In a league of their own

May 2, 2006
By Dominic Raynor
(Archive)

As the inventors of what was later dubbed 'the beautiful game' by Pele, England provided the world with its most popular team sport - football.

AllsportSven Goran Eriksson is unveiled as England manager. He will quit after Germany 2006

But despite having been the game's pioneers, England have long been embroiled in a struggle to return to greatness. Arguably the most radical step in that process came in 2001 when the Football Association installed a foreign manager - previously unthinkable in English football.

It could be argued that the move signified England's declining status from teacher to pupil, to owing the international game a debt - for Swedish boss Sven Goran Eriksson.

At the time the FA insisted the Swede would be a stop-gap as English coaching talent developed but during the six years of his reign no homegrown talent has been nurtured.

The Swede will call time on his England career after the 2006 World Cup and had Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari not had an aversion to the British press England would once again have a foreign boss. At the time of writing Middelsbrough manager, and Englishman, Steve McClaren was the second choice to for the national team job.

It's all a far cry from the humble days of the FA's creation back in 1863. The FA's trailblazers could never have foreseen that the laws it introduced would become a global passion and that the FIFA World Cup would become the pinnacle of football achievement.

In fact, when the creation of an international championship and the formation of a body to oversee the game in Europe was suggested to the FA, they declined an offer to head it and said they could not see the benefit of such a federation.

Europe persevered with the idea and eventually, after Robert Guerin of the Union of French Sports Clubs had contacted the obstructive secretary of the FA, he decided to set up the body himself.

'Tired of the struggle and recognising that the Englishmen, true to tradition, wanted to wait and watch, I undertook to invite delegates myself,' Guerin wrote.

So it was that in Paris, in 1904, delegates from Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Spain formed what was to become world football's governing body - the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

But despite their off-pitch short sightedness England won the Olympic title at the 1908 games to ironically claim the tenuous title of first-ever World Champions - a title they retained with a 4-2 win over Denmark at the following Olympics in Stockholm.

After that success, England temporarily joined FIFA - but a fall-out over the professional/amateur status of football teams at the 1928 Olympics saw the FA withdraw from the organisation.

That decision, coupled with the belief that England would run out easy winners, was the main reason for the national team's failure to take part in the inaugural 1930 World Cup in Uruguay, won by the host nation.

EmpicsAction from the Battle of Highbury, 1934.

Despite England's absence from the fledgling tournament, they were still seen as one of the world's top teams, and in 1932 their match against Austria's 'Wunderteam' was dubbed the unofficial championship of Europe. England, although outplayed, won 4-3.

Still not part of FIFA, England opted to avoid the 1934 World Cup, with the FA still insisting there was no point - the national team would win easily.

Their move seemed partially vindicated when the tournament's eventual winners - and hosts - Italy were invited to play England in a bruising game that became known as 'the Battle of Highbury' which the azzurri lost 3-2.

There was to be no change in attitudes in 1938, when England again failed to take place in the World Cup, staged in France, as Italy retained their title.

And the approach remained the same until after the Second World War when, following an embarrassing 1-0 defeat to Switzerland in Zurich in 1947, the FA rejoined FIFA and made chief coach Walter Winterbottom the first-ever England manager as the team prepared for its first World Cup.

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