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England should play matches around the country, not just at Wembley

06:30 07 September 2014

England manager Roy Hodgson during the friendly with Norway at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

England manager Roy Hodgson during the friendly with Norway at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

PA Wire

Not sure what I find most embarrassing to reveal: that I have never watched, and never will watch, the Great British Bake Off, or that I do watch, and perhaps will continue to watch, England football matches.

And our football (?) survey says

Norwich City fans can’t be accused of deserting their team in times of need. From the depths of League One to the Premier League, they have never failed to give the club their backing.

It’s a pretty awesome supporter base.

Not all supporters are that faithful – in more ways than one.

I have mentioned before that my email inbox is filled with some strange stuff, most often provided by PR companies earning their fees. The latest came from a company which will remain nameless who commissioned a survey to find out which football fans were least faithful. And by that I don’t mean to their clubs.

Chelsea supporters came out top (really?) with an average of 4.05 cheats per year, although QPR have the most faithful supporters, on and off the pitch it seems, with an average 0.51 ‘cheats per year’.

The company, which describes itself as “a leading extramarital dating site”, say that when compared with Europe, Chelsea supporters seem quite tame with their 4.05 affairs per year, with Paris Saint-Germain fans knocking up a hefty 4.28 affairs a year. In Spain, it’s Barcelona with 4.01 and in Germany it’s the Hamburg fans with 3.82 affairs.

A spokesperson said: “You can sleep more soundly if your husband or wife supports QPR.”

Garbage is the word that springs to mind.

The cookery programme has become a ubiquitous part of our lives that provides cheap and cheerful telly – like teaching us how to build our own house or wallpaper an aircraft carrier.

England footy matches are more of a mystery. Indeed, the national football family, many members of which don’t speak to each other and rarely get around the same table for a chat, is something that is worth years of study.

Sadly, we’re getting bored of it all. On Wednesday night, as the new England captain Wayne Rooney was being overshadowed by Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling in much the same way as his club, Manchester United, is being embarrassed by theirs, Liverpool, just 4.5m viewers, reaching a peak of 5.5m, watched the England game. The cake programme on BBC One was watched by 8.3million, reaching a peak of 9.1million.

So why has football trailed in a poor second?

The midweek friendly international match between England and Norway at Wembley. It’s a sentence which prompts so many questions.

Like, why, when England have such an average qualifying group (with all due respect to Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino, Slovenia and Switzerland) do they arrange a friendly against Norway? Surely there was a more exciting fixture out there? That’s part of the reason why only a fraction over 40,000 fans were at Wembley for the game. That’s a good crowd compared to other countries’, but it isn’t good enough for England.

It’s a vote of no confidence in Hodgson and his squad which, let’s face it, is distinctly average.

Sadly, the FA are currently relying on that motley crew to pay for Wembley Stadium, which is why the England team continues to be much more accessible for fans in London and the Home Counties than the rest of the country.

Taking the team on tour won’t pay the bills – but there would be sell-out stadiums providing a lot more exuberant support than the one on Wednesday night.

Why Wembley remained the site for football’s national stadium is another matter. Who in their right mind would force its customers to use the North Circular Road as a means of reaching their destination.

It was a ludicrous and arrogant decision not to relocate – especially when you can head 125 miles north to St George’s Park, the training and preparation ground for all England national football teams. Who on earth would build a house, then put the garden that far away? It won’t get better in a hurry: it’s going to take almost a decade before Wembley is debt-free.

Truth is, England are in a sorry old state, and Hodgson’s outrageous reaction to a line of questioning post-match on Wednesday suggests he should admit it now.

Hodgson has always looked like a man close to snapping and he did that when one reporter pointed out the hosts had registered just two shots on target.

“Don’t give me that,” Hodgson snapped, before using a few words not suitable for this newspaper.

In my experience, football managers can be very thin-skinned and when they react like that it is because they find themselves cornered by their critics with nowhere to go. It often means their number is up.

For Hodgson, very few of the numbers stack up at the moment.

Here we go – the annual debacle we call the play-offs

King’s Lynn speedway team are having a bit of a rough time of it recently. They’re top of the Elite League table but their form has taken a bit of a dive, coinciding, it seems, with the securing of a place in the end-of-season play-offs.

Anyone who has ever mentioned the word “play-offs” within my hearing distance will know it is like waving a red rag to a bull.

That the Stars have been top of the table for so long appears not to be enough for them to be awarded the title, Elite League champions.

Nope, how about souring the end of the season rather than adding to it, by meddling with their minds a little?

Is it not possible that, having secured their place, some complacency may have crept in?

There is nothing more they can do except wait and see who joins them in this ludicrous season finale.

So they end up riding below their best and will possibly go into the play-offs in completely the wrong frame of mind.

Add the fact that they lost their number one rider, Niels-Kristian Iversen, to injury in the Grand Prix last weekend and they might not be in the best place – despite the fact that the best place should be where they actually are, and that’s top of the pile.

The play-offs in any sport make a mockery of the endeavours of a club during a league season. League and knockout – the two are like oil and water, they do not mix. Lynn will most likely finish top after the regular season has ended – surely that’s enough to make them deserving of the title rather than sticking them into a lottery.

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