Anglo-Welsh clash revives memories of battles of Britain

by Sean Bell

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Wales’ European Championship clash with England on Saturday has a frisson to it which most international matches between a major footballing nation and one which has failed to qualify for a finals tournament for over half a century fail to generate. This is of course owing to a fierce local rivalry engendered by centuries of cultural and historical struggle between the two countries which helps to foster a healthy sporting rivalry. Matches between France and Algeria or the U.S.A. and Iran have had a similar edge in recent years but what makes the match between Wales and England especially significant is how rare these occasions have become in the British Isles since the demise of the Home Championship in 1984.

Rather incredibly that summer tournament ran for a whole century with only the war years offering a brief cessation in hostilities between England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. By the early 1980s however the competition was suffering from the consequences of a decrease in attendances, concomitant hooliganism problems in British football, and fixture congestion. Both England and Scotland (at the time qualifying regularly for World Cups) brought the competition to an end and announced their desire to play future friendlies against ‘bigger’ nations. With a sense of poetic justice one of the ‘smaller’ nations, Northern Ireland, won the final tournament.

Apart from the five-year ‘wonder’ of the Rous Cup in which England, Scotland, and (for the last three years) a South American nation competed at Wembley and Hampden Park for football’s version of the Calcutta Cup, the last two decades have seen matches between the Home Nations limited to the odd qualifying match (particularly the play-off between England and Scotland for Euro 2000), a smattering of largely forgettable friendlies, and Gazza’s last hurrah in the Euro ’96 match at Wembley between England and Scotland. The fact that the latter remains one of the most memorable sporting occasions on these shores during that period suggests that internecine British rivalry still has much to offer the modern game.

With the other four British Isles’ constituent countries already meeting this year in the inaugural Carling Nations’ Cup which kicked off last month, there are rumours of the Home Championship’s reintroduction in 2013 although this may only be a one-off celebration to mark the English Football Association’s 150th anniversary. Whilst one can imagine that this news will be greeted by managers of the top clubs slightly less benevolently than a fart in an astronaut’s suit, the professionalisation of rugby union has not affected the success of the Six Nations’ Championship which continues to offer an example of how intense national rivalry can be responsible for creating top-quality competitive international sport.

And in its professional age rugby union is no longer so dominated by the international game: for the Champions League, read the European Challenge Cup; for the Premier League, the Premiership. Yet one still can’t help from thinking that a footballing equivalent of the Six Nations would be an impossible proposition in the modern era, and for that reason matches like the one at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday will continue to remain the exception rather than the rule.

Be Sociable, Share!
  • Mystical Mike

    I’d love to see the home nations tournament come back, at least England would b in with a shout of winning it. In fact, why don’t we ditch the euros and the world cup and just play that instead. At least we’d all qualify!!

Previous post:

Next post: