World cup

Real football fans watch non-League football

Oxford City vs Rochdale at Court Place Farm doesn’t have quite the same ring as Chelsea vs Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, but last Saturday’s match was important all the same. At this level, you feel part of the match, which never happens in an executive box at the Emirates ‘The Hoops’, Oxford’s oldest football club, founded in 1882 when Gladstone was prime minister and Old Etonians won the FA Cup, were playing their first ever home game in the fifth tier of English football. Rochdale, whose 102-year membership of the Football League ended in May, were playing their first away game in the Vanarama National League. Seven hundred and eighty-one

Joe Lycett and the trouble with wokescreening

The word ‘wokescreen’ is (like its naughty older sibling, the carelessly carbon-producing smokescreen), an alibi which hides the truth about a nefarious action. But what marks it out from old-fashioned hypocrisy is that – rather than being a mere rogue – the wokescreener poses as a social justice hero, looking down from a great height at the great unwoked. From the Sussexes’ private planes to Justin Trudeau’s blackface antics, the wokescreen is a fine example of modern Magical Thinking – if you identify as good, you can then be bad to your sanctimonious little heart’s content. A prime example is the comedian Joe Lycett who – having condemned David Beckham

Qatargate and the dubious moral authority of NGOs 

The Qatargate scandal haunting the European Union is not merely about corrupt politicians and officials. The deplorable role of a non-governmental organisation is at the heart of the scandal, which highlights the interlocking of NGOs and EU parliamentarians and decision makers. The most interesting feature of the corruption scandal surrounding the detention of the EU parliament’s vice-president Eva Kaili and politicians and EU apparatchiks is their connection to a supposedly squeaky-clean NGO called Fight Impunity. The current president of the organisation is Pier Antonio Panzeri, 67, a former Italian leftist MEP. He was arrested after €600,000 in bank notes was found in his house in Brussels. He and his wife and daughter are alleged to have received bribes from a Moroccan diplomat. Even more interesting is the revelation that

In defence of supporting both England and Wales

Michael Sheen has had a problem with the royal family for some time – and it’s only got worse since William was appointed Prince of Wales. The actor, best known for playing Tony Blair but somewhat to the left of him politically, has criticised the notion of an Englishman being nominal head of the principality. Sheen has lately carved out a niche as a pound-shop Richard Burton addressing motivational monologues to the Welsh football team, to little effect thus far. And he predictably stepped up his campaign ahead of the World Cup: how could William, he asked, reconcile his role as President of the English Football Association with his position

The curse of Belo Horizonte

When England play the USA this evening in Al Khor, Qatar, it will be the twelfth time the two sides have met. England have had the upper hand in most of the previous 11, winning eight and recording scores as comfortable as 10-0, 8-1, 6-3 and 5-0. We easily beat them 3-0 at Wembley just three years ago.  And after their respective opening games in this tournament – England thumping Iran 6-2 in their best-ever start to a World Cup, the USA nervy and stuttering by the end of a 1-1 draw with Wales – most neutrals would expect nothing other than a routine win for England. The bookies make England

The curious case of the Asian Maradona

When England line up against Iran in Doha today, the VIP seats should be studded with former players from both sides. But one who almost certainly won’t be present is a player with a solid claim to having been the greatest Iranian footballer in history. Because Ali Karimi is a wanted man. The 44-year-old is hugely influential in Iran – he has 13 million social media followers there. But he has positioned himself as such an overt critic of the country’s regime that he’s now living in exile, threatened with arrest – and worse – should he return to or be forcibly taken back to Iran.  An equivalent situation here

Qatar’s World Cup lobbying operation

Lobbying was a persistent theme of 2021 as first David Cameron and then Owen Paterson found themselves embroiled in various scandals over their paid activities. So it was with some trepidation that Mr S examined the first register of All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) of 2022. These informal cross-party organisations have been involved in all sorts of shenanigans over the years. What have they been up to in recent months? A close inspection revealed some interesting gems. Theresa May’s office is bankrolling the ‘First Do No Harm’ campaign, being the sole donor of some £20,000 towards the APPG’s efforts on securing safer medical devices for women in pregnancy. British American Tobacco is

Football fans are rejoicing that Euro 2020 is finally over

Thank goodness that’s over. The Euros were fun and all that but now, please, can we get back to real football instead of this Disneyfied version of the game that brings out the best – and worst – of us? From little cars that bring the footballs on to the pitch to those toe-curling TV idents for Alipay and other sponsors, it’s time to put away the over-glorified spectacle of England losing and concentrate on watching real football with real football fans. That means getting depressed every other week instead of every other year; looking down our noses at anyone flying a flag from their car or eating popcorn at

How does ‘taking the knee’ help Qatar’s World Cup slaves?

What was going through the minds of England players as they took the knee, yet again, prior to their victory over Poland in their 2022 World Cup qualifier at Wembley last week? George Floyd? Racism in sport? Nothing in particular?  We’ll never know. But it seems unlikely they were thinking too hard about the destination where, if their good form holds, they will be representing their country next winter: the tiny gulf state of Qatar. If they had, they might have spared a thought, and perhaps a gesture, for the 6,500 migrant workers estimated to have died since Qatar won the right to host next year’s tournament. The issue of migrant worker

Victories for Rafa, Rory and rain

Hardly any men can hit a tennis ball on clay better than Dominic Thiem. Unfortunately he ran into one who could in the French Open final last Sunday. It is worth reflecting on the extraordinary scale of Rafael Nadal’s achievement, besides his ability to rock a very stylish yellow T-shirt. This was his 12th win in 15 attempts at Roland Garros and one of his three ‘failures’ was a withdrawal in 2016 with a wrist injury. That’s two defeats in 15 years on the most punishing grand slam surface. Has there ever been a blend of athlete and venue to rival it? Rafa’s savage spin on the forehand has always

Barometer | 6 June 2019

Juncker’s perks The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker complained that he doesn’t have an official residence, unlike the ambassadors who frequently entertain him, and has to live in a hotel room. What are the perks of his job? — He receives a salary of €306,655 (£271,000), untaxed in his home country and subject only to a low EU tax. — He gets a residence allowance of €46,000 p.a., equivalent to 15 per cent of his salary. — He is also eligible for a family allowance equivalent to 2 per cent of his salary. The free world Was Donald Trump’s state banquet the most appropriate to boycott? Countries whose leaders have

Letters | 6 June 2019

Trump and Brexit Sir: Your leading article (‘The Trump card’, 1 June) states that ‘May’s successor should seek to capitalise on Team Trump’s enthusiasm for Brexit’. President Trump — the leader of by far our most important political, economic and military ally — has always respected what most British MPs have chosen to ignore: that the British people voted to leave the European Union. Assuming that the Conservative party wants to survive, it must choose a proven vote-winning leader who is determined to leave the European Union on WTO terms by 31 October this year, unless the EU has agreed by that date to a convincing, substantial improvement to its

England vs the rest of the world

Well, you have come a long way baby. As the whizz-bang hoopla of the cricket World Cup strides into view at the Oval, take a look back nearly 50 years to the very first limited overs international played in 1971. It was between Australia and England in Melbourne; 40 eight-ball overs a side, on what would have been the last day of a Test that had been rained off. Australia won with six overs to spare. The names on the team sheet are not those you would associate with breathless one-day hitting: Boycott, Edrich, Fletcher, Lawry and Stackpole. The run rate was pretty painful: England scored at below four an

Football focus | 27 September 2018

‘Football holds a mirror to ourselves,’ Michael Calvin asserts in State of Play. Modern football is angrier, more brutal, more unequal and simply more relentless than ever before. The sense of a football club being rooted to its locality has been shattered. Globalisation, and hyper-commercialisation, means that local owners have been replaced by ‘speculators and savants’ from abroad. Locally reared players, victims of football’s global free market in talent, have become rare. To receive the TV bounty that teams in the Premier League enjoy, ‘You have to create the most competitive team, which doesn’t necessarily include young Johnny from the academy,’ explains Scott Duxbury, the chairman and chief executive of

Paris notebook | 26 July 2018

‘Problème est masculin; solution est féminine,’ says Brigitte, the adored French teacher at the British embassy in Paris. Good way to remember your ‘les’ and ‘las’. If only it were true. Theresa May has not — yet — solved Brexit. Angela Merkel has not resolved the migrant crisis. Anne Hidalgo, the city’s mayor, has not flushed out its rats. If she fails at re-election, it will be on pest control and tent cities. A sign on the Square du Temple gates asks picnickers to leave no croissant crumbs behind. It attracts the rats. Below, in black marker: ‘Et les Algériens?’ Not nice. But tempers run high in hot summers.  The

Why are middle-class football fans so racist?

It’s middle-class commentators – not supporters – who seem obsessed with the number of black players There were altogether too many darkies in England’s World Cup Squad for me to take any pleasure in their moderate achievements out in Russia. They did not represent me. I learned this via the Guardian in an article by a man called Steve Bloomfield who insisted that the team represented only the 48 per cent of Britons who voted Remain, because there were too many ‘players of colour’ in the side for the likes of us gammon-faced scumbag racist Leavers. Also, they were young. Apparently we ‘don’t usually like’ these kinds of people. Steve had been through the squad and

An epochal, joyful, brain-churning World Cup

Like most people with any taste, I like the odd vodka, I love Crime and Punishment, I enjoy Turgenev and Chekhov, and who doesn’t like to listen to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov? Their national anthem’s not bad either. In other words, Russia’s quite a place, give or take the odd poisoning or country takeover. And as this epochal, joyful, brain-churning World Cup roars into the last lap, let’s look back at what some of Fleet Street’s finest were predicting just a few weeks ago for the land of Dostoevsky and Stravinsky. Ignoring the admirable advice to steer clear of Nazi references, this was the Observer’s Nick Cohen: ‘If you wonder how

Toby Young

Fortnite’s fun, so it must be bad

It was only a matter of time. The headteacher of a primary school in Ilfracombe in Devon has banned ‘Flossing’, the dance craze linked to the video game Fortnite, on the grounds that it’s being used to ‘intimidate’ other children. ‘Fortnite is about mass killing of other human beings and being rewarded by a dance of celebration if you are successful,’ she told the Telegraph. This is the latest example of the moral panic surrounding Fortnite, a video game in which up to 100 players compete against each other, either individually or in ‘squads’, to see who can be the last man standing. So far this year, the National Crime

Diary – 12 July 2018

Well, we did it. No, not Brexit, the World Cup or my (somewhat less) ambitious scheme at Legal & General to interest the nation in investing. Not yet at least. But we did reach the end of term — and the end of the school year. With three out of our nine children leaving their respective schools, my husband, Richard, and I have been staggering towards the finish line, with the usual sports days and summer concerts interspersed with leavers’ picnics, drinks, dinners and cricket days, all of course held in uncharacteristically glorious sunshine. On occasion we had to draft in the cavalry: one daughter took my place at the mothers-and-sons

Happy is England

Buying fish at Cambridge market on Sunday, I found myself chatting to the fishmonger about the prospects for England in the World Cup. Another customer, a middle-class woman, joined in. None of us, I think, was a habitual fan. But we found ourselves enjoying a few minutes of spontaneous shared pleasure. It was not mere satisfaction in winning, but shared pride in a team of nice young men, seemingly unassuming, modest, sporting, decent. English, we might have said (though we didn’t). But English as we would like to think it should be — perhaps the Englishness of another time. A once and future Englishness, let us hope. It’s not every