Jack the Lad: These games matter

16th November 2018
Club

With domestic action taking a brief break, loyal Swans fan and website columnist Jack the Lad looks at the impact of the Uefa Nations League.

Football's governing bodies have been responsible for some of the most spectacular own goals in the history of the game.

Some of Fifa's decisions and behaviour in particular over the years have done much to tarnish the image of the "beautiful game".

But praise where it's due, Uefa should be congratulated over the success of the new Nations League.

I know many Swans fans may not share my love of international football, but to me it is every bit as important and exciting as the club game.

But even I was starting to get fed up of the Swans' league programme being interrupted by international breaks for so called "friendly" matches.

When I was growing up, "friendlies" seemed more scarce thanks to the existence of the Home International Championships and genuinely competitive non-qualification tournament international matches.

For those of you unfortunate enough not to recall this championship these were genuine competitive matches between Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England in a round-robin competition staged at the end of each league season.

The championship threw up some epic matches and occasions. Matches against Scotland seem to particularly stick in my mind.

Former Swans manager Brian Flynn's strike in the 2-2 draw at Ninian Park in 1975 was one of the greatest Welsh international goals of all time.

I particularly enjoyed the hat-trick scored by Swans' player-manager John Toshack in the 3-0 win over Scotland in May 1979, especially as it came after the Jocks controversially denied us a place at the 1978 World Cup in a World Cup qualifier at Anfield.

And then, there was the 2-0 win at the Vetch in 1981 which attracted such a large crowd that some of the travelling Tartan Army scaled the floodlights in order to get a view of the pitch. The sight of Joe Jordan (the villain of the piece in that Anfield match) being sent off after elbowing Terry Boyle, was particularly satisfying.

Talking of satisfying, beating England in the Home Internationals was always particularly pleasing, especially the 4-1 win at Wrexham when the Swans' winger Leighton James terrorised Nottingham Forest's Larry Lloyd.

But even genuine "friendly" internationals seemed to be more important and competitive back then. A 1-1 draw against a star-studded Brazil side at a packed Ninian Park springs to mind.

But the advent of unlimited substitutions signalled the beginning of the end of my interest in the majority of international friendlies.

And when then Wales manager Toshack, who always played his heart out for Wales on the pitch, said friendly results didn't matter prior to a Liberty Stadium clash with Georgia in 2008, I knew the days of the friendly international were numbered for me and many other fans.

As legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi famously said: "If it doesn't matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”

But the Nations League has breathed new life into non World Cup and European Championship qualifying matches for me.

A home mid-season friendly against Denmark in Cardiff would probably be lucky to attract a crowd of 15,000.

When the two sides last met in Brondby for a friendly back in November, 2008, the match "attracted" a crowd of 10,271

But this Friday's clash with Christian Eriksen et al is a 33,000 Cardiff City Stadium sell-out.

And that's because it definitely matters what the result is.

The match has a genuine importance with Wales playing for promotion to the top flight of the Nations League, improved seeding and a guaranteed European Championships qualification play-off place, should they fail to reach the finals through the traditional route.

So, well done Uefa for introducing meaningful matches to replace at least some of those international fixtures that had become just a little bit too "friendly".

C'mon Wales!