Anyone who watched England’s last two matches at Wembley stadium will have noticed a considerable amount of empty seats at both games.
Just 55,990 fans turned up for their latest European Championship qualifier against San Marino, the lowest for a qualifier since Wembley stadium re-opened in 2007. On the back of the 40,181 who turned up for the friendly against Norway just a month ago, it can be argued that England fans have lost patience and have grown disillusioned with the England team.
While 55,897 fans turned up to watch a match against Andorra in June 2009, that low was largely attributed to a tube strike that was occurring at the time. So why have fans seemingly decided to turn their backs on the national team?
It is thought that the dismal performance of the England team at the World Cup is largely to blame. A group stage exit for the first time in over 50 years appears to have left fans more disappointed and dejected than ever before, with the memories of the let-down that was World Cup 2010 still fresh in their minds.
The media, some may argue, do play their part. With only one World Cup win (on home soil) to date, as well as only one other venture to even the semi-final stage (the famous Italia 90 tournament); the media’s hype and expectation that England ‘should’ always do better, rather than what realistically should be expected of them, is perhaps adding to the fans growing disillusionment.
Of course, there is also the issue of cost. During these hard economic times, fans are possibly failing to see the allure of chipping into their earnings to pay to travel to Wembley and watch the England team play, even if the FA do slash the ticket prices.
The fact that England have been drawn in a qualifying group that hardly produces any stand out games isn’t going to help either. With England’s most difficult challenge coming in the form of Switzerland, this is hardly the blockbuster fixture the FA would have been hoping for. They have already encountered a similar issue during Euro 2012, with ticket sales reportedly down for the tournament due to England fans failing to see the glamour of travelling to Poland and Ukraine for a summer tournament.
So what is the answer?
Well, it may lie in the recent announcement that England are set to go on the road again when their current deal with Wembley expires in 2017, which would free England to play international matches in stadiums up and down the country, at venues such as Old Trafford, St James Park, Anfield and Villa Park.
England did this between 2001 and 2007 while Wembley stadium was being reconstructed and it was considered a success as it gave fans that were unable or willing to travel to London the opportunity to attend games. With the FA hoping to secure a money-spinning deal with the NFL, the necessity to play the majority of England internationals at Wembley would be minimal, while taking the England team elsewhere could also heighten interest once again.
There are also plans for UEFA to introduce a ‘Nations League’ tournament from 2018 onwards to replace friendly games; this is something that could also generate more interest as seemingly meaningless friendly games, that bear no significance, would be replaced by games that actually mean something. This would surely help as there would be a bigger variety of games to choose in which England actually have something to play for, made even better by the fact that, at least some of them, will be played on home soil.
One thing is for sure, interest in the England team appears to be waning fast. The FA need to act or the England national team’s performances will surely suffer without the support of their own fans behind them.
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