No World Cup? Get Lost!

Most of the younger people who watch football today (those born after 1985 to be specific) have had the privilege of easy access to top level football in a manner that wasn’t always the case. They have access to the best in club football. There is often a price attached that access but if you can afford it, you can see the biggest, most popular clubs regularly.

Super-hyped club competitions, i.e. UEFA Champions and Europa Leagues, and publicity tours masking as pre-season training for the world’s top European club sides have helped changed football viewing for the common fan. These ventures are supported by bloated budgets – unheard of even as recently as the early 1990’s. There are massive amounts of money available that clubs cannot ignore. It was inevitable that so much money would influence the views of those with stronger ties to club football than to international football.

The majority of football fans lived a big chunk of their lives during a time when there wasn’t such widespread coverage, especially not coverage of club football. Growing up in the United States made it even harder to access because of the unpopularity of and frankly, aversion to the sport – up until the early to mid 1990’s soccer was ridiculed as a sissy sport. Since the World Cup is aired free of charge, one could easily watch the best players in the biggest competition. World Cups provide lasting memories for all involved, especially viewers from less developed parts of the world. World Cups are a very big deal to people who haven’t got ties to a major football league or a big, successful club.

When there’s an international break, I often read dissenting views from those who do not value international football. They feel that international football has passed its usefulness. I can never see it that way. As die hard an Arsenal fan as I am, I cannot see a world without World Cup competition.

Is it just an anti FIFA thing? Is it wholly an anti international football thing? Is it a generational thing?

To me it matters little what the gripe is or that it’s coming from people who have not had to wait for magazines to hit newsstands for their football fix. Nor does it matter to me that these people can point and click their way to news in an instant that for generations people had to wait to read in newspapers. I’m all for the technological advances that give easy access to the sport we all love. The sport benefits. We all benefit. To say however that there’s no longer a place for international football is short-sided at best.

The reason that we have to watch lesser nations (in football terms) play is because they are part of the football landscape. They are no less a part of it than Derby were part of the EPL two seasons ago. Granted Derby has a rich history while Andorra and Armenia do not. Nonetheless, the aspirations of the lesser football nations should not be any less than those of Sheffield Wednesday or Leeds United to make it (back) to the top level. It is crass for the privileged fan of a top European club to tell a supporter of a small club that might never play in an international club competition that his club has no right to do so. It’s equally crass to tell Tahiti or Tajikistan or Panama or Palestine that their matches are a burden on the club calendar.

Football is about uniting not dividing. I’m not naïve enough to suggest that there aren’t priorities and that money makes the world go round and all that but to categorically deny a nation and its fans a chance to play what to them is as meaningful as any Arsenal vs. Man Utd or any Arsenal vs. Spurs match is beyond selfish. International football has not suddenly lost anything. Money has placed a wedge between the attractive and the unattractive and in the mind of the younger fan, there is no basis for continuing something that they have not been a part of.

They have no strong ties to the international game because they’ve been on a steady diet of club football. They haven’t got a memory bank full of exciting World Cup matches, hence the disconnect. That is the real issue.

In my opinion, doing away with the FIFA World Cup, the European Championship, Copa America, the African Cup of Nations, the Asian Cup, etc. would be tragic. I believe that there’s room for both domestic and international football to thrive. It’s pursuit of more and more money that makes it increasingly difficult to accommodate both.

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