International football is dying a death – let’s put it out of its misery

These games take a real toll on elite players, and for what?

So here we go again. An international break during the run in of the domestic season. Not to contend any trophies or fight fierce rivalries, no no no. This one exists purely to injure Liverpool players just in time for the next round of the Champions League.

Jaded much, Mark? Well yes, frankly, I am. I’m fully sick of elite players going thousands of miles to play meaningless games on stupid surfaces against farmers and builders where anything less than an 8-0 win is considered a crisis. This particular one is coming just before a major summer tournament (so I’m told), and is therefore massively important. The last chance to see whether players will gel together. Spoiler alert…

This nonsense happens whether there is a tournament upcoming or not. Several times a season, top level athletes take a break from the serious demands of domestic football to go and play what are essentially a bunch of friendlies designed to make money. Many will get injured. Some will miss the rest of the season (and thus won’t be able to help win the title, get a Champions League place, avoid relegation or win a trophy). A lot will travel and not even play.

All this for a load of football matches that most people don’t care about, don’t matter and are being watched by fewer and fewer people.

I realise some people still like international football. I don’t understand why, but to each, their own. The appeal is completely lost on me. I haven’t supported England since I was at school, couldn’t care less what their results are and just cross my fingers every time they play that any Liverpool players that travel either don’t play or get subbed off before they get hurt.

The European Championships is a bore fest, the African Cup of Nations is a joke (played as it is in the middle of the season, although I hear that may be changing) and the World Cup can frankly do one. Even putting corruption, Russia and Qatar aside, it is a seriously dull affair, played between teams that have had a matter of weeks to play together. Yet we all expect to see fluent, tactical football like we see week in week out in the top European leagues, played by teams that spend every single day with each other. Why do we do this to ourselves?

If given the choice between winning the league in England, Spain, Germany, France or Italy, winning the Champions League with any team, or winning the World Cup, why on earth would you choose the World Cup? It simply isn’t the pinnacle of elite football.

Domestic football just gets stronger and stronger every year. Even watching clips from 2005, never mind the 80’s or 90’s, looks slow and clunky compared to the speed and skill of today’s players. The level of international football in comparison is appallingly bad, indeed for me, unwatchable. I’d easily rather watch Wycombe vs Port Vale in a League Two fixture than England vs Moldova. In England, you can go as far as the fifth tier and still pretty much guarantee you’re watching professionals. In internationals,  you’re far too often playing some part timers.

The whole system is broken, and all efforts to try and fix it just make it worse. If I had things my way, I’d get rid of the whole thing. No World Cup, no Euro’s, no friendlies. But I realise this is an extreme position, and I can’t have things my way. Yet…

Instead, I’ll just wait for everyone else to get as bored as I am, and then perhaps things will change. One thing’s for certain; it can’t carry on as it is.

Gambling advertising is reaching ridiculous levels

This is becoming obscene. Surely we can rein it in a bit?

Do you ever watch old clips of football matches, snooker games, or even classic F1 races? If you do, one thing that will probably look quite jarring and strange is the adverts for cigarette companies and alcohol. Plastered all over their chests, shoulders, waistcoats, cars, helmets and shirts. It’s amazing to think that this was once normal.

This is how our kids will look back on sport from our age – only it will be the obscene level of gambling advertising that will look dated and crass.

I watch a lot of football, most of which is now on Sky and BT Sport. In every break, there are at least 3 adverts for gambling companies. And there are a lot of breaks. Some of them talk about ‘gambling responsibly‘ – that might hit home a little more if they advertised responsibly.

There are scores of them. Sky Bet, Bet365, Ladbrokes, William Hill, Betfair, BetFred, StanleyBet, Coral, Intercasino, and that’s just off the top of my head. There’s bookmakers, online bookies, online casinos, the lot. All constantly, furiously, relentlessly pushed on sports fans. Clubs are affiliated with them. Players and managers endorse them. The commentators and “analysts” advertise them. It is becoming grotesque.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t gamble, much though I would prefer it if they didn’t. It’s up to each individual to do whatever they like with their money. I personally think gambling is scary and unsatisfying, that’s not to say others do. But how can it be ethical to have the sheer volume of advertising that we have now?

The enticing tactics are becoming sinister as well. Enhanced odds, introductory offers (40/1 for a goal to be scored in a game between Liverpool and Man City? I wonder what that would be if you were already tangled up in the web. I doubt they’d even offer anything on such a dead cert) and ‘free’ money. I already know what the likes of Virgin and BT do to you once you get past the first 3 months of a broadband contract, I shudder to think what a company as unscrupulous as a bookie would do once those enhanced odds disappear and you’re an existing customer.

I’ve got plenty of friends who gamble, and have a lovely time doing it. People who will budget for it, and see it as a controlled bit of fun. Again, I’m not saying gambling should be outlawed.

But at a time when FOBTs are in the news for all the wrong reasons, and government is scrambling to do something about bookies popping up in all the poorest areas of the country, this seems like an issue that could do with being addressed. How can we have strict rules against advertising tobacco and alcohol and yet allow these awful companies virtually free rein on the airwaves?

One click onto the Sky Sports website home page shows 4 advert slots – all of which are for gambling when I click it. Through to football, there are 6 slots – 4 are for gambling. The level of exposure sports fans get to this stuff is a joke.

I hate to come across all nanny state – I always despair at the rush to legislate and ban things, always looking to the government to fix all of our problems. But this just seems like it’s getting out of hand. And it also doesn’t line up with our strictness in other areas.

This feels like a growing problem that needs to be talked about and debated calmly. I don’t know the answer, but we really ought to have the conversation.