If, during the course of this week, you find yourself huddled up in the corner of some half-filled pub, staring forlornly into your drink while Portadown play Glenavon in the Irish league on an unwatched TV screen, or sitting in your college library actually doing something productive at four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, there’s only one explanation: the return of that incurable and all-too-frequently recurring disease known as the ‘international break’.
Beloved of no-one but ITV executives and minor European principalities, viewed at best as an inconvenience by club managers, journalists, and supporters alike, the international break may seem a lot like a particularly cold winter, or your first reading list of term: it’s unasked-for, soul-destroying, vast and bleak – but it can be survived.
The first step is denial: pretend that this is just a week like any other, with club football bound to come along and cheer you up at some stage. This will only work until around 12.30 on Saturday, when a crushing feeling of emptiness and gloom descends. This feeling reaches its peak in the early evening, with the terrible realisation that an international break is actually international, and means there’s no Spanish football to watch either. Not even Revista de la Liga to look forward to.
At this point swift action is required to prevent the onset of a deep and unrelenting depression: get onto your laptop, or onto the street, and find a substitute for your Premier League football fix. Nothing will do quite as well: but you may find something to numb the pain. It might be necessary to use a substitute sport: rugby perhaps, or, if things are really desperate, golf. If all else fails, this is an appropriate time to get unfathomably drunk, and hope for a hangover so bad that your poisoned mind cannot bear the strain of formulating the mere concept of football.
The lowest ebb comes at 3.15 in what suddenly feels like a yawning chasm of a Sunday afternoon, when a quick and hopeful flick through the Sky Sports TV guide delivers the devastating news that the only thing filling the gaping Super-Sunday-shaped void is Shrewsbury vs. Walsall in League One. Watch it, if you have the strength. If not, the best thing to do is probably to replay last Sunday’s games on FIFA. Repeatedly. With 20-minute halves.
At the end of the first weekend you’re over the worst of it, and will be ready to make a gradual recovery, comforted by the certainty of a glorious return to Premier League normality come Saturday. Revel in the luxury of a few extra days to ponder those fantasy team transfers, but under no circumstance confirm them before the second round of international qualifiers. There is no worse feeling than bringing in a new 9 million pound goalscoring midfielder, only to see him pick up a season-ending injury on international duty in Armenia. If this does happen, you’ll have to force yourself to resist the temptation to write an angry, drunken email demanding compensation for loss of fantasy points from the player’s national FA. They aren’t liable.
Take the chance to expand your footballing horizons: tune in to some South American qualifiers or the NextGen series – a little known gem involving u-19 sides representing the likes of Arsenal, Barcelona, Juventus and Molde. Do some work. Sleep. Oh and I suppose you’ll have to watch those England games, however unpalatable the prospect of seeing Jonjo Shelvey in a tracksuit adorned with your beloved Three Lions, or having to endure the wisecracks and catcalls from a disillusioned and oh-so-knowing audience in your JCR’s TV area, not to mention the slow-burning pain and gnawing anxiety of an uninspired and entirely unconvincing 1-1 draw against Poland in Warsaw.
But no matter how depressing those 90 minutes, you’ll end them with an overwhelming sense of relief. The international break is at an end. Before you know it you’ll be settling down in front of Chelsea-Spurs at White Hart Lane, problem sheet in hand, with the tribulations of the past fortnight all but forgotten.