Let me start by laying my cards on the table. I’m a Scotland fan. I’m not a Tartan Army face paint and kilt type who glories in singing “Doh a deer” and “We’ll support you ever more" though. In a footballing sense Scotland brings little pleasure and a lot of pain but, as with the fan of any team constantly fighting against the odds, the former will always keep drawing me back to Hampden Park.
Scotland games are in many ways a release from following Rangers. It’s not just about the game, the day itself is an event. You go with friends and their families who don’t support the same club team. You make the effort to get some food and perhaps a drink or six pre-match. People travel from all round the country for their day out. More than the football it’s a chance to come together and enjoy each other’s company. It’s not glamorous compared to the bright flame of the London Olympics but it is unquestionably special. That though is not the sort of special a man like Lord Coe would understand. This after all is a man who is a proud member of a political party that once gloried under the doctrine there was “no such thing as society”.
It seems inconceivable to me that we would even consider risking our national team for the sake of a few games of under 23 football. Ok you’re allowed three over age players but I’d love to see how Fergie or Wenger would react to one of their top players disappearing for two weeks for a tournament generally considered to be an irrelevance compared to the World Cup or European Championship. The reality is the over age players are likely to be ageing celebs like David Beckham or a few token Celts. It's an important point that is lost, either through spectacular bias or professional incompetence, by almost every journalist in the mainstream British press. Let me say again for the avoidance of doubt, the Olympics is an under 23 football tournament.
Now some of you may not care for the Scottish national team. It’s hardly uncommon for club supporters not to be overly bothered about international football. The prestige and the importance of playing for your country has with almost every other vestige of football’s heritage been tarnished by the modern game’s preoccupation with money. Let me therefore frame this in terms of your average club football fan.
If Scotland were to lose its separate status as a football nation it would lose its own FA and the right to enter teams in Europe. No Champions League. Maybe there would be an upside for the Old Firm with be the forced establishment of a British league. Maybe. That would though see the current 6 teams the SPL and EPL have reduced to UEFA’s maximum of 4 so somewhere along the line someone will lose out here.
Does all that sound too apocalyptic? Admittedly that is very much a worst case scenario but let’s consider it in terms of risk and reward. What is it that Scotland will actually be gaining from all this?
Right now in any given season Glasgow will play host to 10 or so European games and 3 or 4 internationals. In the last 10 years the city has also hosted one Champions League final and one UEFA Cup final. In the last 5 years alone we've, Henri, Ronaldo, Buffon, Tevez, the greatest Spanish national side in history… I could go on but I think I’ve made my point.
During the Olympics Hampden will host 3 men's under 23 games and 5 women's games (the decision to allow the stadium to be used seemingly having been taken by the owners and not the SFA). The “highlight” will be a women’s quarter final. Presumably we'll be getting this regardless of there being a British team. There is obviously no suggestion the British team would lower themselves to turning out at Hampden but happily we’ll be able to enjoy that excitement on the TV as our license fee will ensure it’s on the BBC. Even so there will only be a maximum of 7 games for the men’s team to play. You may think losing our national team and our European places is highly unlikely but can you honestly tell me the risk justifies the reward here? Scotland takes the risk while the BOA take the reward. Thanks but no thanks, the SFA are right to distance themselves.
One other point the media seem to be down playing is that the Olympic Charter stipulates no top class football games will be permitted in Glasgow during the Olympics. The matches at Hampden are scheduled from Wednesday 25th July to Friday 3rd August. As we currently stand nobody seems certain if this will impact the start of the SPL season which we are now looking to begin earlier to help our teams in Europe. The SPL have seemingly written to the BOA to inform them the SPL will do as it wishes while the BOA don't appear to have done them the courtesy of acknowledging their letter and have stated publicly there will be no domestic games. There is also the question of what happens if Rangers or Celtic have a home European qualifier? Lord Coe has suggested the simple solution is to reverse the draw and play away that week. What if the opposition refuse? Would we forfeit the tie? Again we are into the realm of the hypothetical but the key for me is this hasn’t even been properly considered. It is exactly the sort of arrogant attitude you would expect from people who have no understanding of or care for football. We should trust these people when they say a British team won’t impact our footballing independence?
Right now Scotland currently has its own national team and FA. This was enshrined at the FIFA Congress of 1946 which also gave the four home nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland one permanent position on FIFA’s eight man International Football Association Board. This was a payoff for the four nations bailing out FIFA financially. FIFA could change this arrangement whenever they like. Why give them an instance of us playing as one team to allow it to be justified?
The privilege the four nations enjoy has over the years made enemies. John McBeth's comments a few years back certainly didn’t help and wrongly saw him forced to resign as FIFA Vice-President after groundless accusations of racism in the face of his assertion there were corrupt members at FIFA from Africa and the Carribean. Now that England have failed to win the World Cup bid their FA too have made it clear they have suddenly decided not to turn a blind eye to the alleged corruption at FIFA (their decision to spend the last few years in bed with the likes of Jack Warner having done them very little credit). Make no mistake, England and Scotland's stand last month did not go unnoticed. How odd that all of a sudden Uncle Sepp's assurances have been dropped by those seeking to impose a n Olympic team. He has contradicted himself on this issue with alarming frequency and appears an unlikely figure for anyone to place any faith in.
There is a tendency for people with my views on this subject to be dismissed as Little Scotlanders unable or unwilling to be happy for London. I hate to personalise the argument but I lived in London for a number of years, I am happy to declare my love for the city and my intention to get down at some point and experience the Olympics (though ideally the athletics or some other unique aspect of the event). We are not the ones pushing an agenda of self interest here. Scots may be shouting the loudest on this issue but this is not a case of Scotland v England. The official supporters groups of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland formed the No Team GB movement a number of years ago, they’ve just failed to gain any real momentum in the mainstream media or with football fans at large.
There is no real history or tradition of a British team at the Olympics. Scotland and England under 21s have both reached the semi final of the European Championships in the last couple of decades which won them entry to the Olympics. However, no British team enters so the opportunity was denied them. It seems unfair but hardly raised a headline at the time which merely serves to illustrate what an irrelevance the competition is. The argument now that the Olympic experience benefits youngsters' development may have some validity but if it wasn’t relevant when Scotland were denied the chance in the 90s or England at Beijing then how can it be anything other than an argument of convenience now?
If there must be a team then it should be England. Of course it should be England. Last time I checked London was still located in England. I realise that for political reasons there is a need to kid on the London Olympics somehow benefit the whole UK but seriously would anyone really think the event was diminished because 11 guys trot out with three lions on their chest not one?
I would hope that if more football fans fully understood the potential implications of this issue they would take it seriously. The only people who could ever support the forcing of a British Olympic football team on unwilling participants are individuals who have lost sight of the joy of sport in the face of the pursuit of money. These people would risk 130 plus years of tradition to sell a few more tickets. They would deny cyclists, runners, swimmers etc the two weeks in every four years when they are the top sporting story just to raise their own profiles with a photo with “our boys” in their new football tops (recommended retail price only £49.99). How very apt then that the notion’s most vocal supporters should be a Tory Peer, the head of FIFA and an EPL manager viewing this as a stepping stone to the England job seemingly denied him due to historical allegations regarding his transfer activities.
The London Olympics should be bringing true football fans of all four home nations together in a unified cry of "no Team GB".
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