Tag Archive: League One

Goalkeeper Richard Wright has left League One side Preston North End just six days after signing on the dotted line at Deepdale, without having made a single appearance for the side.  Wright had agreed to join Preston in May after being released by Ipswich Town, but after moving to Lancashire last week, the 34-year-old found living without his young family too difficult to overcome.

Former Arsenal custodian Wright had looked to be an excellent signing for Preston, with club chairman Peter Risdale saying “Richard’s qualities and extensive top-level experience will add a vital ingredient to our squad. He has won major honours at the top level and represented his country. That sort of knowledge and will to win will be an excellent addition to a squad that is starting to take shape nicely.”

A rare shot of Wright in Preston club gear during his six-day spell in Lancashire

Unfortunately, the former England international, who won 2 caps for his country at the turn of the century, failed to settle in his new surroundings, and unable to uproot his family, decided to leave before the season began to give Preston manager Graham Westley plenty of time to find a replacement.

Wright has played just three league games in the last two seasons, and after leaving Preston, his career is once more shrouded in doubt.  The goalkeeper was released by hometown club Ipswich in May, and could be forced to drop through the English divisions to find a suitably-located club.

Recognising the potential reaction to his decision, Wright told Preston’s official website: “It might seem somewhat dramatic, but I have only been away from my home in East Anglia for a few days and I know already that I simply cannot live that far away from my family. I have children settled in school, so moving isn’t an option. I think it is only fair to be honest now rather than down the line when the club may not be able to solve the problem that I am creating.”

Thankfully for Richard, Lilywhites chief Westley was understanding of the situation: “It takes a brave man to be honest in a difficult situation like this. Richard thought that he could handle the separations from his family, but he has found it too much. “He is a good man and I wish him well on behalf of all at PNE.”

Westley has since announced that he has resurrected talks with other goalkeepers who had interested Preston prior to Wright’s signing.  German stopper Thorsten Stuckmann, Preston’s Player of the Year in 2011-12, is currently the only goalkeeper on the club’s books.

Image: http://www.pnefc.net


Kev to Cov

League One side Coventry City have completed the signing of former Republic of Ireland international Kevin Kilbane on a free transfer. Kilbane had previously played for Hull City, leaving at the end of the 2011-12 campaign after his contract expired.

At 35 years old, and with lengthy spells with both Everton and Sunderland in the Premier League under his belt, Kilbane provides the experience and know-how that may help Coventry return to the Championship at the first attempt following relegation last season. The Irishman’s versatility could also prove key – although predominantly a winger during his Everton days, Kilbane has also featured at left-back in recent years.

Coventry chief Andy Thorn hopes Kilbane can help the club in the dressing room as well as on the pitch

Indeed, Coventry boss Andy Thorn appeared to be delighted with the capture of Kilbane, capped 110 times by his country, telling the club’s official website: “This is another great signing for us. You only have to look at the clubs Kevin has played for and his record at international level to know his quality. He brings bags of experience to our squad and he will complement the younger players we have here and will help bring them on. Not only will he be an asset on the pitch, he will be a big player in the dressing room too so I am really pleased that we have acted quickly to bring him in.”

Since leaving Everton in 2006, Kilbane has enjoyed three-year spells at Wigan Athletic and Hull. He found first-team opportunities at the KC Stadium limited in 2010-11 – being loaned to both Huddersfield and Derby County – and failed to feature in a single league game last season. It will come as little surprise to Hull fans, then, that the club has chosen not to extend Kilbane’s deal – a decision that is likely to benefit both parties.

Looking to rebuild ahead of their first season in England’s third tier for 48 years, Coventry have looked to the Scottish Premier League for new recruits, signing John Fleck from Rangers and Stephen Elliot from Hearts. The new attackers join as part of the club’s bid to add some firepower to a Coventry side that scored just 41 times in 46 league games last season – the Championship’s lowest total.


Image: http://news.bbc.co.uk


Torquay United are expected to complete the signing of Swindon forward Billy Bodin in the next couple of days, with the Welshman due to travel to Plainmoor for a medical tomorrow.

Bodin had spent the first half of the 2011-12 season at loan on Torquay, scoring five times in 18 appearances and providing a pacy, direct threat on the wing that United sorely missed after he returned to parent club Swindon in January. Bodin’s loan spell left many United fans impressed and few were surprised when Torquay manager Martin Ling tried to secure the Welshman’s services on a permanent basis in the January transfer window.

Bodin’s return will be welcomed with open arms by United fans

However, Swindon boss Paulo Di Canio refuted that approach and, with the Country Ground outfit then proceeding to loan Bodin to fellow League Two side Crewe Alexandra for the remainder of the season, the player’s destination for the 2012-13 season remained uncertain. Despite having impressed with both of his loan spells, Bodin could not force his way into Swindon’s promotion-winning squad and seemed to be keen to leave if first-team football was not available at the County Ground.

After Bodin stalled over Swindon’s offer of a new, two-year deal in May, Di Canio fumed: “It is clear he doesn’t want to accept it. It’s up to him. We’ve offered him the contract. If we can’t keep hold of him, I hope he has a great career in the future.” Even then, in early June, it appeared Di Canio was open to the idea of selling the 20-year-old, something that United chief Ling cashed in on.

Although Torquay’s initial bid of £40,000 was last week rejected by the Robins, the two parties have gradually reached a deal that is mutually satisfactory, believed to be in the region of £70,000 plus add-ons – a fee that has today been accepted. Crewe could well be left kicking themselves after being beaten to Bodin’s signature: the Gresty Road club have money to burn after selling youngster Nick Powell to Manchester United for in excess of £1 million, but delayed their offer and have missed out.

Their loss looks set to be Torquay’s gain, with both the club’s official website and BBC Sport reporting the deal all but sealed. Having chased Bodin for several months to no previous avail, Ling was clearly delighted to have finally got his man: “Billy strengthens our front three, playing on either wing, down the middle or the top end of our midfield. “The flexibility within our squad with [midfielder Eunan] O’Kane staying and Bodin on board is massively good and better than it was last year.”

With Irishman O’Kane having rejected a move to League One new boys Crawley Town in favour of staying at Plainmoor, Torquay fans are quietly confident that promotion to the third division can be achieved this season. Having clung to the coattails of League Two heavyweights Swindon and Shrewsbury for much of the season, Ling’s small, tired squad eventually faltered and had to settle for the play-offs, where they were beaten 4-1 on aggregate by Cheltenham Town. The addition of Bodin – coupled with fellow new signings Craig Easton, Nathan Craig, Michael Poke, Tom Cruise and Ryan Jarvis – has fuelled hope that the Gulls can now grab automatic promotion in 2012-13.

Bodin and Di Canio never seemed to see eye-to-eye

Indeed, many Torquay fans believe Bodin to be the missing cog in a well-oiled United machine that enjoyed a brilliant league campaign last season: one gushed “This is a great signing and goes to show the ambition of the manager and the board. It is not a gamble because we all know what he can do…if we can replicate that sort of football [with Bodin in the side in 2011-12] we will be a force to be reckoned with… the injection of pace will be crucial…he has a lot of potential which places him above [League Two], I trust both the manager and the player to see him fulfill it.”

Ling now believes the only further addition necessary before August is the acquisition of a new centre-back. First-choice defender Mark Ellis’ recent departure to Crewe for £80,000 has left a gaping hole in the United back four that needs plugging with, in Ling’s view “a dominant centre-half…who can really head the ball.”

The sale of goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik to Championship side Peterborough for £300,000 gives Torquay money to spend, although some of this cash will be used to help pay off expenses incurred during the building of Plainmoor’s new stand, the impressive Bristow’s Bench.

Find a suitable replacement for Ellis, and Torquay could well win promotion in 2012-13 with a squad even stronger than last season’s. As Ling himself says “We just need a defender to fetch us up to a 24-man complete squad”. United are ready. Almost.

Ellis Makes Crewe Cut

Torquay United defender Mark Ellis has today joined League One new-boys Crewe Alexandra for a rumoured £80,000, following several weeks of supposed interest from The Railwaymen. 

Ellis, who first joined United in 2007 on loan from then-Premier League side Bolton Wanderers, had racked up almost 100 league appearances for the Gulls in a stay that saw him alternately in and out of the club’s starting XI. Still only 23, Ellis had made his debut for Torquay in September 2007 in the rough-and-tumble of a Conference fixture at the tender age of 17.

After signing for the Gulls permanently in 2008, Ellis initially often found himself left on the bench at the expense of older, more experienced defenders, and was sent on loan to Forest Green Rovers in 2009. However, his superb aerial ability – a valuable asset in League Two – and solid,  no-nonsense tackling meant that Mark was able to reach a half-century of league appearances for Torquay by the 2009-10 season, at an age when young players at other clubs were still waiting for their first run in the team.

Having joined United in 2007 at the tender age of 17, Ellis has matured into a solid, reliable defender

Despite playing regularly in  Torquay’s 2009-10 and 2010-11 campaigns, the acquisition of centre-back Brian Saah, who had previously played under new United manager Martin Ling at both Cambridge and Leyton Orient, meant that Ellis was once again demoted to the bench at the start of last season. Indeed, it was only the sale of first-choice centre-back Chris Robertson to Preston North End in January that allowed Ellis to become a regular under Ling and form a formidable partnership with Saah that helped Torquay to their highest-ever clean sheet tally.

However, ambitions to test himself elsewhere remained, and the fact that Ellis stalled for so long over a new deal first discussed in February showed that his loyalty to Torquay was not all-encompassing. The identity of the clubs interested in Ellis remained unknown, but the fact that United had had to turn down a bid for the Kingsbridge-born defender in January 2011 proved that his impact had been noticed.

Newly-promoted Crewe Alexandra have plenty of money to spend following the sale of young forward Nick Powell – who scored against Ellis’ Torquay in April – to Manchester United for a £1 million-plus fee, and manager Steve Davis made Ellis the first major signing of the club’s summer recruitment process.

Reportedly interested in moving back up north after getting married, Ellis had been more interested in joining Crewe than staying at United: a Torquay club statement claimed that the defender had turned down “a terrific new deal” in favour of “League One football and a fresh challenge”. According to Ling: “I don’t think there was a big difference in the wages offered by the two clubs but Mark sees Crewe as a progressive club in the league above us…it became clear in the end that Mark preferred the Crewe option to staying [with Torquay]”.

“You think I’m staying at Torquay!? No chance!” – Ellis’ desire to test himself in League One made his departure expected

The Gresty Road side are also planning  a bid for Swindon forward Billy Bodin – who enjoyed loan spells with both Crewe and Torquay last season – representing a further blow for Ling’s transfer dealings: the ex-Cambridge boss was known to have been keen to get the Welsh under-21 international back to Plainmoor on a permanent basis.

That said, Ling will be able to use the £300,000 gained from the sale of goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik to Peterborough last week, as well as the rumoured £80,000 Crewe shelled out for Ellis’ services, to boost his small United squad. Ling has already drafted in midfielders Craig Easton and Nathan Craig, as well as forward Ryan Jarvis, for minimal outlay.

Having already stated the need to sign at least one more centre-back before Ellis’ departure, Ling today said: “I’ve been tracking three or four centre-halves for a while and we are hoping to make an announcement later today. Eventually, the right club and offer came in for Mark, but we have obviously been planning for this outcome.”

That will come as welcome news to United fans, who also await an official announcement on Olejnik’s replacement in the goalkeeping department – internet rumours claim custodians ranging from ex-Gull Michael Poke to former England no.1 David James are on the verge of signing on the dotted line at Plainmoor.

Similarly, supporters will be praying Torquay can keep hold of talented midfielder Eunan O’Kane – the subject of a £150,000 bid from Crawley Town. Should United lose all three of their interest-attracting assets, Ling will have his work cut out to ensure United are able to reach the play-offs for the third season running in 2012-13.

Images: Ellis in 2007 – http://www.bbc.co.uk; Ellis in 2012 – http://www.torquayunited.com

St Vincent and the Grenadines may not be known as a footballing hotspot, even within the Caribbean Football Union, but the country’s former star player Rodney Jack has played a major role in boosting the island’s reputation by endearing himself to fans of several English lower-league clubs.

Born in Kingstown in St Vincent in 1972, Jack began his career playing for local teams Hairoun Lions and Lambada FC in the early 1990s. It was soon after joining Lambada, in fact, that Jack would get his chance to play in Europe – the team’s manager, exiled Torquay fan Keith Millard, brought his Lambada side over to play a friendly against Torquay in August 1995. Jack’s searing pace and assured finishing quickly impressed United chairman Mike Bateson, who pulled out all the stops to sign the young forward.

Understandably, given Torquay’s lowly league standing and the physicality of fourth division English football, Jack took time to settle, but the Gulls were soon rewarded for their patience. Rodney finished the following season as the club’s top scorer, with his direct style and impressive speed proving a handful for flat-footed opposition defenders more suited to coping with aerial and physical threats.

It was one of League Two’s unlikeliest transfers of all time, but Jack proved to be a perfect match for Torquay

However, Jack saved his best performances in a yellow shirt for Torquay’s 1997-98 play-off semi-final tie against Scarborough. Leading 3-1 from the first leg, in which Jack had netted once, United needed their Caribbean corker to provide an outlet in the home leg at Plainmoor as Scarborough piled on the pressure. The striker duly scored twice in the space of seven minutes after outpacing the entire Scarborough defence to seal the tie and send Torquay to Wembley. Unfortunately, Jack was unable to inspire a famous win as the Gulls went down 1-0 to Colchester, although the Vincentian did have a goal ruled out for offside.

It would prove to be Jack’s final appearance for Torquay as he joined then-first division side Crewe Alexandra for £650,000 – a record fee for both clubs. Jack’s fine service in his three years at Plainmoor have not been forgotten: in 2009, the player was named as Torquay’s 48th-best player of all time in the club’s “50 Golden Greats” list.

Although he stayed at Crewe for five years, the longest spell of his career with one club, Jack was unable to match his scoring form at Torquay – he netted 33 goals in 163 league games for his new club, compared to 27 strikes in 93 appearances for the Yellows. Nonetheless, Jack still managed to contribute some vital, and often spectacular goals.

Jack’s speed rendered him unplayable in his prime

He left Gresty Road in 2003 for Rushden & Diamonds, and despite Jack’s 12 goals in 45 games in his only season at the club, Rushden were relegated from League One following manager Brian Talbot’s defection to Oldham Athletic. Escaping Rushden’s financial troubles, Jack followed Talbot to Boundary Park, but his one-season stay in Lancashire was blighted by injuries – he played just ten games all season.

Another brief spell followed, this time at Irish outfit Waterford United, before Jack received a hero’s welcome on his return to Crewe in 2006. However, the club’s reluctance to award Jack with any more than a one-year deal showed that he was no longer the same player – 1 goal in 30 games in 2006-07 represented a shadow of the his previous goalscoring form.

Recent years have seen the Vincentian take in a five-game spell at Southport in 2008, before Jack finally resettled at non-league side Nantwich Town. His advancing years, combined with a slight loss of pace, mean that Jack is no longer a regular goalscorer or major handful for defences, but his ability is clear to see – in 2010-11, at the age of 39, Jack was named Nantwich’s Player of the Year. His experience and performances provoked manager Jimmy Quinn to claim “He can be important for us [as an impact player], but I also think he could do a job on the coaching side”.

Regardless of whether the 45-cap international chooses to accept Quinn’s offer, Rodney Jack has permanently etched his name into both Caribbean and English football folklore. He is an inspiration to young footballers in a country that rarely boasts European-based players, and his success on the continent is yet to be replicated by any of his compatriots.

Watch Jack’s pace tear apart the Scarborough defence in Torquay’s 1998 play-off semi-final:

Fans of League One and Two clubs could be forgiven for looking at the significant distance between their beloved team and the big-time Charlies of the Premier League and deciding their side is destined never to reach the top flight. Given the gap in finances and quality of players, it’s a reasonable assumption.

But history can provide comfort for those who continue to resolutely believe that Accrington Stanley will one day march to the Premier League title, leaving Man United City in their wake. Three successful seasons is “all” it takes for a club to reach the promised land from England’s basement professional division.

Stoke take on Valencia in this season's Europa League - a far cry from their days of battling Wrexham and Cambridge in the Third Division as recently as 2001-02

A cursory glance at the 1991-92 Division Three table would surprise many a fan, and rightly so. Current Premier League sides Fulham, Wigan Athletic, West Brom, Stoke City and Swansea were all languishing in the third tier exactly twenty years ago – in fact, Swansea only survived relegation to the fourth division that season by five points. Teams flying high in the Championship this season were also mired in  Division Three mid-table mediocrity in 1991-92 – Reading finished in twelfth place, behind the likes of Brentford and Stockport County.

For more recent examples, look no further than the 2002-03 league tables. Just eight seasons before they would win promotion to the Premier League, Swansea were still battling in England’s lower divisions and even faced relegation to the Conference in 2003, surviving by just one point at the expense of Exeter City. Swansea learned their lesson and look what they have achieved since.

Taking Exeter’s place in the Football League were current Championship side Doncaster Rovers, fresh from Conference play-off victory, while even further down the league pyramid current League Two clubs Accrington and Aldershot helped themselves to themselves to Northern Premier League and Isthmian league titles respectively.

Plymouth have swapped fixtures against the likes of Wolves for games at AFC Wimbledon and Macclesfield

Granted, this year’s League Two consists of fewer big clubs. In recent years, Plymouth Argyle and Bradford City have worked their way to the top before suffering a slide through the divisions – the opposite journey to the teams outlined above. As recently as May 2001 the people of Bradford were enjoying Premier League football, but this season the Bantams could even drop in to non-league football.

Plymouth never quite made it as high as the top-flight, but if you had told Argyle fans in 2007-08, when they finished 10th in the Championship – just six points shy of the play-offs – that they would be battling for League Two survival in five years time, you would have probably been laughed at. The club’s downfall has been astonishingly fast – they were still playing in the Championship in 2009-10. However, financial difficulties have robbed Plymouth of their chance to reach the Premier League, an opportunity that now seems a lifetime away.

So while your tiny lower-league team of small-time professionals may look more like reaching the Ryman League than the Premier League, don’t give up hope. Clubs can shoot through the leagues with impressive speed, but be warned – the fall from grace can be just as fast if you’re not careful.

Rohan Ricketts’ career may have taken a path away from the spotlight since the winger left Tottenham Hotspur in 2005 – but it has certainly been interesting. In the space of four years, Ricketts has played for six clubs in a staggering five countries.

Born in Clapham, south London, in 1982, Ricketts joined capital-based Arsenal in 1999, making his debut in a League Cup tie against Manchester United  in November 2001. This would be his only appearance for the club and a year later Ricketts became just the fourth footballer to leave the Gunners for Spurs, their fierce city rivals.

Although Ricketts enjoyed more playing time at Tottenham, making 30 league appearances in three years at White Hart Lane, he again failed to hold down a regular starting place, which is understandable for a young player at a big club. Loan spells at Coventry and Wolves followed, and in 2005 Spurs allowed Ricketts to move to the Molineux on a permanent basis.

The deal initially appeared to be a success, with Rickets playing regularly early on in his Wolves career, but once more he found himself out of favour and being shipped out on loan, this time to Queens Park Rangers. Released by Wolves in May 2007, Ricketts joined Championship side Barnsley, but a recurring theme was emerging. An unhappy spell yielded just 10 appearances before the winger was again released in April 2008.

Ricketts' career has seen him play in the Premiership as well as the German fourth division and in Moldova

Deciding his future lay abroad, Ricketts immediately signed for Toronto FC of the Major League Soccer in the US. Again, the spell began brightly – Ricketts scored four times in 27 games in his first season. However, the arrival of Dwayne DeRosario pushed Ricketts down the pecking order and his fate was sealed in June 2009 when Toronto released him to free up wages to allow for the signing of Ali Gerba. Toronto may well have been ruing their loss – Gerba would play just 11 times for the Reds, scoring one goal.

Ricketts could easily have called time on his world tour then, and he almost did. A return to the UK looked likely but at the last minute Aberdeen pulled out of a deal to sign him, citing budget constraints. Having been denied the chance to play in the SPL, Ricketts did what any sensible footballer would do – sign for catchily-named Hungarian side Diósgyőri Vasgyárak Testgyakorló Köre (or DTVK for short).

It was a move no-one, including Ricketts himself, would have predicted a few months before, and unsurprisingly the player seemed unable to settle in his new surroundings. Just one outing for DTVK’s first team was supplemented with a handful of reserve appearances before Ricketts wrote the next chapter in an interesting life story by joining Moldovan giants Dacia Chişinău in August 2010.

Predictably, his stay was again short – Ricketts played just four games in a three month spell. He announced his departure from the club on Talksport, expressing anger at Dacia’s reluctance to pay wages. Ricketts then travelled to Germany to take part in trials and in January 2011 joined SV Wilhelmshaven of the Regionalliga Nord, the German fourth division. A period of relative calm followed, but four months and 12 games later Ricketts announced a return to England was on the cards.

Trials at Southend and Stevenage showed the effects of Ricketts’ travels had impacted the standard of his footballing ability. He admitted his time at Stevenage was a “shock to his body” after spells at lower-league clubs and lower-rated leagues. However, with no concrete offers provided at either club, Ricketts set off for Irish champions Shamrock Rovers. The decision looked to be justified by the carrot of Europa League football which allowed him to play against former club Spurs in the group stage. However, Ricketts didn’t have time to reflect on his return to one of football’s biggest competitions – in January 2012 he was released by Shamrock and once more found himself without a club.

The midfielder is glad to be back in England with League One's Exeter City

A unique path back to English football was completed on 22nd March when Ricketts signed for League One strugglers Exeter City. A lot has changed since his last spell in England – when he left Barnsley in April 2008, Exeter were busy finishing fourth in the Conference. The Grecians even briefly threatened to grab promotion to the Championship but now they face a relegation dogfight in their attempts to avoid a return to League Two.

Ricketts was clearly pleased to be back in his home country, saying: “I’m just grateful for the opportunity because I’ve been playing away from England for four years so I’m relishing the chance to get back in.”

His career has been eventful and varied and Ricketts should have plenty to write and talk about should he choose to continue a burgeoning media career after retirement. Saving Exeter from relegation, however, is his primary aim, and he knows it won’t be easy: “I’ve won FA Youth Cups back-to-back, I’ve won a league in Ireland, I’ve been involved in FA Cup ties, but for me this would be major because it’s all against us in terms of points”.

No matter who you support, you have to hope he manages it.