DF x DW

Dan talks about his love for international football in the latest DF x DW.

GIVE INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL A BREAK

For many, the international break is seen as something of a hindrance. An unwanted, enforced break from the exhilarating standard of club football being played across the continent, in which, especially when it is the turn of European Qualifiers, matches are played with a mundane intensity and a frequent gulf in class. 

And you’d be right, if you watch the more ‘mainstream’ matches. Tune into Spain vs Faroe Islands, Belgium vs San Marino, or Italy vs Finland, and you’ll get an encounter that matches the description above. One side, boasting evident prowess and a sense of superiority, against a minnow, happy to play backs-to-the-wall football and hope that the scoreline doesn’t embarrass them by the time ninety minutes of gruelling defending has passed them by. 

But, head down the beaten track to some of the less publicised matches, and you’ll find bundles of under-appreciated teams, who’s opportunity to qualify for a major tournament is not seen as an automatic right like it is here in England, but instead, is a nationwide dream. An obsession. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that fills out stadiums and sends an entire, starry-eyed, football-loving population, into overdrive. 

Take Kosovo, England’s most recent opponents . Before the game, the nation who only gained recognition from FIFA to play international football in 2016, boasted the longest unbeaten run in European national football until that 5-3 defeat at St Mary’s. And for the country itself, which has only existed formally since 2008, to already be capable of scoring three goals against a superpower like England, is nothing short of remarkable. They are vying with Czech Republic to genuinely challenge England for qualification in Group A, which if they achieve it, will surely go down as one of the greatest footballing fairytales ever to have taken place on the international stage. 

Elsewhere, in Group J, Armenia and Finland are fascinatingly neck-and-neck in a similar situation, vying with Italy for top spot. Two unlikely contenders, genuine underdogs, who have already stunned Bosnia & Herzegovina and Greece, sides who have plenty of pedigree on this stage let’s not forget, for whom an opportunity to line up at Euro 2020 would mean just about everything. Just look at Iceland’s heroics at Euro 2016 for what qualification for a major tournament can do for a small nation’s footballing status. 

And if you look even further abroad, every single qualifier played between African teams is free to stream on FIFA’s website. And for those amongst you that are as big of an AFCON fan as I am, this should really appeal you. The sheer madness of African international football, the rhythmic passion, the frantic intensity, completely cost-free. If you want entertainment from your international break, you just have to look harder for it. 

Furthermore, you shouldn’t tar all of international football with the same brush. The Nations League has been a resounding success in my opinion, replacing dreary friendlies with highly competitive encounters, between sides of almost identical ability. It is a competition that will only grow in both popularity and in how important it is perceived to be, but the inaugural showcase was very positive indeed. 

So, to conclude, I can fully understand people’s hesitations with international football. The small proportion of it that is provided to us by the mainstream channels perfectly explains such complaints, but we have an underlying arrogance – a bias toward the highest calibre of football – in this country, which has prevented us from seeing the true beauty of international football, in countries where it really matters. So, next time that club football does cease, and we see our respective nations take to the field once again, delve a little deeper into our beautiful game. Broaden your footballing horizons. 

Who knows? You might just love it as much as I do. 

Non-League x Altrincham

Non-League x Altrincham. Passion.

I joined Altrincham Football Clubs media team in 2017 and have been an integral member ever since From my own experiences I couldn’t recommend a better starting block for aspiring journalists than Non-League.

Now you may think that Non-League footballers are just overweight workmen that just turn up on a Saturday to kick a bit of ball around, but it is almost the opposite in terms of commitment and fitness.

In fact, the two training sessions a week seem measly compared to that of the professionals but it does require a certain level of commitment to train and play upwards of 50 games in a season (dependent on how far you get in various cup competitions.)

Altrincham are a massive club in the Non-League game having a proud record of the most ‘Giant Killings’ in the FA Cup for a team that has never seen the dizzy heights of the Football League.

Playing football that is very unlike the traditional Non-League ‘punt the ball up to the tall striker so the small striker can score’ style, Altrincham play along the floor, using the pitch’s greasy surface to their advantage. An approach that saw them reach the play-offs in the 6th tier of English football last season.

Non-League can be more engaging for fans, with the stands rarely more than a couple of metres from the goal line; a nightmare for shot-stoppers as there is little you can do to avoid the tirade of abuse, something Premier League ‘keepers will rarely have to deal with.

The connection between the players and fans is too a commodity of lower league football, with some fans often choosing to travel with the players on the coach to away games. Perhaps keeping the players grounded and close to their roots.

Players and staff take time to thank people for their support in post-match interviews, showing their gratitude to them after the final whistle and sitting in the Community Sports Hall with them after the game.

Gripping games last season including Altrincham vs Blyth Spartans in the play-off quarter finals that saw the Robins (Altrincham) victorious on penalties. Games like this can show that Non-League can be even more gripping than derby games in the Premier League, tension is part of football no matter what league you are in.

If you are a fan of a Non-League football team you keep the players families fed, the club from going into administration and adding to the managers transfer budget just by the mere fee you pay to watch the game.

Clubs like Altrincham have ‘Patron Schemes’ which mean you give a small fee every month which goes towards running the club and adding to Phil Parkinson’s (manager of Altrincham) budget to bring in the players he identifies as transfer targets, something he’s been fortunate to achieve since joining Alty, with major scalps including Nathan Arnold being in Parkinsons repertoire of signings.

In my opinion a team in the 6th tier of English football is more fulfilling to be a part of than those in the Premier League, you matter more to the club because they rely on your business. 

A club like Manchester City won’t miss out if you don’t turn up to a game, but it is more noticeable in Non-League grounds, with small attendances the norm, as they strive to get people interested in the game and supporting the local team. 

Non-League football is on the way up, more and more people are going to games each season, with a New Years Day fixture between Altrincham and Stockport County having an attendance of 3383.

Go and support your local club!

Finley White

United&Spurs x UCL

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United travel to Paris after they lost 0-2 to the French champions at Old Trafford three weeks ago.

It’s a mountain which even the club renowned for it’s comebacks won’t be expected to climb. United have 10 first team squad members missing with enigmatic Frenchman Paul Pogba, who was sent off in the loss in the first leg of the last 16 tie, among them.

Goals from Presnel Kimpembe and Kylian Mbappe were enough to stun United, who themselves expected to beat the Parisians due the absence of Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Thomas Meunier and Adrien Rabiot, but the impressive defence and silky attackers did the job for the French champions.

United have been doing superbly under Solskjaer, no one can deny that and impressive wins against Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea prove that the man known for United’s most famous comeback in the Champions League final of 1999 is no stranger to a big win and could possibly pull off the unlikely in Paris. But it will take a lot of effort from his very thin squad.

Dawson Football predicts: PSG 2-1 Manchester United.

Borussia Dortmund however have an even bigger mountain to climb, with Spurs leading the German side by three goals with no reply after an impressive display at Wembley.

A flurry of second half goals from Tottenham stunned BVB, and Spurs with their desire to win and hunger to get further in this competition out-played a Dortmund side that lack the attacking prowess to expose the back line of the English team.

Borussia’s star man Marco Reus is back on a more positive note for BVB, but the Bundesliga leaders did lose away to Augsburg on Saturday, and will need to improve massively in just a few days if they are to overturn a three goal deficit in the space of 90 minutes at the Signal Iduna Park on Tuesday night.

Dawson Football predicts: Borussia Dortmund 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur.