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Britain's Olympic past

Wednesday, 03 March 2004.
There has been speculation recently that Great Britain would enter both a men’s and, for the first time, a women’s team into the 2012 Olympic Football Tournaments if the British bid to stage the Summer Games is successful.’s David Barber was the administrator with the last British team to enter the Olympics more than 30 years ago and he answers the pertinent questions now.

When did a Great Britain team last enter the Olympic Football Tournament?

A British team entered the qualifying competition for the 1972 Finals in West Germany and was drawn to play Bulgaria over two legs. Officially there were no professional players in Bulgaria at that time, in common with other Eastern bloc countries, and they were able to enter what was virtually their World Cup side.

But we beat them 1-0 at Wembley in the first leg on 24th March 1971, Slough Town’s Joe Adams scoring, before a crushing 5-0 defeat in the Sofia return on 5th May ended our Olympic hopes.

When did a Great Britain team last qualify for the Olympic Finals?

A British team knocked out Holland and the Republic of Ireland in the qualifiers to make it through to the Finals in Italy in 1960. In those Finals we were eliminated at the Group stage after a 4-3 defeat to Brazil, a 2-2 draw with our Italian hosts and a 3-2 win against Formosa.

Has a Great Britain team ever won the Gold Medal?

Yes, we won the first official Olympic Football Tournament in 1908, beating Denmark 2-0 in the Final in London. Vivian Woodward, the legendary Tottenham and Chelsea striker, notched the second goal. We were winners again with an "England" team four years later in Stockholm, defeating the Danes in the Final once again (4-2).

Who ran the last Great Britain team and how were the players chosen?

The last British team was administered by The FA, with the agreement of the other British Associations. Charles Hughes, The FA’s Assistant Director of Coaching and Manager of the England Amateur Team, was appointed Manager and selected a group of players to attend training sessions at the Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre in Buckinghamshire.

The predominantly English team that faced Bulgaria at Wembley in 1971 was: John Swannell (Hendon), Paul Fuschillo (Wycombe), Bill Currie (Albion), Ted Powell (Wycombe, captain), Derek Gamblin (Leatherhead), John Payne (Enfield), Roger Day (Slough), Rod Haider (Hendon), Peter Hardcastle (Skelmersdale), Ken Gray (Enfield) and Joe Adams (Slough).

Why did we stop entering a Great Britain team into the Olympics?

In 1974 the FA Council abolished the official distinction between "amateur" and "professional" footballers in England. This put an end to the practice of "shamateurism", whereby players claimed to be amateur but still irregular payments from their clubs. At that time the Olympics were only open to amateur sportsmen and women, so the British Associations were no longer able to enter a football team.

Which players are eligible to play in the modern Olympics?

The criteria for the eligibility of players, established by FIFA, have changed several times over the years. Professional footballers may now take part but Olympic football teams are now essentially "Under-23" teams.

Which countries have traditionally done well in Olympic football?

When Britain last hosted the Summer Games, in 1948, Sweden won the Football Tournament. They beat Yugoslavia 3-1 in the Final at Wembley. Eastern bloc countries, who were able to field their full international sides, triumphed in the next eight tournaments. The last two Gold Medallists have been African.

List of Olympic Champions to date

1908 Great Britain
1912 England
1920 Belgium
1924 Uruguay
1928 Uruguay
1936 Italy
1948 Sweden
1952 Hungary
1956 USSR
1960 Yugoslavia
1964 Hungary
1968 Hungary
1972 Poland
1976 East Germany
1980 Czechoslovakia
1984 France
1988 USSR
1992 Spain
1996 Nigeria
2000 Cameroon.


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