Given the state of the place and the clowns brazenly running it into the ground, The Fiver gives the United Kingdom another decade tops before it splits into four independent countries, or maybe territories so small they’d make several of the states on the Balkan peninsula look like Canada. Two or three years if the disaster capitalists take it up another notch and the unravelling really starts to accelerate with extreme prejudice. But we’re pretty sure the union will hold firm until at least the end of next week, yes, fairly sure, so for now we’re on reasonably safe ground with the concept of the Home Nations, right? Right! Nations League preview for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales it is, then.
England don’t play until Friday, so let’s set them aside for the minute. The Fiver has to vamp for the next seven days straight, and we can’t blow what little subject matter there is all at once. Suffice to say Gareth Southgate’s rabble, savagely worked over back in June by Hungary in a manner that if nothing else restored the reputation of Gil Merrick, are not the only ones in serious trouble of relegation. Wales, for starters, will fall out of the A tier should they lose in Belgium on Thursday and the Poles avoid defeat at home to the Dutch. That looks more likely to happen than not, but then The Fiver has a record of being wrong about everything that now stretches into a third decade, and with a first appearance at the World Cup for 64 years looming, we’re not entirely sure whether the Welsh will care anyway. Oh, integrity of the Nations League! We hardly knew ye.
Northern Ireland are also battling to escape the drop. They have to at least match Cyprus’s two results this coming week, else it’s Andorra, Liechtenstein and San Marino ahoy, and yes, a nautical reference is wholly inappropriate but you get the gist. On the face of it, besting Cyprus shouldn’t be beyond the ken of Ian Baraclough’s side, but then Northern Ireland’s all-time record in the Nations League is about as successful as a cruise line operating out of Vaduz – zero wins in 14 attempts – so probably best to keep expectations in check. All of which leaves us with Scotland, who will be promoted to the top tier next week if they manage to beat Ukraine (twice) and the Republic O’Ireland. So the Home Nations are pinning their collective hopes on Scotland, then. That it’s come to this. Oh dear. Never mind, we’ll all be shot of each other soon enough.
LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE
Scott Murray will be here from 7.45pm BST for hot MBM coverage of Scotland 1-1 Ukraine.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I have decided to not take part in the photoshoot after the French federation’s refusal to change the image rights agreement with the players” – Kylian Mbappé decides against promoting fast food chains and betting companies in the buildup to France’s Nations League games. KFC may take legal action over his stance: “We have paid for something clear. If necessary, we will assert our rights,” sniffed senior suit Alain Beral, prompting
the Colonel an official statement to declare: “These are personal opinions, but in no way reflect the position of the company.”
MOVING THE GOALPOSTS
The latest edition of our weekly women’s football email has dropped. You can get a taster here and sign up for the full newsletter too.
“Congratulations to David Unsworth on finding a new club, Oldham Athletic, which while not exactly being on the outskirts of Bolton, is not too far away from said town and is therefore likely to be a doable commute, assuming that he still lives on Merseyside” – Elaine Shaw.
“Rather than the English game preferring its benefactors to keep quiet (yesterday’s Still Want More?), perhaps the English game actually just prefers that its new owners don’t initially spend £250m, fire their Big Cup-winning manager, hire another one and then afterwards try to hire a director of football (position still unfilled)” – Noble Francis.
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, who also scoops a copy of Jonathan Wilson’s Two Brothers, which is also available to buy here, is … Elaine Shaw.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Uefa’s statement apparently blaming Liverpool supporters for causing the delay to the start of the Big Cup final in Paris was pre-prepared a considerable time before the day of the match.
Newly-released audio has revealed that David Ibbotson, the pilot of the plane on which he and Emiliano Sala died, told a friend the aircraft was “dodgy” after a flight from Cardiff to Nantes.
Ukraine captain Andriy Yarmolenko has called for Russia to be “totally isolated” from all professional sport as news emerged that the country will be excluded from Euro 2024. “This is a country of terrorists, a country that kills Ukrainians, that kills Ukrainian children,” he said.
Chelsea have sacked commercial director Damian Willoughby after receiving evidence he had sent “inappropriate messages” before being appointed.
England’s Harry Kane and the captains of the seven other Human Rights World Cup qualifiers – Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales – will wear the OneLove armband in Qatar, where same-sex relationships and the promotion of same-sex relationships are criminalised. That’ll truly learn them!
Eric Dier has revealed that his closest family members no longer attend away games because of the abuse they hear inside stadiums. “It has definitely got worse,” he sighed. “It is a huge, huge problem.”
Ivan Toney has escalated his [email protected] beef with Arsenal’s players by calling their mockery of him on social media disgraces “cringeworthy”.
And in news that makes The Fiver certain we’ve entered a parallel universe, Jay Spearing, 33, replaced Arthur Melo, 26, in Liverpool U-21s’ 1-0 Freight Rover Trophy defeat at Rochdale. “[It was a] crazy feeling,” yelped the player-coach, who last played for the Reds in 2013.
STILL WANT MORE?
Proper Journalism’s David Conn and the visuals team have done this forensic dive into how the Big Cup final descended into chaos. It’s a must read.
Meanwhile, three Liverpool fans detail their traumatic experiences in Paris that night.
Which national leagues have the most (and fewest) teams in capital cities? The Knowledge knows.
And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!