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The 200% Podcast 12 – General Election Special
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The Decline & Fall Of Leyton Orient
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Tranmere Rovers & Cheltenham Town Stare Into The Abyss
Wales continued their recent run of impressive results with an emphatic four-one win over Norway at the Cardiff City Stadium. Goals from Gareth Bale, Craig Bellamy and Sam Vokes earned Wales their fourth win in five games. Whilst the team on the pitch overran their Scandinavian visitors, though, the fans in the ground were largely otherwise occupied, trying to make a stand against Team GB. In recent weeks we’ve seen both Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey pose in the supporter’s kit for Team GB. The reasons why two Welsh players were chosen to exhibit the kit may be imprudent at best and politically motivated at worst. Both players have made their intentions to represent Team GB known and although only Ramsey has made it clear that Wales is his priority, I’m sure Bale feels the same way. The Football Association of Wales has consistently opposed the formation of a Team GB, whilst manager Gary Speed has voiced his concerns regarding the use of his players for a tournament mere weeks before the start of a qualifying campaign. On the face it, a British team competing in the Olympics seems harmless, how serious of a threat can there be to the Welsh national side?
In years gone by, there has been a British team competing at Olympic football, as with most Olympic sports the team was made up of amateur players. The opening up of the competition to professional players in 1984 posed a problem to the home nations, which was overcome by simply not entering a team. With London winning the 2012 bid for the Olympics, the prospect of a British football team was broached by Lord Coe and his devout followers. But why exactly do the home nations not already compete under the British umbrella? The Football Association was formed in 1863 primarily as a means of formalising the rules of football. The Scottish Football Association was formed a decade later to structure the game in Scotland and organise international games against England. A few years after this, the third oldest football association was formed in a pub in Wrexham, which may or may not have been an excuse to keep the pub open past closing time. These three fledgling football associations laid the foundations for football as we know it today.
FIFA was formed in 1904 to oversee the increasing popularity of international fixtures, the football associations of the home nations joined the following year. The relationship between FIFA and the home nations has been somewhat strained, this could be partially attributed to the IFAB remaining the body that determines the laws of the game. FIFA would like to have been responsible for changes made to the laws of the game but the terms of the home nations joining FIFA restricted them to holding only four of the eight seats available on the IFAB, the other four home nations hold the remaining four. The home nations left FIFA after the First World War but were persuaded to rejoin after the Second World War. At this point in time, FIFA was near collapse as income had been minimal over the course of the war as member nations had not paid their membership fees. A match between Great Britain and a ‘Rest of Europe XI’ was staged in an effort to repair FIFA’s financial wounds in 1947. This helped FIFA boost its membership to over eighty countries and set it up to become the bureaucratic football behemoth we know today.
With the exception of matches against Wales and for testimonials, there have only been two matches played by a British football team, the other coming in 1955 to celebrate the seventy fifth anniversary of the Irish Football Association. These matches were purely figurative and bore no weight in challenging the home nations’ independence; they were also staged at a time when FIFA was still largely grateful to have the home nations as members. However, the proposal of a British team competing in the 2012 Olympics, one of which would be made up of professional players, has given weight to the argument that the home nations should not compete individually. There were claims in 2009 that Sepp Blatter had spoken privately to president of the SFA, George Peat, and expressed how a British team would jeopardise the independence of the home nations. When Blatter was asked if FIFA would sanction a British team he replied with “It’s very clear. If they play, there is no sanction”, but such contradiction is part of FIFA’s make-up, these days.
This less than reassuring statement from the FIFA president aside, if he were to come out and claim there was no threat to the home nations, he’d be lying. FIFA is a democratic organisation, and as such they make decisions by the vote of a majority. If two-thirds of FIFA members ruled there should only be one team for the nations of the United Kingdom, then they will use their powers to make it so. It seems unlikely that Wales and the other home nations would be stripped of their independent status as there would be strong opposition, but are we taking this threat too lightly? The Welsh fans at the Cardiff City Stadium made their stance clear; a banner was held aloft that simply said ‘No Team GB’. If opposition like this continues, then the voices of the fans will be heard and hopefully, the future of the Welsh national side will be safeguarded.
One of the concerns I have is that the Welsh fans will turn on those players that do make themselves eligible for Team GB. A contingent of fans waited for the players to exit the Cardiff City Stadium after the Norway game in what was reported to be a barracking of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey. According to some that were the actions taken by those fans have, predictably, been exaggerated in the press. And though I cannot speak for all of them, I would hope that the majority would echo my feelings towards Team GB. I don’t want the formation of a team that would jeopardise Wales’ future as a football playing nation, and though it looks like it’s going to happen, I will not criticise Welsh players who want to take part. It is not out of hatred of the other home nations that I oppose a Team GB, it is out of the love for my own country. I hope to follow Wales through the ups and downs for many years to come.
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
Interesting piece. As a Welsh fan many of my English/ignorant friends are constantly slating the Welsh as being anti-British. This just isn’t true, Welsh fans are only worried about losing their national team.
I personally think that if we did compete as Team GB that we wouldn’t lose our independence on the world footballing stage but I can’t sit here and criticise anyone who is worried.
Equally fans who are worried about losing the Welsh team shouldn’t be criticising individuals who want to play at a major international tournament.
The Welsh FA should be seeking assurances from FIFA as to our independence. I know that that’s about as trustworthy as a chocolate fire-guard but if they do try to take our independence away we could at least take them to court (well probably anyway, I’m not a lawyer).
Two things that always strikes me about the ‘FIFA members might/would like the Home Nations to lose independence’ argument are the following (and I’ve never heard anyone come up with a decent response):
1. UEFA has sought to constantly grow, in order to have more power in world football. Hence the acceptance of any nations which might be considered vaguely European: Kazakhstan, the Southern Caucuses nations, Cyprus, Turkey, as well as the nomadic Israel. Given this trend, why would UEFA nations want to vote to reduce its membership number by 3?
2. The home nations are not as special as we British (arrogantly?) think. 24 of FIFA’s members are not independent nations, whilst a further 2 are countries only recognised by some other nations (Palestine, Taiwan). Surely any of these would be threatening their own status if they voted to remove the Home Nations?
The 53 UEFA nations and the 21 non-sovereign nations outside of UEFA would automatically vote against removing the home nations out of self-interest. They make up over a third of FIFA’s members. So even if EVERY OTHER member nation voted to remove the home nations – every single one, including our political allies – this wouldn’t make up the 66% number that you quote.
To my mind there is now a greater case than there ever was for independant Football Associations. In previous years Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were politically under the control of Westminster. That was the only mandate that FIFA / UEFA required to force the teams together. Since devolution, Wales is now largely under the control of the Welsh Government. Scotland has greater powers through its parliament and Northern Ireland, through the greater devolved powers given to Stormont when it is sitting.
The simple reason that the political process of devolution of the United Kingdom is now stronger than ever, goes against the idea of bringing the nations together for a permanent GB team, hence FIFA / UEFA will not be able to cease membership of the FA, SFA, FAW and IFA.
A GB Team can happen without all this fuss being made, and with no consequence for any football association being made after the event. For the reasons Rob has outlined above and the political devolution matters as I have outlined.
@Rob, I follow your argument and agree with it, but do the
… 21 non-sovereign nations outside of UEFA would automatically vote against removing the home nations out of self-interest.
.. actually have a vote?
Can I please say that I agree with the previous comment in that it doesn’t hurt when small nations without much weight in international sport like Taiwan, Palestine or Wales have an independend voice in the FIFA.
If Wales want their independence so much why don’t they insist Cardiff, Newport and Wrexham all leave the English league system and join their League of Wales.
Most people against the GB team seem to want their cake and to eat it.
@ Rob(2). The home nations are not as special as we British (arrogantly?) think. 24 of FIFA’s members are not independent nations, whilst a further 2 are countries only recognised by some other nations (Palestine, Taiwan). Surely any of these would be threatening their own status if they voted to remove the Home Nations?
Well yes, they probably would but then Taiwan, for example, aren’t planning to compete alongside China “for the Olympics only”. It’s the creation of a precedent that’s worrying the other home nations. And who can blame them, really, especially when set against the rather gimmicky nature of Team GB.
The solution, if it’s deemed absolutely necessary, was surely to have a Home Nations tournament(U-21, U-23 or even A squads) with the winner going forward to 2012.
A few things about the whole Team GB thing:
1) While I admit that the individual home nations having their own teams is the way things will probably stay, I cannot for the life of me see why there cannot be a British Lions football team. The rugby manages it fine so why on earth football can’t is beyond me. It would basically be the cream of Scottish/NI/Welsh/English players, who would come together every four years or so to play a series of friendlies against the best sides in the wolrd [Italy/Brazil/Germany/Spain/Argentina]. As Britain pioneered professional football, it would be a good way of honouring this fact. I haven’t thought out the details of how it would work though.
2) The Home Nations championships should be brought back ASAP.
3) This is the most contentious point: While I am all in favour of devolution politically, I can’t help but think that had there been a British team competing at international tournaments, it would have won a lot more than the home nations have managed individually.
Take for example the late 70s to early 80s. Not a great period for the England side, or the other home nations. But English clubs dominated European tournaments between 1977 and 1984, and Aberdeen also got European glory then. Two teams though stand out – Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Note that both teams were a mix of home nations players, mainly English but with some of the cream of Scottish and NI talent thrown in [think Dalglish and O’Neill for example].
This is what should have happened: The best players from the Liverpool side of 1977-1981 and the Forest side of 1978-1980 should have been picked to form a British team. Both sides had experience of European competition and therefore could handle the way continental teams would play. Put Brian Clough and Peter Taylor in charge of this British team and I think it would have been the equal of West Germany. It would have won the 1980 Euros, got to the semis or possibly won the 1982 WC, and would have been a strong contender for Euro 1984.
Also you could have just taken the entire Liverpool team and manager of 1981 and sent them to compete in the 1982 WC under the guse of Great Britain. I think they would have done better than England did.
There are other instances. Imagine the England side of 1970, but with George Best in the team. Imagine the 1986 WC and the 1988 Euros with a strike partnership of Lineker and Ian Rush. Imagine England’s left side problems being solved for the entire 1990s because they would be playing as Great Britain and would have access to the talents of Giggs. Imagine Hansen and Dalglish operating in the core of a British team in the same way they did at Liverpool. Imagine Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey teaming up with Wilshere, Young, Jones et al today.
I’m not, by the way, someone who sits in an armchair with a glass of brandy dreaming misty-eyed vistas of Victoria ruling over an empire on which the sun never set. I’m just imagining a different scenario. UK international football will probably always remain divided amongst the Home Nations. But I can’t help thinking that if we’d competed as Britain we’d be looking at a trophy cabinet with 3 World Cups in it and a Euro Championship here and there too……