The Last Word: Last call to save football's soul

Community spirit and idealism are facing extinction in a sport devoid of natural justice and integrity

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The Independent Football

Rangers belong to Glasgow.

They may have to beg for bread and a place to play, but the fleeting notion of stealing the identity of a lowly English football club such as Bury was too callous to contemplate. The supposed threat of relocation was the perfect silly-season story. It was dismissed as a shabby attempt to shape public opinion, a shameless ruse to limit the damage of liquidation, but in the current climate it had a perverse logic.

Bury buried? Small earthquake in a mill town in Greater Manchester, few people hurt. Rangers smuggled across the border? Simplistic answer to a complicated problem.

Precedent offers an alibi to those who have no feel for a club's central role in their community, however small or apparently insignificant. Franchising was legitimised when removal men transported Wimbledon's goods and chattels up the M1, to form Milton Keynes Dons.

The iniquitous Football Creditors rule ensures the little people pay for institutionalised negligence. Football encourages influential individuals to walk away from calamity without a backwards glance. It is being reshaped by stealth. Old certainties, traditional loyalties, are eroding. The dreams we had as children are being lost, like milk teeth.

It still provides national diversions, such as Wayne Rooney's hair weave, and Roy Hodgson's reputation as the bank clerk who went to war, but outside the bubble of Euro 2012 it has been business as usual.

The grotesque spectacle of Portsmouth's insolvency resumes tomorrow, when a supporters' trust will seek to prevent the businessman Balram Chanrai becoming the club's owner, for the third time.

Few people outside the city will care, because the financial complexities are mind-numbing, the central characters are deeply unattractive, and the tale is all too familiar.

The bitter comedy of errors at Blackburn Rovers continues. Their new director of football, Shebby Singh, an obscure Asian TV pundit, walked into an ambush when he was unveiled in midweek.

He praised Steve Kean, then had his condemnatory comments about the hapless manager which appeared in a Singapore newspaper thrown back in his face. It is tempting to mock Singh's credentials, but such casual cruelty misses the point. The club became locked in a death spiral when strategy was shaped by an agent and a rights agency.

Across the Pennines, Doncaster Rovers are similarly stricken. The decision of the owner, John Ryan, effectively to cede control to another agent ensured he was unwelcome in certain Championship boardrooms last season. Willie McKay's plan to use Doncaster as a shop window for mercenaries caused widespread offence, and resulted in relegation.

The new orthodoxy, that clubs are merely investment vehicles, invites those without emotional engagement to slow down and rubberneck at the car crash. But what happens if you recognise the victim?

Watford are the club where I became entranced by football's rhythms and rituals. It wasn't much, but it was home. Graham Taylor instilled a family ethos, generated unlikely success, but the dream has proved unsustainable. The current owner, who changed his name from Laurence Bazini to Bassini when he was made bankrupt in 2007, grandly announced on Friday night that a takeover attempt, by the Pozzo family, had collapsed.

Cynicism shrouds what was once an idealistic institution. I fully expect the club to be sold, stripped of their identity, and subjugated to the business plan. Watford, like Granada in La Liga, will become a feeder club to Udinese, the Pozzo's principal investment. It will be a place to park players, develop their resale value. A promising manager, Sean Dyche, will doubtless be sacrificed in favour of Gianfranco Zola, a friend of the Pozzo family. The fans are an irrelevance.

If football obeyed the laws of natural justice, Portsmouth would be liquidated. If integrity counts for anything, Rangers will be forced to begin again in the Scottish Third Division.

Hang the bunting out for tonight's quarter-final against Italy, by all means. But it is merely a diversion. It is time to reclaim the game, before it ceases to matter.

Hodgson restores hope and humility

Franco Baldini, Italo Galbiati, Franco Tancredi, Massimo Neri, Stefano Tirelli, Christian Lattanzio. Let's hope your boys take one helluva beating. Forgive the lapse in objectivity, but the myth of Fabio Capello's invincibility is beginning to grate.

He, and his aforementioned Italian assistants, have left no appreciable legacy, apart from another black hole in the Football Association's budget.

Capello is a man whose time has passed, a martinet whose ambition to secure a Premier League sinecure must be resisted.

To argue otherwise is to miss the significance of the goodwill Roy Hodgson's England team will take into tonight's game against Italy.

It is a result of their authenticity, and exposes the emptiness of the usual prattle about Lions and Bulldogs.

The virtues of Hodgson's players are as familiar as their shortcomings. We're comfortable with earnestness, even a sudden outbreak of humility.

Steven Gerrard, so often an anguished figure in an England shirt, has transformed the captaincy from a chore to a crusade.

Let's not get carried away. A semi-final against a side of Germany's cohesion, pace and movement would be potentially humiliating.

But, for now, enjoy the simple pleasure of hope. It's a nice change from the pain of unrealistic expectation.

It's not cricket

What defines cricket? Salman Butt walking to freedom on a carpet of rose petals? Danish Kaneria reciting the litany of a cheat – deny, deny, deny?

Or Surrey and Essex expressing grief at Tom Maynard’s death before producing a last-ball thriller on a blustery night? No contest.

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