You may not have noticed, but tonight (Friday 11 Nov) England play Scotland in a world cup qualifying game at Wembley. Interestingly, the media build up to the game has been somewhat subdued.
It wasn’t like that in the old days. The clash of the “auld enemy” is the oldest international football fixture in the world, dating back to 1872. As recently as the 1980s the game was played on an annual basis and was the highlight of the season for many fans on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall. No longer it seems.
So, why does this game not generate the level of interest that it did in decades gone by? It’s certainly not due to a reduction in antagonism between Scotland and England, as is demonstrated by the growing political and cultural gulf between the two nations.
The reasons, in my humble opinion, are partly football related and partly the fault of the media. On the football side, there is little doubt that the national sides of both England and Scotland have been seriously underachieving for some time now. Football fans can find it difficult to get enthusiastic about mediocre teams.
Scotland regularly made it to the World Cup finals in the 1970s and 80s, but it is now almost 20 years since their last appearance. The Scotland starting XI tonight is likely to feature several players who struggle to get a game for their clubs.
When England lost 3-2 to a Jim Baxter inspired Scotland at Wembley in 1967, they were the World Cup holders. England’s most recent World Cup campaign (Brazil 2014) ended after just two games. England’s cause isn’t helped by the fact that less than one in three Premiership players are actually English.
The media has also played a part. TV stations in particular have paid so much money for coverage of club football, particularly the English Premiership and the Champions League, that they have become obsessed with it. Even in the print media, club sides get far more column inches than the national team. Many fans regard the international breaks as an unwelcome interruption to the club season.
I will, of course, be sitting in from of the TV this evening cheering on Scotland, although more in hope than in expectation. In years gone by the outcome of this game would really have mattered to me and to many others. Not anymore.