England is right to hit the road again
The decision to take the men’s national team on the road again can only be a positive when looking to build on the World Cup feel-good factor.
The Three Lions were forced to tour the country between 2001 and 2007 when Wembley was being reconstructed and until then they had mainly played at the national stadium.
Indeed there were no games away from the then ‘Twin Towers’ between 1966 until 1995 when England played out a thrilling 3-3 draw against Sweden at Leeds United’s Elland Road.
A game at Manchester United’s Old Trafford and Sunderland’s Stadium of Light also took place while Wembley was still available in the late 1990s.
However, the costly redevelopment of Wembley left the national team forced to roam England 34 times as the side managed to qualify for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, while they also reached Euro 2004 on tour.
Old Trafford was used the most as it hosted 14 England matches, while Liverpool’s Anfield, St James’ Park in Newcastle and the City of Manchester Stadium were also used more than once.
Games were also played in Leeds, Middlesbrough, Southampton, Derby, Sunderland, Leicester, Aston Villa’s Villa Park, Tottenham’s White Hart Lane and West Ham’s Upton Park.
Fans up and down the country managed to get a taste of international football the majority had only ever witnessed on TV.
It was especially significant for fans in the north that faced a long trek to London to watch England play games at Wembley, with many matches also being in midweek and out of reach.
The atmosphere in the majority of games away from Wembley also appeared enhanced.
Fans seemed more involved as they were closer to the pitch, while they also keen to outdo other rival towns and cities in cranking up the volume to show their superior support for England.
The tour of England was not only a winner for the fans as it seemed to go down well with the players and managers – mainly Sven Goran Eriksson- over that period of time.
Therefore, it seemed a missed opportunity to keep that link going when Wembley reopened in 2007 and England returned ‘home’ to justify the massive expenditure the FA paid out to virtually rebuild the stadium.
But, after a 2018 World Cup warm-up game was taken to Leeds last summer, the FA now seem keen to go on the road again after links between the fans and the team flourished on the back of the run to the semi-finals of the tournament in Russia.
They have already visited Leicester’s King Power Stadium and Gareth Southgate’s men will be at Southampton’s St Mary’s for a Euro 2020 qualifier against Kosovo in this latest international break.
The FA should now try and make more matches available to people, especially the next generation of supporters, on a consistent basis.
Even if it is a case of playing all the international friendlies on the road, which the FA could struggle to sell-out at Wembley, they would be gratefully received at other venues.
Clubs could offer ticket deals for children and ensure they pack out the grounds to ensure the nation’s game remains in a healthy state for many years to come.