Would a unified Britain have won more than one World Cup?

February 11, 2009

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


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How many people in Britain would actually support a unified team and celebrate World Cup success built on four nations joining forces?

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Red Devil
I reckon if a unified team were pushing for trophies it’d be well supported, even by the Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish.

Posted by Paul Virgo | Report as abusive

Just the fact that you never mentioned Denis Law and suggested a mainly English team reinforces the fact that it would never work!! For many years, Scotland had a much better team than England! btw – Sir Alex Ferguson would have to be Manager with Martin O’Neill assisting!! Since there’s no English Managers qualified, maybe David Moyes could also assist.

Posted by Danny | Report as abusive

Paul Virgo: That’s just it, they’d only get support if they were pushing for trophies. The idea of the World Cup and football in general is to support your club and country regardless of how good they are at any given time, hence supporting such a conglomerate would be sheer hypocricy. Can you imagine United and Liverpool joining forces to get the better of Barcelona? I would never support that unnatural alliance and I don’t think any true United or Liverpool fan would either.

Posted by Red Devil | Report as abusive

Red Devil,
I take your point that supporting a football team is not just about picking the most likely winner, although it’s also true that we don’t regard Britain as an “unnatural alliance” in most other sports. We do in football for historical reasons and that cannot be changed – indeed, this entry was meant to be a bit of football-history fun rather than a serious call for us to stop playing as separate nations. But maybe there’s also room for us to come together periodically, like the British Lions do in rugby, to see if we can get some overdue success together at Olympic competitions.
And Danny, you’re right, DL at least deserves a mention here and AF would not have any serious competition from English rivals for the manager’s job.

Posted by Paul Virgo | Report as abusive

That should, of course, be British and Irish Lions. Sorry about the slip.

Posted by Paul Virgo | Report as abusive

There is no way an eglish and irish team could get involed together and be happy as a football nation…and i dont think any scots would be happy aswell about being attached to english team the only combination that would have worked is to get an english and welsh team together cos wales have had players england need in the recent 10 yrs like the 1 of the greatest ever premership players the walesh wizard Giggs who would have been a big player on he wing and maybe even m.crossely and jones in goal would have been better then flapping james or shell shocked m.wright/robinson…

So here to all my lovely taffies how about it lets join and be 1 Englesh team…..

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