Wednesday night’s friendly match against Norway saw the record lowest attendance for an England international at the new Wembley Stadium. Only 40,181 fans turned out for the game, breaking the previous record by over 8,000.
It is a new low for the national team, no doubt partially caused by a woeful, winless summer in Brazil. However, it should not be seen as a knee-jerk reaction to one poor tournament, but rather a more long-term disillusionment with the state of the England team.
Same old England
England fans both inside Wembley and watching at home endured another lacklustre performance, devoid of pace and invention. It is an all too familiar feeling following not only in friendly matches but frequently during qualifiers and routinely in tournament football.
For all the talk before the World Cup of a fresh and exciting England that would play expansive and attacking football, the same old England went through the motions in Brazil and drifted out of the competition with a whimper.
The uninspiring management of Roy Hodgson has proved to be no marked improvement on the defensively minded management of his predecessor Fabio Capello. Looking further back it is hard to define a clear identity in the way England played under Steve McClaren and Sven Goran Eriksson.
With this is mind, young England fans will be hard pressed to remember watching their national side put in a vibrant or exciting performance.
Lack of quality
To compound the lack of a style there now seems to be a genuine lack of quality within the playing squad. The recent retirements of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard demonstrate this most clearly.
The two men in the centre of the midfield of England’s “golden generation” both possessed raw talent and skill that none of the current crop of youngsters can match. It may never have clicked for the two, or the team around them, but England fans watching a side containing those players, alongside Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Ashley Cole could always believe that the talent was in place to compete and succeed.
The passing of that “golden generation” without even a place in a major semi-final to show for it leaves the question; if they couldn’t produce anything, what chance does the new generation have?
The Premier League is often criticized for hampering the England team by stifling young English talent by containing too many foreign players. However, the league creates perhaps a greater problem in the way it changes the fans perceptions of football.
The quality of football in the Premier League is so high that it creates an unrealistic expectation of the national side.
The pace and excitement of the league is very difficult for a group of players, lacking in quality, who only meet for a week or so every few months to live up to. Can the England squad really be expected to produce football on the same level as Manchester City?
The Premier League provides a further problem in the divisiveness it creates between England fans. Fans loyal to their clubs may find the England team containing rival players hard to support.
The appointment of Wayne Rooney as captain for example is not likely to go down well with Manchester City fans, or on Merseyside. That has of course always been the nature of the national side, however, in an era when club football reigns supreme, the divides may be deepening.
The plain and simple truth is that England are not currently capable of competing with the heavyweights of international football. Whatever the reason, the love for the national side will not return until some pride is restored in the Three Lions by success on the field. Sports fans always find it much easier to support a winning team.