So another weekend of Six Nations approaches. Not every football fan's cup of tea, that’s for sure. But it got me thinking. In a period when interest in the international game is fading somewhat, with the money and glamour very much in the European club game these days, would there not be significant advantage to revamping the home internationals?
With the FA’s 150 year approaching, there had been speculation about a championship between the home nations but it was stressed that it would be a one-off. But here we are in 2013 and although England will play Scotland at Wembley in August, there will be no home nations championship.
As England fans, we - like the majority of other international fans - wait the obligatory two years between international competition, relying on largely meaningless qualifying fixtures and unrepresentative friendlies to satisfy our taste for international football. And people wonder why the international game has suffered.
By February, on a regular basis, three or four times a week you can watch games of genuine significance, be it a relegation six-pointer, a clash of title rivals or a European glamour tie. This means that many fans – and managers – see the international break as an inconvenient disturbance of the club programme.
A number of managers at the highest level are understandably reluctant to let players travel for largely unimportant international fixtures, the Wenger-Wilshere scenario being a prime example. And to a large extent the club managers hold the cards at this point in time. Should there be a tournament that provoked large-scale public interest I think we could see this change somewhat.
The way I see it there are several benefits to the creation of a properly contested home nations tournament. As I’ve stressed, it would provide more competitive international fixtures for fans to enjoy. Moreover it would allow sides that, if we’re honest, aren’t particularly competitive when they qualify for European Championships or the World Cup – and I include England in that bracket – to challenge for silverware that the fans would inevitably love to see their captain lift.
It’s not just the fans it benefits. All too often we hear international managers complaining of the time period they are afforded to train with the players. Hypothetically, this tournament held on an annual basis would allow the international squads to ascertain a better understanding. And few things in football can evoke a sense of camaraderie in a squad like full-blooded derby fixtures.
Critics of the idea will cite crowd trouble in previous renditions of the tournament, with emphasis on the 1967 and 1977 Scottish pitch invasions of Wembley, to which my argument would be – the game has moved on. Fan behaviour and the extent to which the game is policed drastically differs in today game. Crowd trouble in Britain is a rarity in the all-seater stadiums in modern football. Moreover, the fans would have an incentive to behave at – as well as before and after – the games, knowing that any sign of disturbance would lead to the dissolution of the tournament once more.
Presumably at some stage during any discussion of making this tournament a reality there would be Premier League managers suggesting that player tiredness makes the tournament unfeasible. To which I would counter with the fact that players regularly attend other international tournaments knowing that tiredness could well take effect. The African Nations for instance, takes place in January, yet players return and continue to play for their clubs almost instantaneously.
Besides , the tournament has historically only been three games, and I see no reason why that should change. Surely professional footballers can play three games more at the end of a season?
It would take compromise and commitment from a number of parties, but I believe the results could be genuinely beneficial for the home nations.
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