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Following Newcastle United away

2 years ago

Last week I got my tickets for the penultimate England game of a drab Nations League campaign. I’ll be heading over to Milan to watch England play Italy at the San Siro.

I know many on The Mag don’t care much for England and especially the Nations League. I am personally in favour of the tournament. It’s not like it creates extra international games. We would be playing friendlies anyway had this concept not been created.

Sure, we could argue that there are too many breaks and I do agree with that. However, if the breaks aren’t going to be reduced, I’d prefer them to be filled with competitive games, rather than friendlies against Jamaica or the USA. You could say the Nations League qualifiers are glorified friendlies but at least they are against highly ranked opposition, until we get relegated to the B League that is!

From my point of view, the Nations League has given me the chance to watch us play some quality sides, including Spain, Croatia, Holland, Germany and Italy over the four years since I started going to England games. I got to travel to the Allianz Arena a couple of months ago. Not only was Munich a brilliant city to visit, but the stadium was incredible and, of course, I got to witness the first Newcastle United player pulling on an England shirt for six years. Hopefully, the first of many to pull on the white of England during the tenure of our new owners.

The Nations League also gives an opportunity for an extra tournament. Porto for the finals in 2019 was brilliant. It’s not just about the football. The games were merely something extra to do during a seven day holiday in a gorgeous city.

I use England trips as a chance to visit places that I may not have otherwise have chosen to. I have friends that literally just go for the game. They’ll be away for two or three days tops. When there, they spend the majority of their time getting pi..ed and chanting at locals and police.

I spend a minimum of four days on each of these excursions but ideally like to do between five and seven. Whilst drinking and chanting certainly find a place on my agenda, I like to explore and get to know the city I’m visiting as well. As there is a cap system (essentially loyalty points) I haven’t been able to go on lots of away games. Places like Montenegro give us an allocation of about 500, so only top cappers get the tickets for those ones.

Since 2018 I’ve been to Seville, Porto, Prague, Munich and soon Milan, following this England team, not to mention every game (bar Scotland and Ukraine) of Euro 2020.

Up until 2018 I’d always been a bit of a fairweather England fan. I followed the tournaments and I’d watch most of the qualifiers. However, friendlies rarely interested me. The only reason I started going to England games was because when Rafa went, I went.

With my pledge to no longer put any money in the pocket of He Who Shall Not Be Named, I sought a new avenue to focus my football loving.

A mate who supports Liverpool (it’s practically impossible to get tickets to watch them) and I decided we would go as many games as possible to build up enough caps to be able to get to Euro 2020.

We would have never predicted that in those first three years we would witness qualification for and participation at the finals of the inaugural Nations League and then get all the way to the final of a Euros.

We’re not going to Qatar. I don’t agree with that tournament for so many reasons. The way they won the hosting rights is shady, the fact that all major leagues have had to mould their seasons to their whim, the treatment of the workers that have built the stadiums, not to mention Qatari interference in a certain takeover process. On top of all that, it will cost a fortune and having fun appears to be against the law out there. It’s not a tournament I have any interest in attending.

Germany ’24, however, is right up my street. I just hope that we have a top manager to lead us there. Guardiola has said he fancies an international job when he leaves Man City. Could we lure him? Obviously not, but that’d be something. He’s always managed clubs with great resources, that are already at the top of their respective leagues. The England job would be a real challenge of his coaching abilities.

Those of you nervous that Eddie Howe might be the next target of the FA, I genuinely don’t think we’ve got anything to worry about. I personally don’t think he would be their first choice, but more pertinently, I don’t think he’d accept. He’s the figurehead of a major movement. The England job is so unlikely to bring him trophies or positive recognition. It’s a bit like being Prime Minister, it may be seen as the elite job in its industry but those that occupy the role rarely leave with an enhanced reputation.

If Eddie Howe continues to grow at Newcastle United, he could be here for decades, win everything and become a legend beyond all proportions.

The World Cup after Qatar is USA, Canada and Mexico. I would like to do one World Cup before I hang up my passport and that one would be a brilliant way to bow out. I’d probably stay out there for the full month of the tournament as it would be too costly coming back and forth.

Why all this talk about England on a Newcastle United site you may be wondering? Well, things have changed on the domestic front. Suddenly, I want to be travelling with Newcastle United as much as I can. I’m getting up to the North East at every opportunity. If we qualify for Europe, I’m going to be wanting to enjoy football excursions following my true love.

Newcastle United under Bruce was a tough watch, but I enjoyed following England, now I can’t get enough of Newcastle United matches and I am finding the England games tedious.

I want to be spending my money following Newcastle United, so although Germany ’24 is a definite for me, I may find that I can’t afford to be attending a World Cup on another continent, whilst also trying to get to all those European nights with Newcastle. I’m sure we will be experiencing European football again by 2026.

Having visited the Allianz Arena and soon the San Siro, I would love to be able to do similar with Newcastle, but I don’t even care what tournament we feature in. A Thursday to Sunday trip to Athens or Bruges would be more than satisfactory. I’d be happy with Cluj or Jablonec for that matter.

Anyway, it’s something I’ll have to consider when the time comes.

I’ll let you know if I see a Mackem in Milan next month.

You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin


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