Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thirty years too late....

The Guardian reports today on moves towards the formation of a UK football team for the 2012 Olympics. It's easy to see why this idea is being considered now, when in the past it has been vociferously opposed by every major UK sporting body, but from where I'm standing it's about 30 years out of time.

With all due respect to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, a UK football team as constituted today would be basically the England XI. Welshman Ryan Giggs might make the subs bench, but he won't be around for 2012.

I say this with no great relish or desire to do down our Celtic cousins. I was in fact a huge fan of Scottish football in the 1970s and it is a matter of regret that the land of Jim Baxter, Jimmy Johnstone, Billy Bremner and Kenny Dalglish would no longer be able to provide realistic contenders for a UK-wide XI.

But the days when a collection of mining villages west of Glasgow could supply an entire European Cup-winning team, as amazingly happened with Celtic in 1967, are sadly long gone.

I personally would have loved to have seen a UK team when I was growing up as a football-mad youngster in the 70s. England had some decent players then - Kevin Keegan, Colin Bell and Roy McFarland to name but three - but we were always two or three players short of a great team, hence our elimination from the World Cup qualifiers of 1974 and 1978.

How different might that story have been had the national team been able to call on the likes of Bremner, Peter Lorimer, John Toshack, Pat Jennings - still the greatest goalie I have ever seen - and of course, George Best.

Incidentally I reckon Best's career would have been prolonged if he'd had the incentive of meaningful international competition. Given that he'd achieved everything there was to achieve in the club game by 1968, it was hardly surprising that sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll became a more interesting option.

You know what I think? I think Bestie would have played in the '74 World Cup in Germany, and we'd have won the bugger, with Bremner as skipper emulating Bobby Moore's achievement of eight years' previously.

In the 80s, a UK team would potentially have been even stronger. This was the era in which Liverpool dominated Europe and Dalglish, Alan Hansen and Ian Rush would all have been key players in the national set-up. In the 90s, there would have been Giggs and Mark Hughes.

But as for today, I don't see a great deal to be gained from it, beyond raising the possibility of "tokenist" squad places for otherwise inferior Scottish, Welsh and Irish players, and creating a false sense of national unity in a political culture which is far more devolved than was the case three decades ago.

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5 comments:

OJ said...

Remember, though, that the Olympic tournament is primarily for under 23s (with three over 23s allowed per squad), so there may be greater competition for places between the nations than the established full sides. There's no direct equivalent, but the Euro U21 Championship (especially the last qualifying game between England and Wales) suggests that there is greater parity between the nations, and so a GB squad is less likely to be at risk of being solely English based.

media scum said...

There was a GB team during World War 2 (I remember because both Mannion and Hardwick from the Boro were in it) It would be of some interest to know the exact make up of that team by 'nationality'....

media scum said...

I was getting obsessed by this, so i went to Wikipedia. According to them, this all culminated in the 'Match of the Century' in 1947

"The 1947 game, dubbed the 'Match of the Century', was played to celebrate the return of the Home Nations to FIFA (they had left in 1920). For the match, played at Scotland's Hampden Park in front of 135,000 spectators, the Great Britain side wore a navy blue strip in honour of the host association. The gate receipts, totalling £35,000, helped boost the finances of FIFA, which had been damaged by the lack of competition during World War II.[22] On that occasion, the Great Britain team consisted of:

Frank Swift (England), George Hardwick (England), Billy Hughes (Wales), Archie Macaulay (Scotland), Jackie Vernon (Ireland), Ron Burgess (Wales), Stanley Matthews (England), Wilf Mannion (England), Tommy Lawton (England), Billy Steel (Scotland), Billy Liddell (Scotland)."

stephen rouse said...

Ah, but would have a British side have won the 1966 final? Political forces mean that Ramsey has to abandon the wingless wonders experiment, dropping Martin Peters to accommodate "Jinky" Johnston, whom Schnellinger keeps in his back pocket for 90 minutes...

kiki said...
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