Outside the Box: Premier League fail to fulfil their early England promise


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The Independent Football

Speaking about the formation of the Premier League on a BBC Radio 5 Live programme last week, the incoming Football Association chairman, Greg Dyke, said: "It was set up to improve the finances of the top clubs. I'm not sure it was set up to improve the England team." He is correct about the first part.

As to the second, it is worth quoting from the 1991 blueprint that recommended "The Football Association Premier League". One of the key arguments for setting up the PL was "prospects of success for the England team would at once be enhanced" by having the FA in control and only 18 clubs. Two decades on, the prefix is Barclays rather than FA, there are still 20 clubs and the number of players qualified for England is down to 36 per cent.

County down, stock rising

Progression through the divisions to the Premier League is at least still possible for individuals as well as clubs, and while Stockport County face up to life in the Blue Square Bet North next season, two of their former players have hopes of starting at the highest level as thirtysomethings.

Aaron Wilbraham, who led Crystal Palace's attack in the Championship play-off final, began his long and varied career at Edgeley Park. Once a season-ticket holder at Manchester City, he scored his first League goal for County against City at Maine Road 15 years ago, since when the clubs have moved in rather different directions.

The Swansea captain, Ashley Williams, Anthony Pilkington at Norwich and Reading's top-scorer Adam le Fondre are former Stockport men too, as is the player for whom Wilbraham deputised against Watford, the scorer of 31 goals, Glenn Murray.

Oxford aspires to North

Murray's first club were Workington, like Stockport a former League club. The two sides will meet next season, and it has the ring of a good old northern set-to. But Workington against Bishop's Stortford? Or facing a 570-mile round trip to Oxford City?

Those were fixtures for the past two seasons in the Blue Square Bet "North", a division that Stortford have now been moved out of into the southern section, having "massively suffered" from travelling costs and lack of visiting supporters at their home games. No such luck for Oxford as, according to the Conference, the city of dreaming spires remains part of northern England.

Newport and old friends

Perhaps Stockport, Workington and others who have fallen from grace and the Football League can take heart from the recent exploits of Newport County, back in the League after winning the Conference play-off final and making a historic return to Europe.

On 13 July they travel to Germany to play a pre-season match with Carl Zeiss Jena, their opponents on the night of Newport's highest peak, the European Cup-Winners' Cup quarter-finals of 1981. The Welsh Cup holders drew 2-2 in East Germany but lost 1-0 in the second leg at the now-demolished Somerton Park.

Low point in Highlands

They hoped for a momentous climax to the Highland League season at Fort William last weekend, when a home game with bottom-but-one Lossiemouth seemed to offer the chance of a second victory of the campaign. A goalless draw resulted, but perhaps that is not to be sniffed at, as it took the Fort's points total to six (one win and three draws) from the 34-match season.

They have now finished bottom seven times in eight seasons. But even one point would have been welcome for the Northamptonshire club Woodford United in the Evostik Southern League Division One Central; their sad record this season reads: P42 W0 D0 L42 F21 A185 Pts 0.

Long ban for Dingley hell

The mills of FA discipline grind slowly. In a case first reported here in January, the Northwich Victoria manager, Lee Ashcroft, has been banned for 10 matches for sexist abuse of Gresley's first-team coach, Hannah Dingley, who previously managed Lincoln Ladies. Ashcroft is appealing but expect more such cases as the rise of female coaches continues.

s.tongue@independent.co.uk; twitter.com/@stevetongue