PtG Article 31.03.2011

Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish players urged to play in a United GB Olympic football team

The Games is an experience that football players should not miss, says two-time US Olympian Friedel and urges the players to play regardless of any opposition from their governing bodies.

Manchester, England: Brad Friedel, the veteran American goalkeeper who plays in the English Premier for Aston Villa, has joined the debate over whether all four UK Home Nations should set aside their differences and play as a combined Great Britain side at the 2012 London Olympics.

Scotland, Wales and to a lesser degree Northern Ireland, oppose joining up a united Team GB for the London 2012 Olympics due to concerns that this would compromise their independence within FIFA. Barring a sudden volte face, the team next year would be comprised solely of English players.

“For a player like Gareth Bale [of Tottenham Hotspur and Wales] to miss out on the Olympics would be terrible,” said Friedel. “It’s not just the Games, it’s the whole experience.

“Growing up in the United States, the Olympics was the pinnacle and putting on a jersey [for US in the Olympics] in 1992 and 2000 was very different to the three World Cup finals that I was fortunate enough to be involved in. When will the Olympics be here [in the UK] again? People need to stop thinking of themselves.”

No GB team for four decades

A British team has not entered the Olympic football competition since the qualifiers for the 1972 Games in Munich. The last match was the second leg of a qualifier with Bulgaria, when a squad of 15 Englishmen and one Welshman travelled to Sofia. A team featuring 11 Englishmen was routed 5-0 to go out 5-1 on aggregate and amateurism was officially abandoned in England in 1974, leaving the Home Nations ineligible to enter. 

The Scottish Football Association and the Football Association of Wales vehemently oppose any involvement in a united GB side for 2012, but some players such as Bale, have reportedly expressed interest. This could potentially see players such as Bale, his fellow Welshman Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal and Jonny Evans of Manchester United and Northern Ireland, banned by their FAs for taking part.

All players should answer a Team GB call in 2012

Friedel advised any player called up from Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland for the 2012 Olympics to take part regardless of the stance adopted by their associations.

“It’s an experience they shouldn’t miss,” added Friedel. He cited experiences the players in 2012 would get outside of football and recalled how as a 19-year-old at the 1992 games in Barcelona he got to have breakfast with German tennis legend Boris Becker.

On the same panel at Soccerex, Iwan Thomas, the Welsh former 400-metre runner and a silver medallist at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, agreed with Friedel.

“I first went to the Olympics at 21 and it was great,” said Thomas. “You would be in the dining hall and look across and see someone like Shaq O’Neal [the US basketball legend]. Players are so immersed in football and the Olympics are a chance to see something else.”

2012 football update

Earlier in the same debate, Rachel Ely, football competition manager at the London 2012 Organising Committee, revealed that the first match of next year’s Olympic football stadium will be at Coventry.

The Ricoh Arena will stage a play-off game in April 2012 between the countries that finish fourth in the African and Asian Olympic qualifiers to decide the sixteenth and final side to qualify for the 16-team competition.