Roger Alton

Come on you blues. Or, er, reds

Politicians and football — it’s a minefield

Come on you blues. Or, er, reds
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Here’s an election-winning idea for Dave: forget about Aston Villa (or West Ham) and become a full-on Bournemouth fan. They were on the telly the other night, all but sealing promotion to the Premier League, and played a bit like Brazil: fluent high-speed passing, wave after wave of attacks. They play in a very smart red-and-black strip that’s not easily confused with anyone else unless AC Milan come calling. A few years back they were nearly out of the Football League: now they’ll be mixing it with Manchester United and Arsenal. And I’ll bet they won’t go back down. They have their own reclusive Russian petrochemical billionaire, a cove named Maxim Demin, about whom it is almost impossible to find anything. Mark you, and this is probably due to the bracing sea air, nobody has a bad word to say about him, in contrast to another reclusive Russian petrochemical billionaire, currently resident of west London.

Easily done, confusing Villa and West Ham. It’s a wonder the Prime Minister hasn’t done it before really. They’re both pretty crap teams, both have a two-word name, both play in claret and blue and both have seen better days. Maybe he’s just got coalition on his mind and all teams who play in similar colours should have to merge, part of an economy drive. Norwich, another team with a big support from political heavyweights (that’ll be Ed Balls then) and Watford could be next: they both play in yellow after all.

It’s something of a minefield, politicians and football. Tony Blair’s self-proclaimed passion for Newcastle always seemed like total tripe, though much of the Labour top brass really did love soccer. It was impossible to shut Alastair Campbell up about Burnley, and Gordon Brown loved Raith Rovers so much that he gave them money. Neil Kinnock often went to watch Brentford, on at least one occasion with Peter Mandelson, which is a delicious thought. The spinmaster himself did pop in to watch Hartlepool sometimes, though it is hard to imagine him following the path of the true football fan and buying five programmes every week in the forlorn hope that they would someday shoot up in value. On the other side of the Commons, Michael Howard genuinely is a Liverpool obsessive, with a nerdish knowledge of all things red.

I would be much happier with my politicians having a passion for cricket. Recently in a Lord’s and Commons match Danny Alexander was bowling, with Ed Balls behind the stumps, and Matthew Hancock at slip. There’s a proper economic consensus at last. John Major famously loved his cricket, departing No. 10 in the most dignified way in 1997 and heading to the Oval to watch his adored Surrey against the Combined Universities. There’s bad news for Cameron though if he is hoping to ‘do a Major’ if things don’t pan out next week: the only county match being played on 8 May is in Taunton.

Whatever happens to the Prime Minister though, the other most important man in England, the Test captain, should, for the time being, be shot of his critics. Imagine all Alastair Cook’s detractors grouped in one room: a worse mob of self-publicists and flip-floppers haven’t stood together since the ghastly group of Tory rebels were photographed the day John Redwood stood against Major. It would be hard to imagine a less likeable crowd, even if it was a dinner in honour of Alex Salmond. Cook’s enemies have all swallowed Kevin Pietersen’s cock-and-bull story about how much he loves England and used it against a good man. Cook himself is not only scoring runs — five half-centuries in eight Test innings — but is captain of a winning Test team. He’s a fine man in a great English tradition, modest, self-deprecating and loyal. Just get off his back.

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.