What would Wayne Rooney say if asked to play for Team UK? Our guess: "It's all gone pear shaped!!!"
“Scotsman Craig Bellamy plays the ball forward to Wayne Rooney. Rooney beats his man and crosses in the direction of Ryan Giggs, his club colleague at Manchester United. Giggs, the Welshman, takes the ball on his left foot. He shoots. It’s in the back of the net. Team UK has scored! The World Cup is within Britain’s grasp!”
A Scotsman, an Englishman and a Welshman playing on the same international team sounds like the start of a bad joke, but is it such a terrible idea?
As we’ve noted ad infinitum, it’s the English football team competing in South Africa, NOT the British football team. Through historical accident the countries that make up the United Kingdom compete individually.
Why not have Team UK?
Let’s face it, England’s recent World Cup track record is pretty mediocre, while Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland didn’t even qualify this time around. And it’s not going to get any easier in the future as Africa, Asia and the US mature as soccer powers. Wouldn’t it be sensible if we joined forces and put out a single team? Isn’t there a chance we might actually do better? It’s worked at the Olympics, at least in rowing, cycling and sailing the only three sports the British are any good at. (Ok, we can add ice dancing, if we think it’s actually a sport.)
Occasionally mooted, the idea of Team U.K. is invariably hooted down derisively in favor of the status quo, especially north of the border in Scotland. “It’s a complete non-starter with no grounds of support whatsoever in Scotland," The Guardian quoted a Scottish Football Association spokesman saying in 2000, after the British Home Secretary raised the idea. The spokesman went on to say, “The idea comes up from time to time, usually from someone in England."
Ouch! Scots apparently prefer international soccer mediocrity to the horrors of hooking up with the old enemy. But then who needs World Cup soccer when you have a lifetime of Hibernian vs. Hearts local derbies to look forward to.
Given that the political bonds of union are growing weaker in the U.K., I doubt we’ll ever see a unified British team take the field in the World Cup. Arguably, the political process is actually catching up with soccer tradition. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland now have their own political assemblies with local powers, just as they’ve long had their own soccer associations.
Britishness may be going the way of the bowler hat and cucumber sandwich. In fact, there is an effort to field a British football team at the London Olympics in 2012. But it’s so mired in politics, it’s unclear if it will happen. If it does, don’t be fooled. In all likelihood, it’ll merely be an English team dressed in British clothing.