November 16th 2016
The Folly Of The Friendly

Football returns this weekend.

It could, of course, be argued that it’s never been away, Leagues One and Two, non-league teams and FA Cup replays have all been active – as well of course as the internationals (and games in the best 5/6 a side leagues in the country…..), but those of us that follow teams in the Premier League or Championship have been without a game

These  international breaks are becoming a particular issue to those of us that support teams in the top two divisions.

Since the season started in August, this is now the third hiatus of a fortnight we have had to endure. And endure is the right word too, because it surely isn’t just in the Leisure Leagues office where the phrase: “I hate it when there’s no football” is used….

It seems to me that something needs to be done about the situation.

So here are some suggestions as to how things could be improved:

  • International Friendlies could be abolished. This is never going to happen. At least not while getting on for 83,500 people are paying the FA good money to watch a game that is basically pointless.That attendance is all very well and Sapin is a glamour match. Back in September 2014, however, Norway visited and the crowd was 40,141 the top tier was closed as this picture shows)

In the “good old days “ these players would have played for their clubs on a Saturday, the friendly on Weds and been back at their clubs by the end of the week and ready for the game on the Saturday.  We won’t be going back to these times, not while managers want more time to work with their national players (this, I am sure you will agree, has really improved the England and Scotland National teams….just like moving to the Premier league did.) But really, what did Gareth Southgate learn from watching the England v Spain game last night (beyond not conceding two late goals, obviously)? Would the players want to risk injury for their clubs and miss games this weekend? Despite what they might say in public, do they really want to miss club games?

  • Play all qualifying games at the end of the season. As soon as the football season ends then clubs and national teams are off on pointless (money spinning) tours. Scrap these and make them the play the qualifiers instead. Condense the games into a couple of weeks – they would then become mini-tournaments and actually be interesting.

That way the season could continue. Players would have less cause to complain about fixture congestion, because there would be no silly fortnight breaks and there might be some end of season excitment when there’s no Euros or World Cups.

  • Or how about teams are made to play anyway? This is not as daft as it sounds. Look at Rugby Union. That doesn’t just stop because the six nations is being played. What happens instead is that teams play the games and other players get a chance.

Just think about that for a minute. What would happen? Perhaps managers would think twice about bulking their squads up with mediocre, cheaper foreign players. Then perhaps younger players would get a chance to play for their proper clubs instead of being farmed out on loan.

Chelsea have 38 players on loan at other clubs. Other big clubs have just as many. If games just carried on, perhaps some of these might have been wearing the blue at Stamford Bridge instead.  If the FA really wants to improve the England team rather than just boost its coffers yet further, perhaps they could wrestle some of the power back from the clubs.

They won’t of course, and we’ll be set for another round of bleating come January when all the African players disappear for up to a month for the Cup Of Nations. Premier league games do take place without these stars, and managers love to complain. One was moaning the other week about losing three of his attacking players for the period, conveniently forgetting that he signed two of them just this past summer. Did he not know where they were from?

Ultimately, however, nothing will change, because it works well for those in power. Clubs have too much influence, governing bodies (not just our own FA) are complicit in this as it keeps them in mega bucks, so as always it’s the fans that lose out.

And just think, they are all pushing for a winter break, no doubt used as an excuse to top up the coffers with money raking friendlies for clubs too, so that’s another few weeks without football , and wont that be fun?

Andy Thorley

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