Players who don’t take profession or fans for granted

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So there we have it, the FourFourTwo Top 50 has been revealed (see full Top 50) and the general consensus on the night was that in Kevin Phillips, Jermaine Beckford and Keith Andrews, we had three very worthy winners.

But, like all lists and polls, the results are open to conjecture – and the debate among many of the 800-strong gathering at London’s Park Lane Hilton stretched into the early hours, long after our lauded trio had walked off into the night with their polished trophies.

Andy Gray second? Michael Kightly third? We heard cases being argued for James Beattie, Zheng Zhi, Jonathan Greening and the like, but at the end of the day, the results were there in black and white – the players and managers had their say, so too members of the media, but most importantly this was an awards ceremony for the fans, by the fans. It was your vote that counted most.

Granted, Gray hasn’t had the best of times since his switch to the Valley in January, but it would take a brave man to argue against his achievements at Burnley while Wolves – as Mick McCarthy admitted last night – look a shadow of their former selves in Kightly’s absence.

That there were a number of candidates vying for position among the Championship front runners is a reflection of the league itself this season. Phillips aside, consistency has been a problem for many players as it has many teams. Sorry, all teams.

But therein lies the beauty of the division; it does not boast the quality of the top-flight but neither do we have the annual procession that accompanies every Premier League season.

On the contrary, the Championship is a bookie’s nightmare, where top can – and quite often does – beat bottom. It’s the reason why attendances continue to boom and why we are unlikely to find out who's going up and who's heading down until the final kick of the final week of the season. And for the second tier read Leagues One and Two.

Yet it’s not just the football being served up that keep the fans coming back for more. Across all three divisions, fans feel a real affinity with their club and their players. The barriers that come have down between the fans and the Premier League superstars simply do not exist.

Be it Loftus Road yesterday lunchtime or the Racecourse Ground Saturday evening, fans wait for their heroes after the game, be it for an autograph or a chat, and they will not come away disappointed.

It’s the same from our side of the fence; the red tape that has to be cut, simply to speak to a top-flight player, does not exist in the Football League and it’s a refreshing environment to work in.

A former photographer colleague told me how he once shared a swimming pool with the Liverpool team and the European Cup after their triumph in Rome in 1984. Even a decade ago it was not uncommon to call a training ground – Melwood for instance – chat to Jamie Redknapp and then go up and see him the following day for an interview. It seems light years away.

Yet as the chasm between £60,000-a-week footballer and the rest of us continues to grow, drop down a level or two and the players are only too happy to co-operate.

Jermaine Beckford did not leave the Hilton until after midnight despite facing a three-hour drive up to Leeds and training this morning. Phillips, too, was driving back up to his Midlands home. Others who had attended on the night, including Peterborough’s Aaron McLean and West Brom’s Chris Brunt, attended without any guarantees of success.

These players are in touch with reality; they don’t take their profession or the fans for granted. And it’s the same for the 72 Football League clubs. If only their top-flight contemporaries could say the same…