Saturday, April 2, 2011

Team GB: Why four into one will never go

It's easy to be wise after the event, but one thing has become abundantly clear since London was awarded the 2012 Olympics: the idea of allowing a Great Britain football team to participate was a complete mistake.

Not that it's a view I share, although to be honest I do tend to retain a strange and probably misguided belief that most British people are actually proud to consider themselves British. As time passes by, the more I realise the opposite is probably true.

All of which is rather frustrating in the light of a Sound of Football podcast I recorded earlier this week with my Football Fairground chums Terry and Graham. In it, we discussed the possible composition of a team representing Great Britain in next year's Olympic Games.

It's widely known that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are reluctant to put forward players for a GB team in case FIFA decides to withdraw their right to play as individual nations. With that in mind, however, we suggested in our admittedly blinkered English way that this was a shame as many young players such as Tottenham's Gareth Bale or Liverpool's Danny Wilson might like the chance to one day consider themselves 'gold medal winners'. We were, it seems, incredibly naive to think this.

Following the podcast, Kenny Millar (journalist and that rarest of rare things - a regular listener to the Sound of Football) pointed us in the direction of a BBC Radio 5Live show recorded about a week earlier on the same subject. In it, David Davies asked former Scotland national team coach Craig Brown and Chief Football Correspondent for The Times, Patrick Barclay, whether they could ever foresee a Great Britain team coming to fruition. The answer, unequivocally, was 'no'.

The Football Associations of Scotland, Wales and Ireland quite rightly lack any trust towards FIFA President Sepp Blatter despite his verbal assurance that their independence would not be comprised should they provide players for a GB team. At the very least they'd want written confirmation before any negotiations could start, but the truth is they simply wouldn't bother. If the views of Craig Brown and particularly Patrick Barclay are anything to go by, there is absolutely no inclination for Scotland at least to be known in part as 'British'.

This is as much a reason for my opening statement as anything else. You can look for as many assurances from FIFA as you like but if the thought of being British repulses you so much, you're never gonna play a part in any 'British' team.

All of which is a shame but hardly a surprise in the grander scheme of things. In this multicultural age, many British people are in despair at seeing the population of their home country over-run with foreign types (not a view I share, incidentally), so if the term 'English' or 'Welsh' is supposedly less meaningful now, what chance 'British'?

Research carried out in 2003 showed that Scottish people are almost twice as likely to think of themselves as Scottish rather than British over their English counterparts (and the English equivalent), and the figures suggest that the Welsh are almost as reluctant to wave the Union Flag too. Given England's historical reputation as aggressors, show-offs and bullies, it's no wonder nobody wants to be associated with the English anymore.

The ironic point, of course, is that all this has been common knowledge for years, so when the British Olympic Authority won the right to stage the 2012 Olympics in London, why were they so keen to enter a Great Britain team into the football competition?  Perhaps they, like me, thought it was possible to show unity through friendship, peace and goodwill. If so, we can be finally left in no doubt that such ideals should now be considered an outright anachronism.

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