The international break

So there’s a break from league football this week then. No proper football and no chance for the Canaries to make further progress in establishing themselves as a permanent feature in the Premier League by recording that all important first victory.

And a welcome opportunity for the unmentionables from Poorman Road to avoid their ritual humiliation on a Saturday.

But there was local non-league football. I am a passive supporter of all the major East Anglian teams: Cambridge United, King’s Lynn Town, Lowestoft Town, and Great Yarmouth Town. All my teams did well. United (and remember there’s only one United – clue they play at the Abbey Stadium, not Old Trafford nor even the Colchester Community Stadium) won 1-0 away at Newport and are now fifth in the Blue Square Bet Premier League. I hope they make it back into the Football League. There’s only one City (clue they play at Carrow Road), but even a smaller city with a profile like Cambridge should be able to support a League One or League Two team at least.

King’s Lynn were involved in the preliminary round of the FA Cup. Well done to the Linnets, who set off on the long road to Wembley with a 2-1 triumph over Soham Town Rangers. And glancing through the other FA Cup results I decided to start supporting Maldon & Tiptree too. Why? Because they beat Ipswich Wanderers 9-0 of course. In the Ryman’s Premier Division Lowestoft (the Trawler Boys) thrashed Concord Rangers 5-0. Clearly this weekend was not a good day to be a Ranger.

Which brings us to the international matches. I am a patriotic Englishman and was pleased that England played well and had an excellent result against Bulgaria. But Wales deserve special mention for beating group leaders Montenegro 2-1. In my opinion this was largely due to their foresight in selecting two Canaries to add some quality to their team. Crofts played the final half hour for them, coming on after 64 minutes to replace Ramsey, and Morison not only played for 83 minutes before being substituted, but scored the all important first goal after 29 minutes. Congratulations Steve on your first goal of the season. Let’s hope this is the first of many more to come. We need you to become a prolific scorer when you wear the yellow shirt too.

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England play Wales at Wembley on Tuesday. My loyalties are divided. The patriotic half of me wants England to win. The emotional side of me wants both Crofts and Morison to add to their tally of International caps and score a goal apiece. After all, I support Norwich more actively than I support England. Wales were wise enough to select two Canaries for their international team. The England selectors have so far not seen the light and not (yet) given Grant Holt and John Ruddy the recognition they deserve. So I’ll be hoping for a 2-2 draw, with a goal apiece for Crofts and Morison. And of course a clean bill of health for all concerned.

The managers of our leading clubs hate the international breaks. This is understandable. Why should proud Scots like Sir Alex, Kenny Dalglish, or our own Paul Lambert, or Frenchmen like Prof Wenger, or patriotic Portuguese like VB (did he invent that Australian Bitter?) give two hoots about the progress of the England team? Our clubs take a risk in identifying the talent, nurture the players, train them, and turn them into stars. And in most cases they pay their substantial salaries. The international managers take them away from the bosom of their clubs, expose them to a risk of burn out and injury, with no regard to the effect on their tiredness and performance when they return to their clubs.

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The European Club Association (ECA), which represents 197 leading clubs, is preparing for a battle with FIFA and is likely to refuse to release players in the near future. I always thought that if I were manager of one of the big clubs, I would ask my players to agree to decline international duties if I requested it, as part of their contract. After all, players stand more chance of making a name for themselves, of earning trophies, and of earning good money, with leading clubs than they do by playing international Under 21 games or friendlies for smaller countries.

But I know players value their caps and the international recognition, so the idea is unlikely to catch on. Instead we shall continue to have the absurd situation where some Manchester United players are ruled unfit for midweek internationals only to make a miraculous recovery in time to play for their club on a Saturday.

Unless a compromise can be found, the ECA challenge is due to come in 2014 when the present Memorandum of Understanding between the clubs and FIFA is due to expire. Watch this space!

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