Would a unified Britain have won more than one World Cup?
Resistance to plans for a unified British soccer team for the 2012 London Olympics means the idea may well be a one-off, if it gets off the ground at all.
The four home nations are wary of setting precedents that could harm their independent status, despite their lack of success as separate entities.
Indeed, all they would have to show in a collective trophy cabinet would be England’s 1966 triumph, which makes me wonder if they might have been better putting national pride aside all along and pooling their resources, as they do in most other sports.
Would a unified team have won more than one paltry World Cup?
As far as recent times are concerned, I think the simple answer has got to be no.
Wales and Scotland have produced some excellent players over the last 40 years, such as Ryan Giggs, Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish. But added to the core of English players I’m assuming would usually form the bulk of a unified side, I don’t think they would have transformed English also-rans into British world beaters.
Dig a bit further into the past though and some interesting scenarios emerge.
Northern Ireland’s George Best is widely regarded as the greatest footballer never to have played at a World Cup. At Mexico in 1970 he would have been part of a British team based on England’s victorious 1966 squad.
Would Best’s presence have prevented the 3-2 defeat England suffered against Germany in the quarter-finals after they blew a two-goal lead?
If so, would the Manchester United combination of Best and Bobby Charlton have outgunned Italy’s Gigi Riva and Gianni Rivera in the semis? And if they had beaten the Azzurri, would they have been a match for the great Brazil side of Pele, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto in the final?
That’s a lot of ifs for one man but, then again, Best in his prime was exceptional.
A unified side would also have been quite something in the 1950s. In that decade it would have been possible to field England’s Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse, Billy Wright and Stanley Matthews with the likes of Wales and Juventus forward John Charles and Tottenham Hotspurs’ Northern Ireland wing back Danny Blanchflower.
The 1958 World Cup in Sweden could have been their moment for glory. Matthews had stopped playing international football by that time, but a young Charlton was ready to step in.
1958 is the only World Cup all four home nations qualified for. While England and Scotland got no further than the group stage, Northern Ireland and Wales both reached the quarters, with Wales edged out 1-0 by eventual winners Brazil thanks to a second-half Pele goal.
Personally I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest that Britain’s combined forces could have made the teenage Pele wait for his first world title. What do you think?
PHOTO: A photograph shows the order of service for George Best’s funeral at the Stormont parliamentary building, Belfast, Dec 3, 2005. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton/Pool