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Welcome To The Non-Football League

Posted by Pompeyexile on September 4, 2012 at 5:40 AM

Welcome To The Non-Football League By Jim Bonner

Updated Monday, 3rd September 2012

Neville Dalton on the lack of quality in League One.

Pompey were given a few lessons against Oldham, though none were about football , writes journalist Neville Dalton, a Pompey fan of 45 years.

Just in case any Pompey fans were still under any illusions of how far we had fallen, Saturday’s bitchfest with Oldham would have spelt it out starkly.

League One is not, as I imagined, a lesser version of the Championship – and it will take a very good team to play its way out of the division (at the top end, anyway).

While the first home game against Bournemouth was of dubious quality, with the visitors surprising me with how much they relied on a physical threat, it was at least entertaining, with some semblance of football played and plenty of mistakes to add to the excitement.

However, Oldham Athletic are determined to ensure that nobody runs away with any illusions that League One is part of the Football League.

It might come under the league’s jurisdiction, but that – according to their manager, the irritating Paul Dickov – is as far as the resemblance with football goes.

First things first: Pompey’s hastily put-together team struggled gamely – but woefully inadequately – throughout a tough physical test against a team that is clearly at home in the third tier.

In all honesty, they didn’t really look like getting anything out of the match, especially after Oldham had scored the goal that enabled them to put their provocation and time-wasting tactics into top gear.

Michael Appleton is admirably trying to make Pompey play football (that quaint old concept where players pass to each other and try to score goals through conventional means rather than avoiding playing at all costs).

But even the best teams need to know when to play football and when to limit the damage.

And Pompey are not one of the best teams.

Of course, nobody should expect them to be.

Appleton has had to use what he considers the best of those players left behind by other mediocre clubs after our shambles of a summer, where our club’s future remains in doubt, and where his choice was further limited to those still prepared to take a gamble with us.

He deserves credit for what he has achieved, both in terms of recruitment and the way he has started to get them playing.


But Saturday’s test against that annoying bunch in garish orange shirts exposed the shortcomings of a squad already hit by suspension and injuries, and which is hardly likely to get bigger in the coming winter months.

And before anybody accuses me of sour grapes, I acknowledge that the best player on show by a mile was the visiting number seven, Lee Croft, whose body shape probably explains why he has never quite made it at the top level.

He tormented players half his size with his skill and looked Oldham’s most threatening player.

But no doubt Dickov will soon knock the football out of the man on loan from Derby – there were signs of that already as he indulged in some of the less attractive elements of the game.

However, he was largely outshone in that department by many of his more seasoned team-mates, who Dickov has moulded uncannily into his own image – right from the in-your-face spitefulness and wind-ups to the persistent fouling and determination never to allow a football match to break out.

They executed Dickov’s plan to perfection, to the point where by half-time it was pretty obvious that a Pompey player would be sent off for retaliation before the match was over, much as Lomana LuaLua was against a Blackburn side containing Dickov a few years back.

That’s not to excuse Pompey: their youngish team might still be a bit naïve, but they have players prepared to dish it out, too. Brian Howard is not averse to sticking a foot in, especially after he has lost the ball while dithering.

Kevin Long had already demonstrated that side to Pompey’s play long before he became our first player to be sent off this season.

And Jordan Obita’s red card capped an abysmal display in which he spurned a presentable chance and resisted the temptation to challenge for any high ball before falling for the sucker punch, almost literally, that got him sent off.

The performance – and result – was a reminder of how far Pompey still have to come, even if they can survive the season, and regardless of whether they finally lose the suspended 10 points hanging over them.

And I hope Appleton has sufficient personnel – and faith in them – to rise to the challenge without resorting to what League One seems to have become, if – and fans with League One experience tell me they are – Oldham are anything to go by.

But what I hope even more is that Paul Dickov and his ilk disappear from what is still sometimes erroneously called football so that in future clubs, no matter how good or bad, can be judged on their success at playing football – not avoiding it.


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