London 2012: GB team at 1960 Games united by love of football

By Paul PlunkettBBC Sport
GB's football team at the 1960 Olympics
GB's football team at the 1960 Olympics

Nineteen footballers proudly wear their Great Britain blazers as they board the jet-propelled plane to Rome for the 1960 Olympics.

They all dream of bringing back a gold medal, just like the GB teams in 1908 and 1912.

Among the squad are a fishmonger, joiner, dentist and factory worker. They are ordinary people from different backgrounds, united by their love of the game.

But when they pulled on their crisp, white shirts for the final game of the tournament against the Republic of China, nobody could have predicted the GB football team would go into a 52-year hibernation.

The GB team will return for London 2012, although the make-up of the squad is still to be decided as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland oppose the plan for a united team. Each wants to protect the identity of their own national association.

What is certain is that the team which takes to the field in July will be light years away - both financially and socially - from that 1960 side.

The world's highest profile footballer, David Beckham, wants to be part of Team GB.

The majority of the other players, although under the age restriction of 23, are likely to have Premier League and international experience, and with that the riches that accompany such a status. Most will be financially secure for life. Most are celebrities.

Mike Greenwood, a midfielder for amateur side Bishop Auckland, was 25 when he got the call for the Rome Olympics.

Like many amateur players of his time, it wasn't financially viable to turn professional. A maximum wage cap existed for footballers, and many were paid less than the average industrial worker's wage of £15 per week.

Greenwood worked as a PE teacher, fitting in games in the Northern League at weekends and midweek.

"In 1960 all the players were amateurs and had full-time jobs," said the 76-year-old, now living in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

"In those days it wasn't worth signing professional, although some of them were certainly good enough. One of the Scottish lads in the side, for example, went on to play for Hearts and finished up with five full international caps.

"But players just simply couldn't afford to give up their job. There was a dentist in the team, and he wasn't going to leave that profession for football.

"Laurie Brown was a joiner, I remember, and Bobby Brown a fishmonger at Billingsgate Market in London. There was a real mixture of jobs."

Great Britain had to play Holland and Ireland, home and away, to qualify for Rome.

A squad of 19 players was then chosen jointly by the managers of the four home nations.

Greenwood said: "As amateur football was the vogue in those days, all the home countries had amateur international teams.

"The four team managers, because we played against each other and knew all the players, got together to select the team.

"Norman Creek, who was working for the FA and was England manager, was named the GB manager."

The team travelled to Rome on a jet-propelled plane with the rest of the GB Olympic squad, which included gold medal swimmer Anita Lonsbrough.

"Like any Olympic host, Rome had top facilities, and we stayed in the Olympic village with all the other athletes," Greenwood added.

"It was a pretty comfortable place, almost like a university hall of residence. In the evenings, you could sneak out and go clubbing if you wanted to.

"But there was no antagonism between the different countries. We just concentrated on football, so we saw the Russians based next to us as footballers.

"Politics generally didn't come in to it. We were all there for enjoyment."

On the field, GB lost the opening game 4-3 to a strong Brazilian side which included Gerson, who went on to win the World Cup in 1970.

Paddy Hasty scored a late equaliser in the 2-2 draw against Italy in the second group game but that effectively ended the GB campaign.

Hasty scored again in a 3-2 win over the Republic of China, a result which left GB in third place and on the plane home.

"I thought we did better than the doom merchants of the media predicted," said Greenwood.

"The press said we didn't have a chance, and made the usual comparisons between the elegance of the Europeans against the carthorses of Great Britain."

The current stand-off between the home nations means there may never be another "united" GB team.

The 1960 squad was made up of 12 Englishmen, four Scots and three from Northern Ireland. The players mixed well and forged friendships that have lasted decades. Most of the squad still meet up - the last reunion was May last year.

"We blended no problem at all," said Greenwood, who organises the get-togethers.

"We played against each other in internationals and used to kick lumps out of each other. But when we were in the GB team, we were all together. There were no cliques at all.

"It's all political now. The four home nations have very strong positions on the Fifa committees, and they do not want to lose the influence, involvement and status that they have.

"That's why I feel very sorry that there's no equivalent of amateur football, as it was in my day. People then enjoyed their football, although they took it seriously, and they had something to aim for... representing your country in the Olympic Games.

"But there's nothing like that now.

"If Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland don't want to be involved or are put off from being involved in the Olympics by the governing bodies, then I think that will be sad.

"It's the principle of what it's supposed to be... a GB team."

Greenwood is confident the British public will rediscover their appetite for Olympic football.

"One reason is that people here aren't used to watching a GB team on their TV screens because it's been so long since we last had a team," he said.

"But also it's the uncertainty of what's going to happen with the team.

"Football though belongs in the Olympics, just like any other sport. It's been there for 100 years.

"And Great Britain should have a team. Those of us who played in 1960 were honoured and privileged to play for GB."