Ah the international break; an all too brief and rare opportunity to bask in collective footballing rapture and national pride, or the modern equivalent of being poked repeatedly by sharp utensils in a dank cellar until you just wish you were put out of your misery? Although, to be fair, at least the Spanish Inquisition had the element of surprise.
For detractors of mid-season international football, hearts begin to sink as soon as you realise that the sudden talk of your club’s players being drafted on global circumnavigations that would make Christopher Columbus look decidedly unambitious, can only mean one thing. Yes international football is approaching ominously, like a hurtling train, as you become little more than a damsel tied to the tracks, begging for a reprieve as FIFA stands off to one side mischievously stroking it’s devilish whiskers.
Any fan who puts club firmly ahead of country is sentenced to spend these days feigning interest in his motherland’s titanic battle with foes from another shore, all the while knowing that a goal would bring about the equivalent joy of seeing his club win a throw-in in the final third. But this is not where the true frustration lies. The gravest outcome of this interruption to the regular programming is the ever-present worry that one (or more) of your team’s players could return injured from what was supposed to be a nice weekend getaway disguised as a kick-about. You trawl various websites in order to keep abreast of developments in Montevideo, Madrid, Sydney and Stockholm, agonising over every tackle and hyper extended limb. Then , when a chorus of final whistles has signalled the end of your torture, you crumple sobbing at your computer, a spent husk.
Of course not everybody looks upon these breaks as footballing colonoscopies, there are many fans who delight in seeing the elite of their country‘s talent (or in Ireland’s case, other countries rejects) pitted against the might of another nation. It is a rare chance to bring friends of differing club allegiances together to support a common cause, a chance to indulge in some reassuring patriotism or even some welcome escapism. If your club side is struggling , international football can offer a chance to experience relative success, assuming you’re lucky enough to have been born outside of Wales.
But it’s just not the same is it? To me, it’s akin to being raised by foster parents who love you tremendously and try their best to keep you happy. But every so often your birth parents arrive to remind you that they actually brought you into the world and demand you come with them to the zoo. The bonds of affection created by everyday contact with your club over many years, simply cannot be matched by the occasional appearance of your country into your footballing world.
So, as we prepare for another night full of joy, despair and complete apathy; will you be belting out your national anthem while twirling a miniature replica flag, or praying to all available deities for a clean bill of health come Thursday morning and becoming suddenly aware of the people in your life who exist outside of all-seater stadia? Saturday can’t come quick enough.