UPDATE: (28/06/2007) This article has been updated following feedback from the Irish Football Association Chief Executive, Howard Wells.
The original piece concentrated on reintroducing the tournament with England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales but the inclusion of the Republic of Ireland is very much on the cards.Please click on the following link for the latest developments.
HOME INTERNATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
I am writing this article as way of suggesting the reintroduction of the Home International Championships in a new fixture-friendly format along with Republic of IrelandAs an England supporter I would very much like to see my team involved but I understand their reluctance to do so with such a crowded fixture schedule.
For many years, certainly from England’s point of view, we have seen a string of almost meaningless friendless where virtually two different teams play depending of which half of the game you are watching.
Making friendlies meaningful are surely a benefit for all teams but as a competition, the occasional game will not create such an impact if a tournament takes two years to complete. To be a success, a new tournament needs to be compressed into a short period of time to capture excitement for the fans and encourage sponsorship.
The ideal time to do this is in between major tournaments.I would suggest the most practical way of staging an event such as this would be to hold it every four years which will only heighten anticipation for the event.Curiously I had published my suggestion (see below) for reintroducing the championships on my blog only the day before the latest story concerning a Celtic Cup broke. However the new solution included Republic of Ireland instead of England.
If England decided it did not to take part my suggestion would still work with the Republic of Ireland’s involvement.
There has been a suggestion that England may be persuaded to come on board at a later date if the situation was right. Obviously that presents its own fixture issue as there would then be five teams wanting to take part.
Below is my original format for a new Home International Championships which I tentatively called The British Four Nations Cup.
After this I have included a section how the four home nations plus the Republic of Ireland could be involved.
FOUR NATIONS CUP
I think the tournament should start in 2009 to coincide with the 125th anniversary of the first tournament.
Rather than the traditional round robin group affair the tournament should be played as a knockout competition with two semi-finals, a 3rd/4th place play-off and a final. Each country should stage one game per tournament and one competition final in rotation.
For the first tournament, all four national stadiums should be used. After that smaller more appropriate sized venues could be used but for illustration I’ve included all the national stadiums for the example below.
2009 – Scotland
Semi Final 1 – Windsor Park, Belfast (Opening match as Northern Ireland are current holders)
Semi Final 2 – Wembley Stadium, London
3rd/4th place – Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Final – Hampden Park, Glasgow (Scotland stage Final as inaugral winners)
2013 – Wales
Semi Final 1 – Hampden Park, Glasgow
Semi Final 2 – Windsor Park, Belfast
3rd/4th place – Wembley Stadium, London (as crowd is likely to be lower an alternative venue such as Old Trafford or Anfield could be used)
Final – Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
2017 – England (Hosting in 2017 dependent on England’s bid to satge the 2018 World Cup)
Semi Final 1 – Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Semi Final 2 – Hampden Park, Glasgow
3rd/4th place – Windsor Park, Belfast
Final – Wembley Stadium, London
2021 – Northern Ireland
Semi Final 1 – Wembley Stadium, London
Semi Final 2 – Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
3rd/4th place – Hampden Park, Glasgow (as crowd is likely to be lower an alternative venue such as Ibrox Park or Easter Road could be used)
Final – Windsor Park, Belfast (Windsor Park chosen to stage the last game to allow time for new stadium to be developed)
This system allows for the countries hosting a semi final to play at home with a draw taking place for the respective opponents.
In 2009 for instance, the semi finals could be drawn as follows:
Semi Final 1 – Windsor Park, Belfast – Northern Ireland v Scotland (Tuesday)
Semi Final 2 – Wembley Stadium, London – England v Wales (Wednesday)
As by way of illustration only, if the teams ranked highest in the current FIFA world rankings won their matches, the two remaining fixtures would be as follows:
3rd/4th place – Millennium Stadium, Cardiff – Wales v Northern Ireland (Saturday)
Final – Hampden Park, Glasgow – Scotland v England (Sunday)
Of course, football doesn’t always follow form and as a result the final two matches could be played at completely neutral venues for the teams involved. Certainly for the 3rd/4th place play-off I would recommend a smaller back-up venue to the countries national stadium that is more appropriate for the crowd expected for the teams involved.
There is always the concern about a crowded fixture calendar but his system requires just two games per team every four years and when the fixtures are played they will be completed within less than a week.
THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND’S INVOLVEMENT
I would personally like to see the Republic involved but this does present a fixture problem with their being five teams if the above format was used. It would also be unfair to exclude them since they have been involved in discussions regarding the tournament for some time.
Again, I do have a solution.If my designated host of the final for the 2009 tournament (Scotland) and current holders (Northern Ireland) pre-qualified for the Semi-Finals, a three team mini league between England, Wales and the Republic of Ireland could act as a preliminary round.
If the Republic of Ireland were to participate, their wonderful new Lansdowne Road Stadium would stage would be the venue used.Over the course of three predetermined international dates each of the three national teams in the preliminary round will play one home and one away fixture following a draw.
Republic of Ireland v Wales
England v Republic of Ireland
Wales v England
To dismiss any notion of favouritism the final group table could appear thus:
1. Republic of Ireland
In this instance the Republic of Ireland and Wales would qualify for the semi-finals against either Scotland or Northern Ireland.
WHO WOULD PRE-QUALIFY?
I suggest that the host of each tournament final plus the previous competition winner should receive a bye through to the Semi-Finals. If the host is also the current holder of the trophy the losing finalist at the previous competition should qualify.
With five teams this would mean that the tournament would rotate around all five nations competing rather the example above which included four.
As I’ve already said I believe that both these formats will generate a lot of interest in the tournament, not just in the UK and Ireland but in the rest of the world too.
Britain gave the game to the world and tournament in between major tournaments would generate a lot of interest abroad.