Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Tue 3 July 2007

The Premier League - 'County-style'...

So many things spring to mind when thinking of a traditional Summer's day in England. A village green, lush and neatly clipped - the perfect playing surface for a game of Cricket between local men attired in their whites... nearby trestle tables bedecked with plates of neatly cut sandwiches prepared by the local womenfolk... the delicate chirrup of a song thrush perched proudly in an Oak tree beyond the boundary, and the deafening rumble of thunder as torrential rain drenches everything in sight for a fifth consecutive day. Bloody English weather.

Yet for all that, Cricket is still as popular a sport as ever, relying solely on the fact that over a long weekend, very little actually happens - the perfect spectator sport as there's not much to distract you from sitting around drinking lager interminably.

It's rather curious how Cricket has retained it's league structure over such a long time. From its origins well over a hundred years ago, teams were formed that represented the counties of England and Wales. These were the old historic counties - none of your Greater Londons or Greater Manchesters here, oh no. The best players from each county would be called up to represent the area where they were born, so if your place of birth was Southampton and could be relied upon to regularly smash the ball for six, chances are you'd end up playing for Hampshire. Fast bowler from the Huddersfield area? Have a place in the Yorkshire team. So it would go on...

What transpired then was a two-tier system where the better teams were awarded first-class status while the smaller and weaker teams formed what is now known as the Minor Counties setup. The big teams played for the glory of winning the County Championship while the Minor Counties played for the glory of one day being in the County Championship.

It's funny though, really - Cricket never quite turned into a game between towns and cities like Football did. Can you imagine Football in England being based around county teams rather than towns and cities?!? No? Don't worry - we have.

If you've been wondering why there's been little in the way of substantial writing on this site over the last week or two, it's because we've been busy beavering away trying to make real a world where the Premier League's star talent play for their county of birth, not for the team with the biggest wallet.

Our initial idea was to take the results from last season's Premier League and calculate a final table to see who the top county would have been. This proved hugely problematic.

Instead we thought we'd see which county teams would be the most exciting, the most likely to prevail over their opponents and the most likely to get a team together at all.

So let's start off at the top. Which county do we think is likely to top a regional Premier League? Answer: Lancashire. Using the old historic counties of England and Wales, Lancashire would almost certainly have the biggest list of star talent to call upon, covering as it does cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Blackburn, Bolton and Wigan. A Lancashire team would boast a defence containing Phil and Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and Wes Brown, a midfield featuring Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton, and up front, how about Wayne Rooney and James Beattie as a strike partnership? Should any substitutions be required, Lancashire could make use of Stephen Clemence, Alan Stubbs, Leighton Baines, Leon Osman and Nicky Butt.

Quite a range of top names to choose from there, but who would be Lancashire's biggest rivals in a league such as this? We think Essex.

(Now at this point, we need to mention that because London wasn't one of the original historic counties of England, we've had to use artistic licence to give certain players a county to play for. If they were born in north-east London, we made them a member of the Essex team. South-east London would assimilate to Kent, north London would be Middlesex and so on. Just so you know.)

And so back to the Essex team. Once again, they'd have a fine selection of players to choose from. In defence you'd see John Terry standing alongside Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole and Paul Konchesky, In midfield, expect to see Frank Lampard, Jimmy Bullard, Joe Cole and Lee Bowyer and up front there's the useful partnership of Jermaine Defoe and Bobby Zamora. They'd also have subs to spare - to wit Linvoy Primus, Nicky Shorey, Ledley King and Mark Noble.

One thing you may have noticed is that we haven't mentioned any goalkeepers so far. That's because there simply aren't that many English-born top flight 'keepers around, and when you do find one he's probably part what would be a very small team indeed. Liverpool's Scott Carson was born in Whitehaven, which means he'd be the only player of note in a Cumberland team. Wigan's Chris Kirkland would be a member of the Leicstershire team, but apart from Emile Heskey, they'd be about the only players you'd have ever heard of.

Somewhat perversely, some counties would have more than one goalkeeper to choose from. The Yorkshire team have Tottenham's Paul Robinson and Man. City's Nicky Weaver in their ranks, while the minor county of Hertfordshire could be caught in the dilemma of whether to pick Portsmouth's David James or Bolton's Ian Walker. Some would say neither, but no matter...

Apart from Lancashire and Essex, most other counties would struggle to even find eleven decent players to put together in a side - perhaps an indication of just how many foreign players currently ply their trade in today's Premier League. Some counties can find seven or eight like that great cricketing behemoth, Yorkshire. Apart from their two goalkeepers, they'd also have Kevin Davies, Alan Smith, James Milner and Aaron Lennon in their ranks.

In the Midlands, Warwickshire would have a slightly weak team featuring Everton's Joleon Lescott, Man. City's Darius Vassell and Gabriel Agbonlahor of Aston Villa. Kent's team would be strongly as their 'virtual squad' would contain Glen Johnson, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Kieran Richardson (all born in Greenwich) along with Aston Villa's Liam Ridgewell, Anton Ferdinand of West Ham and Tottenham's Wayne Routledge.

One curiosity which comes from looking down the team lists is that the Surrey team seems to be dominated by West Ham players. Carlton Cole and Nigel Reo-Coker were born in Croydon, goalkeeper Robert Green was born in Chertsey and Scott Parker was born in Lambeth.

But what of the Premier League's big name stars - which county would you expect them to play for? Tottenham's new signing, Darren Bent, was formerly associated with another London club, Charlton, yet he'd be the only top name in a Cambridgeshire team. Michael Owen and Peter Crouch both have strong links with Liverpool, but they wouldn't be in the Lancashire team - they'd be representatives of Cheshire. Craig Bellamy and Ryan Giggs are both Welsh, so you'd expect them to represent a historic county of Wales and you'd be right - they'd be in the Glamorgan side.

Some Welsh-born players, though, can consider themselves unlucky to have been born in a county where not even a Minor Counties side plays. Robbie Savage would play for a Denbighshire team if it ever were to exist and West Ham's defensive duo James Collins and Danny Gabbidon would represent Monmouthshire. As for veteran Gary Speed, has anyone ever heard of Flintshire? No, neither have we...

On reflection then, it's perhaps just as well that the Premier League doesn't force players to represent their counties of birth. From what we can see, there'd be some interesting combinations of players and some definite regional strongholds here and there, but perhaps the strength in depth from team to team would be found wanting. And let's not forget we're talking about a top division in England where no foreign players would be involved. Now that IS a bizarre concept...

(BONUS DOWNLOAD! If you're feeling particularly nosey, you can see the full list of top-name players and the counties they'd play for by clicking here. Enjoy...)

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