Alistair Burt is MP for North East Bedfordshire and is a former Foreign Office Minister.
The ability of football to shine a spotlight on life beyond the pitch is richly and regularly demonstrated to those looking for a distraction from our obsession with party politics – and most of us could do with one at present.
For example, regular ConHome readers may have missed the advice from one leading ‘star’ of how to deal with that knotty problem when your employers ‘disrespect’ you by not honouring your birthday sufficiently. I know. We’ve all been there haven’t we? The answer is, apparently, have a very public strop.
Mr Yaya Touré of Manchester City is alleged, through his agent, to have felt put out by only receiving a cake from his employers on his birthday, contrasting this with one Roberto Carlos who was given a Bugatti for his by another club. The £250,000 per week Mr Toure is being paid does not make up for such a slight, which must have added greatly to the good humour of hardworking families around the country as they try to reconcile modern sports stars with the same planet on which they live. The moral is that if you think you’re undervalued, at least you’re not as upset as Yaya Touré.
Such nonsense should not distract from the gripping end of season finals which demonstrated once again the power of the game at its best to deliver all the emotions of life in a space of less than a couple of hours, and in fact to transform lives and destinies within a matter of seconds.
Arsenal came from two down to overcome Hull City in the Cup Final. Soccer’s Everyman, ‘Arry Redknapp somehow broke Derby County hearts by stealing the Championship play-off through a Bobby Zamora winner well against the run of play. But perhaps the most dramatic was the win by Real Madrid in the Champions League – the European Cup, to you and me – against less illustrious neighbours Athletico Madrid. Real were behind for an hour before a last minute equalizer ensured extra time, and a rather cruel 4-1 score line. It’s a bit like the Conservatives and UKIP squaring off, with the upstarts going ahead but class finally telling in the end. By May 2015, we hope.
Great football which will be watched by hundreds of millions, some nonsense and no little politics will soon come our way with the World Cup. Once again the game will need to justify itself against a backdrop of concern. The expense of hosting is contrasted with severe inequality and poverty in Brazil, and whether the World Cup is worth it is the subject of a good exchange between footballer Sol Campbell and writer Simon Kuper in this month’s ‘Prospect‘ magazine. Redemption may come through a Brazil win, but no football result is certain.
What is certain is that a host of serious political issues will be raised throughout, from corruption to the extreme nationalist passions engendered, and the football on the pitch will continually be expected, fairly or unfairly, to overcome the worst of the charges.
And for those still hoping that football might return to a box marked ‘non-political’, the next two World Cups will be in Russia and then Qatar! What chance those going ahead without some controversy to discuss on the doorstep as we canvass?