Brian Viner: Even for an Everton fan, Hodgson is not an easy man to dislike

The Last Word
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The Independent Online

We used to hear all the time the refrain that politics and sport shouldn't mix, but nobody bothers any more, because it would be like saying that Ant and Dec shouldn't mix.

Sport is a political football, cricket ball and rugby ball, a political javelin, discus and hammer; always has been, always will be.

It must therefore irk President Asif Ali Zardari no end that Pakistan's cricketers were humbled at Trent Bridge so soon after his country was dealt what he considered to be a grievous insult from David Cameron, regarding the "export of terror". If ever there was a politically opportune moment for Pakistan's Test cricketers to stick it up the English, that was it.

Actually, on reflection, there was an even more opportune moment, 56 Augusts ago at the Oval, where Fazal Mahmood took 12 for 99 to clinch, by 24 runs, victory against the England of Hutton, Compton and May. With that famous achievement, Mahmood, Hanif Mohammad and Co drew the four-match Test series, yet returned to their young country as conquering heroes. In 2004, shortly before the 50th anniversary of that match and, it turned out, less than a year before his death, Fazal told me over a crackling phone line about the rapturous welcome he and his team-mates had received in Karachi, after which he had continued home to Lahore on a train that was stopped repeatedly simply so that people could catch a glimpse of him. At Lahore station he was greeted by a crowd of 30,000, then driven to his father's house in an open-top Pontiac which, by the time it arrived, was full of flowers.

Keen as we are on our sport in this country, we've never known anything like that. The open-top bus parade by England's tired and emotional Ashes-winning cricketers in 2005 hardly compares, and in any case there was nothing political about it. Pakistan's drawn series in England in 1954, however, seven short years after Partition, was one of the most eloquent statements of nationhood that sport has ever produced, on a par with François Pienaar's Springboks hoisting the Webb Ellis Cup in 1995.

This marriage of sport and politics can, like all marriages, work out well or badly. In which category the mooted purchase of Liverpool FC will fall, if it does turn out to be funded by the state-owned Chinese Investment Corporation, is anybody's guess. Some cracking Bill Shankly stories from Ian St John, Ron Yeats and Chris Lawler on Time of Our Lives on Sky Sports on Monday night made me wonder what the old Ayrshire growler would make of such goings-on, and if I were a Liverpool fan, even a Liverpool fan who would place the club in the hands of Roger de Courcey and Nookie Bear if it meant removing it from those of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, I would have mighty concerns about a bid seemingly motivated by politics and economics.

Instead, I am an Evertonian, with mighty concerns about a newly enriched Liverpool backed by Chinese billions, a prospect that has done nothing to dilute the persecution complex that is practically part of an Everton fan's birthright. It would be bloody typical of that lot across Stanley Park, goes the lament, if just as we start to enjoy the fruits of our relationship with our sponsors Chang, giving the club a profile in the Far East, Liverpool go and get bought up by the Chinese government, making Chang look like very small beer indeed.

In the meantime, I confess to a slight but disconcerting new ambivalence about Liverpool, who weren't difficult to dislike when Rafa Benitez was manager. Roy Hodgson, by contrast, is so manifestly warm and decent that I feel as though I've lost a quiver full of my best arrows. It's as if a political party you've always rather despised has suddenly appointed as leader a chap you've always hugely respected. Sport and politics, you see. In a half-light, as with Ant and Dec, you can hardly tell them apart.

Warne bucks a growing trend but Botham fills the screen

Those nice people at Sky Sports invited me to play in their golf day on the Ryder Cup course at Celtic Manor a couple of weeks back, and I hope that not one but two mentions on this page will make them feel they got their money's worth, that's if they forgive me for indiscreetly mentioning that they couldn't find a shirt to fit another guest, a Mr S Warne. Not, I hasten to add, because the great man has ballooned, but because he's shrunk. The XL was like a tent on him, so they gave him an L, but that was too flappy too, so they had to go in search of a modest M.

It's rare to find a sportsman getting slimmer as he gets older, certainly not a process that applies to Warne's pal Sir Ian Botham, who was also at Celtic Manor. One of the purposes of the day was for the Sky technicians to rehearse their 3D coverage, and I can report that a shot of Beefy in 3D doesn't leave much room for the telegenic Usk valley in the background.

Jones comes last in sack race

For job security, I'd rather be a one-armed lion tamer than a Championship football manager. Fourteen of the 24 have been appointed in the past 12 months, and of the others, Dave Jones of Cardiff City is the stand-out veteran, having served just over five years.

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