Sunday 8th October 2017, 6.29pm.
Slovenia have just scored a second goal, all but ending Scotland’s hopes of qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. I watch the Tartan Army on the television, their hands atop their respective heads in grim acceptance that – once again – their national team will fail to qualify for a major tournament.
And I don’t care.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking:
“What an ARSEHOLE.”
Yeah. I know, right?
I cannot tell a lie, though. I don’t enjoy the majority of international football. Sure, the World Cup is good fun when it comes around. Like almost anyone, I do get caught up in a bit of the fever. Even the European Championships have the potential to be enjoyable. I’m not going to pretend I don’t like the idea of football all day, every day. Despite this, these massive tournaments often fail to provide a payoff to their round-the-clock coverage.
Why do I find international football boring? The simple reason must be that the standard rarely hits the expected heights relative to the individual quality of player across the board. A lack of training time and familiarity between each player makes it far more difficult for international sides to form a cohesive unit, thus rendering the football less appealing to the eye. Of course, there have been a few exceptions to this. Vicente del Bosque’s incredible Spanish side and Jogi Low’s German machine have benefited from consistency of method in terms of coaching. These coaches have also harnessed core players from the same clubs: Real Madrid and Barcelona in the case of the Spanish national side, and Bayern players in the case of the 2014 German team. Through this – and of course individual player and coaching talent – these teams have won championships and done so in considerable style. However, these sides are the exceptions to the rule. Most teams need as much playing and training contact as they can in order to form a clear working structure. On the international stage, this does not happen.
Any coach worth their salt will tell you that time together is crucial; be that on the training field or in-game. It is where lessons are learned and relationships are formed. From both a tactical and psycho-social point of view, contact time is crucial. Most international sides are lucky to spend a month together in any given year and, even then, this time is fragmented across the calendar. The time required to build a cohesive playing unit is scarce. In most of the cases I have observed, international sides are a Frankenstein’s monster of different playing styles. This leads to drab football matches where the only entertainment comes down to whether you support a side.
Supporting a team can absolve a football match of its sins. To the cynical neutral, a match could be the most boring, sleep-inducing affair; to the invested supporter, a last-minute winner can pardon the blandness of the previous 90 minutes. I appreciate that. I supported Gordon Strachan’s Celtic, for goodness’ sake. I’ve supported Celtic all my life, though, and that wasn’t going to change because of some dull football; albeit laced with classic moments. The truth is that I haven’t supported Scotland all my life, and to begin supporting a team at an older age takes something very special. This can be an inspirational player, like my adoration of Alessandro Del Piero leading to the Juventus fascination of my youth; or how Guardiola’s Barca side turned me from a Galactico-inspired Madridista to a Los Culés obsessive, overnight.
My generation haven’t had this with Scotland. Sure, McFadden’s goal against France was terrific, but they still didn’t qualify. That World Cup fever I’ve grown to love has never, ever been associated with Scotland. It’s been associated with my love of football generally, and the knowledge that people who don’t ordinarily enjoy it are watching for one month only. I realise that this makes me sound like a glory-hunter, but there is a reason kids in your street are now wearing Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain kits. Young football fans are inspired by talented players and great sides. Scotland has been sadly lacking in both for a number of years now.
I know that the response to this point will be that I should support Scotland because I am Scottish. But why should I? This kind of nationalism is something that I – as a Scot of Irish descent – have never understood. Nationality is a fluid concept and based purely on pot luck. Furthermore, this kind of nationalism is a way for a country to be distracted from its tensions and inequalities, not bonded in spite of them. I am not against the concept of nationhood and being happy with where you are from, but to compete in sport on the exact terms we do is something I have not been brought up with; something I cannot understand. I think this is a fair viewpoint. I don’t see it as immoral or harmful but simply boring and separate from myself. However, to express this viewpoint is to be met with vitriolic condemnation of not being patriotic. This only serves to push me further away.
In our modern age of the internet and globalisation, borders become have become more and more blurred. The concept of the “nation” has long been an abstract one, but never has this been more obvious than in contemporary culture. As society has moved on, so has football. Fans are more literate in tactical analysis and statistics than before, and the club game has been elevated to new heights in the age of the Premier League and the Champions League. For me, international football is moving further and further onto the periphery. I appreciate that others enjoy it, and good luck to them; they’re well within their rights to do so. We can even get together for the next World Cup in the hope that the tournament will be more like 2014 than 2010. But do me a favour here: next time I don’t take part…
Don’t call me an arsehole.