ANYTHING goes in the Football League – but not in Europe, as James Perch is finding out.
Just two years ago, Perch was playing for Nottingham Forest in the third tier of English football
Now he’s an integral part of a Newcastle United squad competing in the top flight – and on foreign shores.
The 26-year-old utility player – who started both legs of Newcastle’s qualifier against Atromitos last month – is hoping to be involved in tomorrow night’s Europa League group game against Maritimo in Madeira.
And Perch admits European football contrasts sharply with the game in League One, where, by his own admission, “anything goes”.
“The thing I found the hardest was the referee, and the contact,” Perch told the Gazette.
”I’m used to the English game and League One, where anything goes!
“All of a sudden, you’re playing in Europe, and you’ve got to be careful with the contact you put on people. It’s frustrating at times, but it’ll come.
“It’s a learning curve. There are people in the dressing room who have done it like Harps (Steve Harper) and Steven Taylor, and Cabs (Yohan Cabaye) has played international football.
“There are quite a lot of us who haven’t played in Europe, and it was good to play Atromitos, and get used to the difference in refereeing standards.”
Perch played in Monday night’s dramatic 2-2 draw against Everton at Goodison Park.
And United’s injury-hit squad face a gruelling few weeks at home and abroad, with manager Alan Pardew having to juggle his limited resources between the Premier League, Europa League and Capital One Cup.
Still, Perch isn’t complaining.
“It’s a tough month – we’ve got seven games in 21 days,” he said.
“We knew that was going to happen when we got through against Atromitos. We know it’s a tough season ahead.
“But we’ve got players who can step in when needed, or when players are tired and need a rest.
“That’s what the squad’s for, and playing in Europe is something we’re going to enjoy.
“If we weren’t playing in Europe, and playing these games, we wouldn’t have been doing well. We can’t complain.”
At least last month’s group-stage draw, which also pitted the club against FC Brugge and Bordeaux – was kind to Newcastle in terms of the distances Pardew’s players must travel.
“In terms of travel, the draw’s probably the best we could have hoped for – the furthest is Maritimo,” said Perch.
“All in all, it’s good. We’ve got tough teams, but not too much travel, so it’s not too hard on the body.
“You don’t want to be travelling six or seven hours.”
While United’s overriding priority is the league this season, Perch and his team-mates are looking to progress beyond the six-game group stage, which stretches out between now and early December.
“You don’t think about Europe too much at the start of your career – you want to play for England,” said Perch.
“But when it comes around, like it did last season, you really want it – I just wanted us to get through against Atromitos, and play in Europe.
“We want to take every game as it comes. We want to get through the group stage now and progress. It’s exciting times ahead.”
The Gazette’s Europa League coverage is in association with UTS Engineering Ltd. http://www.uts-ltd.com/