Football, I always thought, was supposed to be about aspiration.
Striving to improve yourself. Setting targets and working damn hard to achieve them. Being the best, on both an individual and collective basis, you can possibly be.
Clearly I was wrong. The sight of several League One teams, Sheffield United included, being forced to contest vital games without players who are away on international duty suggests the powers-that-be, inadvertently or otherwise, are working to preserve the status quo. No more AFC Bournemouth’esque or Swansea City style climbs through the divisions thank-you very much. Just accept your place in the natural order of things and get on with it. A sort of sporting Upstairs Downstairs for 2016.
Twenty-years ago, ten years ago even, not scheduling a blank weekend across all four divisions of English football whenever international fixtures were being contested would have made sense. Few clubs operating towards the bottom end of the pyramid were likely to see squad members spirited away by their respective countries. In fact, most will have viewed it as a chance to boost their gates. That argument, however, is redundant now as the emergence of new global markets squeezes top talent further down the ladder and viewing habits change. The reach of FIFA’s international match calendars is far too short.
Think I’m talking nonsense? Okay, answer me this: Why is it apparently considered unfair for Championship sides to compete without, say, one international player at their disposal but United must enter the crucial Easter period without Canada’s David Edgar in tow? Why should Millwall find themselves in the ridiculous situation whereby they must choose between facing Bradford City and Burton Albion missing four squad members or lose the money on offer (which manager Neil Harris implied they clearly can ill-afford to do) from satellite television who want to broadcast their meeting with Nigel Clough’s side? Peterborough, with five members of Graham Westley’s squad unavailable for selection, have postponed Easter Monday’s visit to Fleetwood but not Good Friday’s fixture against Coventry City. The common denominator, again, is TV cash. It is like promising to cook a hungry beggar dinner so long as they perform a silly near naked dance. Condescending, belittling and thoroughly demeaning. Just like the notion that top flight clubs deserve the benefits of goal and touchline video technology but others don’t.
Football needs to change. Football needs a class war.