The Championship took a break this weekend owing to the international fixture list but for many players it was still business as usual. With the growing reputation of England’s second tier, it’s now not only the top flight which requires a dedicated week free from domestic action in order to allow players to represent their country.
The growing appeal of English football has seen many foreign stars arrive on British shores at a lower level than the Premier League, whilst others have been snapped up by a top-flight club with whom they have stuck despite a relegation. There is of course another side to this. With so many overseas superstars being lured to the Premier League, many young British players have struggled to break through and have been forced to look lower down the football pyramid for their opportunity. Many members of the Welsh and Northern Irish squads as an example ply their trade in the Championship. One such example would be Reading’s Simon Church.
The Welsh youngster has risen through the youth system at Reading and has started to make his mark on the first team this season. He has spent spells on loan at Crewe, Yeovil, Wycombe and Leyton Orient but his opportunities whilst Reading were in the Premier League were limited. Now however, Church has made his mark on the international stage. Having received numerous call ups to John Toshack’s squad, he scored his first goal for the senior side this weekend in the 3-0 friendly victory in Cardiff against Scotland, dedicating the goal to his late father.
Church will now join up with the under-21 side again, but it is clear that he has a bright future with the full squad. Wales have not qualified for a major tournament since the World Cup of 1958 and have not shown any signs of progressing to a finals competition in recent attempts. However, with a promising crop of young players developing, the future may be a little brighter for the Welsh. It’s certainly a credit to the Football League that players like Church are making their mark on the international stage from outside of the Premier League.
Elsewhere, it was announced at the end of last week that Lord Mawhinney will step down from his position as chairman of the Football League in March. Mawhinney has been the figurehead of the lower divisions and has certainly made an impact during his tenure. His successor will be in place for the start of the 2010/11 season. Mawhinney has made a number of notable changes to the Football League, some of which have proved more popular than others. His introduction of points deductions is perhaps his most famous rule change but he has also had a very positive influence. Mawhinney oversaw the rebranding of the lower divisions, removing the blandly named Division One and co. and bringing in the Championship. Such a simple adaptation immediately made life below the Premier League so much more attractive and marketable.
Mawhinney also introduced the idea of having a “fit and proper persons” test to be taken by prospective club owners. With so many of our beloved clubs facing financial hardship, it is imperative that they are not allowed to be exposed to a situation where they could be further crippled, be that financially or by association with one of the world’s more unsavoury characters. Mawhinney’s influence will have ensured that only the right people have been permitted to enter the English game.
The last article focused on the parting of ways of Darren Ferguson and Peterborough United. Chairman Darragh MacAnthony stated his intention to have a new manager in place by the end of the weekend and true to his word, Posh have a new man at the helm. Many big names were linked with the position but it is a lesser known figure who has been handed the task of steering the club away from the drop zone. Mark Cooper arrives from Kettering Town in the Blue Square Premier with much promise and potential. Taking over at Rockingham Road in 2007, he led the Poppies to the Conference North title in his first season in charge. Stability in the Blue Square Premier and an appearance in the F.A. Cup fourth round followed, and this season has seen Kettering storm up the table, with a position in League Two a distinct possibility for next year.
So Cooper has enjoyed success as a manager but many eyebrows have been raised over this move. He has only managed at non-league level thus far and the step up to the Championship is massive. Peterborough are a club with much ambition, and although this may have been lessened slightly in the short term, he will need the players on side and to start getting results immediately to turn the season around. He will also have to deal with high paid players in an increasingly scrutinised environment, something which he will not have experienced on such a level. His every move will be watched and it will be fascinating to see how he fares.