The Three v. The Six: A European Football Story

'The Three v The Six' programme front cover
‘The Three v The Six’ programme front cover

Long ago, way back even before the ASRV Editor was born, Britain joined the Common Market (the precursor to the European Union). To commemorate this momentous step forward in post-war international relations, how did we celebrate? That’s right, we arranged a football match…

With Brexit looming ever closer (or not, as the case may be), we thought it might be interesting to revisit this game forty-six years on – and maybe see how the football world reacted to our entry into Europe.

Held at Wembley Stadium on January 3rd 1973, this was a match between ‘The Three’, the countries who had just joined the Common Market (the UK, Ireland and Denmark), and ‘The Six’, the countries who were already members (West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France).

England 1966: England manager Sir Alf Ramsey
Manager of ‘The Three’, Sir Alf Ramsey

Some seriously famous names took to the Wembley pitch for both sides, including Bobby Charlton, Pat Jennings, Bobby Moore, Johnny Giles, Franz Beckenbauer, Dino Zoff, Berti Vogts, and Gerd Müller to name but a few.

‘The Three’ were managed by Sir Alf Ramsey, and ‘The Six’ by Helmut Schön (Ramsey’s German opposite number in the 1966 World Cup final). Interviewed about the match, Sir Alf refused to be drawn on the political side of things, commenting only that “[a]ll big Wembley occasions should be cherished”.

The players were equally vague about their views on the matter in a way that you’d never see today. Pat Jennings declared himself “really not interested” in the Common Market, and Alan Ball simply had concerns about “whether or not it will make my family’s summer holidays cheaper”.

Johnny Giles was more on message with an Irish viewpoint:

A small country like Ireland needs close business and trade links with other European nations, so I’m certainly in favour.

Their concerns were more with the game itself, obviously. But they needn’t have worried. Poor old Helmut Schön was on the losing side at Wembley again, as ‘The Three’ scored twice with no reply in the second half – the goals coming from Denmark’s Henning Jensen and Scotland’s Colin Stein. Quite a start to this new European adventure…

If you’d like to see those goals, here’s a newsreel snippet from the game:

Many thanks to Sid, who uncovered this unusual (and strangely relevant) match!


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