In 1984, Northern Ireland were crowned champions of the Home Nations. That tournament turned out to be the final football competition between the four home nations, with England and Scotland both declaring that they would not take part in future contests. The league-based tournament was discontinued for a variety of reasons, with the main one’s being a congested fixture list, severe showings of hooliganism and a general lack of interest in the games. Now, though, it looks as though the historic Championship could be about to make a return.
There have long been calls for the competition to return to the British football calendar but only recently have the FA shown genuine interest, with new sponsors Vauxhall not only behind the move, but pushing it along as well. It has been suggested that there could be a “one-off” series of matches to mark the 150th anniversary of The Football Association.
There is no reason, though, why this could not become a permanent fixture for the years ahead. It has been said that the football calendar is already congested and so a scheduled tournament isn’t going to help things. But if the competition was held before the start of the football season, when many sides go away to foreign lands for pre-season tours, then there wouldn’t be a problem. Each side would only need to play three games, which means a week long competition (a game on the Saturday, a game on the Wednesday and then on the following Saturday) would surely not be out of the question. Clearly the tournament would have to be held in a year which doesn’t include a World Cup or a European Championships, but the tournament could be still be held on a regular basis.
The only problem that would arise is the old ‘country vs. club’ debate. Club managers won’t be too happy to release their players to play in such fiercely contested games just weeks before the start of a new league system, but, in these modern times, rivalries don’t necessarily mean two footed tackles and leg-breaking challenges. The footballers of today are professionals on the pitch and so hopefully wouldn’t let the rivalry get to them too much, whilst also putting in 100% for their country, which is all the fans ask.
This morning, The Daily Telegraph’s Henry Winter launched a quite stinging attack on The FA, correlating the Home Internationals with hooliganism and stating that “the game’s governors must have been at the sherry.” One of the main points Winter makes, and it is a valid one, is that the quality of opposition is not what England need to be facing if they want to push forward as a footballing nation. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may not be as technically gifted as Spain or Argentina, but an extra competition can only help England. One of the main criticisms of England in recent times is that they can’t handle the pressure of a tournament. England, as they show in most of their Qualification stages for major tournaments, can beat the lesser teams in one-off games when the squad is only together as a group for a short while. While a week-long tournament won’t make England a great nation, it certainly won’t hurt to be facing the old foes in a short league system, with all the added pressure that that brings.
Another point that Henry brings up, and one that Mark Perryman counter-argued in this morning’s Guardian, is the fear of hooliganism. The Wembley pitch invasion of 1977, when delighted Scots ripped up the pitch and broke one of the crossbars, still lives long in the memory for some and there are already fears ahead of England’s visit to Cardiff in March for the European qualifier with Wales. As Perryman quite rightly states, “this is an insult to today’s fans of the British teams.” The British football fans of today aren’t hooligans and the majority of the fans seen at club and international football are extremely well behaved. Granted, there are always a few who don’t behave in an orderly manner, but that doesn’t mean a tournament shouldn’t be staged as, not only are the fans better behaved, but the policing of football matches in Britain has also improved.
Of course, the main reason for why The FA are looking to revive this tournament is the money. Vauxhall have signed a deal with The FA which means that they will sponsor all England sides for three years. While the figure has not yet been announced, it is expected that the car company have paid a fortune to have their company name on England shirts, tracksuits and around Wembley, which is still being paid for. Hopefully, given the amount of media attention and fan animosity towards the governing bodies of football and alleged corruption, the money that comes from the Vauxhall deal will be spent in the right places. Youth football, coaching and women’s football could all benefit not only through the Vauxhall deal but through a Home Nations tournament too.
While some would say that the tournament is pointless and represents very little, and therefore makes for tedious viewing, the thought of the old rivalries of the home nations being revived in a tournament is certainly exciting. As long as everything is done right the Home Internationals could be a huge success with both the fans and those involved within the running of the game.