Politics On The Pitch #10: Under Which Flag – Euro Edition

Click here for every post so far in the Politics On The Pitch series, including a huge run-down last time of political, historical and religious symbols used by supporters of both clubs and countries. In an early installment we also looked at European national teams who have worn shirt-colours not seen on their national flag, which fits into a somewhat related category to today’s topic.

The birth of competitive international football competition is the 1900 Olympic Games, in which Great Britain, France and Belgium competed in the sport’s first appearance. Of course all three still use the same flags now as they did then, and interestingly at the first World Cup in 1930 it was a similar story – of the 13 entrants only Mexico have since upgraded (only a different version of the same coat of arms at that, while Yugoslavia have ceased to exist but were using the same pre-communist version as when the country finally ended as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia).

But many flags have changed over the years, and so now we’ll look at each relevant state in Europe by alphabetical order with the rest of the world to come in a future post. Note that we are not including when states are temporarily absorbed into larger states, such as Austria into Nazi Germany or Estonia/Latvia/Lithuania into USSR, but are counting the dominant countries in those states as legal successor.


The Albanian national team played its first official game on 7 October, 1946, against Yugoslavia. That same year that country had adopted it’s tenth national flag since independence in 1912 (of mostly very similar designs) with the trademark double-headed eagle now accompanied by the star of socialism to represent the new People’s Republic of Albania (replacing a briefly seen Hammer and Sickle version used since 1944):

After the collapse of communism around Eastern Europe, the Albanians appeared under a new flag of democracy in 1992 for World Cup 94 qualifiers – the star was gone and the shade of red made brighter. The day the star was officially removed, 22 April, 1992, was in fact the same day that Albania took on Spain in their opening qualifier:


While still leading the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Austria’s own football federation was formed in 1904 with a national team having already taken on their partners from Hungary in a match on 12 October, 1902. The flag of the Empire was a combination of the two countries traditional colours, but this era’s Austrian team played under the black and yellow banner of the Habsburg monarchy – the flag of the original Austrian Empire – including at the 1912 Olympics:

With the end of World War 1 and the dissolution of “Austria-Hungary”, the original Austrian colours of red-white-red, first seen in the year 1230, were re-adopted. Having played last against Hungary – on 6 October, 1918, just 15 days before the the official collapse of the empire and the creation of the “Provisional National Assembly for German-Austria” – the first game under the flag also came against the Hungarians on 6 April, 1919:


Unlike the Baltic States, who were independent long enough between the Russian Empire days and USSR “membership” to have competed in World Cup qualifiers in the 1930s, Belarus had only briefly seen freedom in 1918 before entering the Soviet Union. Upon permanent independence in 1991, the white and red flag of 1918 was revived on 25 August and played under by the country’s new national team for their debut against Ukraine on 28 October the following year:

Belarus began their first ever qualification campaign with the above flag flying high for the first three Euro 96 qualifiers against Luxembourg, Norway and Czech Republic. The historical design hearkened back to an era of alignment with Poland-Lithuania, but was also seen as a flag of Nazi corroboration during World War 2 and was voted out in a controversial referendum in 1995 to be replaced by an “un-Hammer and Sickled” version of the flag of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (the red and white flag is still used by the political opposition in the country):

The new flag debuted in football terms at the next qualifying game on 7 June, 1995 – one of the most famous in Belorussian history as a great 1-0 victory over the Netherlands was achieved. On 10 February, 2012, the flag was altered slightly in time for use at a 0-0 friendly in Moldova on the 29th:


Upon independence from Yugoslavia in 1992, Bosnia-Herzegovina adopted a white flag with blue shield based on the banner of the Middle Ages Kotromanić dynasty. A friendly against Albania on 30 November, 1995, was the first time the flag was seen in an international football stadium:

The shield flag, however, was seen as to only represent Bosnian Muslims in the country and a replacement design was warranted by the signing of the Dayton Agreement peace accords in 1995. The Bosnian parliament could not agree on a new flag that would satisfy all parties, and so the UN High Representative for B.H. introduced the new “neutral” design on 4 February, 1998 – first flown for the national team at a friendly away to Argentina on 14 May, 1998:


Bulgaria gained independence from the Ottoman Empire back in 1878 and have been using their familiar white-green-red colourscheme ever since. The national team played under this flag from it’s first match against Austria on 21 May, 1924, until World War 2:

With the birth of the communist People’s Republic of Bulgaria, the Balkan Cup of 1946 saw a new flag flown for the Bulgarians starting against Romania on 8 October. A socialist badge had been added, baring the date the revolution – 09/09/1944:

Only a couple years later the badge was altered to give the lion a blue background and add Bulgarian colours. This updated flag was in place for another Balkan Cup match, against Poland on 4 April, 1948:

In June, 1967, more badge alterations were made. An 8 October friendly against the USSR was the first match after the change:

Amazingly, the authorities still weren’t happy and one last version was created in 1971 – the country’s fifth of the century. The badge now also indicated “681”, the year of establishment of the First Bulgarian Empire, and was first seen with the Bulgarian national team at an away Euro qualifier loss to Norway on 9 June, 1971:

Finally, following the collapse of the communist regime, the original flag returned on 27 November, 1990, and used away to Scotland for the first time in another Euro qualifier on 27 March, 1991:


Horrifically for any nationalistic Finns, the country’s early football team competed under the Russian flag as representing the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Empire. The white, blue and red was flown when for the first ever Finnish international game against Sweden on 22 October, 1911, as well as at the following years Olympics where they impressively finished fourth (including a sweet 2-1 victory over the Russians in the quarter-final):

Following independence on 6 December, 1917, Finland adopted the calming white and blue Nordic Cross we all know and love on 29 May of the following year. Exactly one year after that in 1920, the football team took the field for the first time as a truly Finnish entity in Stockholm for another friendly against the Swedes:


Georgia are in a similar boat to Belarus, having briefly used a national flag (from 1918 to 1922) which wouldn’t see the light of day again until (with slightly different proportions) independence from the USSR in 1990. The Georgian’s first match took place on 27 May, 1990, against Lithuania, although oddly the Georgians missed out on entry for World Cup 94 qualification, unlike the Lithuanians:

By the late 90s, movements grew to restore a version of the flag of the Medieval Kingdom of Georgia, with it’s five red crosses over white background. This flag was also used by the Georgian political opposition and then signed into law following the “Rose Revolution” of November, 2003, with a “Cyprus International Tournament” defeat to Romania on 18 February, 2004, the first game after official adoption on 14 January:


Germany’s first appearance at a major football tournament was the 1912 Olympics, having debuted overall against Switzerland on 5 April, 1908. At this time the state was of course still the German Empire, whose intimidating black-white-red standard accompanied the team:

On 7 June, 1920, Germany played their first game after the collapse of World War 1 and the collapse of the Empire, with another friendly against the Swiss. The national flag reverted back to that of the German Confederation of 1848:

By 1933 the Nazi take-over caused another flag change, originally with a centred-swastika before shifting slightly left in 1935 (the Empire flag was also brought back to be used jointly, but scrapped again in 1935). The German team’s first game under the swastika, against France on 19 March, 1933, came only a week after the flag had been signed into law:

Many world events later and a new German side took to the field, fittingly against Switzerland again, on 22 November, 1950 – their first post-WW2 game. The black, red and gold was back for good this time:


Like several other countries in the region, the Greek national colours date back to independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1822. An inverse of a white and blue cross used in the failed rebellion of 1769 was adopted by the first National Assembly, and presumably present years later for the Greek team’s first – surprising late – international football match against Italy on 7 April, 1929:

In 1970 the regime of the current ruling junta of Greece switched the Naval Ensign, also in use since 1822, to the national flag. The country’s first game after this was a European qualifier away to Malta on 11 October, 1970:

Following pressure from the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, military rule in Greece imploded and the original flag was reinstated in 1975. A 5-0 Mediterranean Games defeat to Algeria wasn’t the grandest of occasions for the “Land Flag” to make it’s return, taking place on 26 August, 1975, after having been made official again on 7 June:

On 12 December, 1978, the “Sea Flag” was once again made national flag, but with a lighter shade of blue than 1970-74. At Greek national team games, both versions (as in the former Land and Sea flags) were commonly seen side by side in the crowd, but as of a not-so-lovely 4-1 friendly defeat away to Israel on Valentine’s Day, 1979, only the below was official:


As mentioned earlier, Hungary took on their empirical partners from Austria on 12 October, 1902, in what was a debut football outing for both nations. The Hungarians had many very similar and overlapping flags around this time, with different ratio’s and coats of arms positioning, but this extravagant “angel version” was seemingly the main flag of the Kingdom of Hungary from 1896 to 1915:

Throughout World War 1, the Hungarians continued playing friendlies against the Austrians. This included on 7 November, 1915 – one day after the angels had been removed from the flag (although remained as an official variant):

A new independent Kingdom of Hungary emerged out of the turmoil of WW1 defeat and collapse of Austria Hungary, but this too would only last until the end of WW2 and make way for the Soviet-backed People’s Republic of Hungary. This crown-less (for the most part) version had been adopted by the time of an Austrian friendly on 6 October, 1946:

On 20 August, 1949, a far more communist and “modern” version was unveiled and made official.  Who else but Austria would again be opponents for the flag’s debut, with an away friendly on 16 October that year:

Amid the Hungarian revolution of 1956, the flag briefly reverted back to the 1946 model (although the flag of the revolutionaries cut out the centrepiece entirely) but no games were played in this time. With the rebellion quashed, on 23 May, 1957, a standard crestless flag – originally seen back during the 1848 revolution – was made official for good, with a World Cup qualifier away to Norway on 12 June the first occasion for national duty:


In 1861 the newly formed Kingdom of Italy inherited a green, white and red (colours seen together on an “Italian Republic” flag as early as 1802) flag with the shield of the House of Savoy in the middle, from the former Kingdom of Sardinia. Under this flag, the Italians played their first international against France on 15 May, 1910, and many more until World War 2:

After fascism and the War, democracy blossomed and the coat of arms was removed from the flag on 1 Januaryt, 1948. Fittingly, the first opponents were France, with a friendly in Paris 4 April, 1948:


Like Italy, Malta is a two-fer. When the national team made it’s debut against Austria on 24 February, 1957, the country was still under British rule and on their fifth version of Union Jack canton flags since 1875:

Malta also played under this flag during Euro 64 qualifying, when a member of UEFA but not yet FIFA. On 21 September, 1964, the Maltese peacefully broke away from their colonial masters (remaining in the British commonwealth and becoming a constitutional monarchy under Queen Elizabeth II) and adapted the old flag’s shield for the new one, while the national team’s next game wasn’t until a friendly against Libya on 13 February, 1966:

Northern Ireland

As we’ve talked about several times before, Northern Irish football claims lineage back to the “Ireland” team that competed while the whole country was still part of the United Kingdom. The “British-associated” St. Patrick’s Saltire, as represented on the Union Jack, is the flag to denote this Ireland’s first match 18February, 1882, against England, but likely the Union Jack itself was just used:

After the 1922 partition of Ireland, the Northern Irish based team continued as “Ireland” and continued selecting players from all over the island until 1953, when FIFA ruled that they must become “Northern Ireland” in name and borders, although allowed to still compete under the name “Ireland” in British Home Championships until the 1970s. This meant that when the 53/54 Home Championships doubled-up as World Cup 54 qualifiers, “Ireland” took to the field at the same time as “Northern Ireland”, both to take on Scotland on October 3rd, 1953, with the unofficial “Ulster Banner” rather than official Union Jack flag used to represent:


Romania’s first match on the international football stage was a friendly against the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and and Slovenes on 8 June, 1922. Since 1881, the Kingdom of Romania had been using the familiar blue, yellow and red tricolour, originally seen back during the revolutions of 1848:

On 28 March, 1948, the new People’s Republic of Romania made it’s new flag official (after one short-lived variant when no football was played) with classic communist emblem. A disappointing 0-1 Balkan Cup loss to Albania on 2 May, 1948, welcomed the banner, followed by a disastrous 9-0 defeat away to Hungary in the same competition on 6 June:

On 24 September, 1952, the star of socialism was added to the coat of arms. A friendly at home to East Germany on 26 October was suitably the next game:

In 1965 the RPR – Romanian People’s Republic, as seen on the badge – morphed into the Socialist Republic of Romania, and the flag followed suit on 21 August. A poor World Cup qualifying run of three consecutive losses greeted the new name and flag, staring away to Czechoslovakia on 19 September, 1965:

When socialist Romania fall in 1989, like Hungary in the 50s the centre of the flag was cut out by revolutionaries. On 27 December, 1989, the original was reinstated, with a friendly against Algeria on 4 February, 1990, the momentous occasion of the comeback:


Russia’s first ever match was actually that earlier-mentioned momentous loss to Finland at the Stockholm Olympics on 30 June, 1912. The flag of the current state, and then Russian Empire, represented both sides:

Following the fall of the Empire and the rise of the USSR, on 16 September, 1924, a new Soviet team took to the field for the first time to play Turkey. Like the Nazi Germany flag, the proportions and positioning of hammer and sickle changed slightly over the years, but too minimal to count:

With the dissolution of the Union in 1991, on 22 August the old tricolour made it’s return for the new Russian Federation, although with lighter shades of blue and red. In football terms, on 17 August, 1992, Russia replaced CIS which had replaced the Soviets and played against Mexico under their own flag for the first time in many decades:

The lighter shade flag was short-lived and replaced by original on 11 December, 1993. A trip to USA for an away friendly on 29 January, 1994, was the first outing:


Under the Kingdom of Spain – version 1874 – the Spanish national team made it’s debut on 28 August, 1920, at the Brussels Olympics versus Denmark. The former Navy and Coastal flag since 1785 – used as such due to it’s colourful visibility and recognisably disproportionate bands – had been adopted as flag of the Kingdom in 1843, briefly losing it’s crown in 1873/74 for the year of the First Spanish Republic (overthrown in a coup):

With the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931, and the end of the remnants of Imperial Spain, a new flag was unveiled on 27 April with a coat of arms used by the First Spanish Republic and three equal bands of red, yellow and mulberry. The day before Spain had played a drawn friendly against Ireland, but the first game after official adoption was a 7-1 loss to England on 9 December and it would also be seen during World Cup 1934 qualifiers:

After the Spanish Civil War and the dawn of Francoist Spain, the flag took an altogether more sinister turn on 8 February, 1938, with this menacing black bird and royalist coat of arms. A friendly against fellow WW2-neuatrals Portugal 12 January, 1941, was Spain’s first game back after their tragic internal conflict:

On 11 October, 1945, the coat of arms evolved and the bird became even larger and more menacing. The flag wouldn’t be needed for international football until another friendly against Ireland on the following 23 June:

On 21 January, 1977, a couple of years after Franco’s death, the bird evolved once more while still maintaining it’s sinister vibes. Yet again Ireland were evolved, as “transitional” Spain played the Irish on 9 February:

In 1978 Spain became a constitutional monarchy, and on 19 December, 1981, the coat of arms of the Republican era was combined with the traditional colours and proportions to form the new national flag. This came in time for this hosting duties of World Cup 82, while the first game under the flag was not Ireland, but Scotland on 24 February, 1982:


Perhaps one of the least expected entries on the list for the those with only a casual interest in flag histories, the flag of Wales featured only a dragon and a small piece of greenery from 1807 to 1953. This of course included their first football international against Scotland on 26 March, 1876:

In 1953, a new royal badge was adapted for flag, now with a half green background. On 15 April, Wales played the “Ireland” Northern Irish side we mentioned earlier, the first of the flag’s era:

This version only lasted a few years and was replaced once and for all on 22 April, 1959, with the center of the royal badge now becoming the whole flag. Northern Ireland were once again first opponents of the year only a few days later on 29 April:


Lastly, we come to the one country on our list which no longer exists (at least in unified form). As the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovens, the original Yugoslav heritage team lost 7-0 to Czechoslovakia in their first match on 28 August, 1920. In 1918, when the kingdom had been established, the pan-slavic horizontal bands of blue, white and red had also been adopted:

Transforming into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929, and Democratic Federal Yugoslavia from 1943 to 1945, the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia emerged in the wake of World War 2 and with it an elongated flag with socialist star in the centre. The also recently-communist Czechoslovaks were again the first opponents with a friendly on 9 May, 1946:

The name of the state changed again in 1963 to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but unlike Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria the flag remained the same until communism collapsed and the Yugoslav Civil War began. After it’s FIFA ban, the rump Federal Republic of Yugoslavia returned to football on 23 December, 1994, against World Champions Brazil, once again under the original flag which would remain until the final break up of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006:


We have now looked at 18 European states with 52 flags between them during times of international football. Our champions are Spain, who have competed under six distinct flags, with Bulgaria’s five out of six coming in second.



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