British Olympic Football and the End of the Amateur Dream
by Steve Menary
Pitch Publishing, £15.99
Reviewed by Tom Whitworth
From WSC 291 May 2011
Speculation has been growing over who will take charge of and play for the Great Britain football team at the London Olympics. So it is a good time for the appearance of this book in which Steve Menary charts the varying achievements of the British side in the tournaments they entered, from London 1908, which they won, to Munich 1972, for which they failed to qualify.
Each games is written up to a set formula – set the scene, report the matches, review the aftermath – interspersed with potted player biographies and some curious details. During the 1936 Berlin games, for instance, the players were taken to Berchtesgaden by SS guards in order to shake hands with Adolf Hitler; at the 1948 "Austerity Games" in London, the squad travelled to matches on the Tube.
That team – under the charge of Matt Busby, who had not long taken over at Man Utd – lost to Yugoslavia in the semi-final, which was a creditable performance given that the opposition were "state amateurs" who would have been classed as professionals outside the Communist bloc. Meanwhile, Menary suggests that a defeat to Luxembourg at the 1952 games for a team overseen by Walter Winterbottom was as much of a humiliation for the manager as the one handed to him and England's professionals by Hungary the following year.
Before the 1908 event a split had pitched the FA against the newly formed Amateur Football Association, both then running their own leagues and competitions. Confusingly, however, it was the FA that provided the GB team, entering a collection of amateurs from the Football League (there were a significant number to choose from due to the low wages paid to players at the time).
Eventually the two bodies reconciled, but the abolition of the maximum wage in 1963 had a damaging effect on the GB amateur team. Many more players went full-time and fewer younger players chose to begin their careers as non-professionals. The unavailability for selection of the semi-professionals, who played in the likes of the Southern League, further reduced the talent pool. The 1960 games was the last one for which GB qualified, although they were cheated out of a place four years later by a team of Greek professionals masquerading as amateurs. (After their opponents withdrew, Great Britain was offered their place but declined.) The continuing struggles against the Soviet "professional amateurs" was exemplified by a team largely made up of Isthmian League players losing in the Munich 1972 qualifiers to a Bulgarian side who had played at the World Cup finals two years earlier.
The author demonstrated a wide knowledge of international football politics in his last book, Outcasts! The Lands That FIFA Forgot, so it's a pity that the issue of whether next year's GB Olympic side will be exclusively English, or comprised of players from the other Home Nations, is dealt with only in the final few paragraphs. But that doesn't detract from an otherwise thorough and interesting work.