Alan Pattullo: Is international football worth it just now?

Quarantine and lack of fans a far cry from era of Times writer Geoffrey Green and his away day adventures

Saturday, 5th September 2020, 7:30 am
Two of the world’s top sides, Germany and Spain, drew 1-1 in an empty Merecdes Benz Arena in Stuttgart. Picture: Matthias Hangst/Getty
Two of the world’s top sides, Germany and Spain, drew 1-1 in an empty Merecdes Benz Arena in Stuttgart. Picture: Matthias Hangst/Getty

Reading the journals of Geoffrey Green, the former football correspondent of The Times, was a lockdown treat. With Bobby Charlton counted among his best friends, indeed the Manchester United midfielder is a godfather to the late Green’s daughter Ti, the insight and access to great figures of the era is second to none.

It is intoxicating to follow his journalistic japes across Europe and beyond and enjoyable to read about the hair-raising scrapes Green and his colleagues would get themselves into on these jaunts abroad. Of course, such nonsense would never occur when Scottish scribes are sent on such assignments…

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Changing the subject quickly, I did wonder what Green would think if he read the tweets this week from Henry Winter, one of the successors in his illustrious role. These were sent from Reykjavik, where England play Iceland tonight, and shone a light on the very different experience that is reporting on an international team in the current climate.

Green’s memoirs, published in 1985 but chronicling his adventures dating back as far as the late 1940s, are from an era when the possibilities of international travel were just being explored.

Borders were being flung open and it is easy to imagine how thrilling it all must have been as he followed England, and occasionally Scotland, around the globe.

Winter’s tweets, meanwhile, chronicled the current difficulties facing reporters charged with keeping readers updated as international football begins to re-awaken. He arrived in Iceland at 10am on Monday morning and, after being tested for Covid-19, had to go straight to his hotel room to begin five days of quarantine. He was forbidden to visit any public spaces. He appears to have been surviving on what’s on offer from a vending machine.

Winter explained this was the fate of all visitors to Iceland just now. “You can go full fortnight quarantine or pay around 70 quid for a test and do the five days-staring-out-of-a-window at a local Trevelodge,” he tweeted.

It does beg the question – and someone did pose it to Winter among hundreds of replies – whether it’s really all worth it right now. Is international football a step too far amid continued efforts to simply get club football up and running? The results of Thursday’s first round of games since the re-start did not suggest it was worth all this bother. Few of the Nations League clashes really ignited and empty stadiums for internationals seem like an even greater sacrilege than at club level.

Uefa are perhaps relieved that they implemented former president Michel Platini’s idea for these leagues of nations in an attempt to eradicate meaningless, unpopular friendlies, just in time. At least these current games can be talked up as being vaguely competitive. Uefa are desperately trying to claw back the millions lost during shutdown. Broadcasting deals hinge on games starting again. There would be more opposition to teams flying here and there across the continent at such a sensitive time if only for mere friendlies.

And so we attempt to make the best of it amid bubbles and air bridges. We try to convince ourselves that a victory on Monday over a Czech Republic side severely weakened by a positive Covid-19 test in their camp earlier this week will be something to celebrate.

Not that there will be many on site reporting such an outcome. For the first time since international competition began in earnest, one would venture, no Scottish newspaper will be represented at a Scotland game abroad due to the requirement for self-isolation imposed on those travelling back from the country, nor will there be any broadcast journalists present.

The likes of Green and the equally happy wanderers among the Scottish press corps of the time would be aghast.

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