Confusions galore

The so-called Great Britain team for the 2012 London Olympics seems to have hit a road block. This because the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish associations have so far refused to release their players, clearly afraid that opponents of British football, notably in the South American federations, would leap on the opportunity to put an end to the British countries having four separate members in FIFA. Over to Brian Glanville.

Stuart Pearce, the highly patriotic manager of the projected British Olympic team for 2012, manager too of the England under 21 side, is angrily up in arms. He cannot accept the fact that when the tournament takes place, the so called British team will consist entirely of English players. This because the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish associations have so far refused to release their players, clearly afraid that opponents of British football, notably in the South American federations, would leap on the opportunity to put an end to the British countries having four separate members in FIFA and in the International Board.

The irony of all this is that Pearce himself was born in the West London suburb of Shepherds Bush, and I am willing to bet that he has no idea of the fact that in 1908, when the Olympic soccer tournament was in its infancy, it was precisely in Shepherds Bush, at the now, alas, demolished White City stadium, that the Olympic soccer tournament took place: to be won by a so called United Kingdom team consisting entirely of English players. All of them genuine amateurs but all of them, like the celebrated forward Vivian Woodward of Tottenham and Chelsea, playing regularly for First Division clubs. Not that they had, in the final, an easy passage. The Danes, then far ahead of other continental teams, but basing their national team on power rather than the finesse that would show in much later years, pressed them hard in the final, which the English team won by only a two goal margin. The case again in Stockholm four years later, when the United Kingdom side was hard put to beat, again by a two goal margin, a Danish opponent reduced for much of the game to 10 men. The time of the substitute lay far into the future.

Pearce meanwhile has strong and critical opposition from two of the Premiership's leading club managers. Arsene Wenger of Arsenal deplored the fact that key players could be taken away by Pearce around the very time that the finals of the European Championship take place. He makes no secret of the fact that he thinks the Olympic tournament is a secondary and superfluous affair, which could make excessive physical demand on his players.

Alex Ferguson of Manchester United is just as condemnatory, plainly preoccupied by the fact that his temperamental star turn, Wayne Rooney, would like to take part, perhaps not least because he is currently suspended from England's first three games in the European Championship, the consequence of his disgraceful foul and his red card in Montenegro.

The coming Olympic tournament is the usual dog's dinner which it surely has been since the Olympics returned after the Great War, in the 1920s. At the moment, the clumsy compromise makes the coming tournament nominally an under 23 affair, though each country is entitled to deploy a couple of over aged players! Which would enable England, alias Great Britain, to use the now veteran David Beckham, whose reputation and whose money making capacity seem to be increasing in inverse ratio to the fading of his abilities. Since Beckham grasps at any and every opportunity to stay in the spotlight and since even Fabio Capello has finally desisted from giving him those wretched little cameo caps, some as short as a matter of minutes, to strut centre stage albeit somewhat slowly in London in the Olympic tournament is no doubt an irresistible temptation.

From the 1920s onwards, the Olympic soccer tournament was a shameless example of shamateurism, Great Britain, who eventually withdrew from it till the Berlin tournament in 1936, being the odd team out; a genuinely amateur one. In his autobiography, the illustrious Fulvio Bernardini, a fine Italian international attacking centre half, later an outstanding club manager, mused on the fact that certain opposing teams in the Olympic tournament were disguised professionals. But what were we Italians he asked. Shamateurs themselves.

The last time Britain got a team into the Olympic finals was in 1960 and I shan't forget watching that gallant side hold the complete Italian under 21 team, including Gianni River and Giovanni Trapattoni, to a 2-2 draw. Not least as my old friend Mike Pinner, five times a Cambridge Blue, goalkeeper for both Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday, played a major part in the team's display.

You might say that matters really came to a head when in 1924 and 1928 a brilliant Uruguayan team twice won the tournament and promptly withdrew from future Olympiads, winning the first ever World Cup in Montevideo only a couple of years after their second Olympic triumph. Since then we've had an infinity of compromises, much good football; no consistency.