Tuesday night, and the last fixtures of the latest in a long line of painful international breaks. It is hard to pick a point at which my give-a-toss-ometer registered zero in the gaps in between the finals of the Euros and the World Cup.
I followed England quite regularly from the sixties through to the eighties, although at home only. European trips, even then, were reserved for the Arsenal. There were highs, not least of which was winning the big one at Wembley against tonight’s ‘friendly’ opponents. Russian linesmen rock! The 1990 World Cup campaign was largely fun, and Euro ’96 got the nation behind the England team in a way unknown since the World Cup triumph thirty years previously.
Then gradually it stopped being fun, the anticipation diminished. Perhaps it was the fault of those pesky foreigners everybody keeps blaming for everything. Certainly there is a point at which we didn’t have to go and watch the national side to see the best players in the world. For me I think it started with the arrival of Dennis Bergkamp in an Arsenal shirt. Within a very short space of time Arsenal, not England, were winning the World Cup, at least according to an early edition of the Mirror after the French triumph in Arsenal’s second double summer.
Nowadays you can watch many of the top players in world football in the Premier League every weekend, and then go home to watch those plying their trade in Europe and South America live on television. Who needs to pay a small fortune to go and watch two experimental sides clash in a ‘friendly’ international after a series of largely dull qualifying contests?
As I type the game is about to start. The hard of thinking have just booed the German national anthem, Good grief. There is one reason watching England stopped being fun. Less than two minutes in and Per Mertesacker makes his first headed clearance. It dawns on me the only thing I want from this game is for the BFG to emerge unscathed. He is far too important to Arsenal these days.
Two opportunities to get a shot away are not taken by Townsend, and despite the established rivalry between England and Germany the atmosphere is more Norwich at home than Tottenham, if you get my drift. That feeling is amplified by the nature of the German eleven. Thankfully Mesut Ozil is one of those ‘rested’ for the fixture. Thanks for that at least.
The game takes shape. The visitors are not careful enough and surrender the ball cheaply too often. England have the territorial advantage but do not have the guile to open up an organised defence.
At last there is something of note, and it is due to the BFG, denied only by a smart Hart save. He stays up and finishes the resulting corner with a superb header. If I were watching Arsenal going a goal down at home it would be like a blow to the solar plexus. Against England it isn’t. There is nothing.
The half-time whistle signals the limit of my interest. I want to be in my seat, and often out of it, on Saturday. At Arsenal I feel every kick, every header, every perceived injustice, I take every shot, make half the tackles. Tonight none of that emotion is involved. I just want the German skipper to be substituted while he is still fit enough to score a flying header for us on Saturday in a game that means something.
I will get behind England in Brazil, but what on earth is tonight all about? It is time FIFA got the balance between club and international football right.