Why England Face a Struggle to Win Back Their Disillusioned Fans

Sam Pilger@sampilgerContributing Football WriterSeptember 3, 2014

HERTFORD, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 02:  Wayne Rooney of England talkds to the media during an England press conference at The Grove Hotel on September 2, 2014 in Hertford, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

This week a friend of mine kindly offered me a free pair of tickets to England’s friendly against Norway at Wembley stadium on Wednesday.

I politely declined, for even in the best of times I have scant interest in meaningless England games, and especially now.

I am certainly not alone.

As reported in The Guardian, the Football Association expects tonight’s game will be played in front of a half-empty stadium.

The best estimates for Wednesday’s crowd are around 40,000, which would be the lowest attendance for an England game at the national stadium for 16 years, and the lowest ever since it reopened in 2007.  

England have some of the most loyal fans in the world, but even their commitment and patience has been tested after Roy Hodgson’s side's insipid displays at the World Cup in Brazil.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 01:  England manager Roy Hodgson during a England training session before there  international friendly match against Norway at London Colney  on September 1, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Ian Walton/Getty Images

Even though expectations were lowered and more realistic before this summer's World Cup there was still a profound shock at just how poor England were in Brazil when they finished bottom of their group and returned home with a single point.

Ten weeks after the indignity of playing out a dead rubber in Belo Horizonte against Costa Rica, who would finish top of the group, England are back in action tonight, and the truth is no one is particularly interested.

After all the excitement at the return of the Premier League this feels like an unwanted intrusion. England games increasingly feel like a chore now.

There really is little to be excited about when it comes to England.

This is not a new era. This is more of the same.

Roy Hodgson has already been allowed to fail at two major tournaments and keep his job, and there are no compelling signs it won’t happen a third time.

In the summer I wrote that keeping Hodgson was an act of surrender by the Football Association, which revealed a surprising lack of ambition.

The England manager has released his starting line-up ahead of the game in the hope of luring a bigger, more respectable crowd to Wembley tonight.

The problem is with the exception of Raheem Sterling there is no player that would make the crowds quicken their pace along Wembley Way tonight.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 19:  Raheem Sterling of England controls the ball during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between Uruguay and England at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 19, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The back four of John Stones, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones and Leighton Baines continues to look too static and vulnerable.

At international level Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson remain studies in unfulfilled potential and have shown no evidence they can anchor a midfield at a major tournament.

While Wayne Rooney is the right choice for England captain he is also emblematic of England’s constant failure over the last decade. He is not the face of a brave new era.

The one player that offers some sense of excitement is Sterling, who showed glimpses, especially in England’s opening game against Italy at the World Cup, that he could become a major player on the international stage.

Tonight’s game is a hard sell; a win tonight against a Norway side ranked 53rd in the world would be meaningless, but another stumble would only confirm to England fans they were right to stay away.

Over the next two years in the build-up to Euro 2016, England face a real battle to excite their disillusioned fans and begin to fill all those empty seats.