Commentary Box: Will the UK’s leaders play political football in 2017-18?
Posted on June 25, 2017
IT HAS been a dreadful time for the United Kingdom this past year. Notwithstanding the ongoing mess that is Brexit, we’ve had an inconclusive election, a further outbreak of terrorism, a terrible fire that could have been avoided and then, to end the past week, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn getting down with the kids at Glastonbury. Whatever next?
It does make you wonder if come 2017-18, we might see a political presence at some football matches. We know that Corbyn is an Arsenal fan – and probably one of the pro-Wenger brigade – but you cannot really imagine Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband turning up to see a game.There are stories, however, that Mrs May has some form of allegiance to Norwich City or AFC Wimbledon.
Labour has always been more at home with football than the Conservative party, although almost everyone today will claim they have a “team” – David Cameron, for example, was an Aston Villa fan, although you just cannot imagine Cameron on the Holt End, although he did belong to that gang of upper-class hooligans, the Bullingdon. I wonder if the reason Cameron claimed to be a Villa disciple was to keep in with the Royal Family (Prince Williams is a Villa fan) or merely an attempt to give the impression that he was not London-centric, either politically or personally. You would think that, with Chelsea on the doorstep of Parliament, and the club often linked with the more glamorous side of life, Blue would be the colour.
I’m afraid I am cynical and that Corbyn’s visit to Glastonbury was one of the most blatant attempts at off-season electioneering. He looked as authentic as Cameron used to appear when he went on a shop floor, stood atop a crate and rolled-up his sleeves, possibly calling everyone “mate”. I once saw Michael Portillo at Millwall and he looked as uncomfortable as a cat that had strolled, unwittingly, into Battersea Dogs’ Home. Nevertheless, you cannot deny that he’s winning more points than his opponents and he’s tapped into something.
Football has always been the sport of the “sweaty, horny-handed sons of the soil” and the pinky-ringed classes have always looked down upon the fan. Back in the 1970s, a future Bank of England governor, when told I was a Chelsea fan, frowned and suggested I might like to get interested in “rugger”, adding that it would help advance my career. While this well-known high street bank hosted a sherry party for its successful rugby XV in its executive suite, the equally successful “soccer” team was given a jug of beer to swill while being consigned to the “public bar” with the send-off: “You’ll like it there, chaps, there’s sawdust on the floor.” Bank employees then were more likely to be products of public schools or public school wannabees, and therefore, more familiar with the oval ball than the old pig’s bladder. It has changed a lot.
But UK politicians will surely wake-up to the opportunity that a big football crowd could provide, in much the same way Corbyn and his advisors saw Glastonbury as his chance to consolidate his gains. The fact is, Glastonbury looks more middle-class than working class and the students of today (especially those from the top universities) are probably the City of London capitalists of tomorrow. Idealism is often replaced by pragmatism when the higher tax bracket looms!
With Corbyn winning the battle for the minds of the young and Glastonbury another triumph for the avuncular comrade from cosmopolitan Islington, the next battleground might just be football. We’ve seen Corbyn with his red scarf draped around his neck (come on, Jeremy, you were born in Chippenham, you should be a Bluebirds’ fan), so he is clearly ahead. Theresa May might take a stroll along to see one of her home town teams (Eastbourne Borough awaits…).
There is an argument, of course, that politicians, like journalists, should be “neutral”. No place for that in football, apparently.