By the late 1930s, it was no longer enough to be the game’s pioneers. Instead, British football had to continually prove itself on the soccer field as ‘the masters of the game’ against an ever-wider range of former pupils, given the continued growth in football’s popularity worldwide.
Nevertheless, British football, like the people and the press, still uncritically assumed national primacy since images of ascendancy were reinforced by the British football associations’ seemingly independent global role outside of FIFA, most notably by continued control over the laws of their game through the International Football Association Board (IFAB).
British Football Controlled The Laws Of The Game
Admittedly, FIFA was represented thereupon, but the British associations had a 4/5 majority. In certain respects, Britain’s high footballing reputation rested on mythologies and the inertia characteristic of foreign impressions of the British game.
Still, it also proved in part that, notwithstanding their complete absence from lists of Olympic and World Cup footballing honors between the wars, England and Scotland had good, even outstanding, results in high profile games against foreign sides.
Impressive performances against Italy (one win, two draws, no defeats), the 1934 and 1938 world champions and 1936 Olympic football gold medallists, reinforced England’s footballing prestige during a decade when Scotland, though displaying less overall consistency, finished with a strong run of results (1936-38: five wins, one draw, no losses) against leading continental sides, like Austria and Germany.
Moreover, in 1938, England beat FIFA’s ‘Rest of Europe’ team 3-0 in a match played at Highbury Stadium in London to mark the 75th anniversary of the Football Association (the FA).
Against this background, one Hungarian writer, looking back to the inter-war years following a period dominated by his own country’s national team, observed that ‘in those days, and for a long time to come, no team was ashamed to be beaten by the England eleven; it was the rule.’
Of course, though unbeaten at home by non-British teams, neither England nor Scotland went undefeated by foreign sides, even if England’s first such loss did not occur until 1929.
In any case, defeats often seemed capable of rationalization in terms of, say, poor foreign referees, varying interpretations of the laws of the game, uneven pitches, adverse climatic conditions, excessive traveling, and tiredness after a long league season, that is, factors preventing British players from displaying their assumed innate superiority.
It proved easy for the British footballing authorities, media, and people to interpret Britain as having nothing to prove in the World Cup. For British football, the real test remained the home international tournament, or rather, for England and Scotland, the prime goal was to win their annual contest.
FIFA’s 100 Year Aniversary
In 2004 FIFA was 100 years old. It is interesting to record that the FA, though regarded as the most senior football association, dating back to 1863, was only a member of FIFA for only ¾ of that period (i.e., circa 76 years)
Thus, the FA joined late (1906), has been less than lukewarm about the whole concept of an international body, left in 1920 principally over relations with the ex-enemy countries, rejoined in 1924, only to depart again four years later (1928) when problems over definitions of amateurism accentuated perennial concerns about the encroaching power of FIFA upon the authority of national associations.
Nor, unlike the early 1920s, was this withdrawal soon reversed; indeed, it was not until 1946 that the FA re-entered FIFA. But, significantly, it is still there, even if there remain occasional tensions in the relationship alongside the FA’s performance of a more marginal role in world football.
In 2004, the other home associations will have been members of FIFA for even less time than the FA, given the fact that having applied for membership after the FA, their applications were delayed by controversy regarding Britain’s right to 4 members, given the federation’s one member, one country principle.
Generally speaking, the Football Association of Wales (FAW), Irish Football Association (IFA), and Scottish Football Association (SFA), though stressing their separate histories, identities, and points of view, were prepared to accept, even welcome, the FA’s leadership concerning, say, FIFA membership, participation in the Olympics and World Cup, and definitions of amateurism.
Even so, there remained an enduring resentment about being seen to follow their English counterpart, as typified by the IFA’s complaints advanced at the IFAB in June 1931: ‘The Irish FA had followed the lead of England for many years.
When England asked them to join FIFA, they did so; and when England wanted them to come out, they did so. Again they rejoined at England’s request and withdrew, and they might be asked to rejoin, for all he knew. They were getting suspicious of England’.
Yet Another British Football Withdrawal From FIFA
This paper’s actual starting point is 17 February 1928, when the four home associations, meeting at Sheffield, resolved on British withdrawal from FIFA.
Although the actual breach was occasioned by solid opposition to FIFA’s acceptance of a definition of amateurism for the Amsterdam Olympics allowing ‘broken time’ payments (i.e., for loss of pay and other expenses), the fundamental problem proved a function of the British football associations’ conservatism and insularity, as epitomized in their ‘opinion that they should be free to conduct their affairs in the way their long experience has shown them to be desirable.’
Despite stressing a desire to maintain friendly and correct relations in the future with FIFA, their rationale for withdrawal reaffirmed a somewhat arrogant belief that they still knew best: ‘the great majority of the Associations affiliated with La Federation Internationale de Football Association are of comparatively recent formation, and as a consequence cannot have the knowledge which only experience can bring.’
In particular, a strong exception had been taken to the resolution adopted by the 1925 Prague FIFA Congress, acknowledging FIFA as ‘the highest authority on all football matters. Consequently, it cannot accept the interference or guidance of anybody else in such affairs.
From this perspective, broken time payments proved the last straw, as William Pickford, a Vice-President of both the FA (1907-37) and FIFA (1927-28), told Hirschman, the FIFA Secretary: ‘We have nothing against the FIFA, but our people here prefer to manage their affairs in their way, and not be entangled in too many regulations.’
For the next three years, FIFA and the British associations sought to find either a basis for British re-admission or, failing that, some modus vivendi.
Further exchanges, failing to yield much by way of meaningful negotiation, merely revealed the seemingly unbridgeable gulf dividing the two sides; indeed, discussions concentrated primarily on routine matters, like the lack of response to a previous proposal or difficulties in scheduling meetings.
By contrast, private correspondence conducted between Hirschman and, say, Pickford indicated the prevalence of cordial relations at the personal level. Even so, Pickford, though prepared to keep the line open to FIFA, warned Hirschman: ‘Don’t expect too much, for ‘at present membership of FIFA is not practical.’
Peaceful coexistence, not re-entry, proved the prime goal for the British associations, whose prime anxiety to preserve their authority and independence vis-à-vis FIFA was complemented by a willingness to maintain friendly relations with the federation and to arrange fixtures with affiliated associations, even if their unyielding position on broken time payments ruled out entry to the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics football tournament.
In this vein, Pickford stressed that ‘we must not go to war. War is always wrong, except in self-defense’.
For its part, FIFA, albeit frequently irritated by the vacillations and apparent intransigence of the British associations as well as occasional bitter anti-FIFA outbursts (e.g., the IFA’s Ferguson claimed that FIFA’s circular about British withdrawal must have been written by ‘a drunk’), played along in the sense of hoping for the resumption of the ‘old relations’ with ‘those who had founded and developed the game.’
For FIFA, British membership was deemed vital for a federation claiming to represent the interests of a world game invented and developed in Britain.
Eventually, in January 1931, the British associations resolved to draw exchanges to a close based on their future willingness to act with FIFA and play teams from FIFA-affiliated associations, ‘but not again become Members of the Federation.’
A few months later, Jules Rimet (President of FIFA, 1921-54), addressing the 1931 FIFA congress, regretted the continued impasse while taking the opportunity to hope for their eventual return in the wake of the forthcoming revision of FIFA’s statutes designed to re-adjust the power balance between the federation and members in a way favored by the British associations.
Thus, ‘in the future, the Federation should be a union of independent Associations governing themselves without any interference from the Federation.’ But the promises failed to prompt a change of mind.
The 1930s: Britain’s Virtual Membership Of FIFA
Unlike the early 1920s, British withdrawal was not reversed within a few years, for the rift lasted until 1946.
Nevertheless, the 1930s saw the development of what both Frederick Wall (FA Secretary: 1895-1934) and Stanley Rous (Wall’s successor as FA secretary) described as ‘very cordial relations between the British associations and FIFA, for whom annual IFAB meetings provided a regular formal point of contact, especially as, unlike the period following the previous British withdrawal in 1920, FIFA retained IFAB membership after 1928.
Moreover, the continuation, even increased frequency (Figure 2), of matches between British teams and FIFA members – commonly, FIFA-affiliated associations were banned from arranging club or national fixtures versus non-members – was complemented by the British associations’ policy of restricting games to FIFA members.
The British associations, albeit responding primarily to pressure from the Deutscher Fussball Bund (DFB), even entered a ‘Great Britain’ team in the 1936 Berlin Olympic football tournament.
Although ‘the trip was not entirely successful from a football-playing point of view’ (defeated by Poland in the quarter-finals), C. Wreford Brown and Rous believed that participation forged invaluable links with the DFB and FIFA.
In particular, Rous, taking the opportunity to advocate a more realistic attitude toward international football, pressed the merits of continued British cooperation with FIFA:
‘Because of the developments that must inevitably occur in Association Football throughout the world, it is important that Great Britain should take her part as the country with the most experienced in the exploitation of a game that can now affect the social life and happiness of many millions.’
FA minutes, albeit recording the Council’s acceptance of the report, do not indicate any action plan. Indeed, the FA saw no reason to rejoin FIFA.
Regular exchanges of information, including the FA’s subscription to FIFA publications to stay in touch with global developments, were reinforced by formal representation at each other’s matches.
Thus, FIFA was represented regularly at internationals played in Britain (e.g., 1932: England/Austria; 1933: Scotland/Austria; 1935: England/Germany), while representatives from the British associations attended FIFA’s Central Europe versus Western Europe match played at Amsterdam in June 1937 as well as the 1938 World Cup final at Paris.
Perhaps, the most vivid example of collaboration occurred in 1938, when FIFA offered to field a team to celebrate the FA’s 75th anniversary. FIFA, highlighting the ambivalent nature of its relationship with British football, launched this initiative to allow members to ‘show their gratitude for the pioneering work the British countries have done for the development of football on the continent.’
But, the FA, upholding its separate identity within Britain, rejected initial proposals for a ‘Great Britain’ side, thereby prompting the SFA’s abortive efforts to extend the FIFA team’s visit for an extra match north of the border.
On 26 October 1938, England’s decisive 3-0 victory at Highbury over a team representing the ‘Rest of Europe’ – in fact, the team was dominated by two Germans and seven Italians – reinforced impressions of Britain’s traditional footballing superiority, especially as commentators glossed over the problems facing scratch teams.
Seeking British Football Entry To The World Cup
Significantly, FIFA made persistent efforts throughout the 1930s to secure British entry to the World Cup, which was first held in 1930. In the event, no British national team entered the World Cup before the Second World War.
Nor did repeated invitations meet a sympathetic British response. However, the fact that the federation actively solicited British participation is significant. The fact that non-membership of FIFA has often been advanced as the prime reason for the failure of British teams to enter FIFA’s World Cup tournament.
Nevertheless, it seems likely that the British associations’ recent defection from the federation, in conjunction with the lack of progress in the negotiations to settle points at issue, diminished the prospects of their entry into any FIFA-organised competition.
In many respects, what became the usual British line was established in November 1929, when Frederick Wall, the FA Secretary, sent a curt refusal to the Uruguayan football authorities: ‘I am instructed to express regret at our inability to accept the invitation.’
The SFA, though at least expressing polite appreciation for the invitation, also refused, especially as in January 1927, it had already reacted negatively towards initial proposals for an international championship.
In any case, the SFA had only started playing foreign internationals in 1929. Nor is there any indication in minute books that the matter attracted much discussion, let alone any expression of interest from the other British associations.
No reasons for rejection were given in Wall’s letter. Still, this negative outcome can be interpreted as a function of the FA’s conservative and insular mindset, particularly its concerns about player availability, distance, the lengthy sea voyage, and tour duration. Moreover, the low entry suggested that similar factors explained the absence of several other European teams.
Another influential consideration, though often ignored, must have been the FA’s recent correspondence with Chelsea about the problems, even dangers, encountered during the club’s recent tour of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay.
On 31 July 1929, Colonel Charles Crisp, a Chelsea director, apprised Wall of a series of problems – these included ‘non-observance of the laws of the game,’ ‘atrocious refereeing,’ ‘badly controlled crowds,’ and the ‘Latin temperament’ – which ‘hindered real football.’
Allegedly, one Chelsea player was punched by a spectator. At the same time, crowd trouble at the Boca ground in Buenos Aires resulted in the premature end of the match and severe damage to the team’s motorcoach.
One can imagine the reactions of Wall, among other members of the FA, to the receipt of a World Cup invitation from one of the countries visited by Chelsea within weeks of reading Crisp’s letter.
1934 World Cup
In April 1933, Ivo Schricker (FIFA secretary, 1932-51), visiting Glasgow to represent FIFA at the Scotland-England game, sounded out the British associations about entry to the 1934 World Cup.
Pressing the ‘prestige’ argument, he claimed that entry would prove beneficial to the global image of British football. Informal conversations were followed up by correspondence and other personal exchanges whenever the opportunity presented itself, such as IFAB meetings or international matches.
FIFA’s anxiety to secure British participation even led Schricker to offer both England and Scotland direct admission to the finals proper – unlike other entrants, there would be no need to participate in preliminary matches – plus coverage of travel and accommodation expenses. Indeed, Schricker, detecting the SFA’s fiscal worries, promised to arrange a continental tour in 1935 to accommodate its concerns.
FIFA’s Official Bulletin reinforced the pressure. An article written by Walter Bensemann urged the British associations to ‘come over and do their bit for world football and bring for Britain ‘a substantial win of prestige.’
But, these moves, albeit revealing the lengths to which FIFA was prepared to bring in British teams, fell on barren ground.
Naturally, FIFA regretted the negative outcome, but further pressure – entry, Schricker reiterated, would offer an excellent opportunity to make propaganda for British football’ – brought no change of mind.
Once again, rejection letters failed to specify the reasons for non-entry, whose impact was emphasized because both the FA and SFA decided to conduct close-season continental tours in 1934.
England even took on two participants (i.e., Hungary and Czechoslovakia) a few days before the World Cup finals, while the SFA, having rejected FIFA’s invitation, decided at the same committee meeting to tour Scandinavia in 1934!
1938 World Cup
In May 1938, both England and Scotland played on the continent during the weeks immediately preceding France’s third World Cup Finals. England even played France at the Colombes Stadium in Paris (26 May 1938) – the stadium had been significantly enlarged for the World Cup – a mere nine days before the tournament’s opening.
Significantly, in the subsequent World Cup tournament, England attracted a record attendance (65,000), which was never exceeded for any game, including France’s quarter-final versus Italy (58,455).
At one time, Scotland was also scheduled to play France in May, but this fixture failed to go ahead.
The critical British decision was made in March 1937 when the FA, whose minutes prove characteristically uninformative, adopted its usual negative attitude towards FIFA’s invitation.
Subsequently, the IFAB, meeting at Llandudno in June 1937, left decisions to individual associations. Still, there was little likelihood of the FAW, IFA, or SFA adopting a more forthcoming attitude than the FA, whose fixture list included more foreign international fixtures.
FIFA’s alternative suggestion for a ‘Great Britain’ team, though acceptable for the 1936 Olympics, was even less attractive to British associations extremely sensitive about their autonomy in respecting full internationals.
In the event, Britain’s self-imposed ‘splendid isolation’ respecting the World Cup was accentuated by the fact that, as mentioned earlier, both England and Scotland played on the continent against four finalists just before the start of the tournament.
Nevertheless, the British associations exhibited a more sympathetic attitude towards the event than the preceding World Cup.
Whereas previously they had refused FIFA’s request to switch the IFAB meeting from Cannes to Rome to link with the 1934 tournament, in 1938, the IFAB’s meeting was transferred from Northern Ireland to Paris to facilitate members’ attendance at World Cup matches and events.
More importantly, both the FA and SFA were represented at the World Cup final itself for the first time! It was easy for people in Britain to be almost unaware of the World Cup finals, given the relatively modest level of British press coverage of a seemingly obscure foreign tournament deemed unworthy of British participation.
The Soviet Union
For much of the inter-war period, the Soviet Union occupied a marginal place in international affairs, as highlighted by the problems concerning diplomatic relations with, say, Britain.
A similar state of affairs affected Soviet sport, especially for politico-ideological reasons, identifying sport’s role in fortifying ‘the international workers’ front,’ ruling out affiliation to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), FIFA, and other international sporting bodies, and hence participation in the Olympics, the World Cup, and football fixtures versus most other countries.
Unsurprisingly, a virtual blank exists in the Soviet Union’s international sporting record between the wars, a period when anglo-soviet footballing contacts were mainly confined to workers’ sports associations, like the British Workers’ Sports Federation (BWSF).
Of course, during the 1930s, the British football associations were also outside FIFA’s ranks and non-entrants to the World Cup, but, unlike the Soviet Union, remained in regular contact with FIFA, even stipulating that international fixtures were only allowed against teams from countries affiliated to FIFA.
Nevertheless, the mid-1930s saw occasional reports about Soviet invitations for Arsenal, Manchester City, or West Ham tours. But, perhaps, the most substantial episode involved Third Lanark, defeated finalists in the 1935-36 Scottish Cup.
Early in May 1936, Third Lanark, following exchanges with the Soviet embassy in London and FIFA, approached the SFA for permission to undertake a six-match Soviet tour commencing on 30 May.
Although permission was refused initially on Soviet non-affiliation to FIFA, the SFA agreed to reconsider its decision upon being informed of FIFA’s willingness to give special permission as part of a new course adopted in October 1934 in response to rumors of a Soviet application for membership.
During this period, FIFA, presenting itself to Moscow as ‘a purely sporting organization, without political purposes’, agreed to grant ‘exceptional’ approval for, say, Czech, French (e.g., Racing Club de Paris), and Turkish teams to play Soviet sides as part of its search for ‘un rapprochement du sport de football sovietique à la FIFA.’
There was even speculation about Soviet tours to, say, Australia or the USA. However, following exchanges with FIFA, the SFA qualified its initial opposition to make approval conditional on FIFA’s receipt of a Soviet application for membership within one month and agreement to play according to the IFAB’s laws of the game.
FIFA received no Soviet membership application, and hence Third Lanark’s tour never took place. Subsequently, in June 1936, the British associations, meeting at Troon for the IFAB, reaffirmed FIFA’s line.
Meanwhile, fearing that ‘exceptional permission’ would become a meaningless gesture if granted indefinitely, FIFA became impatient with the lack of progress. Soviet affiliation seemed no nearer than in late 1934, and FIFA decided to terminate its conciliatory course.
In February 1937, Schricker, apprising the FA of FIFA’s revised position towards the Soviet Union, pointed to the risk of disaffiliation for associations arranging unauthorized fixtures.
From War To Re-Entry To FIFA
As the Second World war progressed, post-war reconstruction became an increasingly important preoccupation for the British government. Association football was no exception to this forward-looking trend, as evidenced by the FA’s discussions on `Post-War Football’ (1943) and `Post-War Development’ (1944) or the work of the SFA’s Committee on Reconstruction.
Despite a natural domestic focus, the FA exhibited a more outgoing attitude towards international football, even involving a return to FIFA: `the far-reaching results which might obtain from an extension of international football have been more generally realized than ever before.
The FA’s International Selection Committee, noting `that the International work of the Football Association is likely to increase in volume and importance,’ decided to rename itself as the `International Committee’ to be assisted by four sub-committees responsible for team selection, match permits, technical questions (e.g., laws of the game, links with FIFA, International Football Association Board), and the armed services.
The terms of reference, which included references to formal linkages with FIFA, are of historical interest in yielding further evidence of change.
At the same time, the ongoing review of the FA’s relationship with FIFA, though indicating a more forward-looking attitude, also suggested a more selfish reason related to the long-standing desire `to retain a leading place in the football affairs of the world.’
Unsurprisingly, the prospect of a British return to its ranks was warmly welcomed by FIFA; indeed, Schricker, its Secretary, conceded that the federation needed the British associations to justify its claims to be fully representative of the footballing world.
In many respects, his sentiments echoed those of Jules Rimet in 1924, when he presented the four British football associations’ return as fostering impressions of the normalcy of football by restoring FIFA’s ‘universal character.’
Following communications from its Belgian, Dutch, and French counterparts about the future of European football, the FA, acting in conformity with a meeting of the British football associations held the previous July, accepted an invitation to attend a FIFA Executive Committee meeting scheduled to be held at Zurich in November 1945.
Arthur Drewry and Stanley Rous, representing the British football associations, were authorized to discuss the resumption of relations with FIFA and mainly to clarify its position on questions preoccupying the home associations, most notably, the federation’s powers vis à vis members, the IFAB’s continued control over the laws of the game, and future relations with the defeated powers.
Rimet, reassuring them that the federation had no pretensions of becoming a superior authority interfering in their affairs, confirmed that member associations were ‘independent.’ In addition, the British associations’ prime role in respecting the laws of the game was safeguarded by an agreement that the IFAB should continue to operate as before the war.
Finally, though anxious to foster friendly relations between national associations, FIFA agreed that currently, `it is not possible to entertain such relations with subjects of Germany and Japan’; indeed, their respective football bodies were deemed to be no longer affiliated with FIFA.
On 29-30 April 1946, representatives from the British Associations and FIFA assembled at FA headquarters to discuss the basis for resuming membership.
Rimet’s formal invitation to the British associations to rejoin provided the foundation for discussing critical points at issue, most notably, the demand for one of FIFA’s vice-presidencies to be reserved for nomination by the British associations.
Significantly, numerous matches played during May and June 1946 between FA XIs and club sides throughout Europe and beyond were presented by the FA as ‘goodwill tours’ which ‘fulfilled the purpose outlined in the FA Post War memorandum and helped to strengthen international relationships between clubs of the Football Association and those of the FIFA.’
Subsequently, the 25th FIFA Congress, meeting in Luxembourg between 25-27 July 1946, formally re-elected the four British football associations to membership and approved the requisite changes in the federation’s statutes, confirming Germany and Japan’s expulsion from membership.
For Schricker, British football’s return proved an event of ‘outstanding importance’ for both FIFA and the game of football.
Conclusion On British Football
In May 1947 ‘Great Britain’ and FIFA’s ‘Europe team took the field at Hampden Park stadium, Glasgow, in a match played not only to celebrate Britain’s return to FIFA but also to help fill the latter’s coffers depleted during the war because of lapsed subscriptions and declining returns from the gate levy.
In turn, the match helped not only to reaffirm traditional images of British footballing superiority (Great Britain won 6-1) but also to give visibility to Britain’s resumption of a prominent place in FIFA, as asserted in 1947 by George Graham, the SFA’s Secretary: ‘the British Associations have been in and out of its members once or twice .. but they are “in” at the moment, and are taking a more active interest in its affairs than they ever did in former years.
Thus, Drewry’s vice presidency was complemented by Rous’ nomination for FIFA’s World Cup Committee and ‘the development and resumption of sports relationships with their friends in Europe and their Dominions and Colonies.
By implication, as happened before the war, Latin America still failed to figure prominently in FA thinking, even if the decision to rejoin FIFA, and particularly Rous’ service on FIFA’s World Cup Committee, enhanced the chances of both British entries to the World Cup and the first-ever international between a British national team and Latin American opposition (as happened in the 1950 World Cup finals played in Brazil).
At first sight, it is tempting to view the period 1928-46 as a period characterized by a non-relationship, even outright hostility, between British football and FIFA.
In reality, during the 1930s, the British associations, albeit reluctant still to resume the perceived restraints of membership, acted almost as if they still belonged to FIFA.
As McBride (IFA) stated, ‘if we are not with you in membership, we are with you in spirit. The British Associations will be most loyal’.
FIFA members seemed equally prepared to indulge this fiction; thus, their tolerance, even deference, offers a revealing insight into the esteem and ‘exceptional position’ (Rodolphe Seeldrayers, a FIFA Vice-President) accorded to British football, as exemplified by Fischer’s (Hungary) depiction of the British associations as ‘our leaders and our advisers.’
Today, when British football needs FIFA more than the latter needs British football, the lengthy separation of the British football associations from FIFA in the 1930s, like the non-entry to the World Cup between 1930-38, seems difficult to understand from the footballing point of view.
Subsequently, critical perspectives became more common, as evidenced by Rous’ complaints about the resulting marginalization of the FA in the world of football: ‘Our isolation was in no sense splendid. On the contrary, it was a matter of regret and a constant cause of the difficulty.
Similarly, at the time of the SFA’s centenary, Macleod argued that ‘In the long run we lost out because of these disputes … The inheritance was ours to have, and we gave it away.
More seriously, as Rimet lamented at the 1928 FIFA Congress, it would be ‘abnormal’ for the British associations to place themselves permanently ‘outside universal football,’ an observation given added force by FIFA’s ever-increasing membership and the fact that, despite 4 British withdrawals, the 1928 congress boasted yet another record attendance (i.e., 30 members).
During the next decade, the continued increase in FIFA membership merely accentuated the ostrich-like stance of British football respecting affiliation.
The reasons for withdrawal and non-participation seemed to make sense when British football was characterized by marked isolationist tendencies: ‘English football remained proud and insular … At heart, the English felt football was their property and were disinclined to cooperate with foreigners’.
Nor was the situation any different for Irish, Scottish, or Welsh football. In many respects, the position of British football vis à vis FIFA paralleled that of British governments towards the newly-established League of Nations.
Generally speaking, between the wars, British governments, favoring an inter-governmental body, strongly resisted proposals to transform the League into a super-state acting by majority decision. Similarly, the British football associations, possessing a somewhat limited view of its role, sought to ensure that FIFA would keep its distance by allowing them freedom of action in their affairs.
Pointing to their long histories and experience, they assumed they knew best. For them, FIFA merely provided a convenient and valuable organizing framework fostering regular contacts between national associations about common issues, offering an influential forum to propagate British views of the game’s development, and encouraging a uniform approach to the game’s laws defined by the British-dominated IFAB.
They became alarmed when other associations, presenting FIFA as ‘the highest authority on all football matters, used the resolution adopted at the 1925 Prague FIFA Congress to translate this alternative vision into reality.
As a result, during its first four decades, FIFA experienced a somewhat fluctuating relationship with the four British associations, which tended to act in unison within and outside the IFAB as far as international football was concerned.
In this manner, events established football’s ability to generate political pressures both within and between different sporting bodies, encouraging cooperative confrontation as a descriptor of British football’s relations with FIFA.
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!