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Why do England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland play as separate teams if they belong to the UK?

The United Kingdom’s status not only as the inventor of football, but also as a pioneer of the international game, is why the four members of the UK – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – are allowed to compete as separate national teams.

After the first universal laws of the game were drawn up by the English Football Association (FA) in 1863, the year of the body’s founding, it was England and Scotland who played what is recognized as the first-ever international football match, a 0-0 draw held in Glasgow in November 1872.

By the time FIFA was established in 1904, it was felt the UK’s national associations were too powerful to be forced to combine into one, at the same time as there was an acceptance that their involvement was essential to the credibility of the newly-created world governing body.

The home nations’ exceptional status as separate footballing countries has had to be written into FIFA’s statutes. To be a FIFA member and, in turn, gain permission to compete as a FIFA -recognized country, the current regulations state that a nation’s football association must first be a part of its regional confederation- in this case, UEFA, the European game’s governing body.

Though the United Kingdom refers to itself as a union of four different countries, none of them are internationally recognized independent states; that description only applies to the UK as a whole. Thankfully for the FA, SFA, FAW, and IFA, FIFA’s statutes add that article 11 paragraph 1 is subject to article 11 paragraph 5, which states: “Each of the four British associations shall be recognized as a separate member association of FIFA.” 

England edged to a 1-0 win over Croatia in their Euro 2020 opener on Sunday as Raheem Sterling scored a second-half winner at Wembley. For their next game, they will be facing Scotland on Friday at 9 pm. 

Scotland opened their first major tournament match in 23 years with a 2-0 defeat to the Czech Republic at Euro 2020, with Patrik Schick scoring twice.

Wales draw 1-1 with Switzerland in their opening game, next they will face Turkey on Wednesday at 6 pm.

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