Thursday, 13 January 2011

The British Home Championships, Gareth Bale and the British Lions FC

It has recently been revealed that the (English) FA are holding talks with the other home nations (Scotland, Wales and Northen Ireland) regarding a tournament to be held in Wembely in 2013 to mark the 150th anniversary of the organisation. This would mean the revival of the British Home Championships which ran for exactly 100 years from 1884 to 1984. However, according to the general secretary of the FA Alex Horne this would be a "one-off" and England would not join the Carling Nations Cup which is set to be contested between the Republic of Ireland, Northen Ireland, Wales and Scotland in May this year. Alex Horne did not however, completely rule out the possiblity of it happening in the future, saying "I wouldn't want to commit to a resurgence of a tournament, but as a one-off it has real merit and I think we should take it a step at a time. It's still early days in the conversations at the moment."

Now, whether or not the tournament in 2013 will go ahead as is currently being suggested is uncertain, although with the continued success of rugby's Six Nations tournament the calls for a football equivalent have been growing. The difference between the rugby version of the tournament and the football version is, of course, the apparent quality. The rugby teams that compete every year for the Six Nations title are the best six sides in the Northen Hemisphere, this would certainly not be true of the football version. Indeed, this was one of the reasons for the British Home Championship's demise in the first place. Scotland and England both withdrew from the 1985 competition as they wanted to play more challenging opponents; clearly ignoring the fact that Northen Ireland won the 1984 competition, with Wales coming second.

The FAW (Welsh FA) are also in the news today. Gareth Bale reportedly wants to play in the Olympics for a Great British team, however the FAW don't want to let him. The FAW, along with the Northen Irish and Scottish FAs, are worried that they might lose their independant status within FIFA if they contribute to a Great British team. Currently the English FA have agreed to represent the Home Nations at the Olympics, but the FAW might have their hand forced. The British Olympic Association have said that it would be discriminatory if no players from the other Home Nations were selected. The European Court would probably take a dim view of the FAW's desires too.

It is extremely understandable why Bale wants to play in the Olympics. It is a high-profile international tournament which he won't get a chance of playing in with Wales for a good few years, if ever. The only time Wales have qualified for any major tournament was the 1958 World Cup, and that was as representatives of Asia as Iran had pulled out of the play-off against Israel. Wales were drawn out of the hat to play them and went through in the one off game. The closest they've been since then was the Euro 1976 qualification where they were knocked out in the play-offs by Yugoslavia. Wales are currently bottom of their qualification group for Poland/Ukraine 2012 and don't look like they'll be able to qualify, which means that it's at least 2014 before they have a chance of a major tournament, but even then they have the small obsticle of World Cup qualifying to get through.

The FAW's fears may also be unfounded. The last major issue that brought the fear of them losing their sovergeinty over their nation was when FIFA members, resentful of the four seats that the home nations had on the International Football Association Board, began pressing for Great Britain to have one side, rather than four. This led to the formation of the Welsh Premier League, as Wales was the only FA who didn't run a league. This league was found not to be needed however, as Liechtenstein is allowed to continue having a national team whilst it's club teams play in the Swiss league system. Of course, there is no direct correlation between the two events. But it does show that the FAW have been (understandably) over-protective in the past.

A Great British team that really was from all over Great Britain is seen by many fans (myself included) as preferable to just putting the English team in and calling it something else. The home nations FA's fears aside, it would be great to see Bale on the left, Theo Walcott on the right supporting, Kenny Miller up front. Joking aside, we can again look at rugby for a way to incorporate a British team within the fabric of our national football. Bring picked for a British Lions tour is seen as the pinnical of many rugby player's career, not only is the player one of the best in a nation, but a group of nations. The British Lions are a representative team, much like a World XI, and only play every few years when it goes on tour. Furthermore the players are normally picked after the Six Nations tournament I mentioned earlier. This brings all of the finest players in the home nations together at once and allows for direct comparison between them.

This increases the interest, not only in the Six Nations, but also the Lions tours. Fans debate about who's played well at the tournament, who should go on tour, how the team will get on and so on. If football were to do something similar, with players from all of the home nations competing in the same touranment before the British team was picked for the Olympics the interest levels in both would be higher. Not only would great players, who don't have that much chance of appearing at the World Cup, such as Bale be able to play in an international tournament and have the chance of Olympic gold, the national teams would benefit from the extra tournament both in football and monetary terms. More people would turn up to a Wales/England game in Cardiff than a Wales/Slovakia game for example. The English team would also get the extra matches and training time it has so desperately wanted all these years. It really is a win win situation. Unfortunately it's unlikely to happen any time soon. But there is a real possiblity that we could one day see a British Lions FC at the Olympic Games that could really live up to its name.

Thanks again for reading.

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