With Premier League club’s transfer spending surpassing a billion pounds for the first time this summer, it adds to the age-old debate of which is the strongest league in Europe. There used to be a fixture which helped find the answer.
For over 100 years an English Football League XI faced a Scottish, Irish, and Italian league counterpart. Not to be confused with the Anglo-Italian and Anglo-Scottish Cup which involved club sides, the fixtures consisted of a select team of players playing in the respective leagues at the time.
The Football League’s first games against the Scottish League came in 1892 and 1893, followed by a 4-2 win over the Irish League in 1894. Regular fixtures continued and later the English League faced an Italian League side in 1960; a 4-2 defeat at the Stadio San Siro. A further three ties between the two followed that decade.
The fixture returned on 16 January 1991 in Naples when the EFL lost 3-0 to Serie A, the most cosmopolitan league in the world at the time. The Italian League squad included Marco van Basten, Diego Simeone, Lothar Matthaus and Paolo Di Canio. Diego Maradona, who was playing for Napoli at the time, was due to play in the game but had to return to Argentina after a family illness.
The Football League side was also strong with the likes of John Barnes, Ian Rush, David Seaman and Lee Dixon. Their manager at the time, Lawrie McMenemy, praised both sets of players for their desire to play in the match. The tie though struggled to capture the imagination of the public with many tickets given away for free. However, positive discussions took place regarding a further fixture at Anfield.
The last match, and 13th of its kind, took place on 21 February 2006 in Hull which was an under-21s affair. The Football League won the game 1-0 and featured Manchester United’s Ashley Young, Watford’s Ben Watson and Leicester City’s 2015/16 Premier League winning captain Wes Morgan.
The Italian League had the edge over the English Football League winning the majority of inter-league games on record between the two. Familiar faces featured in the fixture over the years but dwindling attendances meant the tie ultimately came to an end.
Today the Premier League can boast as being the wealthier division resulting in such deals as Manchester United’s acquisition of Paul Pogba for a record transfer fee. Although with Juventus performing strongly in recent Champions League campaigns, who would win between the two leagues today?
All of the Football League’s inter-league results can be found here.
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