|The Professional Footballers Who Never Play Football|
Written by Broganonthewing on Tuesday, 28th Sep 2021 14:18
There have been many changes to the English game in the last 40 years. The majority of these changes, if not all of them have all been influenced or dictated by money, both the making and saving of it.
For a minority of clubs this evolution has been a good thing, sadly in my opinion, it has only benefited the big clubs, the top five or six who challenge for a Champions League place every season.
I do not see any benefit for the clubs outside of the Premier League, certainly not for the majority who do not have billionaire owners or do not have a massive fan base.
There has been one change that I believe has been to the detriment of both clubs and players, in particular my beloved Ipswich have certainly suffered from it. I am talking about the abandonment of reserve team football, the disbanding of the Football Combination and the Central League. I believe that these leagues were closed down to save money but it has proved to be a false economy.
Focusing on Ipswich, the Football Combination was a prime factor in the development of the many talented footballers that came through the system over the years. Mick Mills, Colin Harper, John Wark, Kevin Beattie, David Geddis, Trevor Whymark, Alan Brazil, Eric Gates, Colin Viljoen, Terry Butcher, Clive Woods, Mick Lambert, Brian Talbot, Roger Osborne and many others all learned their trade and developed as footballers playing week in week out for the reserves before graduating to the first team.
The Football Combination in the south and the Central League in the north was where the reserve teams played every Saturday. As a kid my father would take me to Portman Road every week to see one week the first team and the following week the reserves.
In fact my first visit to Portman Road was when I was four or five to see Ipswich reserves play Tottenham reserves, he specifically wanted to see Tommy Harmer who was playing that day for Spurs. Tommy was an England international coming to the end of his career, he had also played for Chelsea.
In those days, all teams had a first team, a reserve team and often an A team that played in a local league. Ipswich’s A team played in the Essex and Suffolk Border League and played their home games at the Cubit & Gotts sports ground that used to be located in Westerfield. I have seen Ted Phillips and Roy Bailey play there for the A team.
The benefits of having a reserve side compete in a competitive league against other reserve sides was at least two fold. Players coming back from injury or out of form and dropped from the first team could compete against their peers to regain their fitness or their form.
Younger players could step up from the youth team and compete against stronger more experienced professionals, which gave them invaluable experience and boosted their development. It was also a good gauge to discover if they were good enough and could compete in the tough world of professional football?
As stated earlier, the absence of competitive reserve football has in my opinion been extremely detrimental to clubs and the Ipswich team today is very much a case in point.
With a professional squad of well over 20 players, only 14 can get any game time in a match. This means at least six players not even lacing their boots up on matchday. Even with a rotation policy, there will be players not playing a proper competitive game of football for weeks, maybe a whole season.
I don’t believe that U23s football or training can give you that edge or sharpness that is required for a full-blooded league match. This means that when a player does get called upon to play who hasn’t played for any length of time he cannot possibly perform to the best of his ability.
It takes a number of matches to regain match fitness and sharpness. Had Freddie Sears two or three seasons ago, who sustained a nasty injury and was out for many months, been able to get a number of old-style reserve team games under his belt before returning to first team action, he would have been much sharper and his contribution much greater. This is no reflection on him or his efforts but sadly a fact that has not benefited him or the club at a time when a fully fit and sharp Freddie would surely have made the team stronger.
So my conclusion is that in this current era, we actually have professional footballers who never play.
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