Brian Viner: Two-club supporters are just not acceptable

'Rimmer was thrown out of our gang for not being able to chose between Liverpool and Manchester City'

Far be it from this column to pronounce on the aftermath of the Hutton Inquiry, especially as some of you are probably enjoying refuge in the sports pages from further analysis of what kind of muesli Andrew Gilligan had for breakfast on the morning of June 17, 2003, why he eschewed the half-grapefruit, and whether Alastair Campbell knew about it.

That said, I find myself unable to shrug off a preoccupation with the affair, or at any rate with its explosive consequences in the higher echelons of the BBC.

For there is one deeply disturbing detail which I believe has eluded all the commentators, from Andrew Marr to Martin Tyler. The Sunday Times "Insight" team missed it yesterday, and so did Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight.

Charles Kennedy has not raised it in the House of Commons, nor has Ray Stubbs on Football Focus. Yet when you consider it, I think you will agree that it deserves full and frank public debate. Maybe even another inquiry.

Here are the facts. Following the shocking resignation last Thursday of the BBC's director-general, Greg Dyke, his deputy Mark Byford took on the job in an acting capacity. Byford, who has worked at the BBC for his entire professional life, is said to be favourite for the post full-time. He is regarded as somewhat humourless, yet "a safe pair of hands". But here's the thoroughly disquietingbit.

Byford supports both Leeds United and Southampton.

Have we endured seven months of fall-out from Andrew Gilligan's unscripted two-way at 6.07am on the May 29, 2003 edition of Radio 4's Today programme, all the lies, accusations, reports, recriminations and resignations, to wind up with a man at the helm of the BBC who thinks it acceptable to support two Premiership football clubs? Every self-respecting football fan knows that it is beyond the pale to support two clubs.

When I was a boy, Stephen Rimmer was thrown out of our gang for not being able to make his mind up between Liverpool and Manchester City. His dad was from Liverpool and Franny Lee had once ruffled his hair in an airport departure lounge, so his vacillation was under-standable, but at the same time unforgivable.

Even as 10-year-olds we knew that to follow two clubs indicated a fundamental character flaw. In the trenches of boyhood warfare, you did not want to entrust your life - or more importantly your penknife, conker collection or can of strawberry Cresta - to a chap who answered "Liverpool and Man City" to the all-important question: which footie team do you support?

It is only acceptable to support two football clubs if one is literally in a different league to the other. For instance, I feel able to lend my unequivocal support to both Everton of the Premiership and Southport of the Unibond League.

It's not unreasonable, either, to support one club yet have soft spots for others. I have an affection for Preston North End, on account of the fact that the Preston manager, Craig Brown, is a diamond geezer, and the president, Sir Tom Finney, a platinum one. And for Ipswich Town, because it is an admirable club and Joe Royle was my first football hero.

But to support two teams in the same division or even adjacent divisions is the sporting equivalent of bigamy; it makes you wonder what other deceptions the miscreant might be perpetrating. Similarly, I have never wholly trusted people who say they like football but don't follow a particular team; the suspicion is that you are dealing with a flint-hearted commitment-phobe. Or people who support one club and then switch allegiance to another; disloyal in football, disloyal in life. The two-club merchant, however, is the dodgiest creature of all.

There are those, I imagine, who would rather have a Leeds/Southampton fan as director-general of the BBC than a Manchester United fan. Greg Dyke, being from the Hounslow area, is an Old Trafford diehard. But there is nothing wrong with devotion to a single club, whatever the club, and everything wrong with devotion to two.

I therefore call for an inquiry into Byford's footballing predilections.

I know just the man to lead it, too. Derek Hatton is not only an Evertonian, but a man of scrupulous honesty and fair-mindedness, with a very distinguished career in public service. The Hatton Inquiry will then tell us whether a man who supports Leeds as well as Southampton should indeed be appointed to one of the most important jobs in the land.

And when called upon to give evidence, if he looks at all shifty when asked the killer question, "Peter Lorimer or Matt Le Tissier?", then he's sunk.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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