England: Nodge before Hodge

With Norwich’s bum-squeaking battle against relegation hotting up, do we really care about England’s fortunes this weekend? Seb Ward on why club means much more than country, and how Roy Hodgson’s men could win back the nation


Oh, what’s that I hear you say? You don’t care about England? Oh right, yeah, me neither. Not much. Not anymore. International breaks have become something of a bore, though it does offer the opportunity to sneak off to Rochdale and watch a certain old fat striker. Our old fat striker that never quite made it for England.

I’ve grown up in a generation that is increasingly disillusioned with the national team. It’s always been club before country. Nodge before Hodge.

Sadly, we approach international breaks hoping more that Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Brady don’t get injured than anything else. Gone are the glory days. Gone is the excitement. Gone are the John Barnes raps and the David Beckham hairstyles. The personality, the passion, the players. Gone.

Watching England should offer the opportunity to enjoy the game we love with people we love… or at least vaguely like… or crucially, wouldn’t normally talk to. Fans of opposing club teams. Enemies. Foes. That bloke down the pub. Maybe even an Ipswich fan (maybe not). Friends for 90 minutes. Instead, sitting through England really is less fun than a monotonous Jonny (er) Howson (erm) interview.

“Did you see the England game last night?” “No, but I watched a pixelated Vine of a person videoing their telly as Welbeck bundled it in. Does that count?’

That’s the barometer of England’s fall – when 90 minutes can be condensed and cut into six seconds of interest. You’ve saved yourself the pain, the disappointment, the dreary tones of Mark Lawrenson, the sideways passes, the wardrobe of misfitting, mismatching shirts on the ITV pundit team. You’ve most likely spent your evening doing something better; examples including but not limited to, not watching the England game.

A full-blooded OTBC will forever surpass the drone of the England band. It’s also worth noting that Gary O’Neil pulls off the bandage look better than Terry Butcher ever did

The romance is dead. The shirt’s no longer special – and badly designed too. Overpriced friendlies and half-empty Wemblies do little to fuel its resurgence, though at least they have addressed this by touring the pre-Paris friendlies around the country.

Of course the Premier League has a lot to answer for. The underdevelopment of much of England’s young talent has been a shortcut to the side’s demise. A strong national side means very little to the England’s top flight, not while the broadcast money keeps flowing in.

The answer? In Greg Dyke’s opinion: time for plan B. B for brilliant, or so he’d hope. His proposed implementation of secondary sides (first in lower leagues, and now in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy) may well breed new English talent but feed it straight to the hegemony of big clubs, further ripping a void between the best and the rest.

As Norwich fans, we spend most weeks seething at the coverage we get on Match Of The Day, or the bitterness of Danny Mills, or the overbearing focus on the top clubs. Then, when England come about, we’re expected to support those big-club players all the same. When I look at the England team I don’t see three lions on the chest; I see Arsenal. I see Manchester United. I see Liverpool.

Added to this is our media, who are magicians at stirring up false hope and limitless hysteria – not the conditions any team needs to progress. One minute we’re nothing more than a hungover pub team, the next we’re bound for European glory. All in the space of a week and a win away at Moldova.

Truth be told, we’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to be patriotic about football, with perceptions of EDL thugs and nationalist mugs. Rugby’s Six Nations is a prime example of how it can exist in a healthy, friendly, competitive manner.

Our national anthem, which celebrates a god many of us don’t believe in and an outdated, undemocratic monarch doesn’t help, but that’s something of a sidenote. The rivers of money that flow within our domestic game are harming our national game and that’s the real issue. And until England players show that wearing the shirt means as much to them as our British counterparts, Wembley will remain not half full, but half empty.

There is, however, a glimmer at the end of the tunnel. Young, hungry talent that could make the difference. It’s time for a new era. Players such as Dele Alli and Danny Drinkwater, whose excellent performances this season have been recognised, could pave they way, as could the genuinely exciting force of Kane, Vardy, Sturridge and Welbeck. After all, there’s parallels between Jamie Vardy and our old talisman that never quite made it. If Hodgson’s stubbornness persists, the past-his-sell-by-date Wayne Rooney could be an obstacle to that needed evolution.

I will still be hoping and cheering in the summer when the anticipation inevitably builds, but the meandering road that lies ahead for Norwich is of much greater interest.

For Norwich can offer many things England never will.

Elation and misery in equal measure; a yellow kit with which we can pretend to be Brazil; a club owned by fans in an era of oil oligarchs. A full-blooded OTBC will forever surpass the drone of the England band, and I’d swap little for the delusional sentiments on Canary Call. It’s also worth noting that Gary O’Neil pulls off the bandage look better than Terry Butcher ever did.

So roll on Newcastle. Roll on Sunderland. Roll on Palace. Nodge before Hodge. 

You can follow Seb Ward on Twitter at @Seb_Ward

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