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Oct 10, 2013

Goalkeepers on the attack

If you have any questions on football facts, statistics or trivia, please send them to ESPN's team of football anoraks at askespnfc@outlook.com and they will try to answer as many as possible.

Tim Howard recently got an assist in Everton's game against Newcastle. Are there any goalkeepers who commonly get assists season after season? Zahan Mehta asked

Yes, Howard set up a Romelu Lukaku goal, becoming only the second 'keeper to record an assist in the Premier League this season. The first, coincidentally, was also an American: Aston Villa's Brad Guzan supplied Andreas Weimann's winner against Manchester City two days earlier, while last weekend Southampton's Artur Boruc became the third member of a small group. Howard's Premier League career has brought him one goal and three assists so far, making him one of the most productive goalkeepers at the other end.

The answer really depends on how you define 'commonly'. Assists from goalkeepers are a rarity but there are two who have got them in three consecutive seasons (and, in both cases, managed four in that three-year period) in recent years. The first was Pepe Reina, often an instigator of a quick counter-attack for Liverpool, who managed four between 2007 and 2010. Then he was emulated by Blackburn's Paul Robinson, who set up four goals between 2009 and 2012. Incidentally, Robinson, like Howard, is also among the four 'keepers who have scored a Premier League goal.

How many clubs has Steve Claridge played for in the Premier League and throughout his career? And which player played for the most clubs in his career? Okunola Yusuf asked

Claridge actually only played in the Premier League for one club, Leicester City; indeed, he got them into the top division, scoring their play-off winner against Crystal Palace in 1996. However, he played in the Football League for a further 14 clubs: Bournemouth (in two spells), Aldershot, Cambridge United (two spells), Luton Town, Birmingham City, Portsmouth (two spells), Wolverhampton Wanderers, Millwall (two spells), Brighton & Hove Albion, Brentford, Wycombe Wanderers, Gillingham, Bradford City and Walsall. In addition, he was on the books at Crystal Palace without making a league appearance and he appeared in non-league football for Weymouth (in three spells), Fareham, Worthing, Harrow and Gosport, giving him 20 clubs in professional and semi-professional football.

The player with most clubs is thought to be John Burridge, who played for Workington, Blackpool, Aston Villa, Southend, Crystal Palace, QPR, Wolves, Derby, Sheffield United, Southampton, Newcastle, Scarborough, Lincoln, Manchester City and Darlington in the Football League, giving him, like Claridge, 15 league clubs. However, he was also at Notts County, Grimsby and Northampton without making a league appearance. In addition, he also joined Scottish clubs Hibernian, Dunfermline, Dumbarton, Falkirk and Queen of the South and non-league clubs Enfield, Witton Albion, Gateshead, Purfleet and Blyth Spartans. He also claims to have had a 29th club, although details on precisely who that is are rather sketchy.

In terms of Football League clubs, however, the winner is a much-travelled striker whose only taste of the Premier League came at Leicester: not Claridge but Trevor Benjamin. He made at least one appearance in the Football League for 17 different clubs: Cambridge, Leicester, Crystal Palace, Norwich, West Bromwich Albion, Gillingham, Rushden & Diamonds, Brighton, Northampton, Coventry, Peterborough, Northampton, Watford, Swindon, Boston, Walsall and Hereford. Four of those clubs are no longer in the Football League: neither is Benjamin who, at 34, is without a club. He has also played in various levels of non-league for Gainsborough Trinity, Northwich Victoria, Hednesford, Wellingborough, Kidsgrove, Tamworth, Harrogate, Woking, Bedlington Terriers, Wroxham and Morpeth, giving him 28 clubs in total -- just one short of Burridge and with time to add more. Yet, as he has dropped into the tenth tier of English football, it is arguable the line should be drawn somewhere.

Has anyone playing in the Championship, or below, been called up for the English national team since the start of the Premier League? As far as I know the lower leagues do not stop during the international break, so how would this work if one of their players (presumably their best) is called up by the national team? Aashish Bhusnurmath asked

There have actually been quite a few over the 21 years of the Premier League, including some very prominent England players: Stuart Pearce (Nottingham Forest), Paul Gascoigne and Paul Merson (both Middlesbrough), Kevin Phillips and Michael Gray (both Sunderland), Richard Wright (Ipswich), David James and Robert Green (both West Ham), David Nugent (Preston), Jay Bothroyd (Cardiff), Jack Butland (Birmingham) and Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace) have all taken the field for the national team. The last third-flight player to be called up by England was Wolves' Steve Bull in 1989, though that was before the Premier League's foundation. For those who are interested, Englandfootballonline.com has more statistics on England internationals.

In terms of the logistics, it isn't a problem: Championship games aren't played during an international break. In addition, League One or Two games can be postponed if one club involved has three or more players who have been called up by their various countries (including under-21 teams). During the September international programme, for instance, Wolves' game against Walsall was called off.

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