Politics On The Pitch #4: Groups of Death Part 1 (1950-1969)

Back in Politics On The Pitch #3 we looked at how the football world adjusted to life after World War 2, with carefully selected qualification groups removing the chance of “politically awkward” clashes. Now we take a look back to when this was not necessarily the case, and at some historical competitive fixtures with a non-sporting significance that could not be ignored.

Background:

Despite being widely recognised as one of the most corrupt organisms on the face of the planet, and turning their flagship tournament into a money making facade where sport is basically an afterthought (it is on this site too to be fair), FIFA is responsible for some good.

The World Cup’s hideous over-commercialisation can always be countered by the fact that the festival of football does bring simple folk from random corners of the world together when their teams are drawn. The often good-natured affairs, as well as the conscious global gaze upon each match, displays through the medium of football that no matter where somebody’s from, their class, race or if they’re religious, humans do have common ground through our unifying love of the game.

Even teams representing states of competing ideologies and their fans can come together in friendly rivalry, as an average population can often be far less enthusiastic about hating their fellow members of the species than their national regimes, or stereotypes, might lead you to believe. With countries like Cuba and North Korea joining the USA and it’s allies in the organisation’s ranks, the case of FIFA’s corruption is at least equal opportunity corruption.

But of course FIFA’s global inclusiveness also creates the opposite situation, where two peoples with a genuinely tense political or ethnic history (or present) are occasionally brought together for a sporting manifestation of their international grudge. At times this will be deemed concerning enough an issue for a country to not play altogether, as was the case when the British nations withdrew from FIFA in 1919 in protest at the continued inclusion of the Central Powers teams after World War 1.

Many times these games have gone ahead though, which inevitably creates interesting situations in the stadium, and on some occasions the simple novelty or expectation of an interesting draw is enough to secure its place in history. In this vein we will now look back at some of the most noteworthy groups, tournaments and match-ups from the 20th century that had elements beyond mere football competition.

  • 1954 World Cup Qualifiers

Group 1:

Norway
Saar Protectorate
West Germany

For the 1954 World Cup qualifiers, FIFA itself rather than it’s regional confederations was still arranging all qualification groups. They were organised by geographical consideration, although not necessarily by continent as Egypt and Italy proved in Group 9. Groups 7 (Hungary and Poland) and 8 (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania) comprised solely of eastern European communist representatives.

However it was Group 1 that stood out for it’s inclusion of a small side making it’s one and only appearance in a competitive campaign, and another much larger new state making it’s first in it’s current form. The group did not actually pit sworn rival nations against each other, quite the contrary. But the two referenced participants were born out of the greatest period of slaughter the world has known.

Located in southwest Germany, the Saarland (after the River Saar, which flows from northwest France into Germany) had become the French and British ruled Territory of the Saar Basin in the aftermath of World War 1. A plebiscite with 90.4% in favour returned the region to German hands in 1935, but ten years later the Allies would be back and again take control of the now renamed Westmark of the Third Reich. Following the end of World War 2, the region was partitioned from the rest of Germany and placed squarely under French control, becoming the Saar Protectorate in 1947.

The mostly ethnic German population still considered their land as part of Germany and never intended Saar to become it’s own country. Never the less, such national symbols as a flag (paying homage to both nations involved with the colours of the French flag divided by a white Nordic cross) and an international football federation were created. The clubs of Saar competed in the local Ehrenglia league, with the strongest club 1. FC Saarbrücken competing and winning in France’s Ligue 2 as guests in 1948/49.


Flag of The Saar Protectorate.

Three months after the Saar Fussball Bund was admitted to FIFA in 1950 (having rejected merging with it’s French equivalent the previous year), the Deutscher Fussball Bund also rejoined, now representing the Federal Republic of Germany, aka the partitioned state of West Germany, but claimed mandate over Germany as a whole. Both teams were placed in Group 1 of the upcoming World Cup qualifiers along with Norway, whose status as part of the Nazi occupied lands in WW2 under the puppet Quisling regime officially made this the “Reich group”.

By the time the qualifiers were to begin in 1953, Saar had already played a number of friendlies and had participated in several other sports at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. But as stated, they preferred not to be referred to as their own country, and in football the term “selection” was more commonly used than national team. Given the area’s German self-identification, it seems slightly frustrating that one of their few shots at international football competition was “wasted” on their follow countrymen, and not someone more exotic.

The Saarlanders would go on to display the prowess of German football even if  confined to a very small area, by defeating Norway 3-2 away from home and earning a 0-0 draw in Saarbrücken. Logically then, their bigger, but no more proudly Germanic neighbours would prove impassable. A 3-0 home win in Stuttgart on 11 October 1953 was followed by the last game of the group in March 1954, as West Germany again scored three (with the home support politely applauding each goal) but Saar at least grabbed a consolation penalty on home soil.


Interesting section of Hamburg's Volksparkstadion, West Germany vs Saar Protectorate, World Cup '54 Qualifier, October 1953.

The West German’s 5-1 demolition of Norway also guaranteed that Saar would not finish bottom of the group, securing a German one-two final positioning. As West Germany went on to win the World Cup they had qualified for, the people of Saar doubtlessly would have been rooting for them and over joyed at their success. As the following year, 20 years after the original plebiscite to join Nazi Germany, another referendum was held with the same result. The Saar Protectorate was absorbed into West Germany and once again became the region of Saarland in 1957, ending it’s brief adventure in international football.

 
The crowd applaud the home side's goal in a 3-1 defeat, Saar Protectorate vs West Germany, World Cup '54 qualifier, March 1954.

*

  • 1958 World Cup Qualifiers

CAF/AFC Second Round

Egypt
Indonesia
Israel
Sudan

For the next World Cup, FIFA handed over responsibility to the regional confederations for the organisation of their own qualification systems, and enforced defined geographical zones. This proved particularly problematic in Africa/Asia (with the CAF and AFC sections combined for this campaign), first as Turkey withdrew in protest at not being included in Europe. They had been scheduled to play Israel, who progressed automatically into a second round group (somewhat surprisingly Cyprus were also in Asia, giving it three different teams who would later “become” European)

This created another issue due to the Arab League boycott of Israel, the current iteration of which being in effect since the end of the Arab-Israeli War in 1949. The Arab League members of Egypt and Sudan hence refused to play Israel – who had actually previously competed as Palestine British Mandate before their independence in 1948 – and withdrew. It was to be the first of two successive World Cup qualification campaigns from which the pair would withdraw without playing a game, as for 1962 – with Egypt then competing as United Arab Republic –  FIFA refused their ultimatum to reschedule matches to avoid the monsoon season.

Another mostly Islamic state in Indonesia was the remaining team left in the group, and although they were prepared to play the Israelis, they were not prepared to travel the entire length of Asia to do so. Like Israel, the Indonesians had once competed under their pre-independence colonial name: the Dutch East Indies. But this time FIFA refused the Indonesian request for the game to be played on neutral ground which forced them to also withdraw, meaning that Israel had made it through two rounds to an intercontinental play-off without touching a ball. Here they would be at last stopped, as Wales were happy to play and defeat them for a place at the tournament.

UEFA Group 6

Finland
Poland
USSR

Back in the UEFA section itself, countries were also still placed in groups rather than drawn by seed. Cross Iron-Curtain encounters were now becoming more common, although still somewhat regional with Finland going to the USSR and Poland, Greece to Yugoslavia and Romania, but again slightly further afield for Wales who were placed with Czechoslovakia and the newly created East Germany (who’s entry during the years of Saar existence meant there had been three different German federations in FIFA at one point).

Group 6 with Finland, Poland and the USSR was the most emotionally charged on paper with both the Finns and Poles being former colonial subjects of Russia, and much more recently the Soviets’ (unsuccessful) Winter War against former and partition of the later (as well as events such as the Katyn Massacre, although Poland was by this time a satalite-state of the USSR). But knowing the steadfast resolve characteristic of all three peoples, it was surely business as usual as the Soviet Union ultimately made it to their first finals (Poland had previously competed too at 1938).


Finland vs USSR, World Cup '58 Qualifier, August 1957.

UEFA Group 1

Denmark
England
Republic of Ireland

On the other side of Europe, the Republic of Ireland met their own former colonial masters of England for the first time in a competitive setting, along with Denmark in Group 1 (with the English coming out tops). Although distrust of Englishness remained for many, with 36 years having elapsed since the Irish War of Independence the encounter was perhaps now not as significant as it would become later in the century when tensions on the island of Ireland dramatically increased once again.

At this time Ireland was also somewhat sportingly-divided between football and it’s own native Gaelic sports, with the rules of the latter forbidding those who played, or indeed watched, the “foreign” (English) sport of soccer from their ogranisation. Those who preferred football were sometimes scornfully looked down upon as “less-Irish” than those involved in Irish games, with more nationalist types therefore likely avoiding international football altogether.

  • 1966 World Cup and Qualifiers

World Cup Semi-Finals and Final

England
Portugal
USSR
West Germany

The ’66 World Cup in England was somewhat of a reunion for several of the major players from World War 2. While England, the USSR and West Germany had all qualified for the previous two editions, the West Germans had avoided their old regime’s two European enemies in ’58 (who played each other in the group stage) and all three had been knocked out in the quarter finals of ’62 before having a chance to meet.

But in 1966 the Germans would finally come up against their former double-fronted foes, first beating the Soviets in a Goodison Park semi-final before the famous final defeat to the hosts, which also crucially involved a Soviet linesman erroneously awarding England’s third goal.


Many men in suits and ties watch West Germany vs the Soviet Union in Goodison Park, World Cup 1966.

Asia/Oceania Qualifying Group

Australia
North Korea
South Africa
South Korea

The other stand-out thing was the appearance of North Korea, although the authoritarian dictatorships present in their fellow qualifying countries of Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Hungry, Portugal, Soviet Union and Spain at the time makes it not so novel. Their surprise debut at the finals was helped by the withdrawal of their South Korean cousins, citing logistical reasons in the combined Asian/Oceanian qualifying group. Given that few states held political ties with the North Koreans, all games were to be hosted by their allies Cambodia, but South Korea had been expecting Japan and left the group after the decision.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the group was also to contain South Africa (a weak Australia was the fourth team). Kicked out of the Confederation of African Football in 1958 due the apartheid regime’s player policy – by law only an all-white or all-black team could be selected – South Africa were in fact admitted to FIFA in the same year and placed in the Asian zone for the time being. But FIFA did give them one year to comply with their own anti-discrimination laws, which of course wasn’t done.

While the rest of the African teams boycotted the qualifying system entirely due to the lack of an automatic qualifying spot – as well as the original acceptance of South Africa into FIFA – South Africa were banned before their group games started (formally expelled in 1976 following the Soweto uprising) and wouldn’t play another international until 1992. This left North Korea with just two easy games against the Australians to qualify.

  • 1970 World Cup Qualifiers

AFC/OFC Second Round, Group 1

Australia
Rhodesia

The following tournaments qualifiers saw a similar situation: this time the unrecognised state of Rhodesia switched continents to play in the Asian/Oceanian section. Like South Africa, the country was ruled by a white minority elite, who had broken away from the British Empire in 1965.

But as Rhodesia agreed to FIFA’s regulations regarding mixed-race squads, they were allowed to stay in. Their only group opponent was Australia, with both games (and a third play-off game after two draws, won by Australia) played in Mozambique after the Rhodesian players could not attain Australian visas.

AFC/OFC Second Round, Group 2

Israel
New Zealand
North Korea 

Israel were also back in Asian/Oceanian having played in the UFEA zone for geographical reasons at the previous qualifiers (and originally Syria too before withdrawal). Although no other Middle Eastern side was involved this time, their presence still caused an issue as now North Korea refused to play them on political grounds and withdrew.

Victories over New Zealand and Australia meant that Israel were now going to their first World Cup, but under the initiative of Kuwait they would be expelled from an AFC with more middle eastern influence in 1974, and return to playing European and, later, more Oceanic opponents in the following decades.

CONCACAF Semi-Final Round, Group 2

El Salvador
Honduras

One of the most famous war related match-ups occurred during this campaign in the semi-final round of the North/Central American and Caribbean CONCACAF section, when El Salvador were drawn with neighbours Honduras. It is often said that their violent three games (again a play-off was needed and held in neutral Mexico City) sparked what is known as the Football War between the two countries, a 100 hour conflict (and so also known as the 100 Hour War) that remains officially in dispute at the time of writing.

While intense rioting had occurred at the two regular group games (as it was considered a group of two as opposed to a two-legged knock-out game), as well as violent play on the pitch, it was more a case of perfect timing rather than the actual cause of the war, as tensions had already been growing between the countries for bigger reasons. With the backing of large American fruit corporations, harsh new land and tax laws had come into effect in Honduras, that were particularly threatening to the large, undocumented El Salvadorian ethnic minority in the country.


Supporters of both teams and riot police, El Salvador vs Honduras, World Cup '70 qualifier, June 1969.

By the day of the play-off on 26 June, 1969 (3-2 to El Salvador after extra-time), the smaller but more populous El Salvador officially cut of ties with Honduras and would invade on July 15th starting the war. The situation was resolved through negotiation from the Organization of American States, lasting 100 hours, but the reluctance of El Salvador to withdraw meant their troops remained occupying part of the country until August. The bad blood between the two states, who share a common language, religion, general look and very similar flags, proves that not matter how close groups of humans seem, we can always find other reasons to hate each other.

*

Youtube Sources:
West Germany vs Saar, 1953
Saar vs West Germany, 1954
Finland vs USSR, 1957
USSR vs West Germany, 1966
El Salvador vs Honduras, 1969
El Salvador vs Honduras, 1969

*****

International Duty – Club Banners At National Team Games #5 (Gallery)

In this series we look back to an era when supporters were often more likely to represent their local side on the terraces when the national team was in town (or abroad), rather than the national team itself.

Germany vs CIS, European Championships, 1992
KSC Fanclub
of Karlsruher SC:

Italy vs Slovenia, Euro ’96 qualifier, 1995
“Nord Kaos”, “Brigata”, “Arthur Zico Orsaria” and others of Udinese:

Netherlands vs Hungary, Euro ’88 qualifier, 1987
SC Heerenveen:

Finland vs England, World Cup ’86 qualifier, 1985
“Chelsea-Sutton”
of Chelsea FC:

Belgium vs Wales, Euro ’92 qualifier, 1991
CCFC and other banner of Cardiff City FC:

Netherlands vs Poland, World Cup ’94 qualifier, 1992
Lechia” with Celtic cross (far-right symbol) of Lechia Gdansk:

Italy vs Georgia, World Cup ’98 Qualifier, 1996
Vecchia Guardia“, “Brigata Ultra” and other groups of A.C. Perugia:

 

***

What Football Is Supposed To Look Like #6 (Gallery)

In this series we’re not really suggesting that football go back to looking like any of the pictures below, since the world they are from is gone forever and there’s nothing you can do about it. But we can at least bask in rays of nostalgic wonder by looking at the variety of features that made old school football magical, and sometimes hilarious.

Cold War-era stadium with built-in administrative building and running track, Yugoslavia vs Denmark, World Cup qualifier, 1980:

Slightly wet pitch, Derry City vs Shamrock Rovers, League of Ireland, 1989:

Classic kits, Romania vs Azerbaijan, European Championships qualifier, 1994:

Marching band and giant scary rabbit, Netherlands vs Austria, friendly, 1974:

Ticker-tape pitch, Argentina vs Colombia, Copa America, 1993:

Classic graphics and Cold War-era stadium with massive tunnel, Poland vs Greece, friendly, 1978:

Tracksuit and sweat tops, Preston North End vs Swansea City, Division Two, 1981:

Wonderfully muddy pitch, Everton vs Liverpool, FA Cup, 1981:

Concerned young supporter/style icon with camera at terrace fence, FC Schalke 04 vs Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga, 1993:

A stadium at what appears to be some sort of holiday resort, Australia vs Taiwan, World Cup qualifier, 1985:

A stadium at what appears to be some sort of holiday resort,  Canada vs Honduras, World Cup qualifier, 1985:

 

***

 

What Football Is Supposed To Look Like #5 (Gallery)

We are back with another visually delicious gallery of the interesting sights and general old school greatness, that that at one point made football magic.

Classic post-communist/pre-modern ground with fence, Lithuania vs Italy, European Championships Qualifier, 1995:

Random mid-match pyro, Italy vs Portugal, World Cup Qualifier, 1993:

Plethora of reporters and other individuals at pitchside, Chile vs Uruguay, Copa America, 1983:

Classic graphics and sparsely covered terraces, Norway vs Denmark, friendly, 1986:

“…anyhow have a Winfield” and running track, Australia vs Israel, World Cup Qualifier, 1985:

“DAILY POST”, Wales vs Czechoslovakia, World Cup Qualifier, 1977:

“FALK”. Classic graphics, hoardings and stadium, Austria vs Brazil, friendly, 1973:

Communist-era athletics bowl, classic “R” graphic, sparsely covered terraces and seemingly recorded through a spy camera, Poland vs Greece, friendly, 1978:

Politics On The Pitch #1: Changing Eastern Europe and the World Cup ’94 Qualifiers

We had originally planned on only briefly discussing the topic for this very first edition of Politics On the Pitch (yes, another POTP acronym) as a prelude to an upcoming Champagne Kit Campaign (For the debut of Champagne Kit Campaigns, focusing on Norway in the same time period, click here).

However, it quickly became apparent that an in depth look was needed as we felt more and more compelled to delve into the crux of where politics and football met leading up to the UEFA qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup (We have no idea if one can “delve into a crux” or not but we’re bloody well doing it).

We look back on this campaign as THE all-time classic qualification phase in Europe, partly due to age and nationality, but the changing political face of the world at the time also created some unique situations and contributed to the general magic.

On December 8th, 1991, thirty seven national teams were entered into the UEFA section of the draw to decide groups for the upcoming World Cup ’94 qualifiers. Political turmoil in eastern Europe meant that three of these countries would either not compete in their current form or not take part at all: the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

But a further three in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were freshly reformed nations competing for the chance to play at the tournament for the first time in decades. One side had already disappeared since the last World Cup as East Germany had been reunified with West on October 3rd, 1990.


Sepp Blatter and Franz Beckenbauer at the FIFA World Cup draw in 1991 for UEFA.

Some other former communist states such as Poland (1989), Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania (all 1990) had also already completed the transition to new “democratic”, capitalist regimes. These changes were first evident at an international tournament when Romania competed at World Cup ’90 under a restored, pre-communist flag and played in shirts devoid of a badge, the previous one being synonymous with the recently booted government.


Romania kit at World Cup '90, sans a crest.

Romanian supporters also displayed the banner of the revolution against President Ceaușescu; a Romanian flag with the coat of arms of the old regime literally cut out of the middle. Eight years earlier at a World Cup ’82 in a match against the USSR, Polish fans had displayed banners of the anti-communist Solidarity movement showing a sign of what was coming down the line, until Spanish police forced their removal upon pressure from Soviet TV.


Polish banners of the Solidarity movement at World Cup '82.

But the above were all nation states that had not been absorbed into into bigger unions. For countries within these unions, it would take a little more time to reemerge on to the international stage. Elections had taken place across the various republics of the USSR and Yugoslavia in 1990, but a complex sequence of events would still need to take place before independence could be achieved.

Eventually, after the chaos of the failed August 1991 coup, a weakened Soviet Union recognised the independence of the Baltic states on the 6th of September,  in time for them to join UEFA and enter the draw for World Cup qualifying.

On January 1st, 1992, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. The other former Soviet countries were not as lucky as the Baltic nations and would not be entered into World Cup qualifying, but a more pressing matter was the fact that the failed state had already qualified for the upcoming European Championships in Sweden.

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had formed in December ’91 by the soon to be former Soviet republics as a loose international confederation, but on January 11th, 1992, a football association of the CIS was also formed and swiftly accepted into UEFA to replace the USSR at the European Championships.


CIS shirt at Euro '92.

The CIS team represented the following 12 countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia (despite not entering the actual CIS until 1995), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. But at the Euros the team contained mostly Russians and Ukrainians, with one Georgian and one Belorussian.


CIS supporters celebrate a goal against Germany at Euro '92. The white flag with the red star, hammer and sickle, and blue bar at the bottom, is the former Soviet naval ensign.

Meanwhile, the situation in Yugoslavia had deteriorated into war. The Balkan state had been out been outside the Warsaw Pact and had been led by what may be as close to a benevolent dictator the 20th century had seen in Tito, and throughout the Cold War some eastern European players had used away games in Yugoslavia as a chance to defect to the west. Despite this, it’s exit from the communist era was the bloodiest of all and the ramifications of this rippled through to the sporting world.

Like the USSR, Yugoslavia had qualified for Euro ’92 in the midst of it’s socialist state dissolving. As Croatia, Slovenia and FYR Macadonia broke away, the remaining territory became the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, later known as Serbia and Montenegro.

Their football team was set to take the place of the original Yugoslavia at the Euros but just ten days before the tournament, on May 31st, 1992, the team was banned from competing and replaced with eventual winners Denmark. This was in accordance with the UN Security Council’s Resolution 757 which placed sanctions on the country as the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina went on.

The ban lasted until 1996, meaning Yugoslavia were also out of World Cup qualifying. They had originally been Pool 2 seeds and drawn in Group 5, fittingly along with top seeds the Soviet Union.


The original World Cup Qualifying Group 5, featuring the USSR and Yugoslavia.

The CIS concluded it’s brief existence in international football losing to Scotland at the Euros on June 18th, 1992. Ukraine had proposed a new tournament for the teams who had made up the CIS so they would have something to compete for in lieu of the World Cup. This was supported by Armenia and Georgia, but blocked by Russia.

In August, Russia was officially recognised by FIFA as the USSR/CIS successor state and take it’s place in qualifying Group 5 along with Greece, Iceland, Hungary and Luxembourg, but without the stricken Yugoslavia.

Most interesting to note was that in Russia’s first international since 1914, a friendly against Mexico in August ’92, they would in fact continue to wear what was previously the white away shirt of the USSR, now apparently repurposed as a home shirt. The only difference in the kit was that the Adidas trefoil-era shorts of the Soviets (white with red trim) were replaced with shorts of the new Adidas Equipment line (plain white but for a black brand logo).


 Left: USSR vs Italy, October '91. Right: Russia vs Mexico, August '92.

Russia playing in Soviet shirts vs Mexico, August '92.

The shirt would again be worn when Russia made their World Cup qualifying debut at home to Iceland in October but with blue shorts and red socks, amazingly meaning that the Soviet shirt was now part of an overall Russian flag. By the following game at home to Luxembourg, Russia finally wore their own shirts, albeit very bare.


 Russian kit vs Iceland, October '92.

Although plain, Russia finally gets it's own shirt against Luxembourg, October '92.

This unusual kit sequence clearly needs it’s own article, which will happen in due course. But back to the actual group and the absence of Yugoslavia, along with Russia’s smaller talent pool than it’s predecessor, meant that it was far weaker than when originally drawn. This paved the way for Greece to top the group and qualify for it’s first World Cup, with Russia joining them in second.

While their fellow former Soviet republics were denied the right to play competitively until Euro 96 qualifiers in 1994, the Baltic states were all happily placed as bottom seeds in Pool 6 of the draw.


Sepp Blatter draws Estonia as the first country out of the hat after the top seeds had been assigned their groups.

After original independence from the collapsed Russian Empire in 1917, Estonia had first competed as a national team in 1920, with Latvia following suit in 1922 and Lithuania the following year. Estonia and Lithuania had taken part in qualifying for the 1934 and 1938 World Cups, with Latvia also competing in the latter, so it would not technically be new ground for any of the three. However, as all were annexed by the USSR in 1940 and as UEFA did not form until 1954, the 1994 campaign would be their first as UEFA affiliated countries.

Estonia were drawn in a tough Group 1 along with Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, Scotland and Malta. Unsurprisingly, they only managed one point from a 0-0 draw away to Malta and only scored one goal in the entire campaign during a 3-1 defeat to Scotland.


Estonia score their lone goal of the campaign away to Scotland.

Latvia and Lithuania had been drawn against each other in a group of two back when they last competed in 1937. Since both were bottom seeds, it should have been impossible for the neighbours to clash this time. However, due to the uneven amount of teams in the draw, fate would have it that after the long wait to rejoin international competition they would again be drawn together in Group 3, along with an eastern country that we have not mentioned yet in Albania.

Spain, Ireland, Denmark and Northern Ireland made up the rest of the group, creating the unusual situation where this group had seven teams, while due to Yugoslavia’s suspension Group 5 only contained five (the other 4 groups had six each).


Albania, Latvia and Lithuania drawn together in Group 3.

Albania had originally been a Warsaw Pact member but broke away in 1960 and remained a deeply secretive and less well known state. Despite this, it had been a founder member of UEFA in 1954 and competed in Euro and World Cup qualification in the ’60s.

But then, due to internal political reasons, the country would not compete at all in ’68 and ’69, and again from ’74 until ’80 (apart from three Balkan Cup games against Yugoslavia in ’76 and ’77, and one friendly against Algeria in ’77). They would return for the World Cup ’82 qualifying campaign and remain in competition ever since.

Like the rest of the region, Albania held democratic elections by 1991, but the transition from communism was difficult and the country remained poor. The turmoil was evident when they visited Dublin to play Ireland in May 1992 without a kit (a shame as they had worn some beautiful kits in the 80’s and very early 90’s). For more information on this episode, and Lithuania ending up in a similar situation away to Ireland the following year, check out this Museum of Jerseys piece.


Albania in a hasitly prepared kit away to Ireland, May '92.

Lithuania, Latvia and Albania would unsurprisingly finish 5th, 6th and 7th in the group, mostly taking points off each other. But delightfully, Latvia did manage respectable 0-0 draws at home to both Denmark and Spain.


Latvia holding Spain to a 0-0, September '92.

Lithuania 1-1 Latvia, October '92.

The last of the former communist states to cover is Czechoslovakia. Over the course of ’89-’90, the communist government collapsed and the country formally transformed on April 23rd, 1990, from the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic to the Czech and Slovak Federalist Republic. This was seen in effect at the World Cup draw the following year as “CSFR” was used to represent the country on the group board.


Democratic Czechoslovakia of '89-'92, aka CSFR, seconds seeds in Group 4.

They were drawn in Group 4 along with Belgium, Romania, Wales, Cyprus and the debuting Faroe Islands (San Marino in Group 2 and Isreal in Group 6 were the other new sides added to UEFA’s system) and would compete as Czechoslovkia for the first three matches. But as 1992 progressed, Slovakian calls for greater autonomy resulted in the break up of the federation, and on January 1st, 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovkia both came into existence as independent states.

Like the the USSR becoming the CIS in ’92, the team completed the group as a new entity, the Representation of Czechs and Slovaks (RCS). Unlike with the CIS though, this was purely a sporting union and not representative of an actual political body.

Most notable was the team’s away shirt which saw use away to Wales in September ’93, a template also infamously used for Arsenal’s ’91-’93 away shirt.


RCS away shirt away to Wales, September '93.

A win on the last day of the group away to Belgium would have meant qualification through 2nd place, and presumably the continued existence of RCS until at least the following summer after the World Cup. However, the game ended 0-0 and Belgium took 2nd instead with RCS finishing 3rd.

Slovakia had previously competed while a Nazi puppet state in the World War 2 era and fielded unofficial teams again from 1992, but they would officially reemerge in February ’94 away to the UAE. The Czech Republic would go on to be official successor of the Czechoslovakian and RCS teams and play their first match, away to Turkey, three weeks after their new neighbours, in a way putting an end to the era we have disucssed.

Only 2 of the 6 groups for the World Cup ’94 qualifiers did not contain the results of states breaking up or gaining independence since the 80’s. This continued fragmentation meant that the draw for Euro ’96 qualifying would rise to 47 countries with the addition of the other post-Soviet European countries and former Yugoslav states. This would increase even more into the future as the Balkans further divided, and the likes of Kazakhstan eventually joined.

As Europe and the world in general continue to evolve rapidly, who knows how differently qualification groups of the future may look compared with today, as the addition or removal of even more states is as inevitable as it always has been. That is, of course, should the concept of modern states continue to even exist.

International Duty: Club Group Banners At National Team Games #2 (Gallery)

In this series we take a look at the days when club colours were nearly more likely to adorn the stands than that of the country at some international games. For part the previous installment, click here.

Chile vs Brazil, World Cup Qualifier, 1989:
“Barra Juvenil” of Deportes Valdivia

Italy vs Wales, friendly, 1994:
“Freak Brothers”, “Fedayn”, “Brigate” and others of Ternana


Noteworthy: Like with Perugia as seen in International Duty #2, hammer and sickle and other left wing symbols appear at an Italy game:

Noteworthy 2: Apparently Italian TV decided that Wales flag was that of an inversed Scotland flag:

Poland vs Norway, World Cup Qualifier, 1993:
Banners of Bałtyk Gdynia, Lech Poznan and other Polish clubs

Germany vs Italy, friendly, 1995:
“Blue Boys” (club unknown), “Red Munichs” of Bayern Munich, “VfB Fans Gerlingen” of VfB Stuttgart, and others

Italy vs Croatia, European Championships Qualifier, 1994:
“Fossa”, club unknown (game in Palermo):