Elsewhere on the site you can read about club competitions that are no longer played. The likes of the Cup Winners’ Cup and the Anglo-Italian Cup are included, for example. Here, we’re taking a similar look at competitions that used to be played on the international stage but aren’t any longer.
Given football’s constant desire to improve and to change, it isn’t all that surprising that there are a number of these sorts of competitions that are seen as no longer being viable for whatever reason, meaning that they end up being consigned to the dustbin of history.
In fact, a quick look into it as a topic leads to far more such competitions that we’ve got time to look into here. Seemingly each jurisdiction that would be invited to take part in the World Cup by FIFA has its own now defunct tournament, so we’ve moved to try to limit the ones that we’re looking at to ones that there is at least a chance that you might have heard of. Only those with an intimate knowledge of African football are likely to have heard of the King Hassan II International Cup, say, or the Triangulaire. Hopefully the ones we cover here aren’t too much of a surprise.
The British Home Championship
Known as the British International Championship, the Home Championship, as it came to be known, was an international tournament that came off the back of the sport’s first ever international football match. That took place in November 1872 when England and Scotland played against one another for the first time. In the wake of it, matches between England and Scotland were played every year, with Scotland playing Wales from 1876 onwards. England didn’t play Wales until 1879, with Ireland playing Wales and England from 1882 and all four nations going head-to-head every year from 1884 onwards.
Such was the slow development of the games against all four of the ‘home nations’ that talk of it being a ‘championship’ didn’t emerge until the early part of the 1890s. Prior to that, it was just a matter of the teams going up against one another, with the rivalry between them taking centre-stage. In 1908, the first published list of ‘international champions’ came to late, dating back to 1884, but it didn’t seem as though people cared all that much about it at the actual time. It came to be seen as an official championship as the years progressed, gaining a trophy for the first time in 1935.
The trophy was created as a way of honouring the silver jubilee of King George V, though there was no set dates that the competition took place. They usually tended to be bunched up towards the end of the domestic season, including fitting the entire thing into just a few days at the conclusion of the campaign. As the years progressed, other tournaments like the World Cup and the European Championship overshadowed the Home Championship, resulting in falling attendances and a loss of prestige for the competition both at home and abroad.
One of the ways that this was combatted against was by using the Championship as a qualifying tournament for the World Cup, which happened in 1950 and 1954, plus the European Championships of 1968. As the tournament began to lose its sheen, the rise of hooliganism off the pitch as well as the Troubles in Northern Ireland meant that the tournament was abandoned. On top of that, the English Football Association decided that it would be better preparation for England to face stronger teams ahead of the big tournaments.
As the British Home Championship died a death, it was replaced with the Rous Cup. Having seen the final Championship take place in 1984, the Rous Cup was used as a replacement for the annual match between Scotland and England. It was named in honour of Sir Stanley Rous, the former Secretary of the Football Association, as well as President of FIFA. The competition saw the two nations take one another on, alternating which was the home side each year, with the winner claiming the cup in a format that was identical to rugby’s Calcutta Cup.
Having played the tournament under this format for two years, it was decided that different South American teams should be invited each year. The thought process was that this would fulfil the desire of England and Scotland to play against ‘stronger’ opposition, as well as to add a degree of excitement to proceedings. A league system akin to the one used in the British Home Championship was introduced, with each team playing the other once and getting two points for a win and one for a draw. It continued to rotate whether it would be England or Scotland who were away, with the South American team always being away.
In 1989, large numbers of English hooligans travelled to Scotland for the match between the two sides. Though there had been minor scuffles in the Hampden Park terracing in 1987, this was on a much broader scale. Having seen club sides banned from European competition in the wake of the Heysel Stadium Disaster, the Football Association was keen to avoid any banning of international teams. The high-profile nature of England versus Scotland matches was such that the world’s press often arrived to watch, so the Rous Cup was discontinued in 1989, as was the annual England v Scotland fixture.
Four Nations Tournament
It isn’t just professional football that saw a desire for international teams to take each other on. The Four Nations Tournament was devised in 1979 and contested by semi-professional teams. Initially, the competition was held until 1987 and pitted England against Scotland, Italy and the Netherlands. It then took a brief break before returning in 2002 when England took on the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The Republic of Ireland was replaced by Gibraltar in 2008, which was the last year that the tournament took place before being abandoned.
The tournament was won by England seven times, with Scotland and Wales both being successful three times and Italy winning it twice. When the 2009 version of the competition was in the planning stage, it was due to be hosted by England and there was a rumour that Scotland were going to withdraw and be placed by Northern Ireland. Instead, the competition was disbanded due to a lack of funding, as well as thanks to the decision of Gibraltar not to return a year after being invited to take part for the first time. It was always played at the end of the British domestic season.
There is little doubt that there has always been a sense of resentment towards England from the other home country nations. That England decided to abandon the Home Championship in favour of games against ‘stronger’ opposition won’t have sat well with the Irish and Welsh. In the wake of the abandonment of the Home Championship, there were often sporadic calls for its return, but this gained more widespread attention when the manager of Northern Ireland, Lawrie Sanchez, called for it publicly in 2006. A year later, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland met to discuss it.
The idea was to revive a tournament like the Home Championship, but to call it the ‘Celtic Cup’. It was to be a response to the fact that no British side had managed to qualify for the European Championship in 2008, but the plan was delayed to the fixture congestion caused by the qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. It was announced in September of the following year, with the tournament taking place in Dublin between February and May of 2011. England decided not to take part in the tournament, pointing to fixture congestion as the reason.
In 2010, it was confirmed that Carling would sponsor the competition, leading to it becoming the Carling Nations Cup. It began in February as scheduled, with the Republic of Ireland winning all three of their matches and winning the tournament overall. Poor attendance at the matches meant that plans to host a second Nations Cup in Wales in 2013 were abandoned. As a result, the 2011 iteration is the only version of it to take place to date. What it does show, perhaps, is the desire of some to force a regular match-up between the various home nations.
European International Cup of Nations
First played in 1927, the European International Cup of Nations was an idea conceived by Hugo Meisl, an Austrian football pioneer. Regarded by many as the founding father of European football, Meisl was also the creator of the Mitropa Cup. Whilst that pitched club teams against one another, this was a tournament that involved national teams from across Europe going head-to-head in a league format. It was played on a home and away basis, taking more than two years for the competition to be completed and seeing the following nations face one another:
Yugoslavia only joined in on the last iteration of the competition. Though it was played six times, the fact that it took two years to complete initially and then five years apiece for the last two versions of it means that its history spans from 1927 until 1960. That was the year that the European Championship started, helping to explain why it was decided that it was the right thing to draw things to a close. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the winning nation was often the best in Europe at the time, including the Austrian Wunderteam of the 1930s, the Italy team that won the World Cup twice and the Golden Team of Hungary.
In some ways, the fact that the competition continued after the Second World War is testament to football’s ability to cut through a lot of the worst nature of human beings. The tournament winners initially received the Švehla Cup, which was named after Antonín Švehla, the Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia. After the war, a new trophy named the Dr. Gerö Cup was created, named after Josef Gerö, who was the Director of the Austrian Football Association and also a former match referee. In the end, Italy won it twice, whilst Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary all won it once.
In 1963, the relatively newly formed Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football decided to create its first tournament. The founding members of the governing body, which was the Americas answer to the likes of UEFA, were Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Netherlands Antilles (Curaçao, Aruba), Nicaragua, Panama, Suriname and the United States of America. Also known as the CONCACAF Campeonato de Naciones, it pitted national teams from the area against one another.
It was played biennially for more than a decade, resulting in the final one taking place in 1989, replaced by the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 1991. Two points were awarded for a win and one for a draw, with hosting duty shared from country to country. El Salvador took on the initial hosting duties before it moved to Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago over the following few iterations. Costa Rica became the first host nation to win the competition, which was a feat that was repeated by Haiti in 1973, Mexico in 1977 and Honduras in 1981.
The founding nations of the competition were Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Netherlands Antilles and Panama, with other nations joining in the years that followed. It took until 1985 for the United States of America to join, perhaps demonstrating the extent to which football is seen as one of the least important sports in the US. No nation won the competition more than Honduras, who were successful both in 1967 and in 1981, with each of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago winning it once before the competition was disbanded.