Nationalism And Football

The photo below is something of a rarity. It’s of a British football team.  I’ve searched the internet high and low for video footage and photos of Great Britain football teams with almost zero success.  So that’s the best I can come up, that photo below. It’s the British football team from the 1908 Olympic Games. They won gold, bless them.

The mish mash of kingdoms, principalities and provinces that form the UK is a complicated affair. Things should be simplified for sports. After all, it’s about the coming together and the taking part. Alas, this is not so. With sports, the UK becomes even more complicated. Most of the time there is a single Great Britain team. Which is a bit of an iffy definition, seeing as Northern Ireland is often included in that team, but is not part of Great Britain.

There’s already been a bit of contoversy for the 2012 Olympics in that a decision was made to style the team Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Which upset the Irish, who consider their team to represent the island of Ireland. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. As I said, it’s complicated.

With football things are different again. There is no Great Britain team. England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have national teams. And national domestic football leagues. Although the top Welsh teams, Swansea and Cardiff, both play in the English league. Wales is technically a principality and Northern Ireland arguably a province anyway – should they have national teams? Regardless – consistency is clearly not a priority.

The have been Great Britain football teams in the past. Professionally, twice. In 1947 a Great Britain team took on the Rest of Europe, and handed out a 6-1 drubbing to the Continentalists. A rematch in 1955 saw our cousins from across the channel get a measure of revenge – the score finished 4-1 in their favour.

There has also been a Great Britain team in the Olympics too. In fact, we won three of the first four tournaments. Nothing since though. After the decision to allow professionals to play in the Olympics after the ’72 games, no Great Britain team has competed. Even though national teams have played in qualifiers and earned the right to play at the tournament.

The fear, for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in particular, is that if they compete in the Olympics as a Great Britain team, FIFA may decide that their individual identity no longer exists and force them to play as Great Britain at World Cups. I’ve always thought this was a poor excuse. It wouldn’t happen, for two reasons. Firstly, FIFA has long agreed to continue recognising them as individual states if they do play as GB. Secondly, because England also wants to continue playing as England and wouldn’t accept such a edict.

Whatever FIFA may think of us English, and as daft and corrupt as they are, they’re not so daft as to want the English out of world football. We bring far too much money into the game. UEFA would also simply refuse to accept the decision as well. The cost of losing the English teams from the Champions League would be too much.

But good news! There will be a Great Britain team in the London Olympics this summer! Sure, there’s been a lot of fuss and bitching, but it’s going to happen. The only question is, will any Welsh players take part? Some might also ask whether any Scottish players will take part, but few will really care. Scottish football is in an absolute state. A harsh comment, but true nonetheless.

But the Welsh have a trio of players who would have a massive impact on the chances of Team GB winning gold. And if we do win gold we will have four golds to our name, pulling one ahead of Hungary who are currently level with GB on three gold medals. What Welsh fan wouldn’t want to see Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsay and Ryan Giggs win a major international football tournament? There are, sadly, quite a few. One hopes their negatively nationalist voices are drowned out by common sense and sporting goodwill.

4 Comments

  • Gary, this was a fascinating post. Combining two of my favorite topics (history and politics) with one (football) I know little about. But I know far more now. Thanks.

    • All that’s missing is religion. I could have included religion. It’s another unfortunate aspect of the game in the UK.

      In Scotland anyway. Liverpool and Everton used to be divided down Catholic and Protestant lines. That’s not really the case any more though. South of Hadrian’s Wall, football long ago ceased to be about religion, and became religion.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’m shocked how many typos and errors I left behind. I really should proof read before I publish….

    • Ryan Giggs and George Best are possibly the greatest footballers in the world to have never played at a World Cup or any other major tournament. It’s too late for Best. Giggs has missed out on the World Cup. But this would be his one, only and last chance to perform on the world stage. Let’s hope he stays fit, and that no one does anything silly to deny him the opportunity.

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