Why Do England, Scotland, Wales & NI Play As Separate Nations?

flags of the devolved nations of the ukWhy is that in most sports, participants from the United Kingdom are recognised as being British, but in Football they can represent their England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

The answer, it seems, was influence.

Despite all sharing a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland passport, all British footballers are given special leniency from FIFA which allows them to compete internationally for their individual home nation.

Elsewhere in the world this is not the case. Next year’s FIFA World Cup will take place in Qatar which is located nearby to the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven emirates and who play as one nation rather than individual emirates.

Inventors Of International Football

football with european flags as panels eurosIt would seem that the reason that for allowing for the British four to play separately is that England and Scotland were playing international football before all of the other nations.

In fact, England and Scotland contested the world’s first ever international match when they played out a 0-0 draw in Glasgow in November 1872.

That, plus the role the UK played in inventing football, is the reason why the four British nations are allowed to compete as separate national teams run by distinct governing bodies.

Early Establishment

england football posterThe English Football Association, known simply as the FA, were the first of these governing bodies to be founded and were established in 1863, the same year the initial laws of the game were drawn up.

One year after that inaugural match with Scotland, the Scottish Football Association was founded, followed in 1876 by the establishment of the Football Association of Wales later that year.

Ireland, then fully part of the UK, founded their equivalent body, the Irish Football Association, in 1880.

The quartet of nations then began to play each other annually in what was then the British International Championship but was later changed to the British Home Championship.

Furthermore, in 1886, Britain’s four home nations were to go on to form the International Football Association Board a football governing body that still remains in force today.

Special Clause

exception to the rulesWhen FIFA was established in 1904, the four nations of the UK were deemed to be far too powerful to join forces, but that their presence within FIFA was essential to the new bodies’ credibility in the long term.

By 1911, all four nations were all were fully signed up members of FIFA despite FIFA’s own rules stating that in order to compete in FIFA competitions a nation’s football association needs to be a part of its regional confederation which in the case for the UK foursome is UEFA.

And despite FIFA restricting members to one governing body per country, as in the internationally recognised state by name, FIFA inserted a clause in to their rule book that states, “Each of the four British associations shall be recognised as a separate member association of FIFA”, in spite of their united nationality being British.

Competing As Great Britain

union jack footballs and cheering handsElsewhere, away from FIFA, the UK have played as one in the Olympics football event on 10 occasions.

The most recent of these was in 2021 when London hosted the game, but even then Scotland declined the offer to send players due to fears that the issue of a FIFA Great Britain team would become a future possibility despite assurances from the federation that that wouldn’t be the case.

From fans point of view, there is absolutely no desire whatsoever for the unification of the national football team, just as is the case in Rugby, save the Lions tours, and Cricket, where admittedly the governing board are technically The England and Wales Cricket Board even though the team are known simply as England.