MPs play in country's interest

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ON WEDNESDAY night, amid a welling of patriotic fervour, a Hungarian national football team will step out on to the turf of Budapest's fabled National Stadium to do battle with their British counterparts.

Broadcast live on Hungarian television, and organised personally by the country's Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, the game is being feted as the ultimate grudge match, scheduled on the 45th anniversary of England's legendary 6-3 defeat at Wembley by Hungary.

The visitors are keen to avenge the ignominy of their predecessors and the crowd will be hugely partisan.

But there will be no Michael Owen, Alan Shearer or David Seaman among the British. The hopes of a nation are to be pinned, for once, on the most unlikely of heroes: politicians.

Hungary's MPs are taking on their British counterparts in a match that is stirring up remarkable interest in a country whose real national football team has fallen even further in international esteem since 1953 than any of ours.

The Hungarians' star is Mr Orban, who at 36 makes Tony Blair look positively geriatric.

But the British parliamentary team, unbeaten for 18 months, is enjoying a resurgence Glenn Hoddle would be proud of. The influx of young New Labour MPs, combined with professional coaching, has led to an "increasingly good team who are very menacing at set pieces", according to a member of the parliamentary press corps team, which recently lost 2-1 and 4- 3 to the MPs.

Among the stars of the all-Britain team are Jim Murphy (Eastwood), a tough midfielder, Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South), who makes an athletic goalkeeper, and Alan Simpson (Nottingham South).

In a development that will alarm certain sections of the House, the MPs' success came after they adopted policies from the continent, with a passing game replacing the old "hoof it and hope" style.

"We've developed a real discipline of working together and playing the ball to the feet," said Mr Simpson, who as a schoolboy had trials for Everton.

The squad is dominated by Labour MPs, but two Tories, Euro-sceptic Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley), and Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) are regulars, as is Liberal Democrat Andrew George (St Ives).

Mr Simpson, an Old Labourite, put a recent victory by English MPs over Scots down to the fact that the latter team, dominated by New Labourites, "had no left flank".

"The Tories tend to play on the right, and the Lib-Dems have good ideas but can be all over the place," he added.