‘Did you know there used to be a 6 Nations for football?’
‘Seriously? With France and Italy?’
‘No, just the ‘home nations’. Only 4 then, I suppose’
‘A united Ireland, like in rugby?’
‘No. Northern Ireland, the Republic weren’t in it’
‘Did Wales win it a lot?’
The following transcript is of a father explaining to his son (me), the idiosyncrasies of the former British Home Championship. As a young Welsh boy, growing up in the 90s, my memories were punctuated with (rare) victories over England, in the oval ball code. When Wales would play England back then, our victories were far less frequent than in modern times. But a narrow victory in 1999 at Wembley, with a last minute try was a high point in Welsh cultural identity. Scott Gibbs’ winner has since been immortalised on t-shirts, coasters
and tea towels, a visual representation of a modern, confident, post-devolution Wales.
It seemed inconceivable to me back then, that there could be an annual football fixture between the two sides, as part of a wider tournament to crown the kings of British football. The premier league was in it’s infancy, but had already revolutionised how we consumed football. In Cwm Rhondda, my hometown 16 miles north of Cardiff, Liverpool and Manchester United shirts outnumbered Cardiff City twenty to one. I didn’t know anyone who supported Cardiff, and I’d certainly never walked down the Sloper Road to the infamous
Ninian Park. Although the Welsh national rugby team was, and to many still is, the most beloved institution in the country, it was hard as a young boy to see the Welshness in football.
Rugby felt partisan to me on every level; village vs village, town vs city and nation vs nation. In a way that football, which I consumed exclusively as a broadcast sport, simply did not.
I wonder how my view of football, as a boy would have been different, had I grown up during the British Home Championship. Used sometimes as a yardstick to measure the home nations against one another, occasionally as a qualifier for major tournaments and always presenting the opportunity for bragging rights over your nearest rivals.
The British Home Championships began in earnest in the 1870s with matches played
between England, Scotland and Wales. However in 1884 the full tournament took place, with
Scotland triumphant, claiming the maiden title, England finished second, Wales third and the
Ireland national football team (as it was known prior to the 1921 partition) fourth. The
tournament now had a structure and a prize. Giants Scotland and England would go on to
share titles throughout the 19th century, until Wales’ first title win in 1907.
The tournament was pioneering in its use of a round robin cup format, which rewarded consistency across 3 games, rather than a knock out style tournament such as the FA Cup.