The Olympic Games have always been a breeding ground for cheesy metaphors that one loves to hate, or vice versa. It’s a competition where togetherness and unity are regular abstract nouns that tend to pop up and are enforced upon the populace hosting the event. London 2012 has the unusual difference from most Olympic Games, in that the primary host country doesn’t actually have its own team. That is to say there is no Team England, only Team Great Britain. So, when plans were unveiled for a revival of the Great British football team, some laughed off the idea claiming it would never work. “Liverpool and Manchester United fans sitting side-by-side in joyous harmony? You must be joking” was the reaction on many a pair of lips. But, must we really?
Football has always been a game of numbers. Meaning, when you pile 60,000 opposing supporters into a stadium, some of the more hostile patrons are just bound to cause some trouble. As such the game is globally known as one of, if not the most fan-aggressive sport in the world, especially when considering the relatively low amount of contact involved in a match. You’d think if any sport were to have the most bitter rivalries, it would be rugby or American football. But alas, no, ‘The Beautiful Game’ it turns out isn’t so beautiful on the sidelines.
So that’s one obstacle the unified Olympic team will have to overcome on its way to debut gold. At the end of the day, it’s the player’s responsibilities to win games, but boiling rivalries off the pitch won’t help the team’s morale against the likes of Brazil and Uruguay, who have both already qualified for the competition. England has a disagreeable discourse with Wales and Scotland, as neighbouring countries often do. One would like to think however, that for such a prestigious competition, four countries can lay down their arms and peacefully support their Olympic representative.
So how will the team fare in the most important terms of all; skill. Well, whoever is eventually appointed as head coach of the team will certainly have a wholesome bounty of players to choose from. Some critics have shown disdain for the selection process that the squad is ‘bound’ to take, claiming that the team will be made up with a massive majority of England Under-21 players. Personally, I find this view unfounded considering the team has just failed to progress past the group stage of the European Championships in underwhelming fashion and there are just as many hot prospects from the other three participant nations. But who am I to speak.
Yet another blockade being placed in the team’s path is the authorities of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The three countries are worried that if their players do in fact only play a ‘bit-part’ in the team behind England’s players, it will have a resounding effect on their individual statuses within FIFA. However, this claim doesn’t pose a concrete threat to the team, as the governing bodies lack the authority to prevent a player from participating if he wishes to do so. This means that if the likes of Barry Bannan and Gareth Bale are indeed approached to have a place in the Great Britain squad, it is completely their decision whether they play or not. Sure, things can go on behind the scenes to sway a player’s opinion one way or another but let’s not be silly, this is football.
In summary, as someone wise once said; four countries are better than one. Great Britain has within it the world’s most entertaining league, and has spawned many of its great youth players. Each Olympic team is allowed three players over the age of 23 in its squad, and Great Britain is lucky enough to have David Beckham as one of their possibilities. The 36 year-old has expressed his desire to play a role in the tournament, and even if his exploits aren’t as effective on the pitch as they once were, he’s a monumental figure to have in any dressing room. It’s very much a ‘flip of the coin’ scenario for a team that hasn’t competed in decades. So, will a Great Britain side sink or swim at the Olympic Games? In short terms, your guess is as good as mine.