Dickie Felton

I write about music and football

This week, for the first time in a decade, the England team cut its Wembley umbilical cord and headed north. I wonder if Football Association bosses relied on Google Maps to work out exactly where the north of England is?

Euro 16 warm-up matches took place in Manchester on Sunday and last night at Sunderland. This week’s move away from Wembley was largely due to the stadium being used for various finals/play-offs as the league season reaches its finale.

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But it also gave the opportunity for the national team to become, well, a bit more regional.

A chance for the north of England to stake some ownership of the national side. Is the England team just for the south of the country or is England for everybody?

“We are not English, we are Scouse” is a familiar banner seen on the Kop at Anfield. In the Museum of Liverpool a quote adorns a wall stating: “Liverpool in England but not OF England.”

Last year Liverpool fan Alex Woo wrote in the Sabotage Times: “Why should I feel a connection to a country that when it comes to football is arrogant, detestable and has no relevance to my life in Liverpool?

So you get the picture - a north south divide when it comes to supporting the national side.

It has been quite a shocking state of affairs that a national side should sit strapped to its capital for such a long period of time.

The reason: The ‘new’ Wembley (now a decade old) is still paying for itself. And to justify all that money, the national side has played all its home fixtures under that big arch thing ever since (I nearly wrote twin towers then…)

It didn't have to always be this way. When I was ten I received my first England kit. The Admiral red away shirt. I have to say it remains one of my most treasured possessions. A stunning jersey that conjures up images of Kevin Keegan, Sammy Lee, Tony Woodcock winning away in Greece or somewhere and then swiftly followed by stunning failure at Espana 82.

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At 13 I got the Umbro England Mexico World Cup jersey. I can still remember my nan buying it from a sports shop in Ormskirk. I was ecstatic - and of course I still own it.

I wore it as my dad let me stay up past midnight during the 1986 Mexico tournament in time to watch Ray Wilkins sent off against somebody.

Two years later I was on the Kop at Anfield jeering an England team playing in Alan Hansen’s testimonial. The Reds outclassed Bobby Robson’s side that night and I recall Tony Adams getting a torrid time from the terraces. The donkey chant ringing out every time he got the ball.

I don’t recall Adams ever being that bad. And he has a winners medal collection bigger than most.

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That night I also remember the Kop chanting for Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In fact chanting for any national side other than England.

But back in the 1980s it wasn't unusual for England to leave the comfort zone of the south behind. A few years before the Hansen game, Bobby Robson brought Butcher, Mariner and co up to Anfield for Phil Thompson’s testimonial.

The black and white image at the top of this post is the original photograph by Steve Hale of the two teams squeezed into an Anfield dressing room.

Everyone loved Italia 90 didn't they? A magnificent Bobby Robson inspired run to the last four. Then Gazza's tears, semi-final heartache. 

In the last decade the England national side has been dominated by largely unlikeable figures (I’m trying to be diplomatic here). There was Ashley Cole (boo!) John Terry (double boo!) and Joe Cole (hiss) and other notable no-mark mainstays in the line-up.

Then there was the (extremely likeable) Jamie Carragher getting blanked from the team in 2007. 

But, these days though the tide has surely changed? All that remains of that old guard is Rooney.

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For the first time since the Alan Hansen testimonial some 28 years ago I attended an England match last Sunday - the friendly against Turkey.

It was quite a novelty to see Vardy et al playing with three lions on their shirts in a northern stadium.

The attendance was close to 45,000, largely due to the fact that ticket prices were very reasonable: £20 adults and a tenner for kids. The crowd was largely made up of families.

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And, I dunno whether I’m mellowing in my old age, but I don’t feel the same troublesome thoughts about England being "just for the south" anymore.

A quick glance at the provisional 26 man squad reveals that 16 of them come from northern clubs. The side is largely made up of young eager beavers - Barkley, Stones, Walker, Clyne, Rose, Alli, Kane, Dier. Oh and some lad called Rashford from Wythenshawe who banged one in last night on his England debut.

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I have to say the fan zone and whole experience of watching England in Manchester was exceedingly pleasurable and family orientated. A stage outside had bands on, fans enjoyed beers, good music and eventually sunshine in the match build-up.

I was sent a survey following the match by the FA asking about the match-day experience. And clearly the north/south divide is something that they want to address.

The best way for the England team to re-connect with the north, is to visit the north more than once every ten years.

Yes - northern folk would occasionally like to watch the national side - if you give us half the chance. 

Incidentally, I'm in London on Thursday. Has anyone got any spares for the Portugal game?! Twitter @dickiefelton

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