May 19 2013 Latest news:
By James Cunliffe
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Welcome to London24’s weekly column taking a frustrated look at the world of sport and having a good old-fashioned rant to get it off our chests. This week, pointless international fixtures...
"England are about to play two fixtures to help decide whether they will participate with other top nations in next year’s World Cup in Brazil. That’s the greatest show on earth, not a mollycoddling primary school sports day where everyone gets a medal because “it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts”."
No news is good news, as the saying goes. That is, except when it comes to football.
This month the schedulers have got it badly wrong as clubs, players and fans twiddle their thumbs over the lack of fixtures.
Take poor old Fulham, for example. They have played just two games this month and they’ll have to wait close to a fortnight for another. That means, for their fans, there has been no build-up to, and excitement on, match day, no dissection and debate around the performance and no highlights to pore over.
West Ham and QPR have fared little better with three games each. And while the break can allow some squads to be whisked away to Dubai to “bond” and “rejuvenate” supporters are left back in Blighty during the coldest March for 50 years with nothing to look forward to on the football front but a World Cup qualifier… against San Marino.
Is that really worth it? Where’s the value in this enforced break for supporters deprived of their weekly fix from their club heroes? Is it really a substitute to ponder how, why and by what score a small 23-man band of multi-millionaires will vanquish a side of part-time no-hopers, even in the midst of a defensive crisis?
You’d have to be the most ardent of England fans to have a flicker of anticipation raised for a match against, officially, FIFA’s joint-worst team in the world.
With a national population that could fit inside Wembley Stadium twice over, and then some, their team of butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers have yet to score in this World Cup qualifying group and have won just once in their 23-year existence as a footballing nation, and that was in a friendly against Liechtenstein nine years ago.
Their captain, Damiano Vannucci, a gym owner by trade, appeared on national radio this week declaring the aim for San Marino “is not to win, but just to play”.
That is just not good enough.
We are all being deprived of our bread-and-butter domestic football for what amounts to little more than a kickabout. But worse still, one where we are virtually assured of the result.
FIFA are so obsessed by their desire to grow the game and take the World Cup to far flung and sometimes grossly ill-conceived corners of the world – a World Cup in a hotter than the sun Qatari desert is a case in point – and with trotting out phrases like ‘inclusivity’ that fixtures such as the one on Friday become nothing more than a circus show that debases the purpose of competitive sport.
England are about to play two fixtures to help decide whether they will participate with other top nations in next year’s World Cup in Brazil. That’s the greatest show on earth, not a mollycoddling primary school sports day where everyone gets a medal because “it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts”.
This is not to say that San Marino and other world football minnows should be barred from competition, they should just have to go through a pre-qualifying tournament so the chance to play bigger nations is earned, not handed to them on a plate.
It’s done in the FA Cup and the Champions League and, in an age where we constantly hear gripes from top-level managers and players that they play too many games then, I’m afraid, international football must take the hit.
For all its ability to unite nations in the support of one cause, and as much as England would go into a celebratory meltdown should we ever win something, it’s no longer the pinnacle of football endeavour, as the standard on show at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa should testify.
It can’t be. Not in an age where world class stars play and train with each other everyday at their clubs sides, but then get a week of preparation with compatriots to prepare for international qualifiers – or a month at tournaments, if they are lucky.
It’s perhaps immeasurable to qualify exactly whether there is more ambivalence towards national matters in this era of wall-to-wall Premier League and Champions League coverage, though phone-ins, Twitter, message boards and regular conversation suggests the debate is alive and kicking.
London24 has this week been running a poll which shows that while 40 per cent of our readers do not think Rio Ferdinand will ever play for England again after pulling out of the squad, at the time of writing 36 per cent just don’t care.
Of course, it’s hardly the most stringent and methodical of scientific tests but it is one example, one view of the feeling towards the national team.
So, come Friday night, the question might be not “what’s the score?” but “what’s on the other channel? Something with meaning. Ah yes, the news.”