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Page last updated at 18:10 GMT, Monday, 10 January 2011

Vauxhall tie-ins herald return for British Championship

Scotland's Don Hutchinson celebrates his winner in 1999
Don Hutchinson scored the winner in Scotland's last visit to Wembley in 1999

By Matt Slater
BBC Sports News reporter

The British Home Championship is set to return to the calendar for the first time since 1984, the BBC understands.

The catalyst for its revival comes from Vauxhall, which is set to announce the first of four sponsorship deals with the Home Nations at Wembley on Tuesday.

Northern Ireland won the last British Championship before concerns about crowd trouble and fixture congestion saw the competition discontinued.

The most likely date for the tournament's comeback is 2013.

The annual competition was a mainstay of the British schedule for 100 years, with England and Scotland the dominant forces.

We would obviously hope to be part of any discussions should the opportunity come along

Scottish FA

But the growing importance of the European Championship and World Cup made it appear old-fashioned and parochial. This view was particularly prevalent at the Football Association, where successive England managers made it clear they wanted to play stronger overseas opposition.

The interruption of the 1980-81 competition by the Troubles in Northern Ireland did not help the championship's cause, nor did repeated bouts of hooliganism.

When England and Scotland fielded weakened teams in 1983-84, the British Home Championship was effectively finished.

Recent years, however, have witnessed calls for its return, with only the English FA remaining opposed. But that is about to change for three important reasons.

The first is that years of uninspiring friendly internationals have left England fans - and managers - eager for a return to the fierce competition of the home internationals.

The second is fears about crowd trouble have waned as England have played British rivals in recent qualifiers for the European Championship and World Cup without too many problems - Wales host England, for example, in Cardiff on 26 March.

And the third is that Vauxhall - keen to be known as "the driving force of British football" - wants this to happen and has considerable leverage with the FA and its counterparts in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Scottish fans at Wembley
Scottish fans always enjoyed their visits to the home of English football

The FA's finances have been hit hard in recent years by the expense of rebuilding Wembley and the implosion of its broadcast partner Setanta. This has come at a time when the governing body has spent heavily on the likes of Fabio Capello and making a bid for the 2018 World Cup.

A precarious position looked to have taken a turn for the worse when the FA turned down a £20m offer from financial services firm Nationwide to renew its 11-year association with the national team - the FA had hoped to get more money following a good showing at the 2010 World Cup.

The South African campaign ended in ignominy but the Vauxhall deal is expected to be an improvement on Nationwide's offer, with the return of the Home Internationals as the quid pro quo.

In truth, this should not be too much of an imposition as Capello has already hinted he would like the games to return and all four home nations could do with the upswing in interest the games would undoubtedly bring.

In fact, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have already agreed to play a Home Championship-style event, with Ireland taking England's place. The Nations Cup starts in Dublin next month, with all six games taking place at the Aviva Stadium. The final game between Ireland and Scotland is on 27 May.

The BBC understands the details of a revived British Championship are yet to be sorted out but it is likely to follow the format used by rugby union's Six Nations, with home advantage in alternate years. Inviting Ireland to take part is also a possibility.

The Scottish Football Association (SFA) said it would welcome any discussions about the revival of the famous tournament.

An SFA spokesperson said: "We haven't been consulted yet but it is an interesting idea and we would obviously hope to be part of any discussions should the opportunity come along."

And the Football Association of Wales added: "[We] would be delighted if the British Home Championships were to return."

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see also
England announce Ghana friendly
10 Jan 11 |  Football
Vauxhall to be England sponsors
05 Jan 11 |  Football
Bernstein to become FA chairman
22 Dec 10 |  Football
England line up Denmark friendly
13 Dec 10 |  Football
FA chief to quit in Fifa protest
04 Dec 10 |  Football
Wales to face England in Cardiff
11 Nov 10 |  Welsh
Fixtures revealed for Nations Cup
01 Oct 10 |  Irish
Nationwide ends England team deal
20 Jul 10 |  Business
Four Nations set for 2011 launch
25 Mar 09 |  Internationals

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