Football: England set for Hungary warm-up

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND WILL play Hungary on 28 April in Budapest as part of their preparations for the crucial Euro 2000 qualifier against Bulgaria less than two months later, it was announced yesterday. Glenn Hoddle's side will play Sweden at Wembley at the start of June, followed by the Bulgarians, away, a few days later. Hoddle has organised the April friendly as he believes the Hungarian side mirror the style of the Bulgarians.

The news came on the same day that the national side and much of British football mortgaged its short-term image by signing a sponsorship agreement with a building society. The Nationwide announced a wide-ranging deal for the game worth an estimated total of pounds 25m over four years. The deal means the company will succeed Green Flag as the England national side's main sponsor for the next four years, will continue as sponsor of the Football League for another two years, and become the new sponsor of the Football Conference. The company will also become an associate sponsor of the Scotland team for four seasons and continue its sponsorship of the Irish League Gold Cup for two years.

The new sponsor's chief executive, Brian Davis, said: "We need to consistently re-emphasise our brand to as many people as possible."

Hoddle said: "This is a deal which is great for all of football, not just the England team."

While yesterday's deal shows how attractive football has become to commercial investors in recent years, it also highlights the gaping divide between the different levels of the national sport.

Whereas yesterday's endorsement will see one company paying pounds 25m to effectively sponsor all major football events in the country (including the national side) for four years, the Premier League's comparative deal with Carling (for just one division) is worth pounds 36m alone.

Speaking after yesterday's deal was announced, Hoddle took the opportunity to say he believed the public are firmly behind him and his team, despite less than scintillating performances in the most recent Euroo 2000 qualifiers. He added that the fact that next month's friendly at Wembley against France has sold out almost three weeks before it is due to be played proves that the public are behind him.

"I pushed for the game and the French came back straight away saying they wanted to play us at all levels, which shows the pull we still have and that Wembley is the place where people want to come and play," Hoddle said. "It couldn't be a better friendly fixture as they don't come any bigger than the world champions and the public have already responded with a full-house.

"I'm not sure that a dip in public support has been there anyway. There was a good crowd for the Czech Republic game [a friendly England won 2- 0 in November] at late notice and a full-house here at Wembley is an excellent turn-out. It always is, they always support the team very well.

"The main concern for us is the next two qualifying games at Wembley. If we can chalk up two wins from those games then that will put a completely different complexion on the group.

"The Czech Republic game was good for us. If we hadn't played that game, it would have been a longer gap. If we can get the same result and performance against France, it will bode well for us.

"There are certain players who will gain from that experience, particularly if it's a younger player."

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