By Mark Docherty
Now, I realise that most of you have seen the title of this article and have now come here to vent your frustrations at me. You’re probably already putting together a blueprint for the tweet you’re going to send me and have already dismissed me as a no-hoper and this website as a platform which is filled by the ramblings of fools. But please, before you jump to conclusions, hear me out.
We all know that everybody loves the Premier League. Watching the action unfold every Saturday in the most competitive competition in world football is the highlight of many people’s week, and the withdrawal of such a privilege reminds them how meaningless their lives really are. However, if people look past the stigma surrounding international breaks they may find that they can understand the reasons for halting the flow of English football’s top two leagues and might appreciate the positives it brings to our footballing republic.
The first reason that international breaks are a positive in the big picture is that they make people appreciate how much they love the beautiful game. However passionate fans are about watching their Premier League side every week, too much of a good thing can never help anyone. Non-stop club football from August to May might sound like all your dreams have come true but, believe me, there is such a thing as football apathy. Supporters would start to take their teams for granted and start to question how much pleasure they really got from throwing their money at a group of men who never seem to be able to pull their weight. But, like a child spending a night away from their parents, all that is needed is a short spell away from your loved one for you to realise how much they really mean to you. International breaks offer that respite and, I firmly believe, play a huge part in keeping fans interested over the course of a season.
A further positive of international breaks is the way that they give far more exposure to lower league and non-league clubs. Without being committed to watching a Premier League or Championship side, supporters are far more likely to go and watch their local team, giving them vital funding from tickets and possibly forming a bond with them and becoming an official ‘second team’. One only needs to look at the successes of the annual Non-League Day, which passed in the most recent international break, to see the impact that swollen attendance figures can have on clubs. It has been known for teams to double or treble their average attendances on Non-League Day, as well as other international breaks as football fans around the country look to fill the void left by their favourite team. At that level, it can be the difference between promotion and liquidation. Not only this, but the lack of Premier League teams eating up the airtime leaves space in the television schedules for some of the League One and League Two teams to get national attention. This also helps to keep teams afloat as the income from having a match live on Sky can make a profound difference to a club’s season. There is also the added bonus of fans of less reputable teams getting to see their club on screen, which can be a fairly rare occurrence. I don’t know when Gillingham last had a televised game before they played Portsmouth in the international break, but I’d be willing to wager it was some time ago.
Club football is notorious for dividing supporters throughout Britain and, presumably, the world. However, international breaks offer the chance for fans to come together in pursuit of a common goal. From Bournemouth to Newcastle; from Liverpool to Norwich; from West Ham to Millwall, all supporters can put aside their ongoing feuds and agree on a mutual affair. Owls and Blades alike can shake hands across a bar and vent their frustration at the fact that Jake Livermore plays for the national football team. All past disputes can be momentarily put to one side as the country comes together and bemoans the fact that only a penalty was the difference between England and Lithuania. It might not be quite the unity the country hopes for when England takes to the field, but mutual disappointment is a surprisingly good tonic for bitter rivalries. Plus, if fans need something else to bring them together they can always watch Scotland play.
While I’m sure I have not swayed your position on how terrible it is to live a life without football, even for one weekend, perhaps you can now see that there is a silver lining to this particular cloud. The capability of international weekends to bring fans together, both across the country and within cities, can only be a good thing for the game. Deprivation of the Premier League also reminds people just how much they rely on the thought of it to get them through the working week, and keeps them loyal. However, most of all, next time there is an international break, try going to a lower or non-league match to test the waters. You will be helping to fund a great asset to the community and may just find a new second favourite team.