In January 1973 a little-known football match occurred which pitted a combined Britain, Republic of Ireland and Denmark side against a collective France, West Germany, Italy, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg team. The reason was that ‘The Three’ represented the new nations that were joining ‘The Six’ in becoming members of the Common Market. Best described by the match commentator who said; “Not so much a blood match, as a friendly get together of fellow members of the newly enlarged European community”. It was a celebration of European togetherness and it attracted a large Wembley crowd and an impressive cast list of European superstars. 36,500 packed into Wembley to watch a host of stars, including Bobby Charlton, Gerd Müller and Franz Beckenbauer.

The sides were managed by Alf Ramsey (The Three) and Helmut Schön (The Six). The full line-ups were;
The Three: (England) Peter Storey, Emlyn Hughes, Colin Bell, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Alan Ball (sub), (Scotland) Peter Lorimer, Colin Stein, (Northern Ireland) Pat Jennings, Allan Hunter, (Republic of Ireland) Johnny Giles, (Denmark) Henning Jensen, John Olsen (sub).
The Six: (France) Marius Trésor, Georges Bereta, (West Germany) Berti Vogts, Horst Blankenburg, Franz Beckenbauer, Jürgen Grabowski, Gerd Müller, Günter Netzer, Herbert Wimmer (sub), (Italy) Dino Zoff (sub), (Holland) Johan Neeskens, Willem van Hanegem, Wim Suurbier (sub), Ruud Krol (sub), (Belgium) Christian Piot.]

The line-ups were dominated by English and West German players; this may seem expected, but as Scotland were the only team from The Three to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, it appears they were underrepresented. It is also disappointing that Wales and Luxembourg were not represented at all. It would be presumed that, given it was a friendly match, they could have at least had one token player each in the squads, especially as the game was supposed to be a celebration of bringing Europe together.

The match was part of a host of organised celebrations – called a Fanfare for Europe – of Britain joining the Common Market. This historic game occurred just over 45 years ago and is a rather unique example of the role of football in politics and economics. A football game seems a wonderful way to celebrate bringing different nations together, the impressive list of players involved illustrates that they too thought it was an important game to be a part of. The size of the crowd was only 500 fewer than a British Championship match against Wales in May that year. This goes on to highlight the importance of the match to the fans. An England versus Wales game at Wembley is always likely to draw a large crowd, the closeness of the two attendances shows that there was a lot of interest in Britain joining the Common Market.

The game itself was an entertaining one for the supporters. Bobby Charlton played his last England game in the quarter-final of the 1970 World Cup defeat to West Germany, yet he returned to an international fixture to captain The Three, aged 35. Bobby Moore was the England captain at the time, yet Charlton’s return was deemed important enough for him to relinquish the armband. The Six were captained by Günter Netzer; this was an unusual anomaly as Beckenbauer was the West German captain. The Three were in all white and faced an all red The Six side.

Both main chances in the first-half fell to Leeds United’s Peter Lorimer in what was a disappointing 45 minutes. Italian legend Dino Zoff entered the field for the start of the second half and he was soon beaten by Henning Jensen, the Dane converting a cross from the veteran Charlton. This was perhaps the perfect scenario for the organisers with one of the star attractions, Charlton, finding his Danish teammate Jensen, the goal a perfect personification of European unity. The Three nearly found a carbon-copy second moments later with Colin Bell failing to convert another Charlton cross, before Lorimer again came painfully close after striking the inside of the post. The Six’s best chance of a goal came from Bell heading the ball onto his own cross bar. There was only time for Lorimer to have one more squandered chance before The Three scored their second. From a corner, Bell found Arsenal’s Alan Ball who laid it perfectly to Colin Stein, the Scot made it 2-0 and the game was won. The Three 2 and The Six 0, a great spectacle for all those in attendance.

The game was played in the right spirit and all involved helped make it a night to remember. It certainly would have aided The Three by having so many players who played together either on a national level or at least in the same league. Although Jensen provided the breakthrough, this pre-existing chemistry certainly told on the day.

Another reason this game is memorable is because it is one of the few examples of all nations within the United Kingdom combining forces for football. Much was made of the 2012 Olympic football team and the organisers faced a lot of opposition for bringing the footballing nations together. Although Denmark were part of The Three, this certainly counts as one of the few times that the United Kingdom was united through football. An official United Kingdom side played two matches in the 1940s and 50s with Stanley Matthews and Billy Liddell holding the record of playing in both games. Other than these two contests, the Common Market match is one of five examples where the nations came together. This further illustrates how rare it is to see England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland come together to play football.

As well as the rarity of the nations combining, the political significance was also important. This was an advert for European unity and had tremendous political significance. One can imagine that all organisers would have been praying for no on field bust-ups to ensue. Luckily for all involved, no such scuffles occurred, and the match lived up to its billing as a friendly game centred around unity and friendship. One such football game that can be used to juxtaposition this image of unity is an incident that occurred in 1938 when the England team joined in with the German Nazi salute. This infamous image has been depicted as ‘Munich-style national humiliation’. The FA supported Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and arranged a fixture played in Berlin two months after the German annexation of Austria. England faced Germany at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin in front of 150,000 fans, and during the German national anthem, the English team joined their opponents in giving the Nazi salute. The salute was met with distaste from the British press as Adolf Hitler was not even present at the game, England’s presence in Germany that day was purely political. This illustrates how important football can be on the world stage, it was a highly political decision to face Germany and give the Nazi salute. Had anything untoward occurred in the Common Market match this could have caused similar political unrest.

Of course, the current political poignance of this game must too be noted. In a time dominated by Brexit discussions, it is a little upsetting that a match like this will likely never occur again, or at least never with British participation. The chances of Brexit FC playing a European Union side seem highly improbable, but who’s to say one day there could be another match celebrating Britain re-entering the European Union?

The Common Market match was a politically fuelled advert for European unity. It is fair to assume that many of the players and fans present on the day were not there for political reasons, rather to enjoy a game of football with some of the best players on the planet in attendance. It is a phenomenally rare incident that seems to have been forgotten. The chances of a game occurring today between so many different nations during the football season seems impossible. The Three may have defeated The Six but the real winners were the organisers who displayed European togetherness and the fans who enjoyed a historic football game.

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