Following Wednesday night’s dull, predictable 1-0 win over Norway, which I’m happy to say I didn’t even attempt to watch, it seems to me that something quite radical is happening to the English national team at the moment.
No, it’s got nothing to with Roy’s tactics, well not deliberately anyway – you can rest safely in the knowledge that 4-4-2 and bringing Rickie Lambert off the bench because he offers that ‘something different’ will remain for a while yet. What was most striking for me about that game was the sheer level of apathy on display from all corners of England. The most obvious indicator of this is the attendance, which was at a record low 40,181
with many even suggesting that it was lower due to the poor turnout from England ‘season ticket holders’ who are assumed in the attendance figures. However, aside from that, the lack of TV viewership was also remarkable – almost double (8.3m as opposed to 4.5m) the number of spectators tuned into the Great British Bake Off instead of the England game, myself included and correct me if I’m wrong, but this just doesn’t seem normal.
Obviously there’s a lot of people who simply will never have any interest and will be far more inclined towards custard stealing incidents than whether or not Rooney and Sturridge can work together, but there must’ve been a relatively sizeable portion of not only those Bake Off viewers but everyone else who both did not tune in and the 50,000 potential spectators who simply did not have the interest to justify the cost/effort of going to the game who in a different time would have looked forward to watching the national team, rather than berating the international break as a week off anything vaguely interesting.
At the World Cup in Brazil, I watched England, I supported England, I celebrated when England scored and I would be slightly annoyed if they lost. However, it always felt a bit forced. In truth I was far more bothered by how Arsenal’s players were doing. Deep down I find the current England team egotistical, negative, predictable and just generally boring. I don’t set out to be club over country, ideally they should be separate spheres – club allegiances should be forgotten when it comes to getting behind the national team and vice versa, but for many fans this simply isn’t the case.
Arsenal players are booed by Tottenham fans, United players are booed by City fans and on a personal level – I find Daniel Sturridge one of the most obnoxious, nauseating and overrated players I’ve ever had the misfortune to have to support. The point is, when we ‘support’ England, a lot of us (with a few exceptions) deep down resent having to do so. Simply because the antipathy we hold towards many of the players (for whatever reason) makes it very, very difficult to do so.
Cross the channel to Spain/Germany though and the support is absolutely fantastic and generally the notion of club football being forgotten actually works. After winning the World Cup for Spain, Andres Iniesta found himself applauded all over the country in the following season and in Germany, the show of unity in the big cities during their World Cup victory was absolutely fantastic. Maybe it’s easy to be united as one if your team is winning games, but I think it goes a bit deeper than that – for one, the style of football certainly plays a part.
I struggle to see – even if England were to go on a particularly good cup run – the whole country uniting behind the national team and putting club loyalties aside for an extended period of time in the same fashion that it happens in Germany, Spain, Brazil etc. It used to happen here – but it doesn’t anymore and it hasn’t for a while. Wednesday night was the perfect example of this, people not only won’t unite behind the national team; they can barely even be bothered to watch them anymore.
So what does this all mean? Well in an ideal world, the FA would clock the low attendances and make a concerted effort to try to work out what’s going on. They might work out that people are becoming completely disenchanted with the way the national team is being managed and make a decision regarding the management, or take a more conservative approach, but any action however small would be welcome at this stage.
Everyone has their theories on why England lose, personally I think that ‘hype’ generated by the media plays a significant part in the team selection and Hodgson is far too easily influenced by this, but there’s little point in speculating as to why we’re not better than Germany, Spain etc.; at this moment in time the players are simply not good enough. That’s not really the issue though. We can’t help it in the short term if our players simply aren’t good enough.
What can be helped is a fast dwindling interest, and this is arguably the more pressing issue than England being a bit crap. If England are bad but people care and support the team then sure, it’s frustrating, but at least there’s hope for the future. When Wembley is failing to sell even half of its tickets and people are unwilling to even switch on the TV to watch the team that’s when it really becomes hopeless. How do you expect the players to take pride in playing for their country and feed off the excitement if it’s not existent? So, perhaps this should be Greg Dyke’s new goal.
Let’s be honest, the 2022 World Cup is a ridiculous target, not because it’s unachievable but because you just can’t predict what the setup will look like in ten years time. Alternatively, making the national team supportable again is possible and plausible in the next three years – and who knows, the trickle down effect that could have to the pitch could help out with his more ambitious footballing targets.