Football: Banks repeats British team gaffe

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TONY BANKS, the minister for sport, yesterday risked a hostile reaction north of the border by using the Scottish press to repeat his call for a united British football team.

Banks confirmed a personal belief that unless a united Great Britain team is formed, none of the home countries will ever enjoy major success on the world stage.

"Scotland is one of the great football nations and have a fabulous qualifying record," Banks said. "But they have never got past the first round and if you think about them in English terms they are the West Ham of world football - they never quite perform to their full potential.

"No one can argue that Scottish football at its best is some of the finest in the world. But Scotland never make it past the group stage and England consistently fail to find that extra push in the final stages. As Britain they would win it."

Scotland have qualified for six out of the last seven World Cups, although they have failed to make it through the first round phase on each occasion. A 3-0 drubbing against Morocco saw them eliminated from France 98 after an encouraging start against the favourites Brazil.

However, their chances of making it through to Euro 2000 look slim following a home defeat by the Czech Republic last month and Banks believes there should now be an international rethink.

Banks admits that his controversial beliefs are unlikely ever to become a reality, although he is determined to secure a British presence in the Olympic football competition.

Any team taking part in the competition would have to play under the guise of a Great Britain side. As a result, the home Football Associations have declined to enter a team, fearing it could undermine their powerful status as separate countries in football world governing body, Fifa.

"The idea of a Great British football team is one that people on both sides of the border have held for some time," Banks said. "Fifa president Sepp Blatter is talking about the possibility of a British team in the Olympics and I'd love to see that happen. But if we want to enter a soccer team in the Olympics we must find a way of getting round the fact we have four home countries. Maybe we could bring back the Home Nations' Championship to decide things as it used to be a big feature of the football season," Banks said.

But the Scottish Football Association rejected Banks' call for a united Great Britain side. The SFA president, Jack McGinn, said: "Mr Banks is entitled to his opinion. However, there is no evidence to suggest that there is any support in the home countries for a Great Britain team."

Banks' comments brought a frosty response from the Scottish National Party's sports spokesperson, Kim Nicoll, who took time out from campaigning in the Scottish Parliament elections to attack the plan. "This is now the third time that Tony Banks has called for the Scottish national football team to be scrapped and replaced with a single UK [sic] team," she said. "The question must now be asked - `do Tony Banks' bizarre views reflect the policy of this Government?' The danger is that Scotland would lose her national team.

"As the Scottish Sports Minister, and also a candidate for Holyrood, Sam Galbraith must say whether or not he agrees with his ministerial colleague's bizarre views. Tony Banks has been yellow-carded in the past for talking out of turn to the Scottish people, but it's obviously made no difference."

Also making some bold statements this week was Dermot Desmond, the man who is set to become Celtic's biggest shareholder when Fergus McCann finally steps down as chairman in the summer.

Desmond believes Celtic can become bigger than Manchester United. He has a clear vision of the Bhoys' future and believes the club need to harness the worldwide support they currently enjoy. He has been very much a background figure since ploughing pounds 4m of his estimated pounds 100m fortune into the club four years ago, but he is now ready to step into the limelight, with Kenny Dalglish a key figure in his plans.

The former Liverpool manager has been linked with a new position as technical director at Parkhead and Desmond would welcome any involvement from Dalglish.

"Kenny did not have to try and buy the club in order to have a role at Celtic," he said. "We have stated we want a technical director and that is the next step. In five years' time Manchester United will probably have a bigger turnover than Celtic, but I believe we are potentially and intrinsically bigger than them.