The abolishment of the British Home Championship still rankles

The British Home Championship ran for 100 years with titanic collisions and a galaxy of stars. Its abolition still rankles… as England and Scotland prepare to lock horns once more at Hampden Park

  • The British Championship saw stars from the home nations playing each other
  • It threw up some wonderful contests before it was abolished in 1983-84
  • Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast It’s All Kicking Off!

The desperate, 87th-minute sliding challenge from Bobby Moore, captain of the world champions, is still there, in Jim McCalliog’s mind, as he recalls taking aim and scoring one of Scotland’s most memorable winners in England in the British Home Championship.

‘You never really saw Bobby Moore slide tackling, but he had to when Bobby Lennox played me in,’ McCalliog says of the Wembley game watched by 99,000 people in April 1967. ‘I’d smashed it before he could block it.’

But it was not merely a matter of sending a message to those ‘who wrote us off so easily’, as McCalliog puts it. The game, which Scotland won 3-2, was the 20-year-old midfielder’s international debut and provided the kind of test, he says, ‘which would let my club and country see if I was actually up to it’.

The Home Championship, which would continue to be played for a further 17 years, was a proving ground for so many players. Ian Rush made the Wales bench for the first time when England were put to the sword, 4-1 at Wrexham, in 1980. He still has the match programme, featuring a piece about himself ‘looking every inch the international player, in a dark, long-collared shirt and V-necked jumper from Burton’s’.

Mickey Thomas’s first international goal came in that same game. ‘To beat the English any time was what we wanted and the fans wanted,’ Thomas says. ‘There was nothing like those games and it’s a tragedy that they’re gone.’ Pat Jennings and George Best made their Northern Ireland debuts against Wales in April 1964, which they won 3-2.

Jim McCalliog scored the winning goal past Gordon Banks (pictured) in Scotland’s 3-2 win over England in the British Home Championship in 1967

The British Home Championship featured a galaxy of stars including Banks (right) and George Best (left)

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Comparing some of these titanic collisions with England’s insipid 1-1 draw against Ukraine in Wroclaw on Saturday was to be reminded of what was lost when the tournament folded, 100 years after it was first staged.

England had some stories to tell, too. Emlyn Hughes salvaged his England career with a strong performance in the 0-0 draw against Wales at Wembley in 1979. Peter Shilton was a national hero after two huge saves salvaged a 1-1 draw with Scotland in 1984.

No less fascinating is what the Home Championship told us about the changing sense of national identity within these islands from the 1970s. Early in the decade, Wales asked the FA to play the Welsh national anthem at Wembley before their match against England.

The request was acceded to for a while. But after the Welsh FA decided that only their anthem, and not the British one, would sound before a World Cup qualifier against Czechoslovakia at Wrexham in 1977, the English FA refused to play it when the teams met at Wembley a few months later.

This led Mike Smith’s players, led by captain Terry Yorath, to stand firm and belt it out anyway, as England peeled away to their starting positions. Wales were inspired to win 1-0 through a Leighton James penalty. It remains their only Wembley win.

Four days later, Scottish fans wrecked a Wembley crossbar after their 2-1 win in the same stadium. There was good humour, too, that day, but manager Jock Stein was disturbed by the level of violence his countrymen brought to Wembley in 1979, when Kevin Keegan was spat on.

Those scenes, taken with low attendances in many of the fixtures and a desire to play in more glamorous friendlies, led England to announce in August 1983 that they would be leaving the tournament. Scotland also jumped ship, but there was sadness, concern and anger in Wales and Northern Ireland, the nations left behind.

Amid concerns about their loss of earnings — an estimated £100,000 per season — the two nations appealed to England to reconsider. But the 1983-84 championship was the last and the FA secretary, Ted Croker, provided a brutal assessment.

‘The reality is we just do not have enough gaps in the fixture list to play the top teams in the world, such as West Germany, Russia, Italy or the South Americans and continue the Home internationals,’ he said. 

‘The matches against Northern Ireland and Wales are no longer the major attractions they once were.’ This seemed to confirm what the smaller nations had always felt about England. Leighton James accused them of ‘arrogance’, leaving the tournament to ‘get more money out of playing meaningless friendlies’.

The tournament was briefly succeeded by the Rous Cup, contested by England and Scotland, which in May 1989 saw 24-year-old Steve Bull, who had just completed a season with Wolves in the old Third Division, replace an injured John Fashanu and score the second of England’s goals in a 2-0 win. But the tournament, named after English administrator Stanley Rous, was abolished after four years.

The British Home Championships, which Graeme Souness (middle bottom) and John Toshack (middle top) played in, were abolished in 1984

They produced far more exciting games than England’s forgettable 1-1 draw with Ukraine on Saturday

The Home Championship’s capacity to inspire was there to the very end. Northern Ireland, under Billy Bingham, went into their last match against England in 1984 with injury concerns, as goalkeeper Jennings had broken his nose in a club match and Ballymena player-manager, Jim Platt, had to step up against Bobby Robson’s side at Wembley.

‘I’m dying to win but I’ll be quite content with the draw and a narrow defeat wouldn’t upset me,’ said Bingham. It was to be the latter, Tony Woodcock sealing the victory. 

But England failed to beat the Scots, which meant Bingham’s side lifted the last trophy anyway, for only the third time. When Gerry Armstrong auctioned his Home Championship medal a few years ago, the reserve price of £10,000 befitted a deeply significant piece of Northern Irish football history.

‘The colour and splendour of those occasions were unforgettable,’ McCalliog reflects. ‘The games were important because of the standard. You knew you were playing at a very high level. They revealed something about the player you were. That’s why they mattered so much.’


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It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.

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