Banks puts Uefa in parliamentary pillory

Europe's governing body is anti-English and soft on racism, says the former Sports Minister
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The Independent Online

The former Sports Minister, Tony Banks, is stepping down as an MP after the election, but as you might expect, he is not going quietly. Last week he was again furiously wielding his renowned verbal cudgel on behalf of the sporting love of his life, Chelsea FC, who he believes have been treated "outrageously" by Uefa in the current acrimonious contretemps.

The former Sports Minister, Tony Banks, is stepping down as an MP after the election, but as you might expect, he is not going quietly. Last week he was again furiously wielding his renowned verbal cudgel on behalf of the sporting love of his life, Chelsea FC, who he believes have been treated "outrageously" by Uefa in the current acrimonious contretemps.

When it comes to a game of political football, there is still no one better at putting the boot in, though his castigating of a governing body "who seem to be run by officials who are both soft on racism and long on anti-English sentiment" was better received by Parliament than by subsequent radio phone-ins, most calls originating from outside the battle lines drawn around Stamford Bridge.

Not that this would bother Banks. Neither public opinion nor the media have much moderated his views in the past, and he is not about to start mellowing after 22 years of uproarious boat-rocking at Westminster.

Uefa, he says, have made it impossible for the club to have a fair or impartial hearing. "They have called Jose Mourinho and Steve Clarke liars, but why would they lie? What their director of communications has said has completely compromised Chelsea, who are right to defend themselves vigorously. Uefa have gone right over the top, and the FA should be making the strongest possible protest." His latest Commons motion, one of four he put down on football last week, three of them on Chelsea, called on Parliament to suggest they do so.

"It boils down to whether that conversation between Frank Rijkaard and Anders Frisk, who, let's face it, was a bit of a prima donna, took place. If it is proved that it did then Mourinho was quite right to make a complaint about it, though anyone who sends death threats [as some so-called fans are alleged to have done] should be banned for life.

"But racism is a far more evil and corrupt influence in football than something Mourinho may have said, but you can bet Uefa are determined to crack down far more heavily on him than they did on the Spanish manager [Luis] Aragones. I would like to have heard Herr Roth [Volker Roth, chairman of Uefa's referees' committee] say something about Aragones being the 'enemy of football'."

Of course, there will be those who say that the 61-year-old Banks is looking at what has happened through blue-tinted spectacles, and that had he still been Sports Minister, a post that he occupied for more than two turbulent years after Labour were re-elected in 1997, he might have had to take a more circumspect approach, both over this issue and the Ashley Cole "tapping-up" affair.

"It doesn't matter whether I was Sports Minister or not, these cases are not yet proven. If it turns out that Peter [Kenyon] and Jose went to a London hotel to meet up with Cole, that would be a bit unwise, to put it mildly. If that's the case, I don't know what they were thinking about. But before we throw our hands up in mock horror, this stuff goes on all the bloody time in football. I am not happy about it, because you have to set the highest standards on and off the pitch. But I don't want to start taking lessons in morality from some of the commentators around today. The crime in football is as much being caught as doing it."

To some, as Sports Minister, Banks was all mouth and howlers, but his genuine passion for sport and knowledge of it was superior to most who have held the job. One of the things he will be doing when he quits Parliament is spending more time with his Chelsea "family". He is on their Centenary Year Committee, and will be helping run the benevolent fund for former players which he originated.

His association with Chelsea began as a schoolboy, when he lived in Brixton and was taken to matches by his father. He saw them win the League in 1954-55 and recalls how he used to stuff the programmes into his jumper and cycle back home to make sure they didn't get creased. He is now having them bound into a book in his jubilee year as a true-Blues brother. "We won the champ-ionship in our fiftieth year and now we are on target again in our hundredth, so no one can accuse us of being greedy."

He says that in his wildest dreams he could never have envisaged what has happened to Chelsea since the advent of the great oligarch from the oilfields of Russia. "No one on earth could see that coming. We were improving under Claudio Ranieri and I think eventually we would have got the Premiership. This has accelerated the process, but I have to take issue with those who say we are buying the title.

"Like Real Madrid are buying it? Who had heard of players like Carvalho and Ferreira, Cech and Jarosik prior to us buying them? Everyone says, 'What about Joe Cole?' Well, Joe Cole was going nowhere, underperforming. And Frank Lampard? 'Fat Frank' as they used to call him at West Ham. Their supporters reckoned we must have more money than sense to buy someone like him.

"So don't tell me we're buying the title. Any idiot can buy players as Real Madrid have done, but that doesn't mean you win things; you have to weld them into a team. We haven't bought anyone as expensive as Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand. There are no galacticos in our team, perhaps other than JT [John Terry], and he's homegrown.

"Mourinho is a terrific motivator, he has created the most enormous bonding within the club. Most things he does are calculated. He can out-psych anyone in the game."

Banks went on record as being uncomfortable and deeply suspicious when Roman Abramovich bought the club. "I didn't know who the guy was, and people emerging from Russia in circumstances like that you must always sup with from a long spoon. But I've got to know him reasonably well and he seems genuine. I think he really loves the club like the rest of us, and wants to stay with it."

Banks says he elected not to stay in politics because "22 years is long enough, and there are other things I want to do". He is a collector of political art and is preparing to write a book on Charles James Fox, the 18th-century politician.

"I've got a range of interests which give me enormous personal and intellectual satisfaction. Some people seem to think I am an oaf, but I have got three degrees you know."

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