Charlie Austin and Yannick Bolasie’s recent form for QPR and Crystal Palace respectively, has given a positive image boost to non-league football. They are part of a current generation of players who have, to paraphrase Canadian rapper Drake: “started from the bottom now they’re here.” Others preceded them, and here is an ode to non-league beginnings, as this is the best starting XI I could find of players who have completed the rise up the football pyramid.
Dave Beasant, Edgware Town
Dave Beasant is synonymous with the “Crazy Gang” – the Wimbledon FC team, who won the FA Cup in 1988, and an infamous colleague of his will feature in this side. After this cup success, Beasant gained two England caps and joined Chelsea and later Newcastle, Southampton and Nottingham Forest as he failed to quite replicate his Wombles form. His journey began in earnest at Edgware Town in north London, and ended with 132 Premier League appearances and an FA Cup winner’s medal under his belt. A solid ‘keeper and that penalty save against Liverpool gets him in this eleven.
Jason Dodd, Bath City
Not the most glamorous of selections, but Jason Dodd was a solid, dependable full back from a bygone era before full backs were used as second wingers. Forever idolised by Saints fans for that “goal” versus Portsmouth straight from a corner (it was accredited as an own goal by Sebastian Schemmel, but is widely considered to have been Dodd’s) in the 2003/04 season, Dodd notched 329 Premier League appearances for Southampton, who signed him from his hometown club Bath City in 1989 for a £15,000 fee.
Chris Smalling, Maidstone United
Chris Smalling is the only contemporary Premier League player to make this team. Not universally loved or appreciated perhaps as much as he should be, Smalling is a very capable centre half and like most of this team was internationally recognised, with so far 16 caps to his name. Still only 25 Smalling has amassed over 100 Premier League appearances in a transitional Manchester United backline. Smalling is already a double league winning player, and can be assured of more medals before the twilight of his career. From Maidstone United in the Isthmian League in 2007/08 Smalling very nearly joined Middlesbrough, but feared homesickness. He joined Fulham instead before moving to footballing giants Manchester United two years later. Smalling provides experience of playing against the best, and that assures his inclusion.
Graham Roberts, Dorchester Town & Weymouth
Who? Those not familiar with Spurs and/or 1980s football may not be familiar with Southampton born Graham Roberts. Not strictly a Premier League player, Roberts did play in its predecessor the First Division, and won 6 England caps. After being released from both Southampton and Portsmouth as a youth, Roberts made his debut in first team football for Dorchester Town. He moved to fellow Dorset side Weymouth next before Londoners Spurs came calling. Roberts played over 200 times for Spurs, winning the FA Cup in 1981 and 1982. Stints at Glasgow Rangers and then Second Division Chelsea followed before Roberts retired at West Bromwich Albion. He would later manage the Pakistan and Nepal national teams.
Stuart Pearce (Captain), Wealdstone
No rags to riches, non-league to Premier League fairy tale is complete without Stuart “Psycho” Pearce. Pearce spent a long five years at Wealdstone before his tough tackling antics were seen on a larger stage. Bobby Gould signed Pearce for Coventry City before he made his name at Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. 78 England caps later and one of the iconic images of Stuart Pearce is his reaction to scoring a penalty versus Spain in the Euro ’96 penalty shootout, considering his previous penalty in an England shirt. Six years earlier, Pearce like another player in this featured eleven, missed a penalty versus West Germany in a World Cup semi-final, meaning England did not make the final. That said, considering the England debacle at the 2014 World Cup, a semi-final exit doesn’t seem unappealing today! Pearce unquestionably gave his all in every performance for his country, and his hard but fair tackles are sorely missed in the modern game.
Chris Waddle, Tow Law Town
A World Cup veteran of 1986, and infamously England’s fourth place finish at 1990. Waddle started his footballing journey at Tow Law Town in County Durham, before a move to Newcastle United was a catalyst to a quite incredible career. Waddle is remembered for his penalty miss in 1990 versus West Germany, a game forever associated with Paul Gascoigne’s tears, but that is not held against him in this line-up (although his mullet is not excused), as his silky dribbling and fine wing play made him one of English football’s stars and he was often linked to moves abroad. Waddle did eventually leave Spurs for continental Europe as he showcased his talent at Marseilles and later, erm, Falkirk. What is also just as endearing as Waddle’s rise is the manner in which he finished his footballing career. Far from later generations of Beckham and Owen retiring at the top, Christopher Roland Waddle took a whistle-stop tour of Torquay United, Worksop Town and Hallam before hanging up his well-travelled boots in 2013, a full 35 years after first appearing for Tow Law Town.
Vinnie Jones, Wealdstone
Another Wealdstone graduate, in a few years they may actually have more Premier League footballers than fans. Vinnie Jones is arguably most well-known for his one dimensional acting roles than his slightly less one dimensional role as a defensive midfielder. Jones spearheaded the “Crazy Gang” off the pitch, and contributed to their on the field successes with his tough tackling, and psychological torment of the opposition. Despite leaving Dons in 1989 to play for Leeds, Sheffield United and Chelsea, Jones returned to his spiritual home in 1992 where he would stay until 1998, before Hollywood came calling. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch were perhaps his greatest successes on the big screen. Jones was the typical hard man every team needs, and he’ll form an impenetrable wall in midfield for this eleven.
Alan Pardew, Whyteleafe, Epsom & Ewell, Corinthian-Casuals, Dulwich Hamlet & Yeovil Town
Alan Pardew was quite the journeyman in the semi-professional game, before Crystal Palace plucked him from obscurity, and it was as Eagle he made his name on the pitch. Just edging out Jimmy Bullard of Gravesend and Northfleet in this line up because of his role he played in helping Palace to the First Division in 1989. His performances did not go unnoticed and Pardew moved London bases to join Charlton in 1991. The next season he was top scorer for The Addicks with ten goals. “Pards” should offer a goal threat and creativity, providing a good balance with Jones in the middle of the park.
John Barnes, Sudbury Court
Jamaican born, England international John Barnes is notable for one of two things. Firstly his sumptuous run and finish versus Brazil in 1984, and secondly, his rapping segment of New Order’s 1990 hit World in Motion; one easy on the eye, the other easy on the ear. Barnes is another double title winning and double FA Cup winning player, and accumulated 79 England caps between 1983 and 1995. But it was in the Middlesex County League that Barnes first took to the pitch, playing for Sudbury Court FC. Here Barnes was noticed by Watford, and impressed on trial in a reserve game. Sudbury exchanged their player for the cost of the playing kit. In Barnes’ first season The Hornets won promotion to the First Division and Barnes would play 18 consecutive seasons in England’s top flight before retiring at Glasgow Celtic. It was in the red of Liverpool and yellow of Watford that he was most prolific although he did also have spells at Newcastle United and Charlton Athletic. Consistently one of the best wingers in English football over the 1980s and 1990s John Barnes’ place in this starting eleven is welcomed – especially if we only have to pay for his kit.
Ian Wright, Greenwich Borough
Ian Wright is one of the first names that springs to mind when one thinks of non-league players to have “made it”. Steve Coppell signed Wright for Crystal Palace from Greenwich Borough when The Eagles were in the Second Division and his impact was immediate. In four seasons in the Second tier with Palace, Wright found the net no less than 67 times in all competitions. It was very hard to ignore such talent and Arsenal were the ones lucky enough to get their claws into Wright in 1991 for a then club record fee of £2.5 million. On his league debut Wright stunned Southampton with a hat-trick and the precedence was well and truly set. Over 300 goals in less than 600 appearances, a Premier League title, two FA Cups and a League Cup as well as 33 England caps: on statistics alone Wright picks himself. Inducted into the England football hall of fame in 2005, Wright will provide a pacey outlet alongside a big man up top.
Les Ferdinand, Hayes F.C
Big Les Ferdinand won 17 England caps and notched a round 150 Premier League goals. QPR paid £30,000 to Hayes FC for the services of Ferdinand, and this would prove to be a shrewd investment as he went on to score regularly for The R’s in England’s top flight – bagging as many as 24 in 1994/95. Here an honourable mention goes to Stan Collymore of Stafford Rangers, but Les Ferdinand wins the shirt in this team because of his superior goal scoring record and number of international caps. Ferdinand is currently the eighth highest scorer in Premier League history, not bad for a man who started playing for Hayes in the Isthmian League in the 1980s where he netted 19 in 33 games. A true out and out goal machine, Les Ferdinand leads the line with Ian Wright.
Jack Wilshere’s injury shows why Arsenal shouldn’t renew his contract
The 26-year-old has been struck down by yet another injury.
Jack Wilshere will be pleased with the progress that he has made since returning to Arsenal from his loan spell at Bournemouth.
He was initially nothing more than a squad player that was out in the cold at international level too, but the midfielder worked hard to gain more game-time in North London.
Across all competitions, he has played more than 30 matches and his form earned him a call-up to the England squad.
It looked like he was getting a once-promising career back on track, but almost like clockwork, he has suffered an injury to set him back once again.
Gareth Southgate confirmed that he wouldn’t be travelling to the Netherlands for Friday’s match and the quotes were reported by Sky Sports.
“It is not a specific injury and over time they flare up and they need to settle down over a couple of days.
“We are hopeful it will settle down pretty quickly. It’s an ongoing problem and it’s not something new for him. He’s very disappointed not to be involved in the game.
“He’s trained well though but if you think about the journey he’s had in the last two years and his big injuries then he’s progressing really well.”
Although it is encouraging that it isn’t a serious injury, it is a reminder that Jack Wilshere remains a risk for both club and country.
It is difficult to build a team around a player that is susceptible to miss matches and the quote from Southgate is a worry as he refers to an ongoing problem.
Arsenal have had a difficult campaign and they will be planning a rebuild over the next 48 months as they transition away from the Arsene Wenger era.
They will have to make tough decisions on many players at the club and Wilshere’s future will be brought into focus over the next few weeks as his contract expires at the end of the season.
There have been numerous reports regarding contract talks between the two parties and there is hesitancy on both sides.
This latest injury suffered by Wilshere and the comments from Southgate referring to an ongoing problem show why it is Arsenal who need to end this association.
Wilshere can’t be relied on to stay fit and to feature prominently in a busy schedule. Arsenal will have ambitions of challenging at the very top of the game and will likely be involved in European competition every season. They need to have a squad of players that are reliable and the 26-year-old isn’t that.
Aside from that, Wilshere represents what Arsenal have become over the last decade. He is a player that had a lot of potential, but he has failed to fulfil it and been very inconsistent at the highest level. Of course, he isn’t to blame for the club’s problems, but he is also unlikely to offer the solutions.
This season has been a nice farewell campaign for him. It would have been sad if his Gunners’ career had ended after being shipped out on loan to Bournemouth.
He has returned to earn some of his credibility back, but the club need to move on and progress if they are to get back to the top of the English game.
A lot of contentious decisions will need to be made and the first should be the release of Jack Wilshere this summer.
Why Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Luke Shaw has crossed the line
The Portuguese manager has been highly critical of Luke Shaw this season.
The fractious relationship between Jose Mourinho and Luke Shaw plumbed new depths when the left-back was substituted at half-time in Manchester United’s FA Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. The 22-year-old had been handed a rare opportunity to impress at Old Trafford but lasted only 45 minutes.
Speaking about Shaw in his post-match interview, Mourinho said: “Luke, in the first half, every time they came in his corridor, the cross came in and a dangerous situation was coming. I was not happy with his performance.”
The differences between the pair now appear to be irreconcilable. Shaw, who was signed by Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2014, has been used sparingly by Mourinho. The former Southampton starlet has made just 18 Premier League appearances under the Portuguese in a career that has been blighted by injuries.
Being substituted at half-time is almost as embarrassing as it gets for a player and Shaw’s mood will not have improved after being publicly criticised by his manager. It’s certainly not the first time Mourinho has chosen to talk candidly to the media about his concerns with the 22-year-old.
Some players require an arm around the shoulder to perform at their peak, while for others it takes a kick up the backside. Mourinho, opting for the latter, does nothing without reason and has clearly tried to spark a reaction from Shaw, without success.
From being one of English football’s brightest prospects after making his World Cup debut aged just 18, Shaw, who has seven England caps to his name, is in danger of not fulfilling the potential that convinced United to spend what was then a world-record fee for a teenager.
Mourinho’s tactic of singling out individuals who have not met his standards is in stark contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson, who never blamed his players in public. It has divided opinion among pundits, with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier claiming the United manager is ‘destroying’ Shaw.
Mourinho is an expert at using smokescreens to distract from his side’s unconvincing performances. And this latest controversy has moved the narrative on from United’s shock Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla.
Tough love is one thing, but the sustained, public attack on Shaw is unacceptable. If Mourinho genuinely believes he is not good enough to represent United, then fair enough. But to continually vilify the youngster’s performances is a step too far and one that could irreparably damage Shaw’s confidence.
This is not to say that Shaw is a completely innocent bystander. Mourinho’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal, also questioned his desire and general conditioning when he joined United four years ago. Indeed, the Dutchman signed Shaw up to a tailored exercise regime in an effort to improve his fitness.
But while van Gaal’s treatment had the desired effect, Mourinho’s has done the opposite. Being publicly humiliated on a routine basis does neither party any favours.
In all likelihood, Shaw’s disappointing United career will come to an end this summer. A fresh start away from the toxicity under Mourinho is exactly what he needs.
Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week
The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.
With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.
Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.
In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.
Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.
One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.
The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.
Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.
This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.
If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.
It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.
Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.
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