Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Football League Blog End of Season Awards

After 1,644 games, played over eight months the Football League season is very nearly over, and to celebrate this incredible season it’s time for the most prestigious awards in football – the Football League Blog End of Season Awards!

So sit back, relax, have a drink if you like and get ready to disagree vehemently with most of the verdicts (and possibly agree with a tiny minority of the picks).

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League 2 Player of the Year

Winner– Tom Pope (Port Vale) – The league’s top scorer has been sensational all season and to score 31 goals in any league is a magnificent achievement. He has been the driving force behind Port Vale’s promotion, and Pope has on many occasions been the difference between victory and defeat. With his large frame, commanding aerial presence and clinical finishing he is destined to shine in League 1 next season.

Honourable mentions: Adam Barrett (Gillingham), Marlon Pack (Cheltenham), Gary Jones (Bradford)

League 1 Player of the Year

Winner– David Cotterill (Doncaster) – The Welshman has struggled to settle in recent years at various clubs, and has been troubled by a serious loss of confidence. But at the Keepmoat he has managed to remind the football world of his outstanding natural talent. He was made the lynchpin of the team by Dean Saunders and through a series of wonder strikes he has become his club’s top scorer. The midfielder showed he is too good for League 1 and with the belief of a good manager he can flourish in the Championship.

Honourable mentions: Paddy Madden (Yeovil), Alan Judge (Notts County), Harry Maguire (Sheffield United)

Championship Player of the Year

Winner – Mark Hudson (Cardiff) – It’s rare for a defender to get any kind of recognition but Hudson has been by far and away the best defender in the Championship this season, and his consistency and leadership justify his award. The big centre-back is an intelligent reader of the game, a physical presence but also a headstrong authority in the Cardiff back four. Their rock-solid defence was the main reason Cardiff ran away with the league and Hudson, as the leader of the defence deserves recognition as the Championship’s Player of the Year.

Honourable mentions: Matej Vydra (Watford), Glenn Murray (Crystal Palace), Yannick Bolasie (Crystal Palace)

Young Player of the Year

Winner – Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace) – The big comparison this season has been between Wilfried Zaha and Blackpool’s Tom Ince. Zaha edges the competition, despite arguably being a less complete player than Ince. Zaha can at times be frustrating, at times underwhelming and at times bemusing. But this season he has shown his class on a far more regular basis. He has pace, exquisite control and by now a deadly end product. He is flair personified and he will only get better at Man Utd. Ince is a more rounded player, but he doesn’t have Zaha’s range and capacity for the incredible. Therefore the winner is Wilfried Zaha.

Honourable mentions: Tom Ince (Blackpool), Anthony Knockaert (Leicester), Harry Maguire (Sheffield United)

Goal of the Season:

Winner: Nathaniel Chalobah (Watford) vs Leicester

It’s so difficult choosing a goal of the season from three leagues, but Chalobah’s thunderous wonder goal against Leicester last week triumphs over Anthony Knockaert’s (Leicester) audacious mid-air back-heel against Huddersfield and Simon Cox’s (Nottingham Forest) cultured control and finish against Birmingham.

League 2 Manager of the Year

Winner – Martin Allen (Gillingham) – Mad Dog has had an unstable few years, moving from club to club, but he seems to have found his feet at Gillingham and this season won the first promotion of his managerial career. He has galvanised his ambitious team and led them to a deserved League 2 title. They have been the best side in the fourth tier this season and after a sublime start to their campaign never looked like slipping up. Allen’s determination and passion was personified by his team as they showed class and confidence on their way to success.

Honourable mentions: Mickey Adams (Port Vale), Phil Parkinson (Bradford), John Ward (Bristol Rovers)

League 1 Manager of the Year

Winner – Eddie Howe (Bournemouth) – Who else could it be? He returned to his old club in October with the Cherries battling relegation. He transformed the seaside club into a team of aesthetically pleasing winners, heading on a relentless run of results which saw them shoot up the table. Howe managed to get the best out of his team and the addition of Matt Ritchie was a shrewd bit of business. Bournemouth were unlucky not to win League 1, but that won’t matter one bit. Howe has completed the job he started five years ago and taken Bournemouth to the second tier for only the second time in their history. He may be one of the youngest managers in the division but he is also one of the brightest.

Honourable Mentions: Uwe Rösler (Brentford), Gary Johnson (Yeovil), Dean Smith (Walsall)

Championship Manager of the Year

Winner – Malky Mackay (Cardiff) – In a league where inconsistency has been the recurring motif the Cardiff boss has cultivated an efficient and focused squad, whose reliability has seen them take the Championship title with ease. He has created a winning mentality among his players and a steely stubbornness which will be essential if they are to stay up next season in the Premier League. After years of last ditch failure and disappointments Mackay has found the magic formula which has finally seen Cardiff achieve their long-held goal of promotion to the big time. It’s not always been pretty but it has certainly been successful.

Honourable mentions: Gianfranco Zola (Watford), Dougie Freedman (Bolton), Steve Bruce (Hull)

Shock of the Year

Winners – Yeovil – The little Somerset club have come from nowhere to qualify for the League 1 play-offs. Gary Johnson is back where he feels most comfortable after a few years away from Huish Park and he has got the Glovers punching above their weight in a seriously competitive division. Not even the most positive Yeovil fan could have predicted a fourth place finish but Johnson has led the club to their highest ever league finish. This has been helped massively by the goals of Paddy Madden, with the Irishman proving to be one of the bargains of the season in the Football League. With Brentford emotionally drained after missing out on promotion, Sheffield United not looking convincing this season and Swindon still looking slightly unsure under Kevin MacDonald, who’s to say Yeovil can’t cause an even bigger shock and win promotion?

Honourable mentions: Crystal Palace, Walsall, Port Vale

Biggest Loser of the Year

Winner: Wolves – While unsavoury the violent scenes at the end of Wolves’s home defeat to Burnley were an accurate representation of their fans’ anger. The club retained most of the squad relegated from the Premier League last May, but those players have not shown the necessary fight in the Championship. The Wolves have lacked teeth in the second tier and despite ambitions of an instant return to the Premier League they are now staring League 1 square in the face. The appointments of Ståle Solbakken and Dean Saunders were both poor, with neither manager’s track record getting adequately scrutinised prior to their arrivals at Molineux. Now the lacklustre Wolves look set to become the first team ever to suffer consecutive relegations from the top tier to the third tier twice in their history.

Honourable mentions: Blackburn, Plymouth, Aldershot

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Final day drama in Leagues 1 and 2

What a way to end the League 1 and League 2 seasons! There was plenty of action right up to the final seconds with twists and turns, tears and cheers, and that was just what happened at Griffin Park.

There was promotion and relegation to be decided in both leagues, and now that it’s over there are serious questions to be asked.

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1. How do Brentford pick themselves up for the play-offs?

They had promotion within their grasp. A last minute penalty to secure promotion, missed, and then their opponents break quickly and score to secure their passage into the Championship, instead of Brentford. Nobody can really imagine how young Marcelo Trotta must feel today after yesterday’s nightmare.

It was cruel on the Brenford supporters who must have been sure their near 60 year wait for a return to the second tier was about to end. The players were left visibly crushed and demoralised by the sickening kick in the teeth. But now they must prepare themselves for the play-offs knowing they really shouldn’t be there.

Unfortunately their form has slowed in recent weeks and they are without a win in their last three games. They face Swindon, who go into play-offs on the back of a defeat against relegated Scunthorpe.

This is by far the biggest challenge of Uwe Rösler’s short managerial career, and he will have to show all his metal to get the Bees (who have a poor record in play-offs) promoted. But how often do we see the 3rd-placed club struggle in the play-offs after the disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion.

2. Is Brian Flynn the man to keep Doncaster up?

Flynn was contracted as manager until the end of the season, after taking over halfway through the season following the departure of fellow Welshman Dean Saunders.

Few people would argue against Flynn being given the reins on a full-time basis.

He may look like a pensioner but Flynn is only 57-years-old and still has so much to offer. His record in charge of Wrexham, Swansea and the Welsh under-21s shows he is a natural motivator, who is adept at nurturing talent. He also has a brilliant understanding of the transfer market, and is excellent at spotting talent.

Can he keep Doncaster in the Championship? It will be a tough task because he will have one of the smallest budgets in the division. But in the topsy-turvy Championship, who’s to say the Yorkshire side can’t replicate the success they had under Sean O’Driscoll? If anybody can keep them up it’s Brian Flynn.

3. Will Bournemouth care that they weren’t crowned champions?

No. When you’ve been waiting 23 years to get back in the second tier, you’ll take it however it comes, especially since they looked like relegation candidates before Eddie Howe returned to the club.

They’re still going up, they’ve still got a heap of momentum behind them and they will still fancy their chances of doing well at a higher level. Missing out on the title is a minor disappointment.

4. Have the worst four teams been relegated from League 1?

It would be tough to argue otherwise.

Portsmouth have at times this season played like a play-off-chasing team. But no club could cope with the instability on or off the field which Pompey have had to endure. Their team has had so many changes, it’s been impossible to establish any kind of run. Even without the 10-point deduction they would have been comfortably relegated. On the plus side Portsmouth enter League 2 with better prospects than when they entered League 1.

Hartlepool’s second half of the season has been surprisingly positive, and John Hughes deserves credit for coming in at a difficult time and turning things around. Unfortunately the damage was done before the Scot took charge. Hartlepool only managed two victories before the new year and despite a plucky fight the squad wasn’t strong enough to stay up. It’s hard to argue a club who achieved just nine points from their first 23 fixtures deserve to stay in the division.

Bury have been punching above their weight in League 1, and in doing so they’ve ran up some worrying debts. Kevin Blackwell had very limited resources and it was always a huge ask for him to keep the Shakers up. The squad never looked good enough to avoid the drop and with a leaky defence and a blunt strike-force it was inevitable they would be relegated. With cost-cutting required next season could be tough for them.

Scunthorpe were the only club relegated on the final day of the season in League 1. They did all they could to stay up, beating Swindon 3-1 but just like the other three teams going down with them to League 2 they were struggling from the beginning, having lost their first four games of the season. Bringing in Brian Laws gave Scunthorpe hope but it was too much to ask but nine years after he got them promoted from League 2, he is now taking them back into the bottom division of the Football League.

So yes, the four worst teams in the division were relegated.

5. Were Rotherham the second best team in League 2 this season?

No they weren’t but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to go up. Port Vale deserve massive credit because they’ve been magnificent and probably should have finished second but they took their foot off the pedal after securing promotion.

Pulling their foot off the pedal is one thing Rotherham haven’t done this year. They showed their determination by saving their best run of the season for the final weeks. Their five wins in a row saw Steve Evans’s side clinch 3rd in the league and return to the third tier after a six year absence.

Rotherham have been tough and hard-working all season, but they’ve also played some great attacking football. They’ve scored far more goals than anybody else in the league, and with their new stadium and a wily, Machiavellian manager there’s no reason why they can’t excel in League 1.

6. Were the worst two teams in League 2 relegated?

Aldershot were the worst club in the division this season. They never looked like scoring, they lacked creativity and this put enormous pressure on the defence. They had less wins than any other team and throughout the season they didn’t look good enough to stay up. Aldershot have seen worse days, but having worked so hard to get back in the league they will find it tough to re-group and challenge in the desperately tough Blue Square Premier next season.

Barnet’s season can be split in two – the season before Edgar Davids joined on October 11 and the season after he joined the North Londoners. Looking at League 1 and League 2’s relegated clubs, poor starts are a recurring theme and you can’t get much poorer than Barnet’s start. A winless first 13 games left Barnet playing catch-up from the beginning. Davids came in and galvanised the squad and their form since his arrival has been very impressive. However their loss on the last day of the season, coupled with Wimbledon’s win, mean League 2’s greatest survivors will start life at their new stadium in the Blue Square Premier.

There are several clubs at the bottom of League 2 who have been very lucky to avoid the drop. Torquay and Plymouth didn’t expect to be battling relegation this season and they need to get their houses in order if the two Devon clubs are to avoid a repeat next year. Dagenham and Redbridge have struggled badly and escaped the drop by the skin of their teeth. Next season could be very difficult for them. Wimbledon had a brilliant final day victory to evade relegation, but they too need to improve if they are to stay up next season.

7. Is it time for a third relegation spot to be introduced in League 2?

Once again the standard of teams battling to stay in the Football League was particularly poor. And once again the standard of teams fighting for promotion in the Blue Square Premier was extremely high.

Non-league clubs are desperate for the Blue Square Premier to be given a second automatic promotion spot because they believe there currently exists a glass ceiling preventing many good clubs from competing in the league at the expense of league clubs who possibly aren’t good enough to be there.

The Blue Square Premier clubs make a very convincing argument and their frustrations are understandable. Many of the clubs in the top six of the fifth tier would have performed far better in League 2 this season than the bottom seven sides, had they been given the chance.

But in the interest of stability the status quo should be retained. The difference in funding and coverage between League 2 and non-league is enormous and so many clubs fail to adapt to the drop. This season saw Stockport County relegated to the Blue Square North after failing to acclimatise to life outside the Football League. Numerous clubs have gone bankrupt because of the culture shock. The last thing we want to see is clubs regularly going bust when they leave the league.

Cardiff finally rid themselves of “nearly-men” tag

The inevitable was finally confirmed last night as Cardiff’s battling 0-0 draw against in-form Charlton secured promotion to the Premier League.

The Cardiff City Stadium has been a fortress this season

The Cardiff City Stadium has been a fortress this season

Malky Mackay’s team has led the Championship since November and despite a shaky run of results the Football League’s perennial bottlers never looked like messing up their promotion charge. After years of “so near yet so far” the Cardiff fans were finally allowed to celebrate their long-awaited promotion to the Premier League.

When Cardiff were last relegated from the top flight in May 1962 Harold MacMillan was the British Prime Minister, the Algerian War of Independence had just ended, the Cuban Missile Crisis was still a few months away and Elvis Presley was in the charts with Good Luck Charm. To say Cardiff’s promotion has been a long time coming is an understatement.

A deserved promotion?

Cardiff deserve their promotion, having been by far the most consistent team in the division.

The Bluebirds have not played the most entertaining football in the Championship this season and most fans would agree the current squad isn’t as talented as some of the ones which have fallen short in recent years. But the key difference this season has been Cardiff’s winning mentality and the determination of the players to succeed.

Since taking over at the club less than two years ago Malky Mackay has worked hard in the transfer market to bring in young, hungry and ambitious players, with most of his recruits coming from the Football League.

Cardiff’s main strength has been its defence which has been rock solid, especially at home. The centre-back partnership of Turner and Hudson has been reassuring with both players enjoying magnificent seasons. Connolly at right-back has been impressive, and Andrew Taylor has been the best left-back in the Championship this season. The defence has had to cope with injuries, especially in recent months, but young Ben Nugent, the experienced Kevin McNaughton and on-loan Leon Barnett have filled in admirably.

Goal-keeper David Marshall has also shown great improvement this season, possibly due to greater competition from former Peterborough goalie Joe Lewis. Marshall has always been a good shot-stopper but in the past the Scot has been unreliable when dealing with crosses. This season has seen the former Celtic man become a more rounded goal-keeper.

One of the most remarkable things about Cardiff’s season is the way they’ve dominated the league without depending on any one player. It has been a team effort from start to finish, with the goal-scoring responsibility shared between the entire squad. No Cardiff player has reached double figures yet this season and 16 different players have netted for the Bluebirds this term.

Some people have pointed to the £14m spent by Mackay in assembling his squad, but this does the manager a huge disservice. He’s firmly put his stamp on the club, getting rid of most of the worst traits of the Dave Jones era. He’s transformed the team from a dysfunctional collection of perennial bottlers into a well-drilled, determined group of winners.

It’s often said a great team is one which can win while playing poorly. This has been exemplified by Cardiff.

In a season where inconsistency has been rife in the second tier, Cardiff have shown the focus required to string results together. When times have been tough and the team’s been tired the side from the Welsh capital has somehow managed to turn draws into victories. Of their 25 league wins this season 17 have been by just one goal. This demonstrates the pluckiness and resilience of the team, and its ability to consistently grind out results.

Similar to Reading

What may be slightly unnerving for Cardiff supporters is the way their season mirrors that of Reading last season.

Reading too based their promotion push on narrow, hard-fought victories. Reading’s top scorer was super-sub Adam Le Fondre, who only managed 12 goals, with the top-scoring regular starter Noel Hunt scoring just eight times. Much like Cardiff the Royals had a solid defence, which frustrated Championship strike-forces and made amends for the lack of creativity in midfield and up front. Reading’s style of play, tough, workmanlike and resolute but unspectacular, was very similar to Cardiff’s style this season.

Reading now look set for an instant return to the Football League because their gutsy attitude couldn’t compensate for a lack of talent and potency.

But there are two key differences between Reading and Cardiff which could make the difference.

Firstly Cardiff look set to spend big in order to strengthen the squad this summer. Controversial owner and lover of all things red Vincent Tan has hinted at giving Mackay a £25m treasure chest to help him turn his team from functional to Premier League class. Reading’s unwillingness to add to their Championship-winning squad cost them as their team was shown to be inadequate against a higher calibre of players in the Premier League. Early indications are that Cardiff won’t make the same mistake.

Secondly Cardiff will be going up with more momentum than Reading. This is the first time in over half a century the Welsh capital will have a team in the top division of English football. Generations of supporters have never seen their club in the top flight, but all this frustration will now be transformed into enthusiasm and excitement. Having lived in Cardiff I can testify to the passion of Cardiff fans. They genuinely care about their club and desperately want it to do well.

The whole city will get behind the Bluebirds and create a feel-good-factor. When a whole city, especially one the size of Cardiff, unifies behind a team it creates a buzzing atmosphere, which the players and staff can feed off. This was seen when Cardiff’s bitter rivals Swansea were promoted, provoking a wave of positivity which was essential in keeping the club in the big league.

Reading fans had already experienced promotion once, and couldn’t recreate the excitement felt under Steve Coppell. Last year’s promotion lacked the buzz of their first one in 2006.

Can Cardiff stay up?

Of course they can, but they undoubtedly need plenty of fresh faces, especially in midfield and in attack. It’s essential they add players capable of making the difference in the Premier League.

Players such as Gunnarsson, Mutch, Cowie, Helguson and Gestede simply don’t have the required ability to compete in the top flight, while flair players such as Kim, Noone and Mason may find it tricky to adapt at first. Bellamy’s best days are behind him and Peter Wittingham is thought to be considering his future.

The acquisition of Fraizer Campbell in January was a positive move which showed Mackay’s ambition as well as recognition of where Cardiff need to strengthen.

The fans must also stay patient next season if they hit rough patches. Cardiff’s fans are renowned for their passion but they can also be incredibly impatient when things don’t go their way. They can’t afford to turn on the team if they go on an unfavourable run of results. Unity and support is imperative in what will probably be a tough season.

The club’s Malaysian owner Vincent Tan also has to give his controversial rebranding a rest. Last summer’s kit colour change caused outrage among supporters and a similar fiasco this summer could take the shine off the promotion and draw attention away from the players.

But Cardiff shouldn’t fear the big step up. There is a considerable difference in quality between this season’s opposition and next season’s opposition but the bottom of the Premier League is weaker now than it has been for years. With some wise investments and the passionate backing of the club’s fans Cardiff could definitely stay up next season and succeed in the long run.

Thatcher’s footballing legacy

In an ironic twist of fate the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher comes on the same week as the 24th anniversary of Britain’s worst football disaster, the Hillsborough disaster.

The Daily Mail claimed on Tuesday that football owed a debt of gratitude to the woman who “saved English football.” Wigan chairman Dave Whelan has backed the Daily Mail’s call for a minute’s silence before next weekend’s games, including before his club’s FA Cup semi-final against Millwall.

However many football fans, including the Hillsborough families, have claimed a minute’s silence for the former Prime Minister would be insulting.

The Iron Lady had a combative approach to football. Credit: Robertthuffstutter

The Iron Lady had a combative approach to football. Credit: Robertthuffstutter

Legacy

The Iron Lady’s time in Downing Street coincided with one of the darkest periods in English football’s history.

Thatcher took over as Prime Minister in 1979 shortly after Nottingham Forest had lifted their second successive European Cup and she was forced out of her job in 1990 a few months after the publication of the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough disaster. During her tenure English footballing success dried up on the field and chaos ensued off the field to the point where it endangered the sport’s future in England.

When Thatcher took over from James Callaghan in May 1979 English clubs were outperforming the rest of Europe and celebrating unprecedented success. But under the surface football was losing its battle against hooliganism.

As unemployment grew and the age of protest swept across Britain, young football supporters saw hooliganism as a way of venting frustrations and rebelling. Football violence had been growing throughout the 70s and by 1979 it had become highly problematic.

Another problem was the deteriorating state of the country’s stadiums. Most football grounds had become outdated and inadequate for the problems of the late 70s and early 80s. Stadiums were crumbling, health and safety was non-existent and supporter safety was routinely jeopardised.

In her early years in office Thatcher paid little attention to football, apart from when she considered a boycott of the 1982 World Cup due to the Falklands situation. She was not a football fan and had little time for the national sport, especially since the sport’s image at the time was appalling at home and abroad.

But 1985 saw a change in approach by Thatcher and her government.

Tragedy

On 11 May 1985 Bradford City were due to lift the Division Three trophy after their game against Lincoln City. Towards the end of the first half a discarded cigarette lit a pile of rubbish underneath the old wooden stand and the fire spread quickly.

There were no fire extinguishers in the stand as the authorities believed they were likely to be used as weapons by hooligans. Many of the emergency exits had been locked as part of a Football League directive to prevent ticketless fans from sneaking into stadiums after kick-off.

In total 56 fans died in the blaze. It highlighted the pressing need to update stadiums and make them safer for fans.

Later that month the Heysel disaster further exemplified the problems surrounding English football. Liverpool were preparing to face Juventus in the European Cup final in Brussels’s Heysel Stadium. Before the game there was rioting which culminated with Liverpool fans chasing Juventus fans across a terrace. A crush ensued and a supporting wall collapsed, with 39 Italian supporters declared dead.

English football’s reputation abroad was in tatters and there was condemnation across the continent. UEFA eventually banned all English clubs from participating in European competition, a move which Thatcher rightly agreed to.

After six years of inaction Thatcher’s government made efforts to combat the problem of hooliganism, but still did nothing to improve fan safety. Thatcher routinely described football hooligans as “animals” but her attitudes and actions seem to suggest she thought the same of all football supporters.

The proposed introduction of Football ID Cards was met with horror by lovers of the beautiful game, who saw them as an insult to decent, law-abiding fans. Attempts to ban away supporters from grounds also drew fierce opposition. Thatcher’s approach seemed to be to tar everybody with the same brush, and even considered erecting electric fences at the front of stands and terraces in order to keep fans off the pitch.

But Thatcher, or more specifically her government’s connection to football will forever be remembered because of Hillsborough.

Hilsborough

On April 15 1989, 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death on an overcrowded terrace during an FA Cup semi-final between their club an Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium. The oldest victim was 67-year-old Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron, the youngest was 10-year-old John Paul Gilhooley (cousin of Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard)  and 37 teenagers died at Hillsborough.

The Taylor Report which followed the tragedy found the Lappings Lane end of the stadium had been woefully inadequate for such a high volume of fans. The report recommended wide-ranging changes to stadiums in Britain, including the eradication of terracing from top football grounds.

 While Thatcher and her government had focused attentions on combatting “the English disease” they had ignored the problems highlighted by the Valley Parade fire in 1985. No attempt had been made to improve stadium safety and the consequences were tragically felt at Hillsborough.

The 2012 inquiry into Hillsborough also found Thatcher’s government had been instrumental in covering up the failures of the police at Hillsborough. While the report declared there was no evidence of Thatcher herself being involved in the cover-up, the Iron Lady had created the culture which made police cover-ups the norm during the 80s. The Prime Minister wholeheartedly backed the police despite constant corruption and outrageously heavy-handed tactics when dealing with strikers and protestors. This fuelled a culture of complacency among the police and meant the Hillsborough families had to wait 23 years for vindication and an official confirmation of the truth.

Football the enemy

Thatcher never pretended to like football and regularly showed distain towards the national sport. To her credit she took on hooligans head first in the aftermath of Heysel but she didn’t understand the sport or the people who followed football. She made the mistake of viewing all football fans as hooligans and couldn’t see beyond the violent minority.

Just like the trade unions and the Argentinians she viewed football hooligans as the enemy, and was therefore determined to win at all costs. She failed to conquer hooliganism during her time in number 10 and her attitude towards football harmed the sport. The massive strides taken by English football at all levels since 1990 is astonishing considering the sorry state the game was in when Thatcher left Downing Street.

The suggestion working class football fans should be asked to observe a minute’s silence for Margaret Thatcher this weekend is rich to say the least. She paid the game no respect at all and it’s very questionable whether football should pay any respect back.

Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final preview: Crewe vs Southend

Southend and Crewe both go into Sunday’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final looking to win the competition for the first time.

Crewe and Southend fans are looking forward to walking down Wembley Way on Sunday.

Crewe and Southend fans are looking forward to walking down Wembley Way on Sunday.

Both go into the game knowing where they’re likely to be playing next season. Crewe are by now 17 points clear of the League 1 relegation zone, and loving life in the top half of the table, while Southend’s draw at home against Fleetwood on Easter Monday further damaged their League 2 play-off hopes.

The Essex club were runners-up in this competition for two seasons in a row, losing both finals the Millennium Stadium in 2004 and 2005, but Sunday will be their first ever appearance in a Wembley final. Southend have already sold over 30,000 tickets for the final, meaning they look set to break the record for the most number of Southend fans at a game, which was set in a 1979 match against Liverpool.

Crewe fans are visiting Wembley for the second time in less than a year, and they return with very happy memories from their last visit. Last May the Railwaymen beat Cheltenham 2-0 in the League 2 play-off final, and despite losing big names in the summer they have succeeded in League 1 thanks to some shrewd signings and their traditional, passing and attacking style of play.

In order to qualify for Wembley in 2012 the Alex beat Southend on aggregate in the semi-finals. Now the Shrimpers are looking for revenge.

Sturrock

The biggest story in the build-up to Sunday’s final has been Southend’s maddening managerial situation. Paul Sturrock has had to struggle with financial troubles and on-field heartaches in his three years at Southend, but having led the team to Wembley he was dismissed by the club.

Bizarrely, despite being sacked he was offered the chance to lead the team out at the national stadium but Sturrock kept his dignity and showed self-respect by refusing the offer.

He will be sat in the stands on Sunday among the fans while the new boss, former Hull and Preston manager Phil Brown takes charge of the team. It’s a strange situation to say the least but just like his Crewe counterpart Steve Davis, the tanned Geordie knows what it takes to win at Wembley, having managed Hull to a Championship play-off final win in 2008.

Teams

Crewe are undoubtedly pre-match favourites. They are one of the form teams in League 1 with just one loss in their last six games, and they have been playing entertaining football throughout the season. They have a technical midfield and strikers who can grab a goal, not least Mathias Pogba, who is a contender for signing of the season in League 1. Mathias, who is the brother of Juventus’s Paul Pogba, joined the club from Wrexham in the summer, where he had impressed the previous season, and has taken to League 1 like a duck to water.

Crewe are favourites but their defence will give Southend hope. They have only kept two clean sheets in their last 15 games and although they’re not leaking hundreds of goals, they struggle to last 90 minutes without conceding.

Southend are off form going into the final, with just two wins in their last 12 games. But in Congolese striker Britt Assombalonga they have a player who can change a game in the blink of an eye. The youngster is on loan from Watford and has impressed massively while at the Shrimpers. His strike partner Gavin Tomlin is also one to keep an eye on for the Crewe defence.

Central midfielder Bilel Mohsni is vital for Southend. The temperamental Tunisian has a reputation as an unreliable player, capable of breath-taking brilliance as well as baffling stupidity. He is as likely to put in a mesmerising performance on Sunday as he is to get sent off. His partner Tamika Mkandawire needs to be forceful in the midfield battle if Southend are to get a foothold in Wembley’s wide open spaces. Paul Smith in goal is as dependable as any keeper in League 2.

Prediction

The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final tends to guarantee goals and excitement. The 2013 final should be no different.

It is likely to be a tight game, with chances for both sides. But Steve Davis’s team will relish playing on the Wembley turf, and the large pitch should favour their expansive style of play. I expect the League 1 team to triumph on Sunday and win the trophy for the first time in the club’s history.