Team GB, Football & the Olympics

London 2012 is over and, with it, comes the debate over Great Britain’s participation in future Football events.

For all the pre-tournament scepticism, lack of preparation time and the inevitable defeat on penalties in the quarter-finals, the Team GB Men’s football side acquitted themselves very well at the Olympics. 

English goalkeeper Jack Butland impressed in goal, Welsh midfielder Joe Allen proved his ability at a high level before his move to Liverpool and manager Stuart Pearce – at times – did prove that he can get sides playing a fluent, passing style. It would be difficult to get a midfield trio of Tom Cleverley, Aaron Ramsey and Allen playing any other way, of course, but some of the play and movement, on the whole, was very good.

But, with recent comments from FA general secretary Alex Horne in mind, it is doubtful that Team GB will compete in football again. It was nice to compete in every sport at the home Olympics but that’s all it is: nice. Not substantially important.

The problem is that, while everyone says Britain should take football at the Olympics seriously – as Brazil, Uruguay and Spain have undoubtedly done this summer – it is very difficult to do so. You can’t take a Frankenstein team seriously as they are not a proper team.

It is a team put together for the sole purpose of the Olympics. It is true that, over the course of the Olympics, Team GB did appear to improve. They may have come unstuck when the South Koreans put them under pressure in the quarter-finals but they impressed against Uruguay and UAE after an understandably slow start against Cameroon.

Of course, not everyone in Great Britain considers themselves British and would rather associate themselves with their own country, which then opens up the debate of whether other sports should compete under the guise of Great Britain too (a debate that would irrelevant here, frankly).

And the rivalry between the Home Nations within football shouldn’t be understated, either. Rugby has had a Great Britain side but football, as has been seen with the many refusals to sing the national anthem and confusion over chanting at games, is completely new to this. It’s not exactly a vital point but it adds to the general air of perplexity surrounding the team.

There is a question, though, of whether the team needs to be taken so seriously, at least in the sole context of football. So much importance is placed on the men’s game in this country that everything is seen as stages of development and every football game and tournament has to be building towards something. If Team GB could be seen as a separate entity, basically devoid to the rest of football, then maybe it could be a part of the Olympic Spirit rather an unwanted extension of football.

It would be pointless, for example, for British fans to look at the Olympic Football tournament in the same way the Brazilians did this summer, as they were building for World Cup 2014 and they were able – due to the make-up of their squad – to use it as preparation for their home tournament in two years time. Britain clearly can’t do this, but it can take it seriously in an Olympic context.

Having international tournaments the same summer as the Olympics is problematic as it would be difficult to use the same players at both, but it would still be possible to pick the best players from those available and come up with a good team.

It would perhaps be better served if the Scottish and Northern Irish FAs got on board and stopped worrying about FIFA possibly stitching together the Home Nations full-time. The concerns are perhaps legitimate but, as floundering as FIFA usually are, it is hard to see them taking such action.

And, as Horne suggests, it would be a shame if Team GB’s Women’s Football team was not allowed to compete at future games as to play at such a high level with so much exposure will help the women’s game advance further. Certainly, one of the enduring highlights of the whole of the London 2012 Olympics was full-back Steph Houghton’s incredible run of goalscoring form, not to mention the historic and mesmeric win over Brazil.

The Olympic football tournament might not be a building block of any sort for British football but there will be plenty of players who would love to participate at the Olympics and there will undoubtedly be fans out there delighted to be able to watch an amalgamation of the Home Nations play football, if only to see what they can do. That’s not to say it would merely be a bit of fun, but they would be a set of players out there that want to win, want to bring medals home and see the Olympics as a very high level of footballing accomplishment. It would fit in with the Olympic Spirit very well indeed.

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