Given the extent of Celtic migration, I see nothing wrong in the Irish, Scots and Welsh taking advantage of blood lines

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The Independent Online
Coinciding with the news that Terry Venables would not object if Matthew Le Tissier took his virtuosity elsewhere, came a reader's letter decrying the omission of a rule to make birthplace the sole basis for national recognition.

In the author's mind, as in the minds of many others, the sight of sportspersons representing a flag other than the one they were born under is intrinsically fraudulent. The argument they put forward is that convenient allegiance makes a mockery of patriotism.

Considering a typically squalid response to the United States national anthem before Frank Bruno and Oliver McCall contested the World Boxing Council heavyweight championship at Wembley Stadium, that might not be a bad thing. However, it is a different issue.

Going back further in time than I care to remember, cultural ties in these islands were often preserved by expectant mothers returning to their roots for confinement.

Although this brought no sporting benefit personally, it explains why I was born in Merthyr Tydfil, not Southend-on-Sea where my father was employed in the now sadly defunct role of a scheming inside-forward.

I am not absolutely sure where we are heading but in view of the disturbance raised this week when Venables gave Wales a reason to pursue their interest in Le Tissier and Andrew Symonds was chosen to tour South Africa with the England cricket team 18 months after turning out in an Under-19 match for Australia, let us further examine a contentious matter.

For the benefit of younger readers who may suspect that international allegiance in football first became blurred when Jack Charlton began to take advantage of tenuous lineage, it goes back further than they possibly imagine.

For example, Alfredo di Stefano, who inspired Real Madrid's domination of European football more than 30 years ago, represented both the country of his birth, Argentina, and Spain. Similarly, Di Stefano's great partner in the Real attack, Ferenc Puskas, turned out for Spain after leading Hungary to the 1954 World Cup final.

While with Juventus, another Argentinian international, Omar Sivori, wore Italy's colours. Objections were raised but their registrations were accepted by the authorities after a period of residence.

A hard line over qualification would have cost English cricket some of its greatest players. For example, Colin Cowdrey was born in Bangalore and Ted Dexter in Milan. You see it is impossible to lay down a system that completely makes sense.

In his days as England's centre-half, Jack Charlton stubbornly refused to accept that he was required to list himself as a citizen of the United Kingdom when filling in visa forms and hotel registers. "I'm not bloody British, I'm English," he would say.

Many years later, I sat with him in the lounge of a hotel outside Dublin watching prominent members of the Republic of Ireland team playing cards. There wasn't an Irish accent to be heard. I asked if he could be sure that they would play all out for the tricolour. "It's not how they sound, it's what they feel," Charlton replied.

Personally, given the extent of Celtic migration, I see nothing wrong in the Irish, Scots and Welsh taking advantage of blood lines if only to spread around the available talent.

Trouble is that sport today is usually in the grip of pragmatism, which brings us back to Welsh courting of Le Tissier who is better qualified to play for France than the land of my fathers.

When asked to recall the atmosphere in Scotland's dressing room before matches against England, the late Bill Shankly's eyes lit up. "What's it like, sir? I'll tell you. You hear that lion on the jersey growl, "Go and sort out these English bastards."

The trouble is that the blurring of accents could freshen an anxiety that still exits uniquely for British football, that the historical right to send out four national teams will again be called into question. Before putting further temptation in Le Tissier's way, Wales should think about this seriously.

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