Coughing, spitting and sweating in the company of foreign counterparts

Wembley Stadium
The scene at Wembley later. Photograph: Justin Tallis/Reuters

BURSTING THE BUBBLES

Stuck in government-imposed lockdown because of the plague and not having seen or spoken to another human being in more than 48 hours, the Fiver is slowly losing what’s left of its tiny mind. Mr Wilson, the semi-deflated Adidas Tango football on which we’ve drawn a face, is marginally better than no company at all but his constant droning about upside-down pyramids, false nines and the Hungarian Aranycsapat can get quite tiresome, leading us to wish we’d spent more of our formative years kicking him around a football pitch so that we might have been good enough to get picked to go on a midweek international jolly while everyone else is forced to stay at home.

Following the Covid-induced havoc wreaked across Europe during the October international break, you could have been forgiven for thinking Uefa might have thought better than to force assorted teams the length and breadth of the continent to once again leave their club bubbles, assemble in new ones and travel to and fro across international borders to cough, sneeze, spit and sweat in the company of foreign counterparts on up to three different occasions in the space of two weeks.

Not a bit of it! In their apparently psychotically arrogant determination to get games played in a bid to appease broadcasters, the powers that be in Uefa HQ are prepared to fly in the face of player safety and good sense to ensure Wales get to entertain USA! USA!! USA!!! at the Liberty Stadium for no good reason whatsoever, while England will host second-choice guests the Republic O’Ireland at a completely deserted Wembley in a friendly one suspects not even the most fervent “patriots” from the fan base of either side of this occasionally bitter historic divide cares who wins ... unless it’s O’Ireland.

Of course not all the midweek internationals are inconsequential, what with places up for grabs at the finals of Euro 2020, which may or may not take place in 2021. On a run of eight games unbeaten and with only Serbia standing between them and a place in their first major tournament since 1998, Scotland have committed the cardinal sin of raising the hopes of fitba fans and will almost certainly go down in flames against a side that has won one of its last six. Meanwhile in Belfast, Norn Iron need to get past Slovakia to book their berth in a second successive European finals. Unlike Scotland, the Iron will at least have 1,060 socially distanced fans at Windsor Park to cheer them on. While that may only be around one-twentieth of the normal capacity, those sons and daughters of Ulster will still be very loud.

LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE

Join Simon Burnton for red-hot meaningless coverage of England 0-0 Republic O’Ireland, while Nick Ames will be on hand for Serbia 2-1 Scotland and Rob Smyth will be following Norn Iron 1-0 Slovakia.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Following a telephone call this morning between the Uefa president and Greg Clarke, they agreed with Greg Clarke’s proposal that he should step down with immediate effect from his position as a Uefa representative on the Fifa council” – a spokesman for European football’s governing body reveals the recently departed FA chairman has just left another high-profile position, despite Aleksander Ceferin’s apparent indifference towards his diplomat’s prehistoric turns of phrase.

Greg Clarke
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Greg Clarke makes another dart through the door marked Do One. Photograph: Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

FIVER LETTERS

“I’m reading this excellent Ewan Murray article and looking for positive connections with the day of that opening World Cup match against Brazil in 1998. The, er, ‘Ginger’ one left the Spice Girls and All Saints released the single Never Ever. Which to me means it’ll probably finish Serbia 2-0 Scotland tonight. Still C’est La Vie. (Incidentally, the number one single in the UK that day)” – Tony Crawford.

“May I be one of many (maybe 1,057) to point out that in Dominic Raab’s menu (Wednesday’s Fiver) to describe it as aubergine baba ghanoush is unnecessary as aubergine is what baba ghanoush is made from. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to eat some chickpea hummus” – Steve Davis.

“Are you making up the names of the prize-winning letter o’the day (Wednesday’s Fiver) to save on (UK only) postage?” – Colin Matthews.

“Followed swiftly by a retraction from someone who didn’t check above Greg Clarke’s top-shelfless photo” – Colin Matthews (and others).

Send your letters to [email protected]. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our letter o’the day is … Tony Crawford, who wins a copy of The A-Z of Weird & Wonderful Football Shirts: Broccoli, Beer & Bruised Bananas by Richard Johnson [postage available to UK only, sorry – Fiver Postal Ed].

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

Joe Gomez has undergone surgery on his knee-knack and Liverpool are hopeful he can return before the end of the season.

The FA has asked the government to grant a coronavirus travel exemption to Iceland so next week’s Nations League match can take place at Wembley. “We believe it’s in the better interests of the England team and support staff to play at Wembley rather than have international travel at this time,” said an FA suit.

Diego Maradona has been discharged from hospital and taken to a recovery clinic to be treated for alcohol dependency.

And Burnley have spotted it’s a slow news week and pumped out a statement confirming they “remain in discussions with interested parties regarding future investment”. Egyptian businessman Mohamed El Kashashy and lawyer Chris Farnell slapped a £200m takeover bid on the table last month.

STILL WANT MORE?

“It is outrageous”. Suzanne Wrack skewers the absurdities and unfairness of girls’ academies being closed under the new Covid restrictions while their male counterparts can carry on.

This week’s pointless friendlies: an exercise in greed and narcissism, thunders Jonathan Liew.

After Greg Clarke’s exit, football has a chance to look beyond the pale, male and stale, says Leon Mann.

That said, something stylish is stirring with the Republic O’ Ireland, says Paul Doyle, while Steven Pye recalls when the team qualified for Euro 88.

Jack Charlton and his assistant Maurice Setters at Euro 88
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Jack Charlton and his assistant Maurice Setters at Euro 88. Photograph: Ray McManus/Sportsfile/Getty Images

The fatalism that has long gripped Shortbread McFiver and chums could finally be overcome by actual success, says Ewan Murray.

Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!

ALL OUT OF IDEAS