Sam Wallace: Check the facts Arsène, playing Sweden is far from a gimmick

Talking Football: A November friendly is as good a time as any for Hodgson to test his strength

The England side that played the first international match at the Rasunda Stadium in Stockholm in May 1937 does not, to modern eyes, feature the kind of names that stir the imagination in the way that the post-war team of Billy Wright, Stan Mortensen and Tom Finney do.

The team of 1937 lost most of their careers to the Second World War although the captain, George Male, was one of a few who played in Herbert Chapman's great Arsenal side of the 1930s. Otherwise this was a side whose best years would be spent playing in unofficial wartime leagues or, as many of them did, as physical training instructors in the Armed Forces.

The uncertainty of their lives, not to mention their football careers, was encapsulated in the fate of the Stoke City striker Freddie Steele, who scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 win for England that day in 1937, and retired two years later with a chronic knee injury and depression. He made a comeback only for his career to be interrupted by the war.

Ten years later, the England team of Mortensen, Finney and Wright came to the Rasunda and beat Sweden 4-2. That time there was a hat-trick from Mortensen in a team that included Finney, Wright, George Hardwick, Tommy Lawton and also Neil Franklin, the Stoke defender who defied the Football Association to play professionally in Colombia.

By then, the modern footballer was changing. He was rebelling against the maximum wage and football's reactionary authorities. The star of the Sweden team was Gunnar Nordahl, who was forced by arcane Swedish rules to forfeit his international career when he moved to Milan. These men were less prepared to be kept in their place.

The 1937 game was the first international game at the Rasunda Stadium and the Swedes recognise its significance. Speaking to a spokesman at the Swedish football association (SvFF) last week, he said it made perfect sense that the first game at the newly-built £260m Friends Arena in Solna on Wednesday should be against England.

The last game in August at the soon-to-be-demolished Rasunda was Sweden v Brazil, in honour of the 1958 World Cup final. But the first game at the Friends Arena just had to be England.

Why does this matter? It matters because Sweden are a relatively small but important football nation whose history is intertwined with that of English football. And when one says intertwined, we are not just talking about Sven Goran Eriksson and one notable former member of the FA's secretarial staff. We are talking about the flow of Swedish players into the English game, and the games between the two countries.

It is fitting that the England team plays a role in a hugely significant day for Swedish football upon which they open their new national stadium. Just as Brazil came to play the first full international game at the new Wembley Stadium in 2007, so it is right that, injuries permitting, Steven Gerrard, Joe Hart et al should follow in the footsteps of Male, Wilf Copping, Ted Catlin and poor old Freddie Steele who played at the first game in the Rasunda.

Not all agree, including Arsène Wenger who, for all his many qualities, is a habitual sneerer at international football. "Basically, there are a lot of politics behind these games," he said last week in reference to the Sweden friendly on Wednesday, irked by the inclusion of Jack Wilshere. "When you see some teams travelling during that period, you think it is more to pay back some corporation rather than preparing a team for the next official game."

He is certainly right about many of the fixtures played by Brazil, whose federation will fly the team just about anywhere for the right price. But Sweden v England? The countries have played 23 games since the first in 1923. It is hardly a gimmick.

As for the money-making, the FA in this country is a not-for-profit organisation. It ploughs everything it makes back into the business of developing football at all levels. Whether it does so successfully or not is a whole other debate but then so too is the question of whether Arsenal's well-remunerated executives are making the best use of their club's finances.

The regular howls of anger from managers, and not just Wenger, about international friendlies are tiresome. The powerful European club lobby has already overseen the abolition of the August friendly, with next year's the last in a Fifa calendar. Now some are sniping at the November friendly because, in Wenger's logic, it is too far from the next set of qualifiers to be meaningful.

International football is always, to a greater or lesser extent, a snapshot of a country's resources. It is not like a club's league season, in which injuries and availability even themselves out over the course of 38 games. International football is in part about improvising with whoever is available at any given time and mustering them into the kind of system and vision a coach has for his team.

In that sense, even with last night’s withdrawals from the squad, a November friendly is as good a time as any for Roy Hodgson to test the strength of what he has. The picture will be different when England play Brazil in February and then different again in March for the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and that crunch game against Montenegro in Podgorica. Each time, an international manager must make the best of what he has.

Hodgson happens to be a huge figure in Swedish football, not least for his 1976 title-winning season as a rookie manager with Halmstads and then his five championships in a row with Malmo between 1985 and 1989. He and his friend Bobby Houghton, Malmo manager when the club lost the 1979 European Cup final to Nottingham Forest, are regarded genuinely to have revolutionised Swedish football.

Many of Hodgson's Malmo players went on to be part of Sweden's 1994 World Cup side that finished third, arguably the country's greatest ever team. It is just another reason that those of us who love international football and its history think it is right for England to be in Stockholm this week. And just like 1937 or 1947, it would not hurt for England to play well and win the game, given the challenges they face in the spring.

Gerrard's ton is still quite a feat

The England team has played 914 games since the first in 1872 and to play in 100 of them is some achievement; one that can be measured by the fact that only five have reached that milestone. Come Wednesday, Steven Gerrard will become the sixth. True, he has never won a trophy with England, but then only two of the five centurions have. That he reaches 100 as captain is testament to his enduring quality.

Rangers hit by high hopes

Queen's Park Rangers' home league game against Southampton on Saturday has taken on even greater significance after QPR's seventh defeat of the season against Stoke City on Saturday. Between them they have only nine points after 11 games and both managers are feeling the heat. The difference is that Southampton have come up two divisions in two years and have, give or take a few, a Championship-standard side. QPR's excuse is not so obvious.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice