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15th March 2012

Unsung heroes of the Football League

Thomas McMahon investigates the players who’s efforts perhaps should have been rewarded at last week’s Football League Awards

The recent Football League awards were an interesting spectacle. Held in early March, presumably to spare the blushes of this year’s play-off chokers, over 600 guests gathered in a reasonably-priced London venue to witness the lower leagues at their best. On the stage BBC’s Mark “Clem” Clemmit was joined by Soccer AM’s ‘Tubes’, a sort of post-ironic Jim Davidson for the jägerbomb generation, in a wonderful display of live comedy.

The winners, meanwhile, were something of a mixed bunch. The goalscoring exploits of Southampton’s Rickie Lambert and Huddersfield’s Jordan Rhodes made them safe bets for Player of the Year in the Championship and League One respectively. However, Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha, with five goals in 75 league appearances, seemed an odd choice for Young Player of the year. Indeed, promising defenders such as Middlesbrough’s Joe Bennett and Zaha’s team-mate Nathaniel Clyne may feel that the panel of judges rather neglected their position. Gustavo Poyet’s success at Brighton and Hove Albion, acknowledged with the Outstanding Managerial Achievement Award, must be considered in the context of the massive investment that has allowed the Seagulls to recruit international players such as Vicente Rodriguez and Craig Mackail-Smith.

But what of the players who really deserve recognition? The players grafting selflessly at humble clubs, their sterling work going largely unnoticed. Take the self-effacing Jimmy Bullard, who joined Paul Jewell’s Ipswich Town last summer after a successful spell on loan from Hull. The midfielder, who reportedly turned down numerous moves to Premier League clubs unwilling to meet his £45,000-a-week wage demands, has scored just once in twenty games since moving to Suffolk. Perhaps more worryingly for fans of the Tractor Boys, Bullard was recently suspended from the squad after embarking on mid-week drinking session with Michael Chopra. Fans will await his comeback goal celebration with baited breath.

Question Time panelist and occasional footballer, Clarke Carlisle has also enjoyed a year to remember. A Premier League player as recently as 2010, Carlisle can now be seen at Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium. Out of favor with Burnley manager Eddie Howe, the side’s former captain has linked back up with Aidy Boothroyd in an attempt to stave off relegation to the conference. The Cobblers certainly need the Preston-born brainbox: chairman David Cardoza vented his frustration in a recent press conference after the club spent big on experienced campaigners such as Adebayo Akinfenwa, only to see the side slip to the bottom of the table.

Fans of Leicester City, meanwhile, may want to nominate £4m summer signing Matt Mills. The former Manchester City trainee was signed by Sven Goran Eriksson off the back of an impressive season at Championship rivals Reading. Moreover, the former England manager handed Mills the captain’s armband, only to see him struggle alongside the marauding Sol Bamba at the heart of the Foxes’ defence. Mills has subsequently been loaned out to Leeds United, with big-spending Leicester City languishing in mid-table. Reading, meanwhile, having sold their prime asset, are in contention for automatic promotion after a nine match winning streak.

After another fine season, this industrious triumvirate has shown that they deserve our recognition. Indeed, with Carlos Tevez rumoured to be close to a return to action for Manchester City, perhaps the gulf in quality between the Football League and the Premiership is not as great as previously thought.

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