Fans of big-time soccer, be it Premier League, La Liga or Bundesliga, absolutely dread the international break. Who wants to see England play Malta or the Netherlands play Luxembourg?
The majority of my soccer fanhood, I was in the same boat. These handful of periods just break up the fun of following favorite clubs and probably, more importantly, break up the ever important “narrative” that soccer fans seem obsessed with. The concept didn’t seem unfamiliar to me as an American because we have all-star breaks, bye weeks and other similar distractions, but that still doesn’t mean the breaks are any more fun to sit through.
Well, I’m here to argue that these international breaks do indeed matter. They matter a great deal.
About two years ago, I moved down to the tiny island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis (smallest population in the western hemisphere). Cricket fans may recognize it for their CPL franchise or occasional hosting of the West Indies. However, despite the high level of cricket that is played on the island, soccer is by far the most popular sport.
Thanks largely to the size and financial restrictions that accompany it, St. Kitts doesn’t have a high-level professional league (although the St. Kitts Premier League is quite entertaining in its own right) that puts the nation on the world scale and the same is the case for many other nations across the world. Citizens of Andorra, or Northern Ireland, simply don’t have access to local club soccer that is of a high level.
What that means is that national team becomes a way for the nation to display how well they play and how much passion there is, albeit on a smaller scale.
In my experience, the enthusiasm on hand during a St. Kitts and Nevis national team match can rival any sporting experience around the world, albeit on a smaller scale and with a Caribbean flair. The sound of steel pan drums, the pounding on rusty old car wheels, and the constant trumpeting provides for an unforgettable experience. Best of all there isn’t the corporate sanitized feel that many high-level club leagues have.
I can imagine this is the feel for many smaller national team games around the world and it makes for a special night out, especially when a big nation rumbles to town (look at the Faroe Islands hosting EURO champions Portugal today).
Yes, the international break can be dull if you have become accustomed to heading to Old Trafford every other weekend or are tired of watching England roll through their qualifying campaign time after time. But that shouldn’t be the point of the break, rather soccer fans should relish the quirky little stadiums and enthusiasm of those in them.
Until a major tournament is the focus of the international soccer calendar, the international break should be about giving the little guys a turn at the table. When there isn’t a big international showdown, I encourage you to watch matches like Portugal heading to the Faroe Islands and take note of the display at the 6,000 seat stadium. These fans are fantastic and on occasion, perhaps these smaller, less powerful nations can give us a story like Iceland did this summer.
Soccer is so much more than the big players and the big nations that have certain high expectations for their teams. Many grateful fans are simply happy seeing their nation, however briefly enter the world soccer conversation no matter how badly they are beaten.
by John Harbeck (https://playingfor90.com/2016/10/10/true-essence-international-break/)