Club v Country

With the European Championships fast approaching, many football fans are looking forward to the forthcoming championships.  Whilst some of these fans are keen followers of their country, others see it as something to fill the gap until the new season starts again in August.  With the help of Union Berlin Man Mark Wilson, we will take a look at the arguments for both sides, with yours truly championing the cause of the club, whilst Mark urges you to get behind your country.

Club

Once every two years we will be told it is time to jump back on the England bandwagon by witty Carlsberg adverts, kit deals at various sports shops and the rallying calls of the England players selected to represent their country in whatever summer championship is taking place.  “This is our year”, “this is a golden generation” and “we’ve been class in qualifying, we will be there or thereabouts” are all phrases bandied about by players and press alike in the build up.  All well and good until England bow out before reaching the business end, usually down to a ‘poor refereeing decision’ or the’ lottery of penalties’.

There are many issues with England, besides the fact that they constantly disappoint.  Whilst watching a tepid encounter between Sven’s England and Sweden at Old Trafford in 2001, I was witness to numerous arguments between fans of different club teams.  Manchester United fans arguing with Liverpool fans mainly, but at one point I found myself defending Kevin Philips who was toiling through one of his eight appearances for his country.  I found it rather confusing when as a Newcastle fan I was defending Phillips against a raft of abuse from a Liverpool fan demanding the introduction of Emile Ivanhoe Heskey.  Phillips was at the peak of his powers, banging in goals for Peter Reid’s Sunderland side, and deserved his chance for England.  However, like so many before and after, he was guilty of trying too hard to impress, knowing he was likely to only get one or two chances before being cast aside.  The expectations of the press and those who go to watch their country is ludicrous, and the desire to shoehorn players from big clubs in to the team at the expense of form players has infuriated for years.  Paul Scholes on the left-wing?  Michael Carrick overlooked at the expense of the Gerrard/Lampard love in?

When it comes to club versus country, club can be the only winner.  With your club comes belonging, the camaraderie, knowing the people who you sit or stand next to every week.  With it comes the anticipation of the season ahead, the transfer rumours, the tactics, the derby matches etc.  For those lucky enough to go and watch their team, every couple of weeks they get to immerse themselves in the match, beers before and after, a bet on the game and then a trip to the ground.

England on the other hand is once again a closed shop for the southerners, contractually obliged to play at Wembley from now until eternity.  For anyone living outside of the M25, trying to get back from a midweek England game at Wembley is nigh on impossible.  An hour on Wembley Way after the game, chaos at Baker  Street tube and the last train to anywhere leaving as you figure out the slight colour difference between the Bakerloo and Metropolitan lines.  For a few years during the protracted redevelopment of Wembley the England team toured the country, playing up and down the land; Newcastle, Sunderland, Leeds, Derby, Southampton, Leicester, Ipswich, Liverpool, Manchester and  Birmingham all hosted England games as part of the seven year England Roadshow as it was christened.  This allowed the footballing public to connect with the England team, seeing them at close quarters for the first time. Spain and Italy do not have a home stadium, instead touring the country playing games at all for corners to keep the fans in touch.  Since returning to Wembley in 2007, England haven’t played a game away from the stadium and are not likely to do so for the foreseeable future (although a money-spinner against Brazil in Qatar might tempt the FA). Once again England is the property of the south east.

Perhaps the main argument is how good it would be if England won something?  A country united in celebration?  Yes, I will admit that if England win the Euro’s this summer then I would be riding the bandwagon, making sure I managed a few nights out in the process and celebrated with friends.  Would I swap it for my club winning the league or the FA Cup?  Yes, in a heartbeat.  Years and years of watching and hoping, near misses and lost finals mean that as a club fan I only want it more.  That would be a real celebration, intense and concentrated with real like minded souls, and one you can bring out when it comes to the inevitable ‘discussions’ with rival fans.

This viewpoint may be different for fans of Manchester United who have seen their club consistently win trophies for many years.  It is high unlikely that any Manchester City fan would want to swap their recent league title for England success, nor a Chelsea fan willing to swap the Champions League title for success in Ukraine and Poland.

It is all about the club, the bread and butter of the football fan.  England is a distraction, a distant entity far removed from the majority of football fans throughout the country.  Best of luck to Stevie G and the boys, but the big dates are 18th June for the new season fixtures and 18th August for the big kick off.

Country

The Champions League Final on a balmy Saturday evening in Berlin was a for-taster of nights to come in the German capital. Bars were packed, gargantuan TV screens adorned the streets and business owners in convenience stores and kebab shops were huddled around flickering monitors.

Everyone was watching the football. Every gender, race and age could be seen on the streets and bars of Berlin’s trendy Kreuzberg district. The buzz in the air of people coming together (almost as one) was infectious. Even non-football fans were peering at the screen drinking in the atmosphere. This is football at its best – the great unifier.

I’m sure scenes were similar in London although the balmy weather was probably like a Bayern player with nerves – nowhere to be seen at the end of the night.  I’m shocked players refused to take penalties. Perhaps the much vaunted home advantage was misleading.  Saturday night saw two club sides from England and Germany battle it out for the most coveted (and financially rewarding) prize in the European game.  Due to Champions League qualification and club rivalry not everyone in England was cheering on Chelsea. Strange to hear of Tottenham, Everton and Manchester United fans taking to social networks to demonstrate their support for the Bavarians.

The difference with the European Championship and the World Cup is that it brings nations together. The rivalry on the terraces is forgotten. Arsenal fans would cheer a Lampard goal. Likewise, Manchester United fans would applaud a Joe Hart save. For the tournament you don’t associate Shearer with Newcastle – he’s English. If you’re a Sunderland fan you’ll revert back to questioning his parentage in songs after the event though.

Football fans are fickle I often read. We have to be! There is only a relatively small pool of players and managers. A villain one week can be a hero the next and vice-versa. Subsequently, the football fan is able to put aside a season’s club football for a month long tournament. Such is the power of the game. Forget social networks bringing people together and connecting people – football has been doing this for decades. And it’s real. You experience it because of moments of unbridled joy, and at times, abject misery. Gazza’s tears (1990), No England at the World Cup as the Dutch defeat Taylor’s workmanlike side (1993), Gazza’s goal against the Scots (1996) and England’s capitulation against the Germans (2010).

As an England fan the moments of despair far outweigh the glory but surely that is part of what makes us English. It creates our personality as a nation. We can laugh at ourselves. We’re also funny fuckers – we have to be. The old adage if you don’t laugh you’ll cry is certainly relevant in this scenario.

On the subject of having a shot at winning a trophy you’ll find the facts point towards ‘Country’ offering you superior odds than ‘Club’.  The Euros have had 9 winners in 13 tournaments. Whilst England fans may grumble at their distinct lack of guile in this tournament, a cursory glance at past winners and finalists shows, it’s not all about ranking but about team spirit and togetherness – remember Greece? They may be derided for a lack of fiscal prudence but there was nothing wrong with their defensive tactics when they won the Championship in 2004.

What a shame the England team enters the Poland/Ukraine tournament with a divided dressing room and a nation already questioning the appointment of its manager. Hodgson out was trending on Twitter after the announcement of the 23 man squad. You could try and argue this is a good thing. England fans care. They want success. Perhaps they are just getting their excuses in early.

If we consider The World Cup; it has produced 8 winners in 18 tournaments.  For those following national sides ranked highly this is better odds than for a club side in England winning a major honour.

A Johnstone’s Paint Survey from 2006 that showed that 92% of fans said that their best footballing moments came from their club. However, I bet those asked were not around in 1966.  I would cite the national team’s abject failure in most fans lifetime as being the main driver behind such a clear rejection of the national team.  England fans are like waiters at a banquet; we see the feast on offer but never get to gorge on the tasty morsels.  We’re there to make sure everyone else has a good time.

We all love our clubs but not many have experienced the feeling of victory with our nation.  Of course the two are not mutually exclusive. Wait for the feeling when England finally win something and compare that to the modicum of success you have most likely tasted with your club. Also, we’ll all be in it together. In times of austerity and social unrest footballs power is magnified. It does what talent shows and politics cannot do. We’re England United.

You can follow Mark on Twitter at @UnionBerlinMan

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