The home nations are discussing the return of the British Championship in 2013. I expect that once England has made their decision, they will let the rest of us know with a plume of white smoke rising from the chimneys of Lancaster Gate. We will bend down on one knee, doff our cap, and thank our benefactors for their grace.
Those of us who were around in 1984 will never forget the arrogant departure of the English from the British Championship. Even though Northern Ireland were (and remain) the current Champions, it was decided that England would be better off playing better teams. Scotland agreed that it was not worth playing Wales or Northern Ireland, and themselves withdrew. Scotland!
England had won 7 of the last 13 Championships outright. That’s hardly the record of an invincible nation. The weak teams that nobody wanted to play finished 1st and 2nd in that final year.
England cited hooliganism as one of the problems of the tournament. The only major hooliganism I remember came at England v Scotland games. Nonetheless, the English felt that it would be better all round and more peaceful if they left The British Championship to play against better teams with less chance of trouble.
They replaced their Home International games with The Rous Cup. This annual tournament was effectively game against one team…Scotland. Even after the event was spiced up with the inclusion of a South American guest, it was doomed. By 1989, hooliganism in Glasgow was causing enough concern to see this fixture cancelled as well.
Another reason for the demise of the Championship was fixture congestion. Last year, England played 10 international friendlies, including visits to Spain, Austria (to face Japan), and the United Arab Emirates. If there’s a gap in the fixtures, it will be filled by the FA to raise money. Don’t patronise us with that lame excuse.
And yet now, the FA are considering the return of the British Championship. Why?
Well, firstly, they have a new sponsor, Vauxhall, who are also set to announce sponsorship of the other three United Kingdom Football Associations. Vauxhall are keen to see the competition return.Vauxhall are paying England £20m, while the rest of us scrabble in the gutter gratefully, and split that same amount between three.
Another little mentioned reason is that 2013 happens to be the 150th Anniversary of the FA. There is suspicion from some that all of this is tied in. It would be very convenient after 29 years for England to come back into the fold in a display of magnanimity.
You do wonder as well, whether this new warm approach is intended to win over hearts and minds of the stubborn Celts who are refusing to become involved with Team GB at the London Olympics. There are reports that a secret deal is being thrashed out to ensure compliance. According to The Daily Mail, “England have given their approval in the hope the goodwill may be reciprocated, tempting the other countries to back a GB team at next year’s Olympics.”
Did you get that? Goodwill? Goodwill? They are asking us to risk the future of our national side by showing goodwill in agreeing to play against us. Unbelievable arrogance.
I would see any softening of the FAW’s stance as a betrayal. The FAW have thus far been gallant and admirable. We are proud of our association’s refusal to comply, and it must stay strong in the face of pressure.
Anybody in any doubt about the danger of playing in a unified Great Britain team, only has to read the comments of Sepp Blatter this week, regarding the failed England World Cup bid.
“There must be inside Fifa some reticence to England, perhaps these four associations. Maybe some resentment because of privileges.
“Great Britain has a great importance inside Fifa since 1946. They have four national associations inside Fifa and one vice-presidency. They are also 50 per cent of IFAB.
“There are no more privileges you can give to someone. If you have all these privileges, you must handle these in a very intelligent way.”
Those comments reveal rising bitterness across the world of football towards Wales’ status as an independent association, and raises grave dangers about the future of the national team. There must be no opportunity for FIFA to point to the Olympics and claim that a precedent has been set as they look to disband the Scottish, Welsh and Irish FA’s.
The other reason that there should be no Team GB is the attitude of people like Henry Winter. Writing in The Telegraph today, Winter’s piece is dripping with colonial supremism, and haughty dismissal of the other UK nations. He is against the British Championship, somehow envisaging a kick-and-rush battle with the “less sophisticated” Celtic teams, but also worried about the rough-arsed invaders intent on destroying London. It needs to be pointed out to Winter, that the only international team hooliganism in the past twenty years has come from England. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have an unblemished record.
The one player that Winter mentions from Wales is Gareth Bale. And you do wonder how much of this new English “goodwill” is down to the emergence of Welsh stars like Bale and Aaron Ramsey. The English have been moaning about Bale’s birthplace all year. Team GB would just be a way of claiming him. I’m not sure England would be so intent on our involvement were it not for the recent prominence of our best players.
I’m not against Team GB for insular, bigoted reasons. I support The British and Irish Lions when they play. I shout for Team GB in World Cycling Championships and I follow Europe in the Ryder Cup. There are special political circumstances involved in football. And honestly, with football people like Henry Winter demonstrating such imperialist arrogance, how on earth can we be expected to join England in a unified team?
So I say no to Team GB, and no to The British Championship. England made their point very clear 29 years ago, when they left to play better teams. We don’t need them now, and The Carling Nations Cup looks set to be a friendly and inclusive competition where the rest of the UK, as guests of our Irish friends raise a pint of Guinness and celebrate our footballing independence.