One of the Soapbox’s favourite pastimes is sizing up the poor sods who cross our paths. This week, it has almost been Christmas with the range of idiocy in punditry, appalling depths of social media, and sheep-following. What is wrong with everybody? I mean that in a complimentary way – it gives me bags of material – but seriously?
So “finally” we’ve made it through to the end of another International break. Everybody’s Most Hated Period™. You’d be forgiven for thinking there’d been a global famine or that everybody has been made homeless. The outpourings of frustration, grief and misery are enough to make one offer their thoughts and prayers.
If we ask everyone to compare their football grievances with real-world concerns, of course, they would acknowledge the difference. The estimated 800 million people suffering from malnutrition or the 100 million global homeless are clearly more important than them having to wait an extra few days for a Sky Sports-filled few hours of corporate product. That isn’t my point.
UEFA Nations League success story
Even within the parallel universe of football, the antagonism towards international breaks is astounding. I have sung the praises of the UEFA Nations League before, and I will continue to. Any competition that creates the chance to relegate Germany has got be amazing. To paraphrase the great Stuart Gilligan Griffin, It’s not that I want the multiple world champions to fail, it’s just that I don’t want them to succeed anymore. Yes, I am bitter about them being so much more ruthlessly brilliant than England for so long.
Just because relegation in this tournament means next to nothing, in reality, doesn’t take away from the fact that for once, UEFA have shown genuinely productive creativity. There is a tangible reward for success in this competition – qualification for Euro 2020 – without it flooding the competitive schedule. Facing teams of the same level makes sense. Rivalries are forged or continued. Minnows get their shot at not being hammered mercilessly.
They even managed to spare us the agony of England’s dreadful band by imposing a total stadium ban for supporters for the Croatia game due to the swastika being drawn on the pitch three years ago. I can’t believe I am saying this, but bravo UEFA.
Brilliant international stories
In all seriousness, now the dreaded ‘meaningless friendly’ has been as good as erased, what’s the point in treating the international break with such disdain? Just take a look at the evidence from the past week or so. Giorgian de Arrascaeta played a half for Uruguay in Japan, then flew straight back to Brazil to score the winner for Cruzeiro in the final of the Brazilian Cup. Madagascar qualified for their first-ever African Cup of Nations. England stuck three past Spain in their backyard. Germany were relegated (did I mention that?).
Andriy Shevchenko’s Ukraine and Russia are well on course for a potential play-off full of significance. Those two top their groups, with the former already through to the playoffs if they don’t qualify from their Euro 2020 qualification group. Gibraltar even won TWICE! In fact, their incredible efforts have given rise to one of my favourite stats of recent weeks; Gibraltar have won more competitive matches in the last week than Germany have in the past year. Sorry, I’ll stop. Or at least I’ll try…
Club v country: why?
Club football is our bread and butter, granted. I cannot wait to drive the 700km round trip to my top-flight home game tomorrow. Why do I love it? Just like Sunderland fans think nothing of hopping down to the south coast. It doesn’t need an answer. We invest the majority of our time and love into our clubs. That part makes sense.
Why does this have to clash with such antagonism when it comes to internationals? I get the distinct feeling that it has become so ingrained in people’s brains that internationals, especially involving England, have been so mind-numbingly dull for so long, that it has become too much effort to clamber out of the rut. See a tweet praying for domestic action? Must retweet or reproduce one myself!
This mindless following the herd is a brain-dead part of modern football fandom. Sure, some opinions are genuine. Perhaps others do genuinely agree. The vast majority of the remainder are the problem. All in the name of scraping a few extra likes, eh? Wankers.
I get having more loyalty to your club. Just don’t be a bloody sheep and dismiss your country out of hand.