Football: Politicians on the pitch: Colin Brown reports on a new book that blows the whistle on MPs' football lives

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Sir Stanley Matthews showed his old wizardry yesterday at the launch of a book of football anecdotes by Members of Parliament.

Like an old pro spotting a gap in the defence, Sir Stan picked up one of the contributors who had suggested that MPs and footballers shared the same sense of insecurity about their employment.

'Yeah,' Sir Stan said. 'But when we play badly, we get dropped . . .'

The MPs in the audience went as red as their football caps and scarves. But Sir Stan was not finished.

'What if there were free transfers for MPs?' he asked.

What about the Speaker having a red card to send off foul-mouthed MPs? Sir Stan, ever the gentleman, was too discreet to suggest it.

Football, the great leveller, has brought together three Cabinet ministers, one Liberal Democrat (Alex Carlile, a Burnley supporter) a former leader of the Labour Party (Michael Foot, Plymouth Argyle's most famous fan) and a host of backbench MPs, including women such as Ann Taylor (Bolton) in a united show of support for what they call 'the people's game'.

The foreword to the book, Football and the Commons People, carries a photograph from a fanzine showing David Mellor and John Major watching Chelsea. Mellor is saying to the PM: 'Do you come here often?' Major replies: 'Only in an election year.'

But the book gives the lie to the suggestion that MPs only support their local team to curry favour with the constituents. MPs who turned out at the book's launch sporting their team colours included John Greenway, the Tory MP for York, in the red and white scarf of York City, Nick Hawkins, the Tory MP for Blackpool South, in the orange of the Seasiders' strip, and Mike Gapes, the Labour MP for Ilford South who supports West Ham, with a claret and blue umbrella.

However, the show of unity was short-lived. One of the book's co-editors, Alastair Campbell, who was recently appointed as Tony Blair's press secretary, pointed out some politicians were liked by the supporters. A fanatical Burnley supporter, he said he took Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader, to the Charlton v Burnley match last Saturday and the Burnley fans chanted: 'There's only one Neil Kinnock . . .'

There was bravery, too. Alan Simpson, although he is the Labour MP for Nottingham South, admits to pipedreams of playing in midfield for his native Everton.

The Opposition may also make capital out of the fact that Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, has three teams: Llanelli, Swansea City and Liverpool.

Howard and two Cabinet colleagues, David Hunt (Liverpool) and Kenneth Clarke (Nottingham Forest) contributed to the book, but boycotted a promotional book signing at the Tory Party conference a couple of weeks ago, because they thought Clarke had been stitched up over allegedly opposing the Taylor Report, which he denied.

The Chancellor, always a man for robust common sense, expresses doubts in the book about Baroness Thatcher's attempts in the 1980s to stamp out football hooliganism.

The Chancellor says: 'I never imagined that ID cards alone, or all-seat stadia alone, would deal with the problem.'

That led to a furore, with allegations that Mr Clarke had disowned the Taylor Report, which he denied. One of Mr Clarke's friends said Ken was miffed when he went to a home match and got 'chased around the car park' by the media as a result. The Shadow Chancellor, Gordon Brown (Raith Rovers and Cowdenbeath) was there. In the book, he describes following Scotland all 'o'er the world'. But he said watching Cowdenbeath, average attendance 268, had reinforced his commitment to give priority under a Labour government to 'training and skills'.

Football and the Commons People. Published by Juma with funds to Child Poverty Action Group ( pounds 9.95).

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