On Friday the FA announced a number of friendlies to be played by the senior side as a warm up to the upcoming European Championship this summer. I was intrigued and pleased when I saw that some of the games were going to be played away from Wembley. For the first time in nine years, international football will be going on the road. Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium and The Stadium of Light will host friendlies against Turkey and Australia respectively.
During Wembley’s reconstruction, England toured the country and I thought that was a fantastic idea. It gave people all over the chance to see their national team with relative ease. For most, seeing England at Wembley would mean spending a horrendous amount of money travelling to the capital, probably needing to stay in a hotel and would no doubt have to take time off work. It is obvious that this would put anyone off going to an England match, and would go some way to explain why home games often lack atmosphere and ticket sales. So I was delighted that more people would have access to some games.
However, my delight turned into annoyance. There’s a specific reason why England play in Manchester on May 22nd, and that’s simply because Wembley isn’t available. On that day both the FA Trophy and Vase finals take place. These two grand competitions give Non-League teams and fans the chance to experience the home of English football. The FA decided this season to combine the final day of both competitions which does seem like a good idea. It brings more people together to enjoy the achievements of teams from the lower leagues, and this can only be beneficial to furthering the grassroots game. There is a huge community within Non-League, and sharing finals day allows the wider community to gather and unite.
When the FA made the announcement earlier in the season about this decision, the FA Director of National Game, Kelly Simmons MBE, stated on their website “We’re lucky to have a fantastic non-league football culture in this country”. She continued to say that having both finals on the same day would celebrate the two great competitions. These comments seemed to suggest that the FA is supportive of grassroots football. Mentioning the fantastic culture was great praise of those who follow Non-League. Kelly Simmons gave the impression that in the corridors of power, Non-League mattered to them because it matters to us. But by placing an England friendly on the same date of their finals day just suggests once again that the higher in football you go, the less they care about grassroots. I know that normally England games take place when there are fixtures in the lower league but this is different, we’re talking about a final. It’s a showpiece, the pinnacle of the 500 odd teams that entered the tournaments. It’s not just any old game.
Surely, if there was any support for promoting the lower levels of our game, the FA wouldn’t place a senior international on the same day. The game against Turkey will overshadow every other sporting event that is going on. People won’t tune into BT Sport to watch the finals, instead they’ll be watching a second string England XI. This sends out a statement which completely contradicts the words of Simmons. They don’t want to celebrate the achievements of Non-League football, they simple aren’t interested. There should be a big marketing move by the FA to promote the competitions within the lower league, they should be doing everything they can to help the wider footballing community. This scheduling decision is far from that. There wouldn’t be an international on the same day as the FA Cup Final, so why should there be when on the Non-League equivalent. Football at our grassroots level deserves more, the clubs deserve more, and the fantastic Non-League football culture deserves more.
Thank you for reading. Please take a moment to follow me on Twitter for non-league views and news: @twodads81