Peter Young
10 October 2004
England Football Online
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Comment: Reviving the Home International Championship

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England Cannot Afford Nostalgia-Driven Sentiment
 

For years now there has been talk of reviving the old British or Home International Championship, the annual tournament the home nations contested for a century before it was discontinued after the 1984 edition.

In our short essay on the history of the world’s first football tournament, we suggested resurrecting it would not serve England's interests:  "Whether regular matches against Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would provide the kind of competition England need to gain success on the broader international stage is highly questionable.”

Yesterday’s match against Wales, by far the strongest of the other home nation teams for the past few seasons, demonstrated that beyond doubt.  England thoroughly outclassed Wales; the 2-0 scoreline hardly reflected the disparity between the two sides.

Ted Croker,  Football Association executive secretary at the time, wrote in his autobiography that fixture congestion—which was preventing England from gaining needed experience against the world’s strongest teams in friendly matches—was the main reason England could no longer take part in the British Championship.  That reasoning holds true today.

Friendly matches are already under fire because clubs resent releasing their players for them.  Annual matches against any of the other home nations would inevitably prevent England from meeting the world's best teams in preparatory friendlies.  On this question, England cannot afford to indulge in nostalgia-driven sentiment.  Meeting Spain, Holland, Brazil or Argentina--or any of a host of other national sides--is much more valuable for England than yearly matches against the other home nation teams.  That is so not only because of the quality of the opposition but also because the other home nation sides play in a style already very familiar to England's players.  Indeed, foreign sides often play one of the home nation teams as preparation for meeting England.

That is not to say England must let two decades go by between matches against their oldest rivals. as they did with Wales and Northern Ireland before these two teams were drawn in the same World Cup 2006 qualifying group as England.   If England can find room to meet Malta and Iceland in friendly warmup matches before major tournaments, as they did in 2000 and 2004, surely they can play friendlies every few years against Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, particularly if they have not met these teams in qualifying or final tournament play for some time.