It was with anxiety approaching a panic attack that I faced up to a prospect of an international break. Two weeks without Premiership football, so soon after it had returned seemed cruel, as if it were a sick joke by those bigwigs at the FA. It wasn’t long before the inevitable questions arose, as is the case with any international break: What are you going to do with your weekend instead? What do people without football do on their weekends? Do we have to watch England? Is it bad that I’d rather the player from the club I supported did well than my country win their game?
International breaks have become such a by-word for deprivation in fact that I heard someone recently say that he’d scheduled his wedding on one, lest his guests were distracted by Premiership scores coming in.
This international break however was different for me, as I was lucky enough to go to the Brazil v Ghana game at Craven Cottage on Monday night. Once inside the ground (after a ludicrously disorganised ticketing fiasco), I was delighted with what I saw: superb fans on each side, both teams playing strong starting XIs , and above all the chance to see the great man, Ronaldinho in the flesh.
Suddenly, I felt that maybe I could do without Stoke v Blackburn on a Saturday morning, or fretting over my fantasy football team, or seeing Mark Lawrenson labelling another Johnny foreigner ‘a jessie’. Escaping the hype of the Premiership for one night, it was heartening to see prodigious young talent like Neymar and less heralded future stars like the central midfielder Fernandinho and goalscorer Damiao (He’s big by the way so expect him to be linked to the Premier League pretty soon and described as an ‘old-fashioned centre forward’).
Sadly it was only 24 hours later that my enthusiasm for international football was well and truly shattered by England’s turgid 1-0 win over Wales. Although in saying that, I would add that the game at Wembley was so dire that it also numbed my enthusiasm for all football, competitive sport in general and indeed any sort of activity or pursuit involving people or movement.
The two extremes of international football which I witnessed got me thinking that maybe it’s not international football as such that fills us with dread, but rather the thought that through no televised alternatives, we’re going to have to watch England play if we want our footballing fix.
What I find so strange about international coverage in this country is how little there is of anything besides the Home Nations’ matches. Given that the majority of the Premiership’s stars play for countries besides those in the UK, there would surely be interest in seeing Spain, Germany, Brazil etc play. We are forced to rely on England to produce all the excitement we’re used to from ten Premier League games, and any team would struggle to do that on its own, let alone one of the most one-dimensional teams anywhere on the planet.
Certainly the hype around even the most mundane of games helps the Premier League, but I think an even simpler reason for the Premier League’s appeal is the quantity of games, and the reassurance that in at least one of the four televised games, there’s bound to be something exciting going on. And if there’s nothing of huge interest not in one of the four televised games, there’ll be incident we want to see picked up on Match of the Day. I’d certainly fear international weekends less if I knew I would at least get a highlights package where I’d get to see Iniesta, Ozil, Neymar et al. play.
The reality is also that, such is the popularity of the Premier League and fans’ attachment to their clubs’ players, it’s very difficult to generate much excitement for England games against second rate nations. A chance though to see those players who you might not ordinarily be able to, like I did on Monday made the international break a whole lot more bearable, enjoyable even. Of course we could go as far as doing something completely different in the two week break between Premiership games, but I still haven’t got to the bottom of what that would be.
Anyway, that’s something to ponder in October when the next international break rolls along; in the meantime it’s only 47 hours until a double header of Norwich v West Brom and Fulham v Blackburn comes roaring onto our screens. And if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, there’s always Match of the Day. Or Match of the Day 2. Or Match of the Day 3.