10000% was dangerous and would seek to curb that. If you simply give all that money to players, you aren't leaving any legacy from the boom times. No one is objecting to the best players being well remunerated for their skills or that players deserve the money more than most, if not all other people in the game, but the notion that football exists to make as many millionaires as is possible and nothing else is a strange one. 

The money in football is right there, ready to be used to save clubs, to invest in grassroots, to save fans money on their tickets, to negate the need to convert more and more of stadia into expensive dining facilities and so on and so forth. All of this is true and clearly possible if only the game were controlled by those who wished it to be so. Paying a footballer 10 or 10,000 times the average wage won't make him play better but choosing the former will leave a lot left over to do much more with.

Imagine if the EFL gave a 'mere' £90 million to each club and did away with prize money for league positions. That would create a fund of around £500 million pounds to reinvest in the game as whole to mitigate the impact of Covid19 and engage in positive projects - what cost would that be to the clubs really?

The division would still be, by some margin one of the richest in the world game. The cost to the top clubs might be one or at most two players. The potential gain to everyone else is so large it defies listing.

Looking at the salary cap brings to the fore the disparity in wages between those at the top and those below. It reminds us of the absolute insanity of the last 28 years of growth. It also brings to mind economic questions about society as a whole. Sport run like this, holds a perfect mirror to a broader message - that it's ok to be incredibly rich and fritter your money on anything and everything you want and fuck everyone else.

A mirror to the truth maaaaaan.

It's smaller clubs tightening belts and shedding excess whilst the rich spend 40, 50, 60 million (and more) on a single player and regard it as a bargain. It's the 'poor' who are dealing with poverty whilst the rich whistle and carry on, insulated from the impact and confused as to why anyone would ask them to moderate their behaviour or accept a renegotiated position, even though it would represent a modest rebalancing that would barely impact upon them.

It's almost as if the elite reject cause and effect.

I'll leave you with one more stat.

Kevin De Bruyne next year will earn more than 7.2 salary capped league one squads and more than 12 salary capped league 2 squads.

I'll repeat a stat from above again: In 1984, the average top flight player earned 2.2 times their third tier counterpart and 2.99 times their 4th tier counterpart. In simple terms, a Div One player was worth 2 (or 3) lower league players. In the modern age, Kevin De Bruyne is worth around 150 League players and around 260 League 2 players. Is he that much better than Dalglish, Brady, Lineker, Whiteside or any of the other players of that era? Is paying him such sums worth the competitive neutering of entire divisions?

We're here, not simply because 'the EFL decided to have a salary cap.' We're here because the highest level of the game won't countenance change, won't countenance any form of financial responsibility and even in the midst of a pandemic, the severity of which caused the first curtailed league season outside of global war, won't countenance even the most meagre of redistribution in the interests of the game as a whole.

Finally, let's consider if there are any realistic responses we can expect from the elite. The absolute bare minimum we could reasonably expect (outside of any releasing of their vice like grip on the purse strings of football,) is limiting squad sizes to stop the stockpiling huge squads of players they don't really need and perhaps even more urgently, agreeing to limit their academy sizes.

This would go some way to mitigating the impact of the lower wages and ensure that the football league clubs are able to develop their own high quality players as well as releasing some of the available talent into the marketplace. If lower league clubs are to be limited to X amount of players and they're expected to a) compete in the same competitions and b) to build squads capable of competing in the higher tier, it's only fair that the same basic notions apply equally within a competition.

No one would argue that Manchester United aren't allowed to pay more money than Oldham or not allowed to have better facilities. It just seems reasonable to give Oldham (or whoever) a *sporting* chance of competing with them one day. Oldham need a salary cap. Lots of clubs in the lower leagues do. But more than that, they need a slice of the pie that the biggest clubs receive. Last year's champions effectively received £250,000,000 in subsidy (called 'prize money') and Oldham received about £500,000. A system which subsidises those most able to generate their own income is, when viewed objectively, really very odd. Especially when you factor in that this is supposed to be a competitive structure. 

What we have now is clearly two games, played by off the pitch different rules and subject to different systems of refereeing on it. Given as the whole point of a footballing pyramid is to be a competition, then expecting the Premier League to adopt some small changes that help put its rules at least in the same ballpark (or football stadium) and show at least a passing awareness of the rest of the pyramid.

A salary cap applied in part is a bit like buying one shoe and hoping it to have the effect of a pair or wanting a single earphone to have a stereo effect.

Still, none of that helps the 32 year old left back with the dodgy knees. I really hope the PFA have some good retraining schemes.

Sources:
I am indebted to the brilliant, in depth and extremely simple to understand work of Nick Harris (https://www.sportingintelligence.com) for many of the statistics in this blog.

Other stats come from ONS/Gov.uk data and a few are sourced from reputable newspaper reports.

The only stat I didn't have total confidence in was the league 1 average wage of £2,300 which appeared in multiple places but didn't itself appear to be sourced. A recent MEN article gave a credible figure for the average highest earner per club (sourced from an EFL survey) but didn't corroborate a divisional average.

If you enjoyed this, it would be very much appreciated if you could share it

In the unlikely event you want more discussion of a similar nature, there's lots more on the blog and also this episode of the fantastic 'When Sky Invented Football' wherein I got the giddy thrill of sharing a discussion with the brilliant writer John Nicholson and the radio and fanzine legend Adrian Goldberg. 

UTMP

Yet another bad owner. Where do they breed them?

This is Brooks Mileson. He owned Gretna FC. If you don't know who he is or what the score is with Gretna, it might be worth giving it ...