Last night was certainly a dark night for English football… But not because England were beaten by Denmark at our famous old stadium for only the second ever time, but because nobody was there, nobody really cared, many people perhaps didn’t even know the match was being played.
I’m used to my midweek social feeds being filled by England fans cursing, hating, dictating… “I would have done this” and “they should have done that”… But not last night… A few murmurs regarding an ‘incompetent Referee’ and and equally as bad Harry Maguire, other than that it was ‘anything else on telly?’ Life trudges on.
This last week England have played quite well. They disposed of Wales comfortably and tactically set themselves up to beat Belgium and did just that… Against Denmark they started brightly, but from the off it always looked like one of those nights, a banana skin waiting to happen. The red card and tame penalty decided the fate.
People will argue Gareth Southgate chose the wrong side but people have to remember in playing three games in seven days he had to balance things out by giving all his players (at the request of those noisy Managers in the EPL) a fair and healthy amount of playing time.
After all these ‘meaningless’ games are sandwiched in to a packed schedule… Why so packed is beyond me? Football is now an entertainment game for TV audiences, so players should be ready to play seven days a week… This is not about the health of these players, if it was, they like the rest of us would have their feet up right now.
I have no problem with what side Gareth Southgate picks, he can pick eleven National League players for me… I’ll still support them, get behind them, want them to win… The fact he doesn’t play one but plays another is due to the fact that ‘he’ not ‘I’ or ‘you’ is Manager of the England team. You won’t always like it… But he’s done better than any other Manager bar Alf Ramsay in his tenure as Coach so who should ‘we’ be to complain?
And remember… If these games are so meaningless.. Why should he be forced to play his ‘best XI’… after all.. He probably knows what it is already… I have a hunch that at least nine of the eleven are pretty concrete.
So to the game, it was all going ok against average opposition until Harry Maguire recklessly let fly. Not once, but twice… In truth the first one was a yellow and a half, the second one just a half, but no complaints… Mind on other things? Greece? Tottenham? No… Not for me… Just reckless.
I feel for Maguire, a player who I like, a player who is every bit as good as Connor Coady (our flavour of the moment) but one that unfortunately is £70m more expensive. What comes with your price tag is the burden of your price tag.
Maguire might have other things on his mind, he might have lost confidence and he might be going through a bad stage in his career, but he did ok against Belgium in beating the worlds best ranked side. Nobody mentioned his court cases in Greece then? Nobody mentioned the Tottenham disaster?
But Maguire admittedly made a mistake, that cost England the game, one which Southgate soon made, under instruction by Harry Kane he decided to change things by bringing on a centre half for a left back. It could have been easily less complicated had he not just dropped Declan Rice into defence. Poor old Ainsley Maitland-Niles who started well, forced to take an early shower with Maguire, by which time England were 1-0 down.
Jordan Pickford got himself into a mess, so did Kyle Walker, but the Spanish Referee Jesus Gil Manzano went for the jugular to make it a complete disaster all around… I’m not sure if his friend or Amigo Manuel back in the Spaniards hometown of Don Benito had backed Denmark to win… But it was certainly starting to look fishy for England.
A penalty that never was, given and dispatched, England down to ten… It was always going to end in solitary goal defeat.
In fairness (like in Copenhagen) Denmark weren’t much, they rarely threatened and England were comfortable in defending the best that they had… England’s problem they didn’t go for the jugular themselves with more ambitious substitutions, hardly registering an attempt until late on. A brilliant Kasper Schmeichel save keeping the Danes ahead, the best of what was a pretty drab night of football, spoiled buy a Referee, especially as his consistent niggling booking of England players topped up to the tally that saw Reece James get sent off after the whistle. Denmark weren’t the problem… England’s discipline and frustration was, the Referee playing a huge part in the sides defeat, let’s not look too far beyond that.
But as the Danes celebrated amongst the echoes of a closed Wembley shop it all felt a little ‘never mind’ as England drop to their first defeat in eight. Perhaps a reality check? The bringing down to earth following an underdog win against the run of play on Sunday… England will probably miss out on the Nations League Semi Finals due to this defeat, but they can’t go down… And after all what is the Nations League? Who cares? It’s not like football really matters right now!
For me the darkest moment of the game last night was the game itself, the fact that it’s being played, without fans, although with persistent and annoying screaming fans echoing through the TV speakers… Why ‘start’ a tournament which nobody can attend? Has football really gone this way?
Project restart was aimed to ‘finish’ off an unfinished season of football, but all it has done is proved fans have no value in football, continuing regardless, new comps, new cups, more games, more money, playing them now has become more and more important… But why oh why is this the case? It’s simply no longer entertaining.
Last night, like the lucky win in Iceland, like when we were forced to play in Croatia behind closed doors, like against Wales and Belgium, it didn’t really matter… None of it mattered, Danny Ings scoring maybe, Dominic Calvert Lewin’s debut ok… For Connor Coady and his family why not… But for every other Tom, Dick or Harry that was flicking through the channels last night trying to find something to watch… England losing a game of football does not matter one bit.
Which is sad in itself… Because I remember the days when it really did!