GB Football Team: Context

Tom Bodell kicks off the first in his series looking at the GB Football Team, 2012.

The Olympics and football don’t exactly go hand in hand; you only need to look at the farcical way in which the Olympic Stadium row has been handled so far or the fact the football is the only discipline not to be sold out. However, there will be a team GB representing us at the Games for the first time since 1972 when the International Olympic Committee relaxed the rules, allowing professionals to compete at the tournament.

The team GB Olympic football team has a brief and not desperately illustrious history owing largely to the in-fighting and squabbles which have seen the team defunct for 40 years now. Operated by the Football Association, team GB competed in their first Olympic Games in 1908, going on to at least attempt to qualify for the next 10 tournaments before hitting the buffers.

By 1974, the team GB football side was no more as the Football Association ended the distinction between amateur and professional status, disbanding the England amateur team and the team GB Olympic side in the process.

The 66-year history of team GB had seen two gold medals, the first of which came in the inaugural tournament hosted in White City, London. Team GB & Ireland defeated Denmark 2-0 in the final with the fantastically retro-named Vivian Westwood and Frederick Chapman. The team also recorded the biggest victory in their history, crushing Sweden 12-1.

Four years later in Stockholm and team GB were victorious again, once more defeating Denmark in the final, 4-2.

Team GB failed to compete at the next two tournaments as they quarrelled with the international authorities over professional status. As a result, the Home Nations withdraw from FIFA, a factor in the creation of the FIFA World Cup, the first incarnation of the tournament we know today.

The team was back in 1948 and competed through until 1972 but never got past the qualifying stage after 1960, their most impressive showing coming in the London in ’48 when they missed out on bronze with a 4-2 defeat by the Danes.

Whilst ticket sales have been disappointing to date for this comeback, you get the feeling that the general apathy will subside when the tournament actually starts up and team GB take to the field for the first game.

So, with the Games less than six months away now, I will be using this series to address the key issues surrounding team GB as we hurtle towards the Games.

Of course, team selection is the main issue facing manager Stuart Pearce and with restrictions in place dictating the squad blend, Pearce will have to think long and hard about his selection over the next few months.

Who will be his over 23 year-olds? Will he include the likes of David Beckham – someone who will clearly provide a huge attraction for supporters, despite the fact there will be better players with more to offer on the field than him?

On top of the selection restrictions imposed by the Games’ lawmakers, Pearce will also have to contend with the availability of players thanks to the stance made by the Football Associations of certain home nations. I will be looking at the rights and wrongs of the opposition from the Scottish and Welsh F.A’s and which non-English players are realistically going to be in the frame for selection.

There’s also the selection of Pearce himself as manager. On what grounds was he even selected for role? What, for that matter does he bring to the role? He’s never achieved great success in any managerial role and although he isn’t overseeing anything more than a one-off project, there were better candidates available to the British Olympic Association. His selection certainly seemed to more to be a processional election as opposed to a rigorous search for the best candidate.

One thing is certain, the 2012 Games provide a real opportunity for the English players involved with a new manager will be in place and looking to build his own his squad for Brazil 2014. If nothing else, the Olympic Football Tournament will provide a platform for some youngsters to put themselves in the spotlight on the international stage before England’s new season begins.

Tom Bodell

Tom also writes regularly for the football fan site Vital Watford.

The Substantive Columnist Mel Gomes’ new e-book Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to download from Amazon and Smashwords, documenting high-level football and the journey of travelling around Europe in a sport where money is now valued alongside trophies. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.