I’m eating you. I’m overfed: Why World Cup 2014 is not to blame for the public’s indifference towards England

By Tom Simmonds.

England’s friendly versus Norway last week was attended by just 40,181 people. At home, 9.1 million people chose to watch The Great British Bake Off while a peak audience of 5.5 million tuned in to watch the soporific proceedings at Wembley.

Apathy towards international football is something which has steadily crept into the public consciousness since the creation of the Premier League in 1992. When we look at the language commonly used about it, we can’t be shocked by this.

Second Billing: There were plenty of empty seats at Wembley whilst England played Norway, with many staying at home to watch the Great British Bakeoff

Second Billing: There were plenty of empty seats at Wembley whilst England played Norway, with many staying at home to watch the Great British Bakeoff

It’s a sad truism that if somebody is regularly told that they are worthless, they will eventually believe it. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger once likened international breaks to national coaches: “taking the car… without even asking permission. We then have to recover it, but it is broken down and you’re expected to be nice about it.” Open hostility from club managers – and Wenger is far from the only vociferous critic-towards international fixtures – has been a part of managerial rhetoric for some time now.

Ally this to the fact that fans will generally choose club over country in the artificial construct of ‘club v country’. A context is created where clubs and their supporters are pitched into opposition against managers of national sides. Injuries to players accrued on international duty are spoken of in terms of potential financial implications by managers and the international break is generally spoken of with irritation by fans deprived of seeing their clubs in action. It isn’t hard to see how a meaningless friendly would fail to capture the imagination against this backdrop.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is a critic of the international break system, which he believes is a big contributor to mid-season injuries and fatigue

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is a critic of the international break system, which he believes is a big contributor to mid-season injuries and fatigue

It would be wrong to lay all of the blame with the clubs though. The administrators of the international game have done a great deal of work to devalue their own product and play into the hands of naysayers. UEFA, with their expansion of the 2016 European Championships to 24 teams from a more manageable 16 and FIFA, with their awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, have played fast and loose with international football’s big prizes in recent years. The only rational response to these decisions and the many others like them made by governing bodies is to despair of the processes that begat them.

Another understandable response is the one which met England last week-when the custodians of the international game make such dreadful decisions about the family jewels. Can we as fans really expect to blindly play along and passively endorse such folly every time the collection tin comes around?

Related to this, and something that Euro 2016’s format will do nothing to remedy, is the nose-to-tail scheduling that is now a fact of life for footballers and clubs. Football is ubiquitous and each move to try to crack a ‘new market’ produces more football which further tightens the garrotte around the neck of that golden egg-laying goose. Pre-season exhibition matches in far-flung destinations and meritless qualifiers against minnow nations on damage-limitation missions are but two examples of the over-production that casts a shadow on football today.

The Euros in 2016 will only increase worries of player burn-outs, with 24 teams competing at the finals, rather than 16

The Euros in 2016 will only increase worries of player burn-outs, with 24 teams competing at the finals, rather than 16

As the German Weimar government rendered their currency worthless in 1923 by printing more banknotes, those who run the game risk overseeing its devaluation. This is a problem afflicting test cricket in parallel; England play too much of it, and the ECB’s reliance on the Ashes, which are being similarly diluted by this same over-production, has left them in an uncomfortable position of their prime asset having its shine dulled by repetition. This, as well as the indifference international football is being met with now, betrays the key lesson for its administrators, one which they have neglected of late.
Remember what makes something special, and do everything in your power to make sure it stays that way.
Do you think that there is such a thing as too much football? What measures would you suggest introducing to give international football its lustre back?
Read more from Tom Simmonds here!

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