The majority of fans of top flight clubs give a collective groan when the flow of fixtures is brought to a jarring halt by another round of international matches. It breaks routine, pauses the progress of the club they are heavily invested in, to be replaced by televised games showing football that looks like it’s being played at a lower level. Most fans hate the international breaks. But these are mainly English grunts and don’t tell the whole story.
There has been a disconnect with international football for some time. Not just with England fans, the Scots have gone so long without qualifying for a major tournament their enthusiasm has also dwindled. For the English it stems from repeated false dawns and each new generation looking less able than the failed one it replaced.
Fans are passionate and loyal to their club, nobody likes or wants to be referred to as a fair-weather fan or a glory hunter, but not many mind these accusations when it comes to the national side. That’s not to say people feel less patriotic, they just don’t put their national hopes in average football sides. Some going as far to say they’d prefer to see their club side win the Champions League than England another World Cup. If you’re a fan of Stockport County the odds of either happening are about the same.
The English interest in internationals may have been reduced further because they easily qualified for Euro 2020 in France. There’s been nothing to fight for or other fixtures to monitor. There is a level of irony here, less interested when performing poorly and equally so when it’s too easy.
The other home nations and the Republic of Ireland have had a different qualifying story. They have been fighting and involved all the way. Sadly Scotland saw their chances disappear with a last gasp Polish equaliser on Thursday night. Heartache aside, it had a nation fully invested and they have made progress under Gordon Strachan.
The Republic of Ireland beat world champions Germany to give them a play-off place. If they defeat Poland they’ll grab an automatic spot. From previous tournaments we know the Irish love their internationals.
Northern Ireland has qualified for their first European Championships and you’d be hard pressed to find one supporter that would begrudge the successful campaign getting there over a few missed weekends in the Premier League. Wales, needing only a point, equally won’t mind a weekend without top flight English football if they pull off a qualifying coup.
The one common denominator all the countries have that don’t seem to mind the international breaks is the absence of successful domestic league. It’s easy to move on from an adopted Premier League side to cheer on their national team. English fans have native clubs they care for in equal measure to their country. They don’t want the two getting in the way of each other.
The expanded Euro 2020 has allowed teams like Northern Ireland a better of being there. This is a good thing, making international tournaments more accessible and enabling the development of countries that would usually miss out. What needs to be done now is delivery of a better system for international games.
Breaking up the domestic season once a month, when you are running a top league, is too disruptive. It’s the club that pay the wages, they shouldn’t have to change their programmes so much. They also seem to suffer a high number of players returning injured. It’s clear switching coaching methods during intense short periods harms players.
One solution would be designated periods, like a winter break, where international sides play a concentrated round of fixtures. It would give national managers a more productive phase with personnel that isn’t rushed. It also allows fans to enjoy their club teams uninterrupted until the longer period of international games commences. This bigger window would have a mini-tournament feel rather than an inconvenience.
With this set-up maybe all fans would enjoy international breaks?