England’s summertime blues

The mood says it all. A crestfallen Steven Gerrard after England’s defeat to Croatia in the Euro 2008 qualifying match.-AP

England’s absence from the competition is expected to cost the UK economy around 1 billion pounds, with retailers, advertisers and football sponsors among the biggest losers, writes Ben James.

For the first time since 1994, a major football tournament will take place this summer without the presence of England. As when Graham Taylor’s side failed to qualify for the World Cup in the United States 14 years ago and when the national side did not make it to the World Cup in 1974 or 1978 or the European Championships of 1984, England fans will have to find someone else to cheer for.

The dismay that was felt when Steve McClaren’s side were beaten at home by Croatia — when a draw would have put them through to the finals in Austria and Switzerland (June 7-29) — was not only a huge blow to the national side; it was also felt in financial terms.

It’s estimated that England’s absence from the competition will cost the UK economy around 1 billion pounds, with retailers, advertisers and football sponsors among the biggest losers. Shirt sales will be heavily down this summer and television advertising is certain to be only a fraction of what it would have been, and the English Football Association estimates it will miss out on 10 million pounds of potential income.

While overseas fans themselves were disappointed that the likes of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen will not be on show, others in the sport were also disappointed.

“We are very disappointed that England did not make it because we think that England, the mother country of football, deserves to be in such a tournament,” Ralph Zloczower, the president of the Swiss FA, was reported as saying.

Jose Mourinho, the former Chelsea coach, described it as: “sad, a big loss for European football. A European Championship without England is not the same as one with them.”

When England failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1994, England fans attached themselves in big numbers to Ireland, who lit up the tournament as they reached the quarterfinals.

There is no Ireland, no Scotland and no Wales this time for them to get attached to, but BBC, who will share live coverage of the tournament with ITV, believe the absence of home nations, while disappointing, will not have a significant effect on ratings.

“Without any of the home nations taking part, we won’t have the pre-tournament talking points: the anguish of the metatarsals, the travel plans of the WAGs (wives and girlfriends),” Roger Mosey, Director of BBC Sport, said recently.

“But just before Christmas we sat down with our partners at ITV to agree which broadcaster would show which games — and, as we looked at the schedule, I was increasingly confident that this is going to be a great festival of football that will attract large audiences once it’s underway.” In many ways, the expectations that surround the England side are wholly unrealistic. While the English Premier League is arguably the best in Europe, their 1966 World Cup victory, on home soil, remains their only appearance in a final of either the World Cup or European Championship. Their record in the latter is particularly poor.

But failure to qualify for a major tournament does not always spell disaster for a national side, of course. France did not make it to the 1988 European Championships, even though they were defending champions, while they also missed both the 1990 and 1994 World Cup finals. Four years later, inspired by Zinedine Zidane, they went on to taste World Cup glory on home soil in 1998 and then won the European Championship two years later.

England will hope that they can follow France’s example. At least new manager Fabio Capello has plenty of time to mould a team as he builds towards the 2010 World Cup.