Response from my Letter to the Football Associations of Great Britain Regarding the British Home Championship
On the 14th August England Played Scotland at Wembley. It was good wasn’t it? A genuinely competitive ‘friendly’ that the fans thoroughly enjoyed. Three months earlier England had entertained Republic of Ireland to a 1-1 draw also at Wembley in another competitive ‘friendly’. Northern Ireland beat England back in 2005 World Cup Qualifying and Wales participated in two keenly contested games with England during the previous Euro Qualifying rounds.
International football is a strange animal; teams typically play between 8 and 16 games a year depending on their success at major tournaments with many of these games in close proximately with large expanses of time between get togethers. In addition to this the qualifying set up means that most major footballing nations will have 4 – 6 games over any given qualifying campaign which are basically walk overs. Add friendlies to mix this means that less that 50% of games have any true meaning or competitive edge.
Personally as an England fan I have become particularly bored with our international games. Now, I look forward to the games and even get excited for many of them, its just that the games are always a let down. The Wembley games always seem to entice over 80,000 fans and the atmosphere in what is clearly one of the best stadia in the world is always of a reasonable level, its just what happens on the pitch is lukewarm. I took my son to the San Marino game a year ago, which we both expected double figures, which whilst not being competitive should have at least been entertaining. In reality we got a lethargic struggle to get to 5 goals.
Earlier this year I came to the conclusion that we need more competitive internationals (not less or the removal of friendlies as many commentators have suggested is the answer) and that the answer is the re-instatement of the British Home Championship. This annual championship was shelved in 1984 after 100 years of competition. Whilst international games vs the Spains and Brazils of this world definitely are showpiece games which attract full houses and top sponsors, we have played a lot of games against mid level nations where we just show up or there are many squad drop outs. This effects the atmosphere and the turn out (only 62,000 in attendance vs Chile recently, which I attended). This needs to change. If all international games are played with a competitive edge, we would improve when the harder tournament fixtures arrive.
I am convinced that a new and improved British Home Championship would be a success in terms of improving the competing nations as well as being a commercial success. My conviction led me to writing to the heads of the four home nations. Read Here Back in May of this year i penned a letter to The Football Association, The Irish Football Association, The Scottish Football Association and The Football Association of Wales. I devised an alternative to the annual championship that was shelved in 1984 and the poorly thought out tournament of 2011. My tournament follows these points;
- Competed for by England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
- Takes place on a two year cycle within the off years where there is no Major Football tournament applicable to these nations i.e 2015, 2017 and so on. Therefore there is no ‘major’ increase in games over the normal 12-month cycle. The tournament would also replace the friendlies that typically take place at this time in the off year.
- Takes place over the course of a week to ten days with a simple tournament structure where the teams play each other once and the results tabulated resulting in the top two teams competing in a final. Therefore there would be 4 rounds of matches including a showpiece event.
- All games take place in one country. Utilising existing stadia. Location to alternate fairly for each tournament visiting all four nations over the course of four tournaments. I propose this so this mini tournament mirrors the large ones.
The benefit of implementing such a tournament is clear. The players will gain valuable tournament experience. This is terms of playing games in quick succession as well as being away as a group as they would at a major tournament. This cannot be replicated by a one off friendly in my opinion.
The fans would receive a more enjoyable experience following their nation and the host would have the opportunity to arrange a tournament and bring in a large amount of tourism. It may sound pathetic to some, but there will be realistic chances of silverware that would have some, albeit small, standing and bragging rights. In such a small tournament with a rotating location I genuinely believe that it would not be a one horse race. I can already hear people saying that England would win this each time. But would they? We have already seen over the years that home nation games are very competitive. It also works both ways giving fans interesting and realistically obtainable success. With the exception of England these nations have had a very poor qualification success rate for major tournaments, therefore the players do not have tournament experience at international level.
I received two responses from my four letters. The responses were from England and Scotland. The Chief Executive of the Scottish FA Stewart Regan responded to me whilst the English response was from someone in customer relations ‘on behalf of David Bernstein’. Both rejected the idea as being feasible.
The English response suggested two reasons why the old tournament was cancelled. These were International fixture congestion and low attendance figures. No real reason against a new tournament are stated however there is a general comment regarding the demand on modern players with the letter continuing by stating they believe that the players will ‘gain better experience playing against other sides’. Reference to the fact that some matches between the nations have taken place in recent years is made. The comment on low attendance figures may have been the case at the time but it should be appreciated that in the 1980’s attendance figures were generally lower than the decades either side or at the present day.
The Scottish response has a similar feeling in that Mr Regan has stated that ‘the coach wishes to challenge the team by playing countries from throughout Europe and Worldwide, thus allowing new players to compete against different styles of play to be more ready in the competitive qualifying matches’. An interesting additional point is made that the traditional international friendly dates in June may be utilised for qualifying games. This is disappointing if true. This is a organisational issue. If the tournament was proposal and agreed to by the nations and was a viable sponsorship opportunity, I am sure that the governing bodies would allow, sanction and assist in getting it off the ground.
Ultimately I feel it’s about time that the fun, enjoyment and passion is brought back to international football. This country gets behind the team for one week every couple of years, which quickly fizzles out to the same sense of disappointment and realisation. I have proposed feasible a solution, which at present the home nations are not keen on, but hopefully it has given them at the very least something to think about.