Man Utd would beat England eight times out of 10

When I was little, I loved to listen on the radio to every game that Scotland played, my little ears glued, my little mind trying to visualise the movements, my little heart thumping, willing Scotland to win, trembling when the dreaded English got into our penalty box. It was always Scotland playing England on the radio, when I look back. Can't remember getting excited or nervous when they were against Wales or Northern Ireland. As for foreign teams, they didn't count.

The Home Internationals are now no more, have ceased to be, but I still get excited whenever Scotland play. And England. I'm not prejudiced. As long as they're not against Scotland. England against Germany, 30 July 1966, what a day. In my will, my Beatles memorabilia are going to the nation, in the shape of the British Library, but I'd also like to find a good home for another stash of stuff, sorry, treasures from my life and times, viz my 1966 Wembley programme and ticket - Block K, entrance 36, row 9, seat 37 - and the first day cover signed by the whole England team.

Last year, the World Cup was a definite highlight, even though both Scotland and England disappointed. Didn't mind so many matches, didn't mind that I was knackered at the end of it. This year promises more disappointment for England in Europe, judging by the crap way Glenn has got them playing, but I'll still watch. I like internationals.

I like the anthems, the solemn line-ups, the national faces, the arm clutching, the national characteristics. I like thinking of the history, knowing that the world's first international was Scotland v England in 1872. In Glasgow. Result was 0-0. At least I think it was. Hope I didn't miss any goals. I did listen awfie hard, but wireless reception was very poor in those days.

Are we about to see the end of internationals? That's what Arsene Wenger and Franz Beckenbauer have predicted. The new enlarged European champions league will diminish their importance even more. Club football rules the world.

I can see it must be really annoying for big clubs, or those who consider themselves big, having to allow their multi-million pound stars to drag off to Andorra or the Faroe Isles where the air strip will be dodgy, the hotels crummy, the pitches poor. Then their precious stars come back injured, having been kicked up in the air by farm hands or policemen.

I do get annoyed personally when they cancel the Premier League for some piddling international in Andorra. I walk around the house all weekend, lost, bored, no fun in looking forward to Sports Report, nothing on the telly, nothing on the back pages. Might as well spend the weekend in bed.

Some sort of sifting will probably be done soon, with the small countries, as in tennis, lumping the minnows together, but this still won't appease the big clubs. They don't even like their star players playing for big countries against other big countries. Club football, they say, is now better than international football.

Is this true? It wasn't at one time, when clubs stuck to their own regions for their players, or at least their own countries. Now clubs like Juventus, Barcelona and Man Utd are international clubs, attracting the pick of the planet. They train together, bond together. A national team, by comparison, is often full of strangers, brought together by the randomness of birth.

I should think Man Utd, Arsenal or Chelsea could beat the England team, eight times out of ten. Carlisle United, on a good day, would probably do it.

It could be tried with Chelsea, as they are almost totally a foreign team. They'd have to toss up to see who has Le Saux, that's all. It would then be an interesting contest.

You couldn't do this in Ukraine, as they don't have foreign imports. Their national team is almost the same as the Dynamo Kiev team, and it shows in their quality, confidence, cohesion. A good argument for club football.

Club football, everywhere, as long as you are at the top, is riding high, getting more powerful, richer all the time. My worry is that they want everything their own way - and getting rid of internationals is one sign of this. They want to share all the spoils, think only of their own good, create monopolies, playing only against people like themselves.

Small clubs do beat big clubs, and small countries beat big countries. It's a big event, for a small country, its fans and its players, to play a big country. They get exposure, encouragement and experience. It gives hope for all the minnows, just to think that one day they might come up against the big fish.

The other week in the Cumberland News I read about the death of Alex McIntosh. I had quite forgotten his name, till I remembered he was captain of Carlisle United in 1951 when they drew against Arsenal at Highbury in the Cup. Anyone who was alive in Carlisle at that time will never forget it. Carlisle got stuffed in the return match, but that's not the point. It was an occasion to be remembered. As Rushden and Diamonds will always remember Leeds.

But the big clubs don't want to play small clubs any more, only each other, no more than they want their best players to play internationals. And the big clubs will win. All this FA fiddling around lending money was in desperation to get the 2006 World Cup to England - and keep them alive, financially. The proposal to have the World Cup every two years is also a desperate move - to keep the big clubs at bay.

Personally, I'd like the World Cup every two years, or even every year, and internationals to continue.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 15 January 1999 issue of the New Statesman, A slight and delicate minister?