International weekend and the obligatory post about no one who supports Sunderland giving a hoot that the national team are playing. Yeah me - I’m so averse to being averse about England, I couldn’t even be bothered to write about it.
I’m like a teenager - I just play it cool and huff that I don’t care, but I might have a quick peek when you’re not looking.
An adolescent-like apathy is exactly how many will feel this weekend, with Gareth Southgate telling everyone we shouldn’t take Malta lightly. It’s all a ruse so that we’re not surprised again, when the cream of English football labour against the team ranked 176th in world football. Yawn.
We might tell ourselves that interest in the England set-up has been on the wane in recent years. Perhaps the introduction of the Premier League and the ever increasing levels of money in the game have sullied what ought to be the pure representation of the best of English football.
But, this is no new attitude. Nearly a quarter of a century ago, one J.M. Wilson summed up the prevailing attitude in the early 90s in the pages of Sunderland fanzine, A Love Supreme:
"Nobody cares about England. People will always put club before country. This is why at internationals the most prominent flags always bear the name of a nowhere such as Aylesbury. People without a club support their country.
"The truth it seems, is that England is a southern team".
If that was then, it's even worse now.
As Sunderland supporters we reckon our disinterest reached a climax this summer when the FA royally robbed us of a manager we thought was taking us places. The compensation was hardly compensation for the mess it’s put us in; and it was all for nowt anyway.
The genius that was Sam Allardyce was just as flawed as everyone said he was after all. It was perhaps just fortunate that, as far as know, none of his excesses were committed while on Sunderland business.
Jermain Defoe, still one of the best strikers in England remains overlooked for a recall even if he did turn 34 yesterday, first by Roy Hodgson, then the hypocrite Allardyce and now Gareth Southgate. And, Southgate is the third England manager in a row to be openly ridiculed for relentlessly picking Wayne Rooney and making him captain, but they just don’t care – sponsorship deals and big club agendas prevail, they always will.
Forget the headlines about bungs, betting and corruption – the Telegraph’s 'Football for Sale' exposés are not the real problem in English football. The real issues are much more subtle, yet much more insidious and altogether far more damaging.
The real problems are the agendas, carefully constructed empires which must be protected, and the subtle manipulation of team selection. The continuation of vested interests is a blight of human nature, but it will always happen. It isn't very sporting, but it's life, no wonder we turn our backs.
Sam Allardyce was supposed to be a new approach, a sort of anti-establishment figure who might just shake things up at the top of English football. In the end, his 67 days in charge were just the usual cowed figure who wouldn’t dare upset anyone after all. Stood on the touchline praying for a last minute winner against Slovakia, desperate stuff – as usual.
Ultimately his greed for the riches that the top job in football could slip him under the table, showed the anti-establishment hero up for what he was – a user and a taker.
What should be done?
In 1993, Mr Wilson presumed the problem was England’s Wembley home, down in deepest London, beyond the reaches of many working men and women of the North East:
"Wembley is supposedly the jewel in the FA’s crown. It is also a poisonous canker that is destroying the national team.
The solution then is simple. Play internationals at venues other than simply Wembley. Let the country see their national side or else apathy will turn to antagonism".
And they did. Since then England have at least made a token effort to take the show on the road. Newcastle’s St James Park hosted three international matches between 2001 and 2005. The Stadium of Light welcomed England in a Euro 2004 qualifier and just this May, Roy Hodgson brought his team for a friendly against Australia.
And still apathy abounds, despite the FA acting on Mr Wilson’s advice. There is no solution. The FA’s England team represent almost everything we dislike. Sam Allardyce merely underlined what we all thought anyway – the top tier of football exists to protect the top tier of football from reform, too many people take too much money for it to change.
And. for Sunderland fans – it’s merely a chance to boast about going unbeaten for two weeks.