Northern Ireland ‘on guard’ for attempt to make ‘united British’ football team

Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales should be on their guard against any threat to strip the home nations of their separate status, senior figures have warned.

There was a concerted effort in the 1970s and 80s by some nations to make home nations play as one “united British” team, and the crisis at FIFA which will see a new president elected to replace Sepp Blatter has raised fresh concern.

Northern Ireland FA president Jim Shaw said: “Any change has always got that potential, even if at the moment there is no evidence of a threat.

“We have twice gone through the Olympic issue – for London 2012 and then again earlier this year. The three Celtic nations Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales decided not to get involved in that because of the pressure we experienced in the 1970s and 80s.”

Scottish FA chief executive Stewart Regan said the issue of pressure for one British team was a constant presence.

He said: “It has been under threat for the last 30 or 40 years. The fact of the matter is that we are independent football nations and we will continue to fight for that.

“It’s always on the radar and has been for a long time, and we will continue to work with our colleagues at the FA, Wales and Ireland.”

Meanwhile, the US $10 million payment at the centre of World Cup bribes has taken a new twist after it emerged FIFA initially said it wanted to administer the money for a legacy programme – but then agreed to let the cash be sent from its account to Jack Warner.

A new leaked letter has shown FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke wrote to the South African government in September 2007 that it had been agreed “for FIFA to administer” the cash that was being given to Caribbean football.

Less than six months later, after a request from the South African FA, FIFA organised for the money would go from its bank account to Warner’s – and to be “administered and implemented directly” by the man now facing extradition to the USA on bribery charges.

Warner’s former deputy Chuck Blazer has pleaded guilty in a US court to taking part of the $10 million as a bribe to vote for South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup.

A FIFA spokeswoman insisted there was “never any intention” to administer the fund and that it just “facilitated” a reallocation of funds at the request of the South African government.

She said via email: “Actually it would not be ’right and proper’ for FIFA to have administered (it) because this programme had nothing to do with FIFA.

“It made sense for FIFA to facilitate that reallocation, and that is all FIFA did.”