It has been seven long years since the last home England international was staged outside of London, but it could now be time to take the national team back on the road.
The FA has reportedly made a Wembley-based NFL franchise their main priority, as they seek to recoup some of the £798million spent on redeveloping the national stadium.
While England matches will be held at Wembley until 2017, an NFL team in the capital could force the FA to consider moving internationals to grounds around the country.
NFL games in the UK have proved hugely successful, with the most recent, the Miami Dolphins’ 38-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders, attracting more than 83,000 eager and excited spectators.
The other two games to come this year are both sold out, and across the nine games that have been played at Wembley since 2007, the lowest attendance was still almost 77,000.
The popularity of NFL with a UK audience is in stark contrast to the current malaise in English football, encapsulated by the friendly against Norway last month, which attracted a crowd of just over 40,000 people.
While England brought in a far more respectable crowd, almost 56,000 strong, for last night’s 5-0 victory over minnows San Marino, it was still a record low for a competitive international at the new Wembley.
A distinct sense of apathy remains, surrounding English football, an apathy which has been growing since England arrived at the redeveloped stadium under the charge of Steve McClaren.
In the six years it took to build ‘New Wembley’, between 2001 and 2007, 34 England internationals took place across 13 different grounds.
From Newcastle to Southampton, Manchester to Ipswich, English football became an inclusive event across the nation and it could now be time for a change once again.
Surely it makes more sense, for the team as well as the fans, to play in front of a full house of 42,000 at Villa Park or 52,000 at St James’ Park rather than a half full Wembley?
England’s recent failings, epitomized by a dismal World Cup campaign, has deepened the disconnect between the national team and those who should be supporting it.
One of the only ways to reignite passion for international football is by making it more easily accessible to the many, not just the few.
With the utmost respect to Slovenia, England’s next home opponents, many would not be willing to pay for travel to London, on top of a match ticket to watch uninspiring football against mediocre sides.
English football needs to be just that: English. Only by breaking away from the London-centric view that has plagued English international football for so long will it once again become something to get excited about.
None of the past three World Cup winners, Italy, Spain and Germany, have a fixed stadium for their respective national teams, yet it seems to have done them no harm.
Spain, indeed, recently hosted their qualifying game against Macedonia at the 26,000-seater Estadi Ciutat de València, home of Levante, the first international game played at the venue.
While the prospect of England playing games around the nation could still be a number of years away, it is a notion which should be neither discounted, nor forgotten.
As the England team evolves, adapts and changes, with an influx of promising young players proving their worth, so too the organisation of the team must progress.
Amid all the talk of taking a Premier League game overseas to reach new markets, a bigger concern for the FA must be recapturing the hearts and minds of English football fans.
The idea of ‘build it and they will come’ is failing, let’s get the England team back on tour.
Main image courtesy of Nike Football via YouTube, with thanks.