Football has been included in every single Summer Olympics, with the exception of 1896 and 1932. Initially there was only a men’s tournament, but women’s football was added to the programme for the Atlanta games in 1996.
The first World Cup was not until 1930, but not wanting to overshadow FIFA’s new showpiece event, football was dropped from the Olympic programme for the 1932 games. It returned for the Berlin games in 1936, but by now professionalism was taking hold of football and the quality of the strictly amateur Olympic tournament was poor in comparison with the World Cup. This ruling played into the hands of state-sponsored teams from the Eastern Bloc, and between 1948 and 1980, 23 of the 27 medals were won by countries from behind the Iron Curtain (East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the USSR, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Poland…. All countries, you’ll notice, with a decent pedigree in the international game since the collapse of Communism). The rules were changed again in 1984 to allow teams from Africa, Asia and Oceania to enter fully professional sides, but teams from Europe and the Americas were not allowed to field any players who had previously appeared in a World Cup. This ruling meant that many European Countries played very young sides, and this idea caught on to the extent that in 1992 the rules were changed again to restrict sides to players under the age of 23 (although each team are allowed 3 overage players). These are the rules we still have today, and the Olympic Tournament is effectively now the Under-23 World Cup.
Great Britain have not appeared in the finals since 1960 (having been gold medal winners in 1908 and 1912), and have not even entered a team into the qualifying competition since the distinction between amateur and professional football was abolished by the British football associations. The main excuse for not entering a team these days though is that Britain is in the unique position of having 4 separate national Football Associations in the same country (England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland), all competing in international football. For some reason, it is thought that producing a single team for the Olympics may lead to calls for the UK's special four-team status to be abolished altogether.
Now that the 2012 Olympics have been awarded to London though, there has been renewed talk that there should be a Great Britain team entered. It seems that the Scottish FA still fear for their independence though, and they have released a statement saying that they will not allow Scottish players to take part in any Great Britain team. That would be a shame. The 2012 Olympics will be a great boost to sport in this country, and kids are apparently flocking to athletics clubs in the hope that they will be able to emulate Kelly Holmes on home soil in 7 years time. To have a Great Britain football team that does not feature a single Scottish player would be sad indeed.
Of course, the cynics amongst you will be quick to point out that Scotland wouldn’t have anyone good enough to be included in the side anyway….
Shame on you! England do not have a monopoly on all the great players that this country has produced. For every Bobby Charlton, there has been a Denis Law, a George Best, a Kenny Dalglish, a John Charles…. Surely there is every reason to believe that somewhere out there could be a teenager playing keepie-uppie, or having a kick about with his (or her) mates, and that this kid might be the one to score the winning goal for Great Britain in the Olympic Final in 2012?
I’d like to think so.
If the Olympic Games were next summer, who would be in your men’s Great Britain football team? Remember they have to be all under-23, although you are allowed 3 overage players.