GB United? By Steve Menary

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The Independent Culture

Can you identify this team: Swannell (Hendon), Fuschillo, Delaney, Powell (all Wycombe), Gamblin (Leatherhead), Payne (Enfield), Day (Slough), Haider (Hendon), Clements (Skelmersdale), Gray (Enfield), Adams (Slough)?

No, me neither, before I read this account of the footballers who have represented Great Britain at the Olympic Games with varying degrees of success over the years. For the record, the above XI lost to Bulgaria 5-0 in Sofia in 1971, the last time a side took the pitch under the GB banner, but the tradition is to be revived at London 2012, the 100th anniversary of the last British gold medal for football and 104 years since the first.

Note the exclusively English clubs: while players from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have taken part, wrangles between football associations and fears that the world governing body Fifa would strip the home countries of their status if they combined for the Olympics, meant "GB" sides were usually English to a man.

Steve Menary's previous book, Outcasts!, told the story of all the football nations not recognised by Fifa. His field of focus is narrower here, occasionally the narrative gets bogged down in detail, but by and large his exemplary research, grasp of his material and eye for a quirky fact keep up the interest.

England's 1-0 loss to the USA in 1950 is infamous, but who remembers GB's 5-3 trouncing by Luxembourg in 1952? Or that Glossop in Derbyshire (population 18,000 at the time) once fielded a top-flight League team? And who knew that Norman Ackland, father of actor Joss, became the doyen of newspaper journalists covering amateur football, having been forced to leave home at 16 after impregnating the family maid?

In 2012, let's hope for a British victory rather than a Norman conquest.

Published in hardback by Pitch, £15.99

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