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Back Britain or perish

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.


  1. j binnie
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Jesse – An interesting viewpoint on an age old problem that has existed in British sport for more years than you can muster.For example in 1947 an attempt was made to field a GB team against the Rest of Europe.In those days managers & coaches had their proper place in things,behind the scenes, but whoever picked the sides did a democratic job The GB team had 5 English,3 Scots,2 Welsh& 2 Nth Irish, The Rest had 2 Swedes, 2 Danes, & 1 each for Italy,Belgium,France,Eire,Holland,Switzerland,& Czechoslovakia. The game was played at Hampden Park,attracted 137,000 & GB won 6-1.Since that time the debate has never stopped.For an “outsider” like yourself it is hard to understand, but people who live in “Great Britain” don’t class themselves as “Great British” (not until your nominee Adolf decided to flex his muscles) but consider themselves Scots,English,Welsh or Ulstermen,all countries in their own right.One of the root problems in the debate is that before Britain opened it’s doors to Europe (a point hotly contested even today), by far and away the better class of player playing in England came from the 3 other countries. I surely don’t have to enumerate those to you.Also the “other” countries have contributed more than their fair share of successful managers & coaches in modern times.
    The old suspicions die hard and I can give you an example.As a Scot domiciled here for 47 years my suspicions immediately arise when I see who has been given the managers job of this “Great Britain Team” of today.Stuart Pearce was a handy,or should I say hardy, full back with Notts Forest,a master of the hard tackle and long ball.My immediate thought is what has this man done to warrant this job. He has been in the ENGLAND coaching system for years with very little or any success. You see ,the age old,in-built prejudices still rankle ——– But to be honest I don’t lose any sleep over it I am more interested in what’s being done to make our own Socceroos.
    Another by product of this article for others is that they will note there was only 1 Dutchman in the 1947 GB side. It has to be remembered that professional football did not start in Holland until 1957, ten years later. jb

  2. Stephen
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    J Binnie some interesting observations, some of which are factual, others merely opinion. Tackling the easiest first. Stuart pearce has in fact done more than been involved in the England setup and played at Nottingham Forest. He, in his day, was widely accepted as one of the best left backs in the world. He was indeed chosen by none other than our own Frank Arok, a great student of the world game, as the best left back in his selection of a World XI (second team). His first choice at left back was of course Facchetti. Pearce played for West Ham and Manchester City after Forest and then went on to manage City before being given the England U21 job. Now no club manager will manage the GB side so it is a case of someone in one of the Home Nations setups who would be best for the position, who better than Pearce?
    Ah, the class of player being better prior to Britain opening its door to Europe. So I assume that would be reflected in the results between the nations would it not? Sure the matches were a little more evn than they are today, but England was still the dominant force in British football for the most part . The 1920′s, after WW1 Scotland had a dominant period for a few years and did produce a great dribbling side “The Wembley Wizards”, but I would hardly say that the claim that England produced any less decent players over the years is supported, and more a romantic notion by followers of the ‘smaller’ nations.
    I wholehartedly support however your comments re: the nations and how people see themselves. Scots are proud Scots, as are the Welsh and Irish proud of their heritage. But as an Englishman by birth, we also see ourselves as English too, and the only place it states I am British is on my passport.
    I don’t have any issue with the British team however. Not because the English have any less fear of losing the place they play in FIFA, but because I don’t see it as any catalyst. I see more the attempt of the English FA to oppose Blatter as something that may come back to haunt as he made very clear his view on the ‘special’ place and voting rights of the four nations and their responsibilities at the time. I don’t believe he will forgive or forget.
    I am not sure how the parallel can be drawn with the Spanish regions, as politically and historically there is a completely different story. Perhaps Monaco having its own national side could be a loose parallel? But in any case I don’t think the four nations having sides is wrong at all, these nations were the first ‘countries’ playing Internationals and they should be afforded the luxury of continuing to do so, even if a George Best or Ryan Giggs would have been greatly beneficial in the past. As would Gareth Bale be now. Who now from Scotland? Maybe McGregor as a backup Keeper possibly it. Not sure the Scots manager need worry about any being picked unless they try to be diplomatic and have a few from each nation.
    True the best managers of the past couple of decades have come from Scotland rather than England. Why that is I don’t know, but it is certainly the case.
    Overall however I much prefer to worry about the Australian ‘Olyroos’ and hope they can qualify, and with luck meet GB and beat them :)

  3. j binnie
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Stephen- You have just proved my point to Jesse with your reply. Being English born you have just reacted in the way I described, “this damn Scot complaining about an Englishman being given the job of managing a GB Olympic team”. Get it???
    Now to your arguments. Pearce played over 400 games for Forest at the peak of his career so I think it would be understood by any reader what I meant when I said he played with Forest. Re. his reputation as a player he was not nicknamed “Psycho” for nothing. You mention “our own Frank Arok” ,do you mean the Yugoslav -born coach who came to Australia to coach after a very,very short coaching career in his homeland. After making a career for himself he quickly retired back to his homeland after retiring in 2003. His OPINION according to you was that Pearce was the second best fullback in Europe at that time after Facchetti. I wonder if Frank ever saw Roger Byrne,Tommy Gemmell,Ruud Krol,or Lantos (to name a few) playing or did he name Pearce at a point in time?
    Your next comment did not apply itself to my comment. I did not downgrade ENGLISH or ENGLAND football or team but simply stated that an examination of any English team over those years usually found a preponderance of “other” players in key positions. Lets try just a few. Tottenham 1960,Brown,Blanchflower,Mackay, White & Jones (5 out of 11). Man Utd 1967, Crerand,Whelan,Law, Best, Violet,Morgan, Arsenal, McLintock,Docherty,Graham,Herd, Liverpool, Yeats,Hansen,StJohn,Stevenson,&Lawrence,Leeds Utd, Bremner,Giles,Sprake,2 Greys & Lorimer, I could go on but I think you get the gist of my statement about “key” players.
    Your last comment about present day British football I have no argument with at all for I often wonder how an analysis of most team’s playing staff would turn out were ALL the NON British players removed from the lists. Pretty thin I would imagine especially in the EPL. Cheers jb

  4. Stephen
    Posted October 27, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    JBinnie I am not sure I am reacting as English born to a Scot suggesting anything. What I am asking, is who else? Who is a potential candidate from Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland for the job? Put someone forward rather than a strawman argument as it is hard to oppose, or potentially agree, when it is just a hypothetical.
    As for Frank Arok, yes he was born and lived in Yugoslavia, (his niece in fact was not a bad tennis player for their nation ;) ) but he did coach the Socceroos and St. George successfully for some time. In Yugoslavia he did more than just a little coaching. He was a great student of the game and a reknowned reporter and analyst.
    The way he was treated by the then ASF after lifting the Socceroos to a level that other than perhaps 1974, all the previous hired guns had failed to do.
    But his view of Stuart (yes Psycho) Pearce was one you could only ask him about. The strength of Stuart Pearce was that he could get up and back, had a powerful left foot, could tackle (some players today seem to have forgotten this part of defending), and read the game well. He played Champions League football at Newcastle United, captained Manchester City to the Division 1 title and won Hammer of the Year at West Ham and only a broken leg at 37 ended his England career. So a fair few accolades after the heights of his Forest career. The England U21 side under his reign has done reasonably well given the lack of young good players that he has had to work with. Undefeated in the 2007 tournament (only losing out on penalties), Finalists 2009, 2011 after having his squad pulled apart before the finals by Capello they only made the group stage.
    I do agree many good players have come from other parts off Britain, to that there is no argument. But that does not mean the English did not themselves provide greats. If I look through European Footballer of the Year 1st, 2nd, 3rd: I see England players: Stanley Matthews, Billy Wright, Duncan Edwards, Johnny Haynes, Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Kevin Keegan not a bad contingent? Only Dennis Law and George Best over the same period from other parts of Britain. If we are just talking English league, look at the Football Writers Player of the Year, the PFA player of the year, you will find mostly English names.
    Yes as I say there have been some excellent footballers in the past from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but a comment like “by far and away the better class of player playing in England came from the 3 other countries” couldn’t go unchallenged. The facts are somewhat different and are supported by every award given to players. As I say, a romantic notion seems to have become greater as the years past. This is often the case with time, and past achievements always seem to be greater than they were, especially among those with less to shout about. But that is okay, that is what football is all about, hell England only have 66 to shout about really, and Scotland…well beating England after 66.
    But let’s hope Australia are at the Olympics as that is what is most important to us.

  5. Stephen
    Posted October 27, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    “The way he was treated by the then ASF after lifting the Socceroos to a level that other than perhaps 1974, all the previous hired guns had failed to do.”

    I meant to add – was disgraceful and no wonder he left.

  6. rockkk
    Posted October 27, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    stephen I don’t understand your reference to Frank Arok ‘s choice of Pearce as the second best left back of all time . He must never have heard of Poalo Maldini
    or am I miss reading your comment?

  7. j binnie
    Posted October 27, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    Stephen- My reply was an attempt to explain to Jesse why there are deep feelings in Britain to the idea of a GB team. You seem to have expanded on that article bringing it into a discussion as to what country produced the better players when all I was pointing out was the fact that many top English clubs consistently procured KEY players from the other home countries to make up their excellent squads. I don’t really care who won or finished 2nd or 3rd in an European sponsored assessment competition, I actually saw all the teams I mentioned and I note you did not care to decry my observations on those teams and their make up.
    I will surprise you now for I will now tell you of the player I regard as being the best (potential) player I have ever seen live. His name? One you mentioned,the young Duncan Edwards who I quite honestly believe could have played in any back four position ,any midfield position, where at 20 he was playing with Matthews,Finney, Haynes, Wright,Lofthouse etc and I did see him moving to centre -forward in an international under -23 game where he scored a hat-trick.(I say potential for his life was tragically cut short).
    You also made out I was wrong in my description of Arok. He played in Yugoslavia for 10 years coached for 2 (1 as an assistant coach) and in his career in Australia,coached at 7 clubs over 12 years including a spell over 48 games with Australia. Actually his “Australian performance” could quite easily be compared ,or even surpassed by Rasic or Thompson’s tenure.
    Just for another debatable statement you made. I noted you mentioned Greaves who played in the Tottenham team I described to you, Charlton who played with the Man.Utd team I mentioned, Keegan who played with Liverpool, another of the teams mentioned, so let’s call a halt to whose right or whose wrong in this endless debate, and spell out to Jesse why there can never be a true Great Britain side no matter what he thinks about the subject for after all he is an”outsider” and doesn’t really understand unless course he would care to comment on an Australasian XI.????

  8. Lolly
    Posted October 28, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Jesse. An age old debate but one I think that must be reconsidered. Although Australian born and bred, I spent 12 years in London in the 80s and early 90s that embedded in me a love of the game. I have had this discussion with many English friends over many pints and think that the Team GB idea just would not be accepted in any of the home countries. I believe there should be place for the history of football in this argument. Scotland, England, et al should all have a place on the international stage. Its much more fun poking fun at them when all 5 lose as opposed to just one !

    On a different topic, I have just returned from 5 months in China and have watched a lot of Chinese Premier League over that time. Assuming that China will get the next World Cup (Qatar will surely be in a Middle Eastern or West Asian confederation by then), can I just say that it would be one of the finest spectacles in history. There really is a great undercurrent of support there and the rapidly emerging middle class have a massive desire to embrace something with an international romance to it. It would be immense for the game as well and a real windfall for the region.