I will not be going to watch England play Norway at Wembley tonight.
I suppose that’s not much of a surprise, because it looks like very few people are going. Word is that it’s going to be the worst-attended England match since the £800m re-built stadium was opened in 2007. Fewer than 40,000 are expected.
But while diehard fans across the country might be excused for not heading to the capital for a mid-week match, I have no such excuses. Wembley’s only a short distance from my house – a quick bus ride, or a couple of stops on the tube.
I can see the arch if I walk a few metres up the road and crane my neck. If all the public transport was cancelled, I could saddle up Shanks's pony and be there and back in less than an hour. So it’s not like I have concerns about missing the last train, like those poor folk who head to London to watch their team and get sacrificed to the FA’s need to accommodate television schedules, meaning they have to cough up for hotels or sleep in train stations.
And I have no real problem with Wembley as a venue. I was a bit sad when they knocked down the twin towers, so iconic and evocative, but I’ve been there since the revamps and enjoyed my visits – a match during the Olympics, an FA Cup semi-final – and I’ll be there in November to watch Mark Sampson’s England women take on Germany.
The thing is, I’m not interested in watching Roy Hodgson’s team. And I’m particularly not interested in paying between £30 and £60 to watch them when – if I chose to – I could watch it on the telly, and have the option of switching over to watch repeats of Friends when it gets too dull to bear.
Remember those assurances we were given back in the day, that the Premier League would improve the national team? It was always a gilded lie. The England team is way, way down the list of priorities for Premier League clubs. Expensive stars and young imports are happy to play in England; meanwhile, the FA conducts a review every four years following a World Cup failure, and suggests that more attention needs to be paid to youth development. Nobody does it; young English players don’t fancy going overseas when they can collect £20,000+ a week for playing in the reserves; and so they stick around and rot from the lack of first-team football.
Is it, then, really any surprise that the England set-up and the representative team are no better than we were seeing two decades ago? The only difference is the FA are raking in the cash, the players are on much higher salaries and we’re expected to pay much more to watch them.
Well, I’m afraid it’s simply not value for money. The FA emphasises the importance of marketing its brand – well, in that case, it has to compete with other forms of entertainment. Sure, I quite enjoyed England’s match against Italy in the World Cup, but I really enjoyed Colombia against Uruguay, Brazil against Germany, Ghana against the USA.
And when it comes to international football, I’m not susceptible to the patriotic-veering-on-the-jingoistic narrative that certain folk try to invoke to get us behind ‘Our Lads’. I vividly recall watching the World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland in 2005 and realising that I wanted the likes of David Healy and Warren Feeney to succeed more than the supposedly elite likes of Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney (who used this showcase to prove me as right as he could, acting like a violent child throughout).
I don’t want to cheer these players. I don’t want to pay my hard-earned cash to watch them. I don’t want to endorse the FA’s maintenance of a status quo that only works financially for a chosen few.
So I won’t. And it seems that nor will 52,960,000 other people in England. And to be honest, rather than hand-wringing about the lack of attendance, they should count themselves lucky that the few thousand who do show up still bother. They’ve been given precious little reason to do so.
Carrie Dunn - @carriesparkle
- Sports & Recreation