Thursday, 5 March 2009

Political balls

In his play Julius Caesar, Shakespeare gave us the lines:
Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
That's because international football was not played in the sixteenth century, or this supreme explorer of the ups and downs of human existence would surely also have had to cover the England football team when considering apprehensions of death. I die a death whenever the England football team loses. I was in two weeks' mourning after England failed to qualify for Euro 2008. I strongly suspect that Shakespeare would have felt the same.

With the possible exception of Wales, each of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom are football nations. I enjoy watching six nations rugby, but it might as well be tiddly-winks compared with football, and I am pretty certain that most people in Scotland and Northern Ireland feel the same.

What the hell therefore is the (English) Football Association up to, and why do they seem so content to align themselves with the government's proposals for a British under-23 football team in the London Olympics of 2012. Gordon Brown has a Britishness agenda which seems to compel him to want to see Britain in everything, so I can at least understand where he is coming from when pressing for a British football team in the Olympics. I can even understand Sebastian Coe of the Olympic Delivery Authority, also now a politician (albeit from a different party), making himself blind to the consequences of his support for Gordon Brown's proposal, and as another mitigating factor probably his being a Chelsea supporter has resulted in him only having half a football brain left anyway.

But why is Lord Triesman, the current FA Chairman, the man supposed to be representing the interests of English football, taking Gordon Brown's agenda without quibble? I find it mystifying: possibly it is yet another example of how football and politics don't mix. Lord Triesman is a very able man, but let it be remembered that he is also now at heart a politician and was a junior Minister and government spokesman in the Lords until he resigned this week to avoid giving the impression to FIFA of there being political involvement in the 2018 World Cup bid.

The Scottish FA's analysis and leadership on this issue is completely right. The fact of the matter is that having four home nations separately represented in international football is an anomaly, which we are lucky to have and must guard jealously. We will only be able to do so for as long as we do not give FIFA a reason or excuse for reviewing the position. Fielding a British football team at the Olympics will give rise to a pointless hostage to fortune for very little benefit. Olympic football at the end of the day counts for nothing: it is the World Cup and the European Championship which are the pinacles of international football achievement for the home nations. It would be a tragedy to put at jeopardy English (and Scottish, Welsh and Nothern Irish) representation in world football simply so a few under 23s can run around a football pitch in the Olympics.

Nothing any individual member of FIFA says now makes any difference to this analysis. FIFA members come and go; international football goes on forever (or at least, until the sun becomes a red giant or there is earlier thermal runaway in the earth's climate). What is said by FIFA now will have very little impact on what is thought by FIFA in 10 or 20 years time. Politicians of all people should realise this.

My message is threefold:

Politicians: Keep out of football.

Gordon Brown: Even if you are not solely responsible, you have figured large in the ruination of our economy, please do not ruin football too.

The Football Association: Remember what and who you represent. Object wholeheartedly to this misconceived proposal by supporting the other home football associations in their opposition.

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