Knocked out on penalties in the Quarter-Finals to an average team. All too familiar, eh? Fortunately that’s pretty much where the similarities with the English national team end. Stuart Pearce’s team might not have been a Great British side, but they certainly weren’t a Bad one.
Chemistry. So difficult to define, so hard to create and yet so vital for any and every team. Countless big-name England managers have tried and failed to find this mysterious quality, and yet Stuart Pearce, the charismatic and charming Stuart Pearce, got it first time with Team GB. The players looked like they’d been playing with each other for years; grey-haired Welshmen and fresh-faced Englishmen just seemed to get each other.
Although the first Great British football team for 50 years could and probably should have achieved more with the form they showed, there are plenty positives that can be taken from London 2012. The team achieved something more important than bronze, silver or gold; they captured the imagination of the British public. Filling stadiums and having a passionate following means more than winning medals and is arguably harder to achieve.
Admittedly, the warm-up against Brazil and the opener versus Senegal didn’t set the World alight- far from it. Team GB looked exactly what they were. An assortment of mildly talented youth and over-the-hill oldies, with the whole camp lacking a lot of personality. The armchair elite were sat at home wondering why they were wasting their time watching this drab; it wasn’t England and it wasn’t even entertaining. Pearce was the wrong choice for manager, the whole squad looked light on talent and why wasn’t Beckham there for God’s sake?
Then the aforementioned British public saw something that is rarely seen in any of their respective national sides – progress. Tangible progress. Great Britain were getting better. From game to game, from half to half, the team were visibly improving. In fitness, in understanding, but most importantly, in results. A draw against Senegal, a comfortable win against the United Arab Emirates along with a hard-fought 1-0 against a Uruguay side containing the likes of Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani saw them deservedly top Group A and setup a quarter-final with South Korea.
There was just something about Team GB that worked. Pearce had, bravely and correctly, gone for brains over brawn where it mattered. Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen, who between them are probably about 6 foot and 80 kilograms, controlled the centre of midfield in style. Passes flowed around the park, from defence to midfield, from midfield to attack. Despite some players being noticeably less talented than others, the side were able to play an effective possession game. In fact, it was more than effective; it was entertaining, good to watch.
What made it even more special was that it was clearly a Great Britain side rather than an England one. A common misconception is that this was an English team with a couple of largely irrelevant Welshmen in it. Although the SFA’s decision not to take part meant that England were obviously to take more of a centre stage, the team was still by all accounts a Great British one. Giggs’ quality, Bellamy’s hard work and Ramsey’s passing all tangibly added to the team, with the Welsh contingent in general adding a spark that England so often seem to lack.
Perhaps the biggest positive of it all were the performances of some of the upcoming players: Sturridge, Ramsey and Caulker all looked particularly impressive, but it was the teenaged goalkeeper Jack Butland that stood out the most. To be 19-years-old and hold your own as a keeper at international level is impressive, to do it and stand out is phenomenal. The young keeper really does have a huge future ahead of him.
Although the quarter-final against South Korea was ultimately to end in the most painful kind of heartbreak and although everyone will inevitably act like they don’t care, there was certainly something a little bit special about this Team GB football team. 70,000 people don’t flock over to Cardiff for nothing. The British public were excited by having a national team. It undoubtedly got the popular vote.
Invaluable experiences for the players, real entertainment for the public and the chance of winning more Olympic medals. Having a British football team compete at the Olympics just makes so much sense, especially given the evident interest that it generates.
Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that this is probably the last time any of us will see a British football team. The next time the Olympics are held over in Britain is a lifetime away, for all we know the United Kingdom won’t even exist by then. It’s unlikely that all the relevant FAs will be willing to release players for any further Olympic games unless they are forced to, which will never happen, so this could be it. A Great shame indeed.