Sunday, 10 June 2012

If the North West had a football team...

This is my tribute to the late Tony Wilson, who will be remembered for many things, not least his commitment to the unfashionable and even much-derrided idea of elected regional assemblies. It links with the role of the North West of England as the birthplace of modern football. It was when legislation was passed in parliament limiting working hours (something the Manchester Guardian, as the voice of the mill-owning liberal establishment, strongly opposed) that Saturday afternoons were freed up for the enjoyment of whatever it was the workers decided to spend their wages on. Previously ‘lesuire’ had been an aristocratic or middle class luxury, with association football (‘soccer’) originating in the playing fields of boarding schools. Now the Factory Acts cleared the way for mass spectator sports and it was in the milltowns of Lancashire that the football boom began, alongside other industrial towns and cities throughout the north of England, Scotland and the Midlands.

The history of football in Lancashire deserves more space to itself, but what is clear that this was (and arguably remains) the spiritual home of the game in England. Of the twelve founding members of the Football League, six were from the county: Accrington, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Everton and Preston North End (the winners of the first two league titles in 1889 and 1890). Today, the two most successful clubs in terms of league titles are Manchester United with 19 and Liverpool with 18. Between them, the North West’s two major clubs (just 30 miles apart) have won 8 European Cups, which puts them just behind Real Madrid with 9 and the two Milan clubs with a combined total of 10. As I’ve written previously, the Manchester derby is the second biggest in Europe based on combined average attendances of all games throughout the 2010-11 season.

With England’s Euro 2012 campaign about to get underway, I’ve decided to post my dream North West Eleven, a team I’d find it much easier to support. Because the regions don’t have the same criteria for citizenship, etc., the most straightforward way to define eligibility is by place of birth – therefore Ryan Giggs (born in Cardiff, moved to Swinton aged six) doesn’t make the team. I’ve gone for a young team so Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Jaime Carragher would all start on the bench. They would have to play their home games at the biggest, most easily accesible ‘neutral’ venue, which would have to be 23,400 capacity Deepdale (though this is small consolation for the re-location of the National Football Museum to Manchester). For a region with a population of around 6.5m, we have a strong team – weighted slightly more towards Merseyside, it has to be said. Better than Scotland or Wales? Unfortunately, we will probably never find out.

Ben Amos, 22, Macclesfield
Danny Simpson, 25, Salford
Leighton Baines, 27, Kirkby
Martin Kelly, 22, Whiston
Phil Jagielka, 29, Sale
Phil Jones, 20, Preston
Leon Osman, 31, Wigan
Jack Rodwell, 21, Southport
Steven Gerrard, 32, Whiston
Wayne Rooney, 26, Croxteth
Danny Welbeck, 21, Longsight

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