The Last Word: This political football is just about England
Arrogance wins the day as 'home nations' are steamrolled – but at least the FA will look good
Sunday 31 May 2009
It would only be right if an England football side took to the Wembley field in three years' time under the banner of "Great Britain". For it would nicely sum up the shameful myth about the 2012 Games. The Olympic bid might have been wrapped in a Union Flag and the politicians might have preached on about this "benefiting the whole of the UK" but this was always about England and only about England. They may as well appropriate the shirt because they have appropriated everything else.
In fact, it is becoming increasingly hard to understand why the other "home nations" should feel so enthused about this forthcoming Olympics. Yes, the jingoism and hoopla will doubtless make it a fortnight during which the majority from Bognor to Blaina, from Braemar to Bangor are swept along on a tide of patriotic fervour and a mighty "Rule Britannia" to that. But at what cost this short burst of feelgood? And paid for by whom and out of what?
Ask any Welsh sporting organiser (national or more importantly locally) what he or she thinks about the 2012 Olympics as their budgets are cut to the bone and the blade is traced directly right back to the heart of England. The Welsh Affairs committee "fear the country will lose around £100m in lottery money diverted to fund the event". That would be a damn sight easier to swallow if any cash happened to be heading back down the M4. But despite continued assurances from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that it was "committed to spreading the benefits across the UK", there is barely any physical or financial evidence of that commitment.
An MPs' report at the end of last year expressed concerns about the lack of Olympic events due to be staged in Wales – ironically it will amount to a few football games – and also discovered that Welsh businesses are set to make profits so paltry from the much-vaunted Olympics supply contracts that they are hardly worth recording. It is a similar story in Scotland and Northern Ireland. So what exactly are these benefits to the "whole of the UK"?
Ah, they will tell you, GB children, wherever they are, will watch the Games on TV and be inspired enough to unshackle themselves from that PlayStation and run out into the fresh air to launch their own personal bids for gold. What a pity that when they do run out there they will discover few fields to play on, fewer facilities to play with, and even less funding to maintain their new-found interest. So what will have been the point? Well, the politicians will have looked good.
And that is essentially what this latest Olympic football saga has been about. The FA want to look good, want to be seen to be doing the right thing, and in the process have done exactly the wrong thing. The other three countries have their reasons for not wanting to risk their independence and contrary to what those wonderfully naive souls believe – those who, God bless 'em, wanted to take the word of Sepp Blatter as a guarantee – this remains a clear and present risk. The FA know this and should have respected it, but pressed on with their idea of "going it alone". "There's very little we could do to stop them," said Rob Shorthouse, a Scottish FA spokesman.
No, only humility, or perhaps an inherent sense of democracy would have stopped them. In normal circumstances if you sat around a table with the three other members who supposedly form your "union", you would be expected to bow to the common will. The FA decided, however, that here was an exceptional case and, ridiculously, will now widely be regarded as heroes for making their stand. But not everywhere. In Scotland, Wales and Ulster there will be mutterings about English arrogance and quite rightly, too.
This will not be a GB team, no matter what it says on the badge. It will be an English team and will be there essentially because of English pigheadedness in steamrolling over the wishes and needs of their fellow home nations. Too much of 2012 will be marred by that stench.
Please go to Spain soon and end this Real farce
For roughly the 730th time in the last two years, one – or probably all – of the British national newspapers yesterday had a headline speculating on Cristiano Ronaldo moving to Real Madrid. Boring? Just an incey, wincey, weeny bit...
In fact, this saga has gone way beyond boring and descended into the mire of turgid farce. Its central character, of course, is the Portuguese playmaker/play-actor who through it all has flounced around like a big Jessie, rolling his eyes on occasion, getting all het-up on other occasions, but always seeming to be devouring the attention. Much as he acts on the pitch, as it happens.
Then there is Florentino Perez, the self-celebrated inventor of Los Galacticos who, in his desire to be re-elected as Real president, apparently believes no promise to be too transparent. This man would tell his audience he has lined up a front three of Bob The Builder, Postman Pat and Fireman Sam if he sensed that the under-three vote was to be crucial.
With respect to Manchester United supporters – who understandably find this on-off transfer excruciating for entirely different reasons, as they imagine European domination without their temperamental genius – the rest of us can only pray for a swift conclusion. Obviously, that would mean Ronaldo moving to the Bernabeu, but plenty of us have come around to the opinion, "well, so be it". To us, the tedium of the tale has long outweighed the talent of the talisman and if anyone deserves each other it's plainly these two. Cristiano and Florento. A match made in that hell called footballing heaven.
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