Josh Wright

Exodus to the North: Football League Talent North of the Border

In Football on March 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Gary Hooper and Anthony Stokes, both former Football League players, are currently enjoying a rich vain of form in the SPL

At the current moment in time the highest level of Scottish Football is awash with Football League talent, with many of the most promising individuals in the English second tier choosing SPL football over the Football League. Whilst the facts speak for themselves, Celtic and Rangers are regularly involved in European football, albeit (apart from the occasional season) unsuccessfully, and are normally guaranteed a form of silverware in one form of the other most seasons, the attraction of this is one that seemingly passes me by, and that in fact for the players involved, England’s second tier should be a greater lure.

Members of Celtic’s current squad include Gary Hooper, Kris Commons, Joe Ledley and Fraser Forster as well as the likes of Daryl Murphy and Anthony Stokes, and in Rangers squad we see Kyle Lafferty. Many of these players have been viewed as potential talents, who have proved their worth in the Championship. If we take Hooper for example, the former Scunthorpe United marksman scored 43 goals in 80 appearances for the Lincolnshire club, and despite interest from the top clubs in the Championship chose a move to Celtic in the summer. Since this move his goal scoring has continued, this season’s statistics read 15 goals in 24 matches, in any league those are fantastic figures. Anthony Stokes’s performances this season have been similarly successful, scoring 17 in 27. However unlike Hooper, Stokes’s career in England had seemingly stalled, with an unsuccessful period at Sunderland which included two unexceptional loan spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Crystal Palace. Stokes has seemingly rejuvenated his career in the SPL, and whilst this has been successful for him, is this league really the best opportunity for some of the best young talent in the Football League?

The average Championship attendance for last season was 18,106, making it around the fifth largest league in the world. These attendances are matched by viewing figures, with media companies spending large quantities on the rights for the Football League, the BBC’s recent contract for the Football League Show being the epitome of this. On the other hand SPL football averages around 13,915, however without the likes of Celtic and Rangers this figure would plummet. Whilst playing in front of 45,000 at Parkhead and Ibrox has its benefits, away fixtures at Hamilton and St Mirren in front of around 4000 limit this. Although comparing the playing standards of the leagues is difficult, if we examine some of the players to have moved between the two and the success they have had relatively it is possible to deduce a distinction between the quality. Kris Boyd, the all time SPL leading goal scorer has struggled at Middleborough, as has Scott MacDonald and Kenny Miller during his period at Derby County in the Premier League. Stokes, a player who seemingly struggled in the English game has flourished at the highest level of the Scottish game.

The standard of Championship football is ever-increasing, with more money being invested and more supporters flocking to games. The Scottish game, on the other hand is in somewhat of a lull, with a lack of a major TV backer following the collapse of Setanta and the upcoming review of the league structure.  This is not a rant in regards to Scottish football which as a league contains one of the most compelling, competitive and highly charged derby matches, as well a multitude of enthusiastic fans and clubs. However is this really the best environment for the development of the some of the talent that has fled from the Football League to north of the border? The growing strength of the Football League should convince players that their futures lie here, and this will provide them with the experience they need to fulfil their potential.

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