INTERNATIONAL breaks. Don’t you just love them. If Sheffield United return unscathed from Fleetwood it will be the full force of Land of Hope and Glory and the like which will put a spanner in the works and threaten to break momentum.
The Blades, six matches unbeaten in League One, hopefully seven before the next fixture, originally scheduled at home to Walsall the following Saturday but now postponed. The Saddlers have three players on international duty and are entitled to delay the date. Maz Kouhyar, Andreas Makris and Liam Kinsella have been selected for Afghanistan, Cyprus and Republic of Ireland U21s respectively.
Clubs in the Premier League and Championship have no such choice meaning that half of domestic league fixtures grind to a halt largely to facilitate England. The same England that benefited so much from the arrangement that it was sent packing in the European Championship this summer by Iceland, population 332,000 two-thirds that of Sheffield.
It’s treason I know but do paying football fans – the ones who support their clubs in all weathers – really care about the national side anymore? I know I’d rather watch the Blades tackle Walsall next weekend than waste time with England v Malta on TV let alone at an overpriced, corporate-driven Wembley for a mismatched World Cup qualifier.
The sight of all those empty seats in the gargantuan hospitality area for the hoi polloi, make the blood boil. The best in the house, slap bang in the middle of the main stand which always take 15 minutes to fill up after both halves have kicked off. As any self respecting football fan knows, pies and pints are consumed and jostling to reach the lav for a crafty fag are all well rehearsed and completed tasks before the referee blows his whistle.
It comes too at a particularly embarrassing moment for the FA following this week’s parting of the ways with manager Sam Allardyce only 67 days and one match into the job. The fixture was supposed to be his introduction to the home fans he had pledged to pull out all the stops for. He certainly did that. Big Sam was exposed for advising how to avoid rules enforced by his employer concerning third party ownership of players in order to make a fat profit. Allardyce, the proud owner of a £3million-a-year contract plus bonuses was also eyeing up the possibility of earning an extra £400,000 for himself on the side.
United, meanwhile will spend the next fortnight holed up at Shirecliffe while the majority of leagues One and Two get on with business as usual. Suddenly the much-maligned rebranded and reformatted Checkatrade Trophy has a purpose after all. Moving on from Wembley, England travel to Slovenia for another qualifier on the Tuesday. Which gives a whole new meaning for when the Blades take on Walsall, yes the same Walsall who can't make it four days later, at Bramall Lane in a competition they could do without.
Now it represents United’s last chance to have a proper competitive first team workout before a 10-day unwanted break.