WITH non-League clubs across the country facing certain extinction, so too is a branch of the Three Lions.
The England C team has been giving opportunities to players in the National League and below to don the famous crest since 1979.
James Norwood has spoken of the importance of protecting the endangered England C team
It has often been dubbed a ‘worthless gimmick’ – a group of unprofessional semi-pro players travelling abroad for some football, sun and a jolly.
In recent years, however, with an improvement in the quality of their opponents and several success stories, it has been the foundation for EFL clubs looking for the next big talent to emerge from non-League football.
Under the devoted eye of manager Paul Fairclough since 2003, the likes of Andre Gray, Sam Clucas, George Boyd and Lee Tomlin have all used it is a platform to reach the Premier League.
The side were due to face Wales C and Nepal in friendlies in March and May this year but for the Covid-19 shutdown.
And in the past they’ve have faced international Under-23 sides from Turkey, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Belgium.
But now, with the National League on its knees amid the coronavirus crisis and the biggest financial shockwave in the history of English football, it too could be a thing of the past.
Ipswich’s James Norwood made eight appearances for the C’s between 2013 and 2015 while making his name at Forest Green Rovers – then in the National League – and ultimately earned him a big-move to the EFL with Tranmere.
He said: “I took immense pride in playing for them. I was pretty much 99.9 per cent sure I would never play for England proper.
“No one who has played for England C has gone on to represent the seniors.
“Everyone grows up dreaming of wearing that shirt.
“So, every time I pulled on an England jersey I felt fortunate to wear it. I will never forget it.”
Norwood is one of the few players in the history of England C to score a hat-trick – in a 6-1 win over Bermuda.
But try telling straight-talking Norwood that his England C caps are perceived as irrelevant and the response is impassioned.
He laughed: “It’s no gimmick at all. It’s true it took time for the stigma to wear off.
“When I played we were chuffed to get the new kit, rather than fake stuff, before any of the other England age-groups.
“But the truth is that England C has been feeding the Football League for years.
“At least 75 per cent of the lads I played with are now in the EFL – it’s their breeding ground.
“In the past, when clubs were looking for the next big talent they never looked in the Conference.
“They never saw the value, just a load of ex-pros and young kids.
“Now, they take chances on players every summer and every January to see if they could find a diamond.
“The England C games are a hub for scouts looking for that bargain that has slipped through the radar.
“And we don’t just play Mickey Mouse sides. The Turkey U23 side we played ended up having nine full internationals.”
He explained: “When I was playing with them as a 21-year-old, I was performing well and scoring goals.
“I gave top players a tough time and it gave me the belief to kick on and think: ‘I’ve got a chance’.”
Luton star Matty Pearson played 11 times for the C team while at Halifax
Luton defender Matty Pearson made 11 caps for the C’s while dropping down to play with Halifax Town – sparking a career-changing move to Accrington Stanley in 2015.
He remains one of the highest-capped England C players in its history.
Pearson said: “I can remember playing against Cenk Tosun in the Turkey U23s before he got his big move to Everton.
“We also played an Ireland U21 side that included Championship players.
“I have to be honest, for me it was a great chance to travel the world – I had played in the UK my whole life before England C.
“But Norsy is right, it really does mean something. It gives downhearted players hidden from view a chance to be recognised and a real chance of finally progressing.
“I hear players nowadays umming and erring about accepting the invite, or managers advising their squad not to go because it isn’t a ‘big deal’.
“But this opportunity may not be around for much longer.
“It gives players a once in a lifetime chance to play international football. I really hope it survives the pandemic.
“Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t the same as actually playing for England. But there is something special about it.”
Norwood added: “People’s opinions of non-League being rubbish football with about 30 fans remain, but it’s not the case. You have fallen giants in those divisions with thousands of supporters.
“And the incentive for all those players is England C. If you take your chance and performed well, chances are there is an EFL club ready to transform your career.”
By: Jordan Davies
Title: Iconic England C team faces extinction with the future of non-League football in jeopardy due to coronavirus
Sourced From: www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/12923545/england-c-team-facing-extinction-coronavirus/
Published Date: Tue, 13 Oct 2020 21:30:00 +0000