Great Britain Olympic football team

This article is about the men's team. For the women's team, see Great Britain women's Olympic football team.
This article is about British representation at Olympic football tournaments. For the United Kingdom in international football in general, see United Kingdom national football team.
Great Britain Olympic football team
Nickname(s) Team GB
Association The Football Association (1907–)
Most caps Jim Lewis (11)
Mike Pinner (11)[1]
Top scorer Harry Walden (9)
Jim Lewis (9)[1]
First colours
Second colours
First international
United Kingdom Great Britain and Ireland 12–0 Sweden 
(London; 20 October 1908)
Biggest win
United Kingdom Great Britain and Ireland 12–0 Sweden 
(London; 20 October 1908)
Biggest defeat
 Bulgaria 3-0 Great Britain United Kingdom
(Melbourne, Australia; 30 November 1956)
Olympic Games
Appearances 8[2] (first in 1900)
Best result Gold: 1900,[2]1908,[2] 1912[2]

The Great Britain Olympic football team is the men's football team that represents the United Kingdom (Great Britain and Northern Ireland) at the Summer Olympic Games (where it competes as Great Britain, currently branded Team GB). The team is organised by the English Football Association (FA) as the footballing representative of the British Olympic Association. The team only competes in the Olympic Games. In other international football tournaments, the Home Nations of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) are represented by their own national teams, a situation which pre-dated the establishment of a GB team.

The team first competed at the FA organised tournament for the 1908 Olympics held in London, which was the first games that featured representative teams using players selected nationally (prior games in 1900 and 1904 used club teams). This team and the two that followed in 1912 and 1920 featured only English amateur players, and is seen by some as merely an extension of the English amateur team, set up in 1906 in response to the rise of the professional game.[3] In this period the team won the gold medal at the 1908 and 1912 tournaments, although exited at Round 1 in 1920. A dispute between the FA and FIFA over the inclusion of professionals saw the FA withdraw from Olympic football in 1924 and 1928, and saw no football at the Olympics at all in 1932.[1]

After the creation of the FIFA World Cup, it was agreed that Olympic football would become exclusively amateur,[4] leading to the team competing again in the 1936 Games, this time incorporating players from other Home Nations. After the break caused by World War II, the team then competed in every games from 1948 until 1972, albeit failing to qualify for the main tournament after 1960.[1] In this period the team's best performance was 4th place in 1948 at the second Games hosted in London, under manager Matt Busby.[1]

After the FA abolished the distinction between amateur and professional players in 1974, it stopped entering a team.[3] By the 1992 Games teams could use professionals, but were restricted to players under 23 years old, with only three over-age players allowed per squad.[4] Despite this change, Great Britain did not enter a football team again until London won the right to host the 2012 Games.[5][6] The FA organised the team, with Stuart Pearce appointed manager.[7] A Great Britain women's Olympic football team also competed at the 2012 Games.



1908 Great Britain and Ireland Olympic Football team

The FA was formed in London 1863, when thirteen teams met to draw up a shared rule list for football, in order to facilitate matches between clubs.[8] The question of the geographical remit of this organisation does not appear to have been asked, with the FA being formed before the rise of international football. The first football matches between national teams were arranged by the FA, who invited English and Scottish players to form representative teams.[8] The Scottish teams were made up almost entirely of Scottish residents in England and in order to encourage more Scottish based players to compete, an organisation in Scotland was sought to form the Scottish team.[8] For the 1872 game between Scotland and England in Glasgow, Queen's Park Football Club took on this role, and this game is now recognised as the first international match.[9] Within a year, the Scottish Football Association (SFA) was founded to facilitate these matches, and to organise football in Scotland more broadly. The third national football association, the Football Association of Wales was founded in 1876 and a fourth, the Irish Football Association, (IFA), was founded in 1880.

The practice of playing internationals between the four countries of the United Kingdom (also known as the home nations) was thus developed before football associations were developed elsewhere in the world and, no 'United Kingdom football association' was ever formed.[1] Outside of the UK, the first national associations were formed in 1889 (in Denmark and the Netherlands),[1] and these also began to pick their own national teams. When football was included at the 1900 Olympic Games, however, many nations were still struggling to raise a team,[1] and so club teams entered instead. Upton Park represented the UK, winning the gold medal.[3]


1912 Olympic football tournament final match: Great Britain beat Denmark 4–2

For the 1908 Olympic Games in London, the FA persuaded the IOC to include a football tournament, which they organised.[3] A team, made up entirely of English players, was entered.[10] Some sources continue to refer to this team as the England national amateur football team,[3] whilst others still simply label all participations as Great Britain.[11] Although the team competed as the United Kingdom and are listed as such, the official match report refers to "the English team".[12] An arrangement was reached with the other Home Nations' football associations, under which a Great Britain team consisting of amateur players organised by the FA would enter future tournaments.

Great Britain won the first Olympics football tournament in 1908, which was hosted in London. The football tournament was organised by the FA and all the matches were played at White City Stadium.[13] Great Britain won all three of their matches, defeating Sweden and Netherlands in the first two rounds. They met Denmark in the final, defeating them 2–0 with goals from Vivian Woodward and Frederick Chapman.[14] The team repeated this success at the 1912 Games.[15][16] Again, Britain won all three matches and defeated Denmark in the final, this time 4–2. Woodward, who scored in the previous final, was captain for this tournament.[17]

At the 1920 Summer Games, Britain lost in the first round in a surprise defeat to Norway.[18] Britain had played only amateur players, while other nations selected their team from all available players.[19] The tournament formed part of a rift which developed between the FA, who wanted the Olympics to remain an amateur only competition, and FIFA, who were keen on having a full football world championship.[20] This resulted in the FA leaving FIFA, as well as withdrawing from the 1924 and 1928 football tournaments.[21] Eventually, however, an agreement was reached in which the Olympic football tournament would be for amateur players only, with the FIFA World Cup created to include all players, professional and amateur.[21]

There was no football tournament at the 1932 games, so Britain's return to Olympic football came at the 1936 Summer Olympics. Great Britain were defeated in the quarter-finals, losing 5–4 to Poland.[22]


Following the Second World War, Great Britain competed in all Olympic football tournaments from 1948 through to 1972. The 1948 tournament, which was hosted in London, was the team's most successful. By this time, it was recognised that Britain's amateur players were not of the same quality as they had been in earlier years, due to the rise of the professional game.[23] By contrast, teams in nations which had not yet developed professional leagues were able to field their strongest sides.[23] Manager Matt Busby trained a squad made up of players from all of the 'home nations',[23] and Britain progressed to the semi-final with wins over the Netherlands and France. Having lost the semi-final to Yugoslavia, Britain once again faced Denmark. This time, however, they were defeated 5–3 and missed out on a bronze medal.[24] Wembley Stadium hosted Great Britain's final two matches, though they also played at Craven Cottage and Highbury.

After 1948, Great Britain were never a significant threat at the Olympics again. They were eliminated after losing their opening match to Luxembourg in 1952,[1] and qualified for the 1956 only after other teams withdrew, before being beaten by Bulgaria in the quarter-finals.[1] Their final appearance at an Olympic Games came in 1960.[25] The squad was again selected from all of the home nations, with matches between the national amateur sides being used to choose a best 19.[25] Great Britain were eliminated in the first round, losing one, drawing one and winning one of their three matches.[25] After that Great Britain failed to qualify for the next three Olympics, with their final match being a 5–0 qualifying round defeat by Bulgaria[15] in 1971 following a 1–0 victory at Wembley Stadium against the same team.[26]

In 1974, the Football Association stopped recognising a distinction between professionals and amateurs, with all player subsequently registered simply as 'players', whether paid or unpaid.[27] This ended the existence of the England national amateur football team, which had always been the basis for the British Olympic team. As such, the FA stopped entering a football team into Olympic competition.


For the 1984 Summer Olympics, professional footballers were allowed to compete at the Olympics for the first time.[4][28] Initially, European and South American teams were banned from playing players who had competed in the FIFA World Cup, but from the 1992 Summer Olympics eligibility for all nations was restricted to players aged under 23, except that three players of any age are allowed in the squad.[4]

Since 1992, the UEFA U21 Championship has acted as the qualifying tournament for the UEFA nations, which each of the Home Nations enter. On three occasions, teams from Great Britain have finished in the qualifying positions:

In March 1996, the Scottish National Party proposed that the Scotland U21s should compete in the 1996 Summer Olympics football tournament, having finished fourth in the 1996 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship.[29] Scotland would have qualified for the Summer Olympics football tournament twice in succession, having also finished fourth in the 1992 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship. The Scottish Football Association (SFA) opposed the idea of the Scotland team being sent to the Olympics as they would have had to participate as Great Britain, which the SFA considered would have jeopardised the independent status of Scottish national teams.[29]

The British Olympic Association initially refused to rule out the possibility of entry for the 2008 Summer Olympics,[30] England would have qualified for the 2008 Olympics by reaching the semi-finals of the 2007 Under–21 Championship, but a team was not entered.[31] Italy took their vacated place by winning a play-off match against Portugal.[31] The England women's team also qualified for the 2008 Olympics, through their performance in the 2007 World Cup, but they were denied a place at the Olympics because the other three Home Nations refused to give their consent.[32]

Reformation for London 2012

Due to the success of the London 2012 Olympic bid, the United Kingdom gained the right to enter a team in the football tournament as host nation.[5][33] The British Olympic Association (BOA) stated it would enter a football team,[5] but the Scottish Football Association (SFA) refused even to attend meetings at which the Home Nations were to discuss the possibility[34] and the Football Association of Wales (FAW) withdrew from the negotiations.[35] The Irish Football Association (representing Northern Ireland) stated in October 2007 that they would not take part in a unified team, leaving the Football Association (England) as the only association willing to take part. The SFA's opposition to the plans were rooted primarily in the fear that the Home Nations would be forced to field a combined team in all competitions.[34] This would mean the loss of the special status of the Home Nations, established under FIFA's constitution.[36]

The FA released a supporters' shirt for fans of Team GB

Various fans, politicians and sports-people all gave their opinions with regards to the creation of a team. A 2005 opinion poll published by the BOA claimed that a majority of Scots supported the creation of a British team for the 2012 Olympics.[37] A joint statement issued by the official fan clubs of all four Home Nations voiced their opposition to the plan.[38] Various prominent politicians also offered their opinion as to whether there should be a British team in the 2012 Olympics. Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated during the 2008 Olympics that he wanted a British team and would work towards that happening, although he acknowledged that it could affect the autonomy of the Home Nations.[39] First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond then stated his opposition to a British team, arguing that Brown must be "seriously out of touch with Scotland" to support it.[40]

FIFA President Sepp Blatter initially assured each of the British Associations that their status would not be affected by fielding a combined team in 2012.[41] The SFA refused to change its position, arguing that Blatter's personal opinion and permission might not matter once he has left office, and that they did not wish to jeopardise their status.[34] Blatter seemed to change his view in March 2008, when he stated that "they should enter only a team composed of players from England"[42] and he suggested that the independent status of the four British associations could be harmed by a unified team.[42] UEFA chief executive David Taylor, a former chief executive of the SFA, said in August 2008 that a British Olympic team would threaten the existence of the individual home nations.[43] Taylor also said that the unique status of the Home Nations had come under attack before from other FIFA members, and that it was "difficult to see what guarantees could be given" to protect that status.[43] At a conference held in conjunction with the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, the prospect of a UK team for the 2012 Olympics was discussed by the FIFA Executive Committee, who gave their approval.[44]

The executive committee confirmed that the participation in the 2012 London Olympic Games of a single team representing Great Britain would not affect the existing individual status of the four British football associations. For the Olympic Games, they have to play in one entity. The ball is now in their turf. We expect a solution that will be presented to us for the month of March.[44]

From the world of sport, world 400m hurdles champion Dai Greene said that he felt that there should not be an Olympic football tournament because the Olympics is not the pinnacle of that sport.[45] He also expressed fears that coverage of the football team would overshadow interest in the other competitors.[45] Sebastian Coe, the director of the 2012 Olympics, regularly spoke out in support of the team.[46]

A compromise was eventually reached between the four associations, whereby a squad of English players only would represent the United Kingdom.[6] The football associations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales sent a joint letter to FIFA stating that they would not participate, but that they would not object to England participating alone.[6] This agreement was challenged by the BOA, who wanted to select players from all four countries and claimed it would be potentially discriminatory to only select English players.[47] Jim Boyce stated that there is no legal restriction on players being selected by the BOA[47] and the SFA admitted that it would have no legal grounds to prevent Scottish players from participating.[48] It was then confirmed that the FA intended to select players from outside England.[7] Eligible non-English players such as Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey expressed their desire to play in the squad, having posed for a photo-shoot wearing the replica shirts of the team.[49]

Pre-tournament preparations

The FA announced in October 2011 that Stuart Pearce would be the manager. After this announcement, Pearce drew up an initial long-list of players who he wanted to consider for the squad, and wrote to all of these players to inform them of his choice.[50] Pearce said that players who did not want to be included would be able to inform him of their wishes at that stage.[50] It was stated in December 2011 that none of the players selected for the England squad for the 2012 UEFA European Championships would be selected, in order to avoid player fatigue.[51] In January 2012, it was revealed that 191 players had been contacted, with 7 declining to be considered for the team.[52] A further cut was announced in April 2012, with the shortlist of eligible players reduced to around 80.[53] The final pre-tournament cut occurred in early June, when a squad of 35 players was submitted to FIFA.[54][55]

Great Britain were placed in group A for the Olympic tournament prior to the draw.[56] The draw was held on 24 April 2012 and added Uruguay, United Arab Emirates and Senegal to Great Britain's group.[57] The final 18 man squad for the Olympic Games was announced on 2 July 2012.[58] A pre-tournament training camp was held in Marbella, Spain.[59] This included a training match against the Mexico squad, which Mexico won 1–0. All players in the squad played for between 45 and 75 minutes.[59] The team then played one official friendly match, against Brazil at the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough on 20 July,[60] which was won 2–0 by Brazil.[61]

Olympic tournament

Great Britain's first match was a 1–1 draw with Senegal at Old Trafford in Manchester on 26 July. Craig Bellamy scored for Great Britain in the first half, but Pape Moussa Konaté scored the equaliser for Senegal from a counter-attack in the 82nd minute.[62] Their second match was a 3–1 win against the United Arab Emirates at Wembley. A Ryan Giggs header put Great Britain in the lead, before Ahmad Ali equalised. Scott Sinclair regained the lead with his first touch of the game after coming on as a substitute, and minutes later, fellow substitute Daniel Sturridge chipped the UAE's goalkeeper to make it 3–1.[62] Sturridge scored again in the 1–0 victory against Uruguay in their final group game.

Aaron Ramsey missed a penalty kick against South Korea in the 40th minute.

In the knockout stage, Great Britain played South Korea in the quarterfinal round. The match went to a penalty shoot-out after the score was 1–1, after extra time. Great Britain lost the shoot-out 4–5 after Sturridge missed Britain's fifth attempt, while South Korea converted all five of their attempts.[63]

Future prospects

During the 2012 tournament some players such as Ryan Giggs[64] and some members of the British Olympic Association[65] expressed a desire to enter a football team in future Olympics. After Great Britain's elimination from the 2012 Olympics, there were no public plans to reform the team for future Olympic Games,[66] with Alex Horne, chief-executive of the FA, stating that the FA would not support a future men's football team at the Olympics.[67] The problem facing any possible future Great Britain team is that there is no mechanism for it to qualify, as the individual home nations compete in the qualifying competition.[68]

In 2015, the England under-21 coach (Gareth Southgate) and the FA Director of Elite Development (Dan Ashworth) established as FA policy that the Olympic tournament is a valuable experience for underage players.[69] The FA subsequently advised the other home nations indicating that they would enter teams in 2016, assuming that either or both of the England teams met the qualification standard.[69][70] This suggestion was opposed by the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish associations.[69][71] Jim Boyce of Northern Ireland, then a vice-president of FIFA, said that he had an assurance that any future Great Britain teams would require the consent of all home nations.[71] The FA then advised the other home nations that they would not enter teams, saying they had "underestimated" opposition to the plan.[72]


The official kit for the 2012 Olympics, designed by Stella McCartney and manufactured by Adidas, was unveiled alongside the uniform for all Team GB Olympic competitors in March.[73] The front of the shirt is modelled on the right-hand side of a union flag, with the colours consisting of white and various shades of blue in keeping with the design of the uniforms in other sports.[74] The back of the shirt is navy blue, as are the shorts and socks.[73] The kit has a red trim.[73] The change kit is pale blue and white, with varying shades displaying the same union flag design as the home kit.[75] The crest is on the left breast of the shirt, and consists of a white shield with the generic Team GB logo in blue, with the words London 2012 below it.



The composition of the team has varied over time. All players in the 1908, 1912, 1920 and 1956 squads were English, while in other years players from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were all included.[1] The 2012 squad contained 13 English and 5 Welsh players but no Scottish or Northern Irish players.[58] Jack Butland, the third choice goalkeeper for England, was the only player selected for both the Olympics and the England Euro 2012 squad.[76] Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy and Micah Richards were selected as the three overage players.[77] Former England captain David Beckham was shortlisted for the Olympics, but was left out of the final squad.[77]

London 2012 squad

The Great Britain squad for the 2012 Olympic Games was announced on 2 July 2012, with Ryan Giggs named as captain.[78]

0#0 Pos. Player Date of birth (age) Caps Goals Club
1 1GK England Jack Butland (1993-03-10)10 March 1993 (aged 19) 5 0 England Birmingham City
18 1GK England Jason Steele (1990-08-18)18 August 1990 (aged 21) 1 0 England Middlesbrough
2 2DF Wales Neil Taylor (1989-02-07)7 February 1989 (aged 23) 5 0 Wales Swansea City
3 2DF England Ryan Bertrand (1989-08-05)5 August 1989 (aged 22) 4 0 England Chelsea
5 2DF England Steven Caulker (1991-12-29)29 December 1991 (aged 20) 5 0 England Tottenham Hotspur
6 2DF England Craig Dawson (1990-05-06)6 May 1990 (aged 22) 3 0 England West Bromwich Albion
12 2DF England James Tomkins (1989-03-29)29 March 1989 (aged 23) 2 0 England West Ham United
14 2DF England Micah Richards* (1988-06-24)24 June 1988 (aged 24) 5 0 England Manchester City
4 3MF England Danny Rose (1990-07-02)2 July 1990 (aged 22) 4 0 England Tottenham Hotspur
7 3MF England Tom Cleverley (1989-08-12)12 August 1989 (aged 22) 5 0 England Manchester United
8 3MF Wales Joe Allen (1990-03-14)14 March 1990 (aged 22) 5 0 Wales Swansea City
11 3MF Wales Ryan Giggs* (captain) (1973-11-29)29 November 1973 (aged 38) 4 1 England Manchester United
13 3MF England Jack Cork (1989-06-25)25 June 1989 (aged 23) 4 0 England Southampton
15 3MF Wales Aaron Ramsey (1990-12-26)26 December 1990 (aged 21) 5 1 England Arsenal
16 3MF England Scott Sinclair (1989-03-25)25 March 1989 (aged 23) 4 1 Wales Swansea City
9 4FW England Daniel Sturridge (1989-09-01)1 September 1989 (aged 22) 5 2 England Chelsea
10 4FW Wales Craig Bellamy* (1979-07-13)13 July 1979 (aged 33) 5 1 England Liverpool
17 4FW England Marvin Sordell (1991-02-17)17 February 1991 (aged 21) 3 0 England Bolton Wanderers

Records and statistics

Olympics record

Olympics record
Year Manager[79] Squad Round Position G W D L GF GA +/– Win %
France 1900Upton Park F.C. represented GBGold medal1
United States 1904Did not enter
United Kingdom 1908Alfred Davis 1908 squadGold medal1 3 3 0 0 18 1 +17 100.000
Sweden 1912Adrian Birch1912 squadGold medal1 3 3 0 0 15 2 +13 100.000
Belgium 1920Wales George Latham 1920 squadRound 1 1 0 0 1 1 3 −2 00.00
France 1924Did not enter
Netherlands 1928
Germany 1936England William Voisey1936 squadQuarter-finals 2 1 0 1 6 5 +1 50.00
United Kingdom 1948Scotland Matt Busby 1948 squadFourth place4 4 2 0 2 9 11 −2 50.00
Finland 1952England Walter Winterbottom 1952 squadPreliminary round 1 0 0 1 3 5 −2 00.00
Australia 1956England Norman Creek1956 squadQuarter-finals 2 1 0 1 10 6 +4 50.00
Italy 19601960 squadRound 1 3 1 1 1 8 8 +0 33.33
1964 to 1972England Charles HughesDid not qualify
1976 to 2008Did not enter
United Kingdom 2012England Stuart Pearce[7]2012 squadQuarter-finals 4 2 2 0 6 3 +3 50.00
Brazil 2016Did not enter
Total9/253 medals 23 13 3 7 76 44 +32 56.52

Olympic finals

1908 final

24 October 1908
Great Britain  2–0  Denmark
Chapman  20'
Woodward  46'
White City, London
Attendance: 8,000
Referee: John Lewis (Great Britain)

1912 final

4 July 1912
Great Britain  4–2  Denmark
Hoare  22', 41'
Walden  10'
Berry  43'
Report Olsen  27', 81'
Stockholms Stadion, Stockholm
Attendance: 25,000
Referee: Christiaan Groothoff (Netherlands)

Full Olympic record

This is a full round-up of Great Britain's performances at the Olympic Games.[80][81]

London 1908

Stockholm 1912

Antwerp 1920

Berlin 1936

Note: As of 1948, many Eastern Bloc states, such as Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, played with their full national sides in the Olympics, while Britain always competed with an amateur team, as per Olympic requirements. [82][83][84]

London 1948

Helsinki 1952

Melbourne 1956

Note: Britain lost 5–3 on aggregate, but earned a reprieve to compete in Melbourne. [83]

Rome 1960

London 2012

See also


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