With an international break on for the weekend, why not take the opportunity to watch some lower-league English football on ESPN+?
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ESPN+, which shows the EFL Championship and FA Cup in the US, has neither of those to offer when there’s an international break. And since Serie A in Italy and the Bundesliga in Germany (both also on ESPN+) also take off for the break, what is a broadcaster to do?
Fortunately, they decided to show us English League One and League Two games!
What is an International Break?
Briefly, an international break is a long pre-planned weekend during which players from the top two leagues go home to play for their countries in things like World Cup qualifying matches or regional competitions such as the European Championships or the African Cup of Nations.
What is ESPN+ Showing During This International Break?
If you’re not familiar with the “pyramid of leagues,” here’s our guide to the leagues and cups of English football. Or check out this video:
So basically, with no Premier League (which is actually on NBC’s Peacock), Champions League (on CBS’s Paramount+), or Championship (on ESPN+), the nice folks at ESPN simply drop down the leagues to find a game. This weekend they have three — two of which are at clubs that Groundhopper Guides has been to.
Friday, March 26, 3:45 p.m. Eastern: Lincoln City at Oxford United
The Us, or Yellows, are consolidating in League One after dropping out of the Football League entirely and only getting back up in 2010. They spent six seasons in League Two and the last four in League One, where they are now a comfortable mid-table outfit.
Lincoln City, however, are a bit more on the up. They were also out of the league and got back in after winning the National League in 2017. The next year they won the League Trophy, and in 2019 they won League Two. Last season they were 16th in League One, but they will come into Oxford’s Kassam Stadium fourth in the table and looking a solid bet to make the playoffs.
Meanwhile, we should say, if you didn’t know: Yes, it’s that Oxford, with the spires and the colleges and the Harry Potter tourist sites. Groundhopper Paul had a lovely day there and wrote a post called Meet Oxford United. That was also the night he had the two “Bantering Blokes” sitting behind him, which became a “Story Time” in our book, The Groundhopper Guide to Soccer in England.
Saturday, March 27, 8:00 a.m. Eastern: Bolton Wanderers at Forest Green Rovers
First, you have to love a Rovers v Wanderers game. I mean, what are the odds they both show up? And do the Vagabonds have winner?
Historically, this is a case of “how the mighty have fallen.” Bolton Wanderers go back to 1874, won four FA Cups from the 1920s to the 1950s, were in the Premier League in 2012, and as recently as 2008 were in the UEFA Cup (now Europa League) Round of 16, having just beaten Atletico Madrid the previous round.
Now they’ve suffered two straight relegations to League Two and, this week, are playing in the Cotswolds, in a stadium that holds just over 5,000 people, 3,000 of them standing. They have become a study in how a poorly-run club can be virtually destroyed in the modern era. We caught a game there just before the drop got severe.
Rovers, meanwhile, are at least trying to be an example of an eco-friendly, sustainable, vegan football club. The pitch at the New Lawn is organic, there are solar panels on the roof, rainwater is recycled to use on the pitch, and the cooking oil becomes biofuel. The lawn mower is a GPS-controlled robot, and the clippings go to local farmers.
And yes, all the food — for players and supporters in the stadium — is vegan. Groundhopper Paul can say from experience that the samosas are excellent. Here is more on Forest Green Rovers.
All this represents the dream of their owner, Dale Vince, who made his money in wind turbines. He’s also spent it on players, bringing Rovers, who were founded in 1887 but never even made the sixth tier until 1998, all the way to League Two. They even made the playoffs in 2019, and this year they sit third as the international break looms.
With Bolton Wanderers sitting fifth, this is a promotion six-pointer!
Saturday, March 27, 11:00 a.m. Eastern: Accrington Stanley at Peterborough United
Peterborough is a “cathedral city,” one of 69 around the UK. (The Peterborough Cathedral was built in the 12th and 13th centuries.) The city, which we have not yet visited, seems to otherwise fit the common narrative of English cities in the north: dates to the Roman times, had a big industrial boom (in their case making bricks) and are now investing heavily in a “regeneration” project.
The club, meanwhile, is known as The Posh, apparently because a manager in the old days said he was seeking “posh players for a posh new club.” In those days, the media and other fans hung it on them as a put-down, but in typical English fashion they made it their own, and it’s stuck. Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham once sued the club over this term, and we’re happy to say she lost.
They have played at the same place, London Road (above) since their founding in 1934. It now holds just over 15,000 people. They’ve been a largely third-tier team for the last 30 years, but they currently sit second in League One and will have their eyes on the Championship for next season.
Accrington Stanley, meanwhile, officially date from just 1968, when the previous version of the club went out of business. They have only been this high in the leagues since 2018, when they first cracked the third tier.
As for their name: The town is Accrington, Lancashire, north of Manchester and near Blackburn. There was originally an Accrington FC, founder members of the Football League in 1888, but when they went out of business shortly after, another local club, Stanley Villa, took on the town name.