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Page last updated at 20:36 GMT, Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Who would a home championship benefit?

Kevin Keegan
England's Kevin Keegan scores against Scotland in the 3-1 win in 1979

By Alistair Magowan

The prospect of home internationals returning to the football calendar looked a step closer on Tuesday when the English Football Association said it was in talks with other home nations about one-off matches in 2013.

Although a regular tournament involving England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is far from being sanctioned, the news has reignited the debate on whether such an event would be a sound proposal for all concerned.

Much has changed in football since the formerly known British Championship was abandoned in 1984.

But, after years of ignoring offers from other home nations, the FA has at least got round the same table, with a careful nudge from their new sponsors Vauxhall, who will also fund their rivals.

The reasons, in part, are down to a lack of FA finances which the carmaker has boosted by a reported £20m over three-and-a-half years, the value of international friendlies against other nations and reduced concerns about crowd trouble.

That said, there are still some significant hurdles to be cleared and chief among them is introducing more international football into an already congested British calendar.

The relationship between England manager Fabio Capello and his Premier League counterparts can already be fractious at times, but with yet more fixtures in the schedule it could lead to under-strength teams being fielded.

Don Hutchison and Paul Scholes
England: 6
Northern Ireland: 43
Scotland: 52
Wales: 112

During a football season there are generally five or six dates on which international friendlies can be scheduled so either the games could be played then or during alternate summers either side of the World Cup and European Championship.

"I think that's the main problem they would face - finding the dates to put the games in," said former Scotland striker Joe Jordan, who played in several home internationals and earned 52 caps for his country.

"I think the public would enjoy it, and for the managers of the home nations it would give them a game to try things out but it's finding that fixture [space].

"It would be nice to bring back Scotland versus England. I don't think it would have lost any of its qualities, both sets of supporters were always up for it especially when the Scots came to Wembley, and they enjoyed the opportunity to try and get one over their old rivals."

Former Northern Ireland forward Gerry Armstrong said that even though it will be a "squeeze", he thought that the matches could provide managers of all the home nations with a vital platform on which to develop their players.

"Home internationals were good for me in those days because it gave you international experience playing against other countries but there was less pressure," Armstrong, who earned 63 caps, told BBC Radio 5 live.

"It wasn't as if you were playing in a World Cup or European Championship qualifier for points, but your pride was at stake so you obviously wanted to win the game. It might not be the strongest teams that play but [in my time] I felt it was good experience."

The question remains whether it would be the right sort of experience, though.

Will playing against opponents in high-octane games prepare players better for when they come up against international teams who play in a more patient manner?

If Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are to qualify for major championships and England are to progress further in them, it is arguable whether this would help their cause, according to former England boss Graham Taylor.

"We'll all enjoy it because it will be played in a British fashion, but it won't be played where the ball is kept for long periods of time," Taylor told BBC Sport.

"There will be edge to it that you don't get in friendly internationals but I don't think the style of football played will help in winning World Cups or European Championships.

Alistair M - BBC Sport

"To be in the best in the world demands a different type of football. Saying that, I'd much rather have these types of games than some of the friendly internationals we play."

Taylor's thoughts are echoed by new Wales boss Gary Speed: "There are lots of meaningless friendlies that have come in for some stick over the past few years and I think these games will mean a little bit more."

That is not to say all fans feel that way. For England at least, they still pull in the punters.

Following their woeful display in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, England's first friendly at Wembley drew 72,024 fans against Hungary, while the recent defeat at the hands of France in November pulled in a crowd of 85,495.

Some fans even believe facing the same opposition every year could prove tiresome.

"On one hand it revives a well cherished tradition and in particular England versus Scotland will get the supporters going," Football Supporters' Federation international director Kevin Miles reflected.

"Whether there is the appetite to play against the same opposition year after year is a different question.

"To automatically have those dates booked up playing the same opposition could harm the development of the football team. The manager might want to experience different types of opposition ahead of big tournaments, so playing home internationals might not be the best preparation for players."

Former England captain and Match and the Day pundit Alan Shearer argued that both types of game are needed.

"I think fans would prefer to see home internationals compared to international friendlies because there would be more of a competitive edge to them," Shearer told BBC Sport.

FA backs home internationals in 2013

"The ideal scenario would be to play international friendlies against world-class teams and play in these highly competitive games, albeit friendly ones. I think if young players could play in both, it would improve their development. But club managers might have an issue with fitting it all in."

The most vivid memory of the old British Championship was of Scottish fans invading the Wembley pitch in 1977 after goals from Gordon McQueen and Kenny Dalglish earned Scotland a famous 2-1 victory.

But recent one-off games between the home nations have passed by without major incident, so it is reasonable to expect that crowd trouble would not be a stumbling block.

England and Wales will be able to test these various theories when they face each in Cardiff on 26 March, followed by the return at Wembley on 6 September.

And before that, the inaugural Carling Nations Cup between Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will begin with fixtures arranged for February and May.

So 2011 will offer a flavour of how well a home nations championship might be received.

What might influence England's thinking is whether they have as much to gain as the other nations.

"There's no doubt about it the home nations will benefit most because England will have to win all those games," Taylor added.

"Look at the amount of criticism they get for not winning now, and then imagine what they would get for losing to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland."

If England fail to make progress beyond the second round of the European Championship in 2012, however, it might be a price worth paying or a telling sign of their regression.

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see also
Home nation games to be 'one-off'
11 Jan 11 |  Football
FA in Vauxhall sponsorship deal
11 Jan 11 |  Business
Home Championship set to return
10 Jan 11 |  Football
Vauxhall to be England sponsors
05 Jan 11 |  Football

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