Just how great can Great Britain be if it can’t even form a football team? Is it even real or just a figment of imagination? They’re just two questions arising from Stuart Pearce’s appointment as coach of the so-called “Team GB” for the London Olympics, the first such British team in 52 years, and the remarks of former Scotland manager Craig Brown that he hoped no Scottish player would make himself available.
“I wish them every success but I would still be disappointed if any selected Scottish player took part,” he said. “We fear the autonomy of Scottish football would be jeopardised if we were to play and it would be selfish of the player.”
The players are selfish? No. What’s selfish is the attitude of Brown and other Team GB sceptics from the lesser “home countries” who fear the places of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales on the International Football Association Board (the body regulating the Laws of the Game) and their identities as World Cup nations will be threatened. Maybe so on both scores, despite FIFA’s assurances that the status quo will be maintained. We know from recent history that FIFA’s guarantees are about as reliable as Adolf Hitler’s were to Neville Chamberlain.
But the antis can’t on the hand put pressure on players to in effect boycott Team GB yet simultaneously take advantage of British identity and historical privilege (the Scottish FA is the second oldest in the world, after England) to retain what they shouldn’t already have. It’s one or the other. They can’t have it both ways.
England, for its part, is backing Team GB to the hilt and so it should, even though theoretically like the others it too could have its autonomy threatened. Other culturally diverse countries aren’t afforded the home nations’ unique status in FIFA. Catalonia or Basque Country don’t compete in World Cups as separate nations from Spain.
Outside of England’s World Cup victory in 1966, the only significant World Cup result the home nations have returned was Wales and Northern Ireland both making the quarter-finals in 1958. But that was when it was a 16-team competition and there were no African or Asian teams. Catalonia or Basque Country would likely make the semi-finals if they were given the same chances as the home nations.
The world has changed. Football has changed. And so should IFAB and FIFA. Ideally, IFAB would have other countries outside Britain represented (currently FIFA gets four votes, the home nations get four). Britain would have its own single team at World Cups, not just Olympics. Just like other federations or unitary states.
There are so many legitimate grievances over the position of the home countries in football’s corridors of power that closer scrutiny only brings more outrage.
And closer scrutiny is all Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are bringing through their stupid protest. They should back Britain or perish.
This column was originally published by the Sunday Guardian. Please check for new columns by me every Sunday at www.sunday-guardian.com. Love to see you there.