Don't knock it. The Home Championship involving England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland goes back to the dawn of association football itself and for more than 100 years was part of our game's backbone.
To the Celtic countries it brought a regular opportunity to humble England and repay past indignities. For England it provided the chance to bring the boot down on familiar necks. It was an annual enactment of the history of these islands and we were never more confident about our game and the way we played it.
When England and Scotland decided to kill the tournament 10 years ago they did so in the belief they would benefit more by playing opposition from different footballing cultures. It need not be emphasised what a forlorn hope that turned out to be.
Had we ventured from our fortress in the 1930s when Britain arrogantly shunned the early years of the World Cup, we might have been saved the many rude awakenings of which last Wednesday's was merely the latest. It was communally more rude than those of the past but surely not worthy of such shocked indignation.
Much the same self-denigration was expressed after an England team considered unassailable were destroyed by the Hungarians 40 years ago but in those days we were less hysterical about it. Perhaps our tabloid newspapers ought to be forgiven their latest attack of excesses. They have suddenly realised that they have to go to the World Cup next year and write about football. Jack Charlton and the Republic will be in the US, of course, by the skin of their teeth after a close encounter in Belfast where events passed peacefully - apart from the passage of a mouthful from Charlton to Billy Bingham - and the clinching goal was scored by a player with an Irish accent.
Charlton is already apprehensive about the fact that upon him and his team will now be focused the eyes and knives of the London media. Many put Charlton high on the list of those thought fit to replace Graham Taylor as England manager. He has admitted he would have been tempted by the job had Ireland not qualified.
It is ironic that Charlton is seen as saviour material. He is well capable of the role but to call in one breath for a complete change in the playing characteristics of the English footballer and then want Charlton to be manager reveals only a fleeting appreciation of the problem. Charlton is not the man to oversee the revolution in our domestic game. He is an expert in making the most of what footballing ability a country is stuck with and has had phenomenal success in taking players from the English leagues that England wouldn't have looked at and creating around them an efficient system.
Already, he might have gone as far as he can go with Ireland. One manager who hasn't yet gone that far is Terry Yorath and to him and his Welsh team must go the greatest sympathy after Wednesday's disappointments. Being with him that night and the following day was to be granted a proper perspective, not least because of the fatality that followed the match. Even without that appalling occurrence, Yorath would have been capable of a rational approach. Since the death of his son last year he carries a philosophical air that protects him from despairing about a football match and, after being involved in 100 Welsh internationals as player or manager, frustration is not unfamiliar.
He feels he let Wales down but he takes pride in that they came so close. 'We were in the hardest group of all,' he claimed. 'If we'd have been in the Irish group and them in ours I reckon we'd have been going to the States and Jack would have been staying home.'
While acknowledging the superior skill of the Romanians he is aware that once more Wales blew it in sight of the winning post. He'd warned his defence about Gheorghe Hagi - 'a lazy sod but he can't half play' - and that when he was on the right not to let him cut inside to use his left foot. This is precisely what they did in the 34th minute but even then Hagi's shot should not have eluded a goalkeeper of Neville Southall's class. He was so upset after the match he swore he'd never play for Wales again, a vow he later cancelled.
Had Paul Bodin scored from the penalty spot to put Wales into a 2-1 lead, Yorath is convinced they could have preserved that lead and qualified. But any progress Wales made would not have altered his opinion that British football needs urgently to change attitudes that go all the way back to England's 1966 World Cup win that persuaded us we were better than we were. The lapsing of coaching in schools, the 'Thatcherite greed' of the Premier League, too many games, the British player's lack of will to improve . . . he cites a long list of causes.
'Back to the basics' is his cry and it is not an empty slogan because through him has come an edict calling for schoolboys in Wales to be coached by trained personnel and for organised 11-a-side matches to be banned for the under-12s in favour of free-expression games across the width of the pitch. It would help if the Welsh FA were to give him a new contract to continue his good work.
As for international football in the next six months, Wales and her failed neighbours will serve only as friendly sparring partners for the World Cup qualifiers. All the more reason to bring back the British Championship next summer.
It will at least let us take a good look at ourselves and it has been such a long time since we played each other it will be interesting to see who wins. It will also prove that we don't give a damn about not being there when, of course, it'll hurt like hell.Reuse content