Monday, July 15, 2024

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The Football History of Team GB at the Olympics

2020 Tokyo Olympics Football Pictogram (via Wikipedia)

With the latest edition of the Olympics having ended in a quarter final exit for Great Britain's women's team, Australia prevailing by the odd goal in a 4-3 win to dash hopes of football coming home with a medal, what better time to look at the homegrown slice of history which helped ensure the beautiful game got a spot in the events list & the resulting twists & turns?



As far back as the 1900 Games, themselves held as part of that year's World's Fair in Paris, the relative infancy of national teams as a concept meant club teams took on the mantle & so Upton Park of London represented their country at the behest of the FA. Goalkeeper/ secretary James Jones was in charge of picking the team which beat France (or rather the Union of French Athletic Sports Societies) 4-0 in the final & was only retrospectively awarded a gold medal by the International Olympic Committee for its achievement.


The sport's initial status as a demonstration event was not enough to merit recognition for Jones & team-mates Claude Buckenham (who also played cricket for England & Essex), William Gosling, Alfred Chalk, T.E Burridge, William Quash, Richard Turner, F.G Spackman, John Nicholas, Jack Zealley & captain Henry Haslam. Whilst the goals came courtesy of a Nicholas double & one each for Turner & Zealley.


Within eight years the famous old torch was headed to our nation's fair capital & so a Great Britain & Ireland team was put together. With Scotland choosing not to get involved as its own fledgling FA opted to "protest against one National body in the British Isles being termed the United Kingdom, or playing as such without the consent of the other three National Associations ". In what perhaps might retrospectively be seen as the first sniff of a common theme in the raising of a united team to compete at what most other invited athletes & indeed their sports would deem a pinnacle...


And despite the behind-the-scenes politics, what passed as the Team GB of its day got the gold medal, beating Denmark 2-0 in the final with goals from Vivian Woodward & Frederick Chapman, having got past Sweden & the Netherlands in their opening two matches. In Stockholm 1912 the team again went for gold against the Danes, this time winning 4-2, with Woodward as skipper.


1920 brought with it the first signs of a rift between amateur status & professionalism following a first-round defeat by Norway for Great Britain- the FA insisting the Olympics should remain amateur- only, while FIFA looked to open things up to both amateurs & professionals. The whole business actually resulted in a temporary split between the two governing bodies which resulted in no Team GB participation until 1936 at the Berlin Olympics, where they lost 5-4 to Poland in the quarter-finals, the end of the Second World War actually something of a salve as Great British teams would then qualify for every Games between 1948 & '72.

Indeed '48 was the most successful tournament in the history of the Home Nations joint involvement- once more on home soil & managed by no less than Matt Busby, who called on players from all eligible nations to make it a truly British effort- which ended in a 5-3 loss to the Danes in the bronze medal match. This ushered in something of a period of decline as they lost to Luxembourg in their opening match of the 1952 tournament in Helsinki then only qualified for Melbourne in 1956 after other teams withdrew!


A final, at least at that time, appearance came in Rome in 1960, when matches between various amateur clubs used to pick the final squad! Norman Creek's selected side made up of players from the likes of Bishop Auckland, Dulwich Hamlet, Kingstonian & Barnet losing to Brazil, drawing with Italy & beating China to finish third in their group & miss out on a medal chance once more.


Not until 2012 would Team GB resurface, the Olympics once more returning to London & both men's & women's teams entered, the women's game having been admitted as an event in 1996 & finally allowed to stand shoulder to shoulder with the men. 

And so it was that Stuart Pearce stepped into Busby's shoes to take charge of the gents, with England women's manager Hope Powell in charge of the ladies as crowds, in large part probably not even born during the heady days of 1948, possibly dared to dream of similar success after the hard work of winning the bid to host once more was done.


A look at the men's squad selected reveals that it differs from '48 in that a majority of those picked to wear something of a cult classic in that Adidas Union Jack kit were English, five Welshmen including Ryan Giggs as captain the only thing stopping the whole exercise basically serving as a sort of Three Lions B team! The FAW had registered its opposition to the idea on similar lines to their Caledonian counterparts...



"The FAW will not undertake anything that would jeopardise its position as a separate nation within FIFA and UEFA. Everything I've heard from the Welsh media and the supporters in Wales fully endorses the FAW's decision.” as stated by secretary general David Collins even after assurances from Sepp Blatter that there would be no such constraints on the independence of any of the Home Nations should they opt to be part of Great Britain on the field of play.


The women's final side as picked by Powell reveals only three Scots adrift in a sea of English players, the manager having written to each beforehand to ask whether they wanted to be considered for selection in the face of the Scottish, Welsh & Northern Irish FA's withdrawals from discussions after the announcement of a united team to compete.  This had forced the ‘compromise’ of solely English players being up for consideration before the Scots climbed down in realisation that they would have no grounds on which to prevent their players even taking part...whether it had anything to do with a British Olympic Association survey revealing 69 per cent of Scots actually supported the idea of Team GB goes unrecorded!


Much to the relief of Kim Little, whose response to team-mate Julie Fleeting ruling herself out in solidarity with concerns over the future of Scotland as an independent national team was most likely more in the spirit of days gone by-


"I don't see why anyone would want to stop a player from playing at a massive tournament like the Olympics, it's the biggest sporting event ever. If I get the opportunity, I'll grab it with both hands – I would definitely play."


And play she did, as the newly launched women's Team GB won their group in beating New Zealand, Cameroon & Brazil, prior to a knockout stage defeat by Canada.


For the men it proved a similar story as their group stage opened with a draw against Senegal before a pair of wins over the United Arab Emirates & Uruguay sent them through to experience a defeat to South Korea on penalties.


Will men's & women's hurdles of this sort ever be jumped so in tandem again? We shall see at Paris 2024...




See also:


Que Sera Sera- it's Team GB at Wembley..!

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