England v Switzerland: Unsold tickets deal blow to Three Lions’ road show

Switzerland manager Vladimir Petkovic talks to his players during a training session on Monday at King Power Stadium, Leicester (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire).
Switzerland manager Vladimir Petkovic talks to his players during a training session on Monday at King Power Stadium, Leicester (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire).
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As OF last night, a little over 1,500 tickets were still available for tonight’s international friendly between England and Switzerland.

For those advocating more Three Lions games being taken away from Wembley and out on the road this inability to sell out the fixture at Leicester City’s 30,000 capacity King Power Stadium is viewed as something of a blow.

Just two months ago the national team appeared in the World Cup semi-finals so, the theory goes, there should be a clamour to watch Gareth Southgate’s men, even for a friendly against Switzerland.

Ticket prices that peak at £45 and £55 do not help, of course. But what may also be a factor is that the good folk of Leicester have long memories, the city’s previous taste of international football in 2003 having descended into farce thanks to no fewer than 43 players taking part amid a multitude of substitutions.

Sven Goran Eriksson, who had form in this respect, made ten changes that night against Serbia and Montenegro with only David James playing the full 90 minutes.

Worse still, no fewer than four players sported the captain’s armband on a night when the Three Lions won 2-1 but turned off huge swathes of the crowd, many having resorted to making their own entertainment long before the end by peppering the pitch with paper aeroplanes.

With this in mind maybe it should not be too much of a surprise that football fans in the East Midlands have thought twice about handing over their hard earned cash for tonight’s friendly against the Swiss.

Southgate, of course, will not treat supporters or the armband with the same contempt as Eriksson did all those years ago.

Sure, there will be changes tonight. Up to nine of them, in fact, with captain and striker Harry Kane, of Tottenham, set to lead the list of absentees after looking jaded in the weekend defeat to Spain.

But there will still be plenty for the Three Lions’ chief and the crowd to ponder, not least how England go about trying to find a way of winning without their talismanic goalscoring leader.

Kane has scored 14 goals in 14 appearances under Southgate. It is the kind of output that simply cannot be guaranteed elsewhere, particularly after Jamie Vardy’s decision to step away from international duty.

“There aren’t many English strikers playing,” admitted the 48-year-old former defender. “There is obviously some older ones who have good goalscoring records at club level, but I am not sure that is necessarily the route we want to go down.

“We are hopeful that a couple of the younger ones will start to get games and develop.

“I still have a lot of faith in the likes of (Liverpool’s Dominic) Solanke in particular, who I think has been outstanding at every age level. But I can’t rule out anyone because if people play well it would be foolish to ignore them.”

In the absence of Vardy following his recent retirement from international football, Harry Maguire will be the big focus for the Leicester crowd.

“It has been a crazy last couple of years for myself,” said the Mosborough-born 25-year-old. “I think from the summer, just the experience of playing in big games, at a World Cup, playing in high-pressure games.

“In my career I haven’t really done that so far, so to go out there and play in a World Cup – probably the biggest tournament in the world – and play under the pressures that were there, it gives me a great belief that I can go and have another good season.”

Maguire’s stellar performances in Russia led to summer interest from Manchester United, but he stayed loyal to the Foxes and recently signed a new deal until 2023.

“Obviously after the World Cup I came back and sat down with the owners and they reiterated what they wanted to do,” he added.

“There was a little bit of interest there and then. But I wanted to play for this club and I am now looking forward to the future, and where we can go as a club.”

Such a sentiment guarantees Maguire a hero’s welcome tonight as England return to Leicester after a little over 15 years away.

Hopefully it will be an occasion to savour and far removed from that non event against Serbia and Montengero under Eriksson.

Nights such as the one that 30,900 fans had to endure at the then Walker’s Stadium were why UEFA started looking into ways of reducing the lack of meaningless friendlies, a process that bore fruit last weekend with the launch of the Nations League.

It is to be hoped the next time the FA choose to take the national team on the road to, say, Old Trafford or Anfield, it will be for a competitive fixture.

Only then can we get a true picture as to whether the rest of the country really does have the appetite to match that of their counterparts in the capital.