Mary Dejevsky: This tiresome football fervour of politicians

It is accepted that football is the one sport that truly unites the nation. What poppycock
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The Independent Online

It was on learning that Gordon Brown (Chancellor of the Exchequer, Blair-heir apparent) was off to Cologne last night to support England in their latest "quest" for World Cup "glory" that I finally gave up the unequal struggle. My response was something like the primal scream of those colourful and much-stolen Munch paintings. Please, ple-e-ase, just stop this nonsense. Get back to work (or your expectant wife, or winsome toddler). How can anyone expect all the bus drivers, street cleaners, Jobcentre advisers and the rest of us to turn up to work as normal if the lads at the top have already caved in to this hysteria for the "national" game?

All right, so Gordon put in an ostentatiously full day's work before he went - which is more than some London bus drivers appeared to do, judging by the queues at the stops I passed. But is this football frenzy really necessary? On Monday evening, the Prime Minister, no less, spent an hour in a BBC studio talking... football, from a sort of pop-political perspective.

It is not the first time he has exploited football madness to reach the parts of Britain his purer political musings might not reach. And those who know about these things say he came across as pretty knowledgeable - which is a relief, I suppose. Perhaps, in common with too many men of a certain age and privilege, he simply fancies - now that he is past kicking a ball around himself - that he missed his true vocation way back when. But things have reached a pretty pass, have they not, when we have two flags flying over Downing Street: the Union flag for propriety, and the cross of St George to support you-know-who.

Which brings us back to Gordon, who clearly has more than football on his mind. And I doubt that this "more" is either the mess over working family tax credits or the optimum shape of pension reform. No, it looks suspiciously like the English vote. Mr Brown watched the previous England match on an old-fashioned non-flatscreen television in his rather fusty-looking Downing Street flat, swigging beer and cheering on the home side. The home side being England, of course.

We know all this because he invited reporters from a Sunday newspaper to join him and witness to his partisanship. While a good number of his compatriots were rooting for Trinidad & Tobago, the Chancellor was chewing his nails in the Sassenach cause and extolling his Anglo-Scottish wife as his link with "Middle England".

And there is more, much more, that Mr Brown could wring from his football fervour. By this morning, we may learn that he flew easyJet to and from Cologne (to mix it with the masses) or, better still, German wings, to foster Anglo-German friendship. Or perhaps he gave his ticket to a wide-eyed little German boy at the entrance to the stadium and watched the match on a big open-air screen instead. He may even have spent the night kipping down on the spotless concrete floor of a German multi-storey car park, the better to appreciate what his less pecunious adopted fellow-countrymen suffer for their patriotism.

The permutations are as long - or as short - as England's prospects of survival. Will the Cabinet be sending a Scottish minister to each future match to earn a set of English spurs? If anyone in government is to represent England in the early rounds, it is profligate in the extreme to send anyone higher than the Sports minister.

Where did this special relationship with football come from, anyway? The English (and the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish) take part in a whole range of sports at international level, as individuals and as teams. Somehow along the way, however, it has become accepted that football - unlike rugby, cricket, tennis or athletics - is the one classless sport that truly unites the nation. What poppycock.

Football is classless only because it was embraced, faddishly, by the "new men" of the English middle classes who patronised those whose game it really was. Its "laddishness" gave them the chance to indulge their inner brute. Young women took up the challenge to follow suit. New, all-seat football-watching was the perfect sport for New Labour. Alastair Campbell - the football-mad former spin doctor who is now blogging via the Labour Party website from Germany (at whose expense?) - has much to answer for.

It is beyond time that football took its place among other sports pursued no less keenly by other Britons. Beyond time, too, that enthusiasm for sport was relegated to the private zone of politicians' lives rather than exploited as an entrée into the private time of voters. Oh for the days of Edward Heath and Morning Cloud. Yachting was what he did on weekends and holidays. Every now and again he won a race.

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