Ok, so 5 – 1 was a pretty flattering scoreline, but I guess at the end of the day, a win’s still a win I get quite bored of writing the same paragraphs over and over again about the national team failing to live up to expectations, even against poor opposition, but suffice to say that we are still yet to see any noticeably positive results of Fabio Capello’s appointment to England manager.
At any level, a match against tame opposition is a chance to flex those creative muscles that must often be stifled for the sake of competitiveness and professionalism, yet at Wembley on Saturday there was no swagger or invention from a side that must be feeling as good as they have done in years, coming off the 4 – 1 mauling of Croatia in Zagreb not too long ago now. Instead, it was back to trepidation, with few chances carved out in open play and some slightly worrying defensive mis-steps when put under not-a-lot of pressure.
By now I’m sure most people have seen selected ‘highlights,’ and obviously heard the ongoing debate about the booing of Ashley Cole, so there’s little point is continuing that discussion here. What is (maybe) interesting to talk about though is Wembley itself, because for me this was my first experience of the re-invented national stadium. Admittedly, it was a relatively pointless qualifier against a weak team that had no real chance of causing any problems, but still, the best part of 90,000 people trooped up to North-West London in the late Saturday sun.
The question then is: how can 90,000 football fans fail to make any noise whatsoever, and generate nothing approaching the atmosphere I’ve witnessed even at non-league grounds over the years? It’s a baffling conundrum because it wasn’t just quiet for a huge stadium, it was literally silent for most of the match, to the extent where I was answering my phone and the callers didn’t believe I was actually at Wembley. The commercialisation of football has been lamented on this site many times before, but here more so than anywhere else, the corporate machine is starkly evident. There’s a reminder over the tannoy when it’s 10 minutes to kick-off, in case you forgot why you were there; the sponsored England band, or even the tannoy again, signal when it’s ok to sing or chant; flags and horns are sold outside the ground, but you better not use them in the ground in case someone takes offence; and genuinely, if you stand up, or voice an opinion a bit too loudly, you’ll get a tap on the shoulder from a steward and asked politely to just enjoy the game.
Even the facilities aren’t up to much: you can’t buy alcohol at the ground; you can’t leave to have a cigarette; you have to argue to get any tap water; and the cheapest food other than crisps is a £4.50 pie that tastes worse than cat food. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing venue, but that’s just it: a venue, rather than a football stadium. It’s completely soulless, and any dreams of making Wembley a fortress for the national side have surely already evaporated. Maybe for an FA Cup final, where two sets of 45,000 fans bait each other, and the passion is there on the pitch from the players, it’s different, but I’m sorry because based on Saturday’s showing, I certainly won’t be going back in a hurry.