The Rewind Column: Does anyone actually care about international football anymore?
PUBLISHED: 09:35 28 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:45 28 March 2017
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As I was putting together a round-up of how the Arsenal men, and teens, got on during the international break it suddenly struck me. Apart from a few minutes of England v Lithuania snatched during Mothers Day - to keep tabs on The Ox more than anything - I hadn't actually watched any games.
Normally I would watch anything and everything. While my partner was on a girls’ break earlier in the season I managed to watch 18 hours of football one glorious Sunday. I’ve travelled to Peterborough on a freezing cold Monday evening just to watch England U18s, and I regularly watch as much lower league and non-league football as I can – both in the flesh and on TV.
That’s without watching Sunday morning park footie and having a passion for playing five-a-side. I regularly clock up around 80 to 90 matches a season in the flesh – including following Arsenal home and away to every game across the country and Europe.
So, like many of us, I live for football. But do you know what?
I really didn’t care about the football during the international break.
I used to time to catch up with my family and friends and do the normal things most footie fans never get the time to on a weekend through their fandom.
The fact the next World Cup is in Russia leaves me cold. I’ve been with England to Moscow and it’s a wonderful, vibrant city laced with history and interesting people. But not on a matchday.
For someone who has been to five tournaments with England, countless away qualifiers in places as far flung as Azerbaijan, Israel and Poland – not to mention travelling to Japan and watching every England game in the flesh during the 2002 World Cup I’m simply not interested in international football anymore.
Maybe it’s to do with the scandals at FIFA. Maybe it’s to do with the fact nobody on earth knows where the 2020 Euros are being held. Or the fact a small desert state has managed to do something the Germans did during WWII – postpone league football in the winter.
Or maybe it’s to do with the football. Which is a poor version of top level Premier League footie, and certainly a pale imitation of Champions League football.
International football? Give me the cut and thrust of domestic football any day. Despite Arsenal’s recent travails I simply can’t wait for the Manchester City game on Sunday – and the resumption of Premier League football – and league football – as the season nears its climax across all divisions. Now that’s proper football.
Arsenal fans fickle? You must be joking.
There’s been a lot of talk about Arsenal fans being fickle, with the farcical scene of anti and pro-Arsene Wenger banners flown by the same pilot over the Hawthorns and supporters holding up banners in the away end when you question whether the intention is more to be seen than make a valid point, and more planned protest marches.
But what isn’t discussed so much is the fact Middlesbrough away sold out. A match more than 250 miles from north London, on Bank Holiday Monday with an 8pm kick off. Some people may only buy the tickets to top up their away credits, but I’ve seen the away end from the press box at 99 per cent of games this season and it’s been full every time bar none. So someone’s going to the matches.
It’s not the situation at the Emirates where corporate types may only use their tickets a handful of times a season. A five-hour drive – the last train from Teesside to London leaves hours before the final whistle – at the end of Easter when, realistically, fans won’t get back until 2 or 3am at the earliest for a live game on Sky.
Fickle? You must be joking.
There was real electricity in the Hawthorns media room as the question on every reporter’s lips was about Arsene Wenger’s future. It’s so sad it’s come to this. But it has. The display was the type to get managers the sack. And there is a certain amount of sympathy that someone so dignified looks so out of touch with fan sentiment these days.
But for Wenger to announce he knows what he will be doing next season – while continuing to leave everyone else in the dark, including it has to be noted, fans and club officials – is simply unacceptable.
Arsenal supporters have been patient beyond belief.
Judging by the defeat at West Brom the team has regressed to the point of embarrassment. It’s not good enough. And the buck can only stop with one man. Who needs to tell everyone what his plans are immediately.
Until then, you feel the situation will get far worse before it gets better.