I’m not sure who it was that first came up with the quote, “sport and politics should never mix” (there seem to be a number of candidates – no political pun intended) but generally it seems to be a sensible policy… in an ideal world.
Football – the ‘beautiful game’. Politics – ‘an ugly business’. Oil and water. Never the twain shall meet you might hope.
But of course with a General Election looming next May and all shades of political leanings desperate to lure the populist vote, it seems the round ball game is becoming… well, a bit of a political football.
From Nick Clegg giving his opinion on whether former Canary Ched Evans should resume his career at Sheffield United now he’s been released from clink, to Boris Johnson cruelly tripping a young ‘opponent’ in a kids kick-about, and all media opportunities and political colours in between.
Does all this interest the ‘average’ footy fan (a pigeon hole into which I fit snuggly) who, on the whole, has little interest in the cogs and gears of the parliamentary machine?
I have no problem with politicians who claim their undying support to a club – they are welcome to some downtime outside of the wacky world of Westminster. Norwich are of course ‘graced’ by the support of Shadow Chancellor and former right-hand man to Gordon Brown, Ed Balls.
The honourable MP for Morley & Outwood (West Yorkshire) has always been considered a bit of a political ‘bruiser’ and seems to take that reputation onto the pitch now. In a recent politicians-journalists match, his stray elbow dishonourably met the face of an opponent who was left with blood pouring from a wound close to his eye. George Osborne be warned!
If you live in Norwich then you may be familiar with the names, Chloe Smith (Con: Norwich North – majority of 3901) and Simon Wright (Lib-Dem: Norwich South – majority of 310). Ms Smith is a keen cyclist and badminton player (football interest unknown) while Mr Wright’s Twitter photo is accompanied by the Canaries badge. Has anyone seen him at Carrow Road?
The Prime Minister himself rather bizarrely claims (along with even more bizarrely, Prince William) to follow the Villa. I’m not too sure how many times either man has been to Birmingham but it seems that Paul Lambert’s knighthood is assured if he guides his men to Premier glory. Unlikely I know.
Nor do I have an issue with footballers using their fame and influence in seeking a political role once the boots have been packed away.
Sol Campbell has recently announced his interest in joining the Conservative Party. Make of that what you will but at least it shows ambition and a desire to make a difference beyond the muddy pitch if into the muddier world of Westminster.
99.9 per cent of footballers would rather spend their time knocking a golf ball about or appearing on a ‘celebrity’ TV show involving slug eating or the Viennese Waltz so, whatever your opinion on Sol, I would commend him for taking his life after football seriously.
One area where political action is surely welcomed by the majority is the introduction of ‘cross-party’ calls for action in setting up a public inquiry to address a particular issue. A fine example of this category is the ‘Concussion Can Kill‘ effort led by Chris Bryant MP (Labour) calling for a serious debate/action on the issue of head injury in sport and the short and long term effects suffered by individuals.
In football, the most well-known historic cases are of Jeff Astle (WBA) and our own Duncan Forbes from repetitive heading back in the old heavier ball days. More recent examples involving Premier League keepers also highlight the need for action.
Hopefully this effort will give the FA a much needed kick up their collective backside to release a long overdue report which they claim to have compiled from research on the subject.
Where the ‘line’ begins to become fuzzy maybe and where I get a bit queasy is when political parties begin to lever policies into their manifestos, and there seems to be plenty of that going on as the Tory-Lib Dem coalition begins to crack as it enters its final phase.
The Lib Dems look to be leading the way with stated political initiatives in support of the issues of safe standing areas at football grounds and action on homophobic chanting within grounds. The Labour party has recently come out in support of legislation for greater fan involvement in the running of clubs. All very important topics but should they be left to the whim of politicians seeking re-election? As far as I can tell, neither the Tories or an upwardly mobile UKIP have yet to build in football-related policies ahead of the campaign trail but it wouldn’t come as a shock if they did.
Is such policy making to be commended and welcomed as a genuine attempt to address a pressing issue or dismissed with contempt as just being a cheap, populist stab at vote grabbing?
Personally, I suspect the latter.
It seems football is ‘fair game’ for politics with every vote counting. Which box will I be ticking? I honestly don’t know but, whoever I decide on, their football policies will not be a priority. How about you?