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Pearce will follow in Sir Matt Busby’s footsteps

Team GB manager Stuart Pearce will finally discover who his side will face at the London 2012 Olympics when the draw for the tournament is made on Tuesday.

As Pearce leads his side out for their first group match against as yet unknown opponents at a sold out Old Trafford on July 26, he will follow in the footsteps of one of Manchester United's most famous managers.

Legendary United boss Sir Matt Busby managed the GB side on the last occasion that London staged the Olympics back in 1948.

The Olympics football tournament is now open to professionals and restricted to mainly Under-23 players, but when Busby took charge, only supposed amateur players could play.

Not all countries upheld the distinction as thoroughly as the British.

A team of school teachers, doctors and civil servants

Busby's side faced a virtually full-strength Dutch team in the first round but his team of school teachers, doctors and civil servants surprisingly won a thrilling battle 4-3 after extra time.

France were edged 1-0 in the quarter-finals before GB were beaten by Yugoslavia, who - like the rest of the communist Eastern bloc – insisted all players were amateurs even though most were employed by the state and did nothing but play football.

Busby's side lost the bronze medal play-off to Denmark 5-3 and that was the closest that GB have ever come to winning an Olympic medal since claiming gold in 1912.

Busby's 1948 side was drawn from all four Home Nations, but many of Pearce's other predecessors were either restricted to Englishmen by football politics or simply ignored the other Home Nations.

England manager Walter Winterbottom took charge at Helsinki in 1952 and 10 of his starting XI against Luxembourg in the preliminary round were English.

A 5-3 thrashing was the Olympic side's nadir and Norman Creek, a former Corinthian and full England international, took charge in 1956.

Invited to Melbourne

The Melbourne Games were played in November and the other Home Nations would not release players during the middle of the British season.

That didn't seem a problem when the Englishmen were knocked out in the qualifiers by Bulgaria, but Creek's team were invited to Melbourne after a raft of withdrawals only to be knocked out by Bulgaria – again.

In 1960, GB were forced to qualify again. Managed by Creek again, GB topped their qualifying group unbeaten ahead of the Netherlands and Ireland to qualify for the Rome finals.

No Welshmen made the cut for Creek's squad, but three Northern Irishmen and four Scots travelled with a dozen Englishmen to Rome, where GB put up a decent showing, losing 4-3 to Brazil, drawing 2-2 with hosts Italy then beating Taiwan 3-2.

There were no quarter-finals. Group winners went straight into the semi-finals, so GB were knocked out in the first round in the side's last outing at an Olympic finals.

Long ball guru

Creek quit midway through the 1964 qualifiers and was replaced by the notorious long ball guru Charles Hughes, who before he became the FA's director of coaching, also managed the old England amateur team.

Hughes doubled up as Olympics manager but his team went down 5-3 on aggregate to a Greek side later ejected for being professionals. No player outside of England or Scotland ever started under Hughes again after those qualifiers.

GB overcame West Germany in the first round of the 1968 qualifiers but were denied a place in Mexico by Spain. Hughes again took charge of GB in the qualifiers for the 1972 Munich Olympics and even beat Bulgaria at Wembley.

In the return in Sofia in May 1971, Bulgaria won 5-0 but GB keeper John Swannell admitted that the Bulgarians could have scored 20. The two-legged tie was a total mismatch, as many of Bulgaria's XI were at the 1970 World Cup finals and GB's 1-0 win in the first leg had been a monumental upset.

Prior to the last London games in 1948, the managers, who included Sir Stanley Rous in 1936, had not been managers in the current sense.

Instead, the team was guided by coaches, which included Fulham's Bill Voisey in Berlin in 1936, Cardiff's George Latham (1920) and Adrian Birch of Crystal Palace in 1912, when GB last won gold. Alfred Davis also won gold at London in 1908 and Stuart Pearce will be expected to do the same at London 2012.

By Steve Menary

Steve Menary is the author of GB United? British Olympic football & the end of the amateur dream (Pitch Publishing).


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