By Matt Badcock
Paul Fairclough demands England C’s game-plan must mix style and substance when they take on Wales C in tonight’s cross-border clash.
The 16-man squad, that includes a number of new faces, met up in Cardiff on Sunday ahead of a busy two-day schedule.
Young Newport County players made up the numbers for an 11 versus 11 session on Monday as Non-League’s hottest talent sought to make the most of every minute together before Tuesday evening.
Fairclough has had to make some changes to his original squad with Dover’s Mitch Pinnock, Dagenham & Redbridge midfielder Charlee Adams and Maidenhead United’s talented left-sided player Sam Barratt all called in from the contingency squad.
They will replace Aldershot’s Jim Kellermann, Bromley midfielder Josh Rees and Salford City’s Tom Walker, respectively.
As always, Fairclough will set his side up to play a passing brand of football on the artificial surface at Jenner Park – but knows the rivalry will be intense.
“As I sit here at this moment, I’ve got a fairly good idea of what I’d like my starting line-up to be,” Fairclough told The NLP. “I know what pattern of play we’re going to work on and we’ll get straight into work mode on Monday morning for how we’re going to play.
“We will do different things than they would do at their clubs, but at the same time – and I’ve always said this – we will never forget what they do at their clubs. Their bread and butter at their clubs is playing in a really competitive National League, so we will tap into their competitiveness. They’re going to need it.
“This group can all really play football. I’ve not brought in a bit of grit just because it’s this game, and there are plenty of players who have that, but I will expect and demand the players who go out there, as well as being good footballers, are good competitors. And they are.”
Fairclough carried out a recce last week and says it gave him an insight into how the fixture has created a buzz in and around Wales.
A good crowd is expected for the Wales C team’s debut, that is made up of players of all ages, some with European experience, from the Welsh Premier League.
And the England chief thinks it will be a great occasion for both nations.
“Wales have got so many motivating forces,” he said. “They’re at home, they want this new-found team to keep going – we’ve got to compete against that.
“I went down there last week to have a look and they looked after me really well.
“The guy who was driving me around can’t wait – they’re really looking forward to it and so are we.”
Wales C vs England C – Tuesday March 20, KO 7.30pm at Barry Town FC
Matt Badcock comment: Is it the start of something?
Wales versus England. There’s just something about it that stokes the fires.
Whether it’s football, rugby or tiddlywinks, the competitive nature between all the home nations just adds another layer. Like playing your brother at Monopoly, you know losing isn’t a total disaster. But it is a total disaster.
Wales C v England C on Tuesday night is a friendly, but there’s no doubt when the first whistle blows, both sides will be desperate to win and take the bragging rights.
Last time out it was 2-2, with England’s goals coming from Kyle McFadzean – now playing in the Championship with Burton Albion – and Alex Rodman, who is playing a big part in Shrewsbury Town’s League One promotion push
The hosts in Newtown that night were dubbed Wales semi-professional and drew players from across the English Non-League Pyramid.
Since 2012 the Football Association of Wales stopped entering a team into the International Challenge Trophy that England C compete in, and a match-up – competitive or otherwise – hasn’t been on the cards.
The new Wales C set-up seems to have caught the imagination across the border and the chance to turn over their next door neighbour is something they will relish. Paul Fairclough’s side will know they’re out to poop the party.
These fixtures used to be more common during the old Four Nations Tournament that would see England C often take on Wales, Scotland and Ireland, while teams like Gibraltar also participated.
A home nations tournament for the senior teams is often mooted but how about at this level? Could Tuesday be the start of rekindling something similar? At the end of this season, England C will take on an Irish side preparing to represent their country in the upcoming UEFA Regions’ Cup. So the teams are there and Scotland have put rep sides together in the past too.
Whether it’s played out across a season or it’s every other year across the space of, say, a fortnight, it would surely give a boost to these levels of football in each country.
There would be a focus for players to try and get in the squads and pit their wits against their peers around Britain and Ireland.
And give everyone the chance to win something for their country. No matter what level, that’s something to treasure.
Clash brings back memories of Dale
In the build-up to this game, my mind has turned to Dale Roberts, the former Rushden & Diamonds and England C keeper.
Within two months of joining The NLP back in 2009, I was offered the chance to travel to Hungary with England C. Beforehand, I interviewed Dale and told him I’d be out in Budapest with the squad.
As it happened, I flew out ahead of the team and, still very wet behind the ears, admit I was nervous about how the three-days away would be.
Fortun-ately Paul Fairclough and his excellent staff were welcoming from the first minute and always have been over the years.
It always sticks in my mind how friendly Dale was on that trip too. Turning around in the welcome meeting with a smile and a nod. He was always happy to give a quick interview about how Diamonds’ play-off push was going or his delight at being selected in another England C squad, and he came to our National Game Awards to pick up his England C Player of the Year award. Often Dale would just send a message to ask how you were.
In September 2012, he started for England against Wales. It proved to be his last ever game. Injury ruled him out for months and in December, on the day he was set to return to Diamonds’ first-team, he sadly died.
He is so well remembered by the club’s AFC reincarnation with his No.1 shirt retired to this day. Dale was a talented goalkeeper. Even more importantly, he was a wonderful person. Missed by so many, but never forgotten.
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper which is available every Sunday and Monday