Bring back Team GB - permanently
The Home Nations have declined so dramatically that a combined GB football team is the only answer
As the Home Nations suffer a series of chastening World Cup qualifying results, Iain Spragg argues the case for a combined British side.
When London was announced as host city of the 2012 Olympic Games, the party to celebrate staging the greatest sporting show on earth began. Football – not to mention taekwondo, beach volleyball and triathlon – was coming home.
But not everyone was happy. In particular, the blazers at the Scottish, Wales and Northern Ireland FAs were far from enthused as the clamour for a Team GB side at the Olympics grew and they came under increasing pressure to supply players for a combined team for the first since 1960.
Scotland and Northern Ireland refused to play ball, fearing losing their historic political influence in the corridors of power at FIFA, while Wales reluctantly acquiesced.
The Olympics may already be a fading memory but after Tuesday night’s dismal performances, not to mention results, from the Home Nations, it’s time to put the idea back on the agenda. National pride and a sense of patriotism are of course emotive issues but the facts speak for themselves. The Home Nations have declined so dramatically that a combined team is the only answer.
"The traditionalists may decry the idea of an artificially created XI, but football should heed the experiences of other sports"
England’s current FIFA ranking of third flatters to deceive and the Three Lions’ failure to make it past the last eight in the finals of the World Cup or European Championships since 1996 tells its own story.
Wales and Scotland are ranked 45th and 47th respectively – both below the mighty Gabon – while Northern Ireland are languishing down in 129th. All three look light years away from spending a summer at a major finals rather than on the beach.
A combined team would not be an overnight panacea but it would certainly increase the chances of British football making an impact on the world stage once again. The traditionalists may decry the idea of an artificially created XI, a team drawn from the cream of the British crop, but football should heed the experiences of other sports.
In rugby union, the British & Irish Lions are celebrated rather than tolerated. In cricket, the ‘England’ side has frequently welcomed Welsh, Scottish and Irish players into its ranks while the long history of Team GB in athletics, cycling, swimming et al at the Olympics speaks for itself.
"The future would be brighter if the four British FAs were brave enough to consider abandoning self-interest and at least discussing the idea"
None of these arrangements or agreements have led to the collapse of national identity, the death of the sports in the separate countries or the development of new talent in each individual nation.
And surely Team GB is a more honest, more inclusive way forward than the examples set by countries like France or Holland, who cherry pick the best players from their colonial satellites across the globe yet brand the resulting XIs as ‘France’ or ‘The Netherlands’. Team GB would not be England, plus the best of the rest.
There was a resonance to the existence four separate sides until 1984 when the British Home Championship was abolished. A Scotland versus England game meant something back then but those days are long gone and the once compelling sense of rivalry has diminished, the rarity of such fixtures proving the appetite for such tribal warfare has ebbed.
"A British team would be a logical progression rather than a reckless leap of faith"
Team GB at this summer’s Olympics of course was not a resounding success. Stuart Pearce’s side meekly bowed out to South Korea in the quarter-finals but the team’s failure was a result of apathy and antagonism, as well as the Games’ Under-23 Rule, rather than a fundamental flaw in the concept.
A truly British side would be an altogether different prospect.
The movement of British players between the Home Nations at domestic level doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. It’s football sans frontieres and a British team would be a logical progression rather than a reckless leap of faith.
The future for the England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland teams is not all doom and gloom but it would be brighter if the four FAs were brave enough to consider abandoning self-interest and at least discussing the idea.
England would have to countenance the prospect of a little equitable distribution of some of its considerable financial resources while its Celtic cousins would have to accept living in something akin to a Coalition Government.
But these are not insurmountable problems.
And if the end result was Team GB taking to the field to play in a semi-final or, whisper it quietly, a final of a major tournament, surely putting aside traditional differences and prejudices would be a price worth paying.
Iain Spragg is a writer, author and Spurs fan. Follow him on Twitter @angryspraggy
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