Over the past couple of weeks Brexit has yet again become the biggest story in the world. We’ve forgotten about Trump, disregarded the Spice Girls comeback and even Wayne Rooney’s weird international swansong has been overshadowed by the latest Brexit shenanigans.
While it looks like we may be closer than ever to a conclusion to all this nonsense, it remains to be seen how it will all play out. One thing that’s for certain is that the UK’s relationship with other EU countries will take a long time to recover.
Back in 1973 the UK’s relationship with the rest of Europe couldn’t have been stronger, the UK along with Ireland and Denmark had just joined the EU or the EEC (European Economic Community) as it was known then.
To celebrate these three nations joining the EEC, an international soccer match pitting these new members against the six original members Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany was organised.
So why was this match organised? Which top players of the time played in it? Is their any legacy we can take from this political friendly? And, mostly importantly of all, who won?
Background to the friendly
Beginning in 1961, Britain, Ireland, Denmark and Norway applied to join the EEC, for the next few years the British application to join was regularly vetoed by French President Charles de Gaulle, on the grounds that it would increase American influence in Europe.
As the four countries were planning to join as a package deal, Ireland, Denmark and Norway suspended their application. In 1967 the applications were resubmitted and were once again vetoed by de Gaulle.
Once de Gaulle had been succeeded by Georges Pompidou as French President in 1969, the veto was lifted, and negotiations began for the four countries to join the EEC in 1970.
After two years of negotiations, the ascension treaties were signed so that Britain, Ireland and Denmark would join the community effective January 1st, 1973. Norway rejected membership in a referendum in late 1972.
So, the EEC was about to get three new members, to celebrate this several events were planned across these new member states, in what was dubbed a “Fanfare for Europe”. The biggest of these events was a football match to be played at Wembley Stadium, three days after Britain, Ireland and Denmark officially joined the EEC.
‘The Three’ (Britain, Ireland and Denmark) were managed by World Cup winning manager Sir Alf Ramsey, whilst ‘The Six’ (Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany) were managed by Helmet Schön, who would go on to manage Germany to World Cup success in 1974.
The Three’s squad consisted of mostly English players, with Bobby Charlton captaining the team alongside Bobby Moore, Norman Hunter, Emlyn Hughes, Colin Bell, Peter Storey and Alan Ball.
Scotland were represented by Peter Lorimer and Colin Stein, Northern Ireland by Pat Jennings and Allan Hunter. For the Republic of Ireland, John Giles was the only player selected and Denmark had two representatives in Henning Jensen and John Steen Olsen.
The Six’s squad consisted of players from all six members, with West Germany having the most players involved with Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Berti Vogts, Gunter Netzer, Horst Blakenburg, Jurgen Grabowski and Herbert Wimmer all playing some part.
For France, Marius Tresor and Georges Bereta were involved, with Christian Piot being the only Belgian involved. There were four Dutch players involved Johan Neeskens, Ruud Krol, Wim Van Hanegem and Wim Suurbier.
Both Italy and Luxembourg only had one player involved with Dino Zoff making the squad alongside Luxembourg’s greatest ever player Louis Pilot.
Every player would make an appearance on that cold January night, and with some of the best players in the world on display, would this match showcase the best of European football?
The short answer, sort of. In front of 36,500 at Wembley, The Three, playing in all white, lined up against The Six playing in European blue. From the grainy footage that is available on YouTube, it seems like the match was dominated by The Three and lacked any big moments.
The Three seemed to be more familiar with one another, and it shows in their performance as they seemingly dominated The Six with Bobby Charlton running the show for The Three.
Early in the second half Charlton puts a perfect cross into the box, which is met with a flying header from Henning Jensen and The Three go 1-0 up.
As the second half progressed Charlton, who was 36 at the time, continued to dictate play in the middle of the field, nearly creating a second goal for The Three with another cross into the box.
With twenty minutes remaining The Three scored again, this time from a corner that The Six couldn’t clear, the ball was eventually tucked away by Alan Ball.
The Three held out for a 2-0 victory, and although there was very little celebration at the end, a rather unique friendly that will never be held again was over.
After dominating the Wembley pitch once again, this would be Bobby Charlton’s final ever appearance at Wembley and he would retire from football a year later.
Legacy, if any
Really this unique match, like most friendly matches, has no real legacy and ultimately it has been mostly forgotten about as the years have passed by.
One thing it does show however, is that football has always had the power to unite people from all over the world, and that ultimately is a good thing and something that should be celebrated, as it highlights to us all that we are the same, regardless of what nationality we are or team we support.
In this messed up world that we live in, maybe we can take some inspiration from the hope that was present in January 1973 and perhaps it can show us how we can move forward in the future.
Either that or we play a similar sort of match when Britain leave the EU in a few months’ time, we can call it The One against The Twenty-Seven, that would be entertaining.