by Andrew Godsell
We are used to the term political football being bandied about, usually to describe an issue that is a source of long-running contention between different political parties.
Now that we are in a General Election campaign, as the Labour reds and Conservative blues battle for national power, it is a good time to look at the football affiliations of some prominent politicians – without getting bogged down in any heavy debate.
It looks certain that either the Labour or Tory teams will take the title. Meanwhile the Scottish National Party, with their yellow emblem, battle for third place with the Liberal Democrats in orange – both of them hoping to Stop Brexit, and remain available for a political Europa League.
Boris Johnson has refused to be drawn on which football team he might support. When he was Mayor of London, Johnson indicated broad support for London clubs. Apparently Johnson is more interested in the rugby tackle, something he demonstrated with an overly physical challenge on an opponent during a charity football match, between teams representing England and Germany, ahead of the 2006 World Cup finals.
Two former Conservative PMs, John Major and Theresa May, are both known as cricket enthusiasts. Major is also a Chelsea fan, and used to be seen at Stamford Bridge with David
Mellor, whose ministerial responsibilities included sport at the time he resigned from the government, in 1992. The story that, when in bed with an actress, Mellor wore his Chelsea shirt proved to be an invention for the tabloid press.
David Cameron (the Word document I am typing this on thought I meant Cameroon!) spoke often about being an Aston Villa fan, but managed in 2015 to proclaim his allegiance to West Ham United – similar shirt, but strange mistake.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is well-known to be an Arsenal supporter, and attends their matches when he has time away from a hectic political schedule. In 2017, Corbyn presented an Arsenal replica shirt to Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator – with the name Barnier printed on the back.
John Bercow, who stood down as Speaker of the House of Commons just before the start of the current Election campaign, is another Gooner. Bercow became famous for his loud calls of “Order, Order”, when chairing debate among fractious MPs, a role perhaps equivalent of referee. There was even a VAR moment last year, when Tory MPs demanded that Bercow look at footage of an incident, in which Corbyn may have referred to “stupid people” or a “stupid woman”.
Retirement tributes to Bercow included Ian Blackford, the Westminster leader of the SNP, offering him a welcome at Easter Road, home of Hibernian. The SNP website’s biography of Blackford tells us:
He has a love of football and more specifically Hibernian FC. For many years he was a season ticket holder at the famous Easter Road Stadium. Ian also passionately follows the Scottish football team, a support which has seen him travel with the Tartan Army all over the globe.
In November 2018, Hannah Bardell, another SNP MP, was joined by fellow members of the newly-founded Women’s Parliamentary Football Club, for publicity photos in the House of Commons. Bardell was filmed playing keepy-uppy in the chamber. This late night training, after full time had been reached in the days proceedings, led to an admonishment by Bercow the following day. Noting that he had received letters of apology from some of the MPs present, Bercow pronounced:
Our historic chamber should not be used for this type of activity, and I gently remind colleagues if they are seeking to use the chamber outside of sitting hours, beyond for the purpose of simply showing it to guests, frankly they should write to me asking for their request to be considered.
Bardell, who had worn a Scotland shirt in the Commons the previous year, to show support for her national women’s team, was not among the members who had written an apology to Bercow. She told the press that the team of women MPs were “seeking to be positive, inclusive, and have a little fun”.
Tracey Crouch, one of the apologetic MPs, had recently resigned as the Tory Sports minister. She occasionally enjoyed banter with Bercow, being a Spurs fan herself. Crouch was followed as the Sports minister by Mims Davies, and then Nigel Adams – the latter being appointed by Boris Johnson when he became Prime Minister in July this year.
The Labour spokesperson for sport, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, took that role in 2016, only a few months after being elected as an MP. She was a medical doctor prior to her election, and an amateur boxer. Allin-Khan has worked with the Football Supporters’ Federation to promote the idea of a “Fans’ Fare”, allowing the purchase of flexible rail tickets to matches that are re-scheduled to accommodate TV schedules.
In the closing months of the old Parliament, the Liberal Democrats picked up several MPs on free transfers from other parties. That is an unusually humorous way for me to record something I really dislike – the practice of MPs switching parties without allowing their constituents a by-election. Layla Moran, actually elected as a Lib Dem MP, and their sports spokesperson, has been a supporter of the campaign to extend safe standing, based on experience at her local club, Oxford United.
Amidst the many issues being discussed in the election campaign, I doubt many people are wondering who will be the sports minister in the government that emerges, and which colours they will be displaying. The answer will, however, probably prove to be of interest to our football clubs.