Alistair Burt is MP for North East Bedfordshire and is a former Foreign Office Minister.
As we turn the corner of the year, we head into the final stretch of Election 2015. For those looking for that extra snatch of conversation on the doorstep, not to mention a distraction from the awful tragedies which the world can throw at us, Christmas and New Year footy has provided rich pickings.
In no particular order we have seen the first Premiership sackings of the season, great derby matches over the holiday, the romance of the third round of the FA Cup, and the leaving of Liverpool by one of its finest servants.
It is now too late for any political party to shift the boss to give a better chance at the election, and in any event football is crueller and has shorter reaction times. We shall see if Crystal Palace and West Brom are saved, but the record of managerial sackings suggests at least one of them will be. Sacked premiership bosses will have little consolation from knowing that they will be joined by at least one political leader by late May, and it remains to be seen whether the Liberal Democrats or Labour will rue not jumping as early as football clubs tend to do. (Or UKIP: Carswell cannot be denied the top job for long. Nigel was so 2014.)
God bless the British tradition of a full holiday programme which allows fans a plethora of games and a good excuse to avoid still more of ‘just a quiet time with family’. I joined Bedfordshire non-league fans for games at Biggleswade Town, Arlesey and Ampthill for a mixture of fare, as we eagerly awaited some giant killing elsewhere in the FA Cup.
Alas, this did not really come to pass, but for a few glorious minutes Blythe Spartans were on the verge of defeating a side five divisions higher – the equivalent of a merchant banker running on a ‘Vote for more Capitalism’ ticket and unseating the excellent Steve Rotherham in Liverpool Walton.
Yeovil handled Manchester Utd more than competently until they conceded a goal to remember, and Sheffield Utd’s win over top flight QPR appeared routine, so no truly big shocks – but enough action to ensure that the thrill of the Cup still tingled.
(Incidentally, having watched the mighty Shakers go down narrowly to Luton Town in a second round replay, I could only rue what might have been, as Luton themselves went down to Cambridge United in the third round, who then drew Manchester United in the fourth! “If only”- the magic words of both football and politics…that could have been us!)
This review would not be complete without homage to Steve Gerrard. Football, as politics again, throws us the odd cliché from the past that brings a misty eye – with a ‘one club man’ being as rare as ‘the secrecy of the ‘22’.
Gerrard’s departure, whatever may be the inside story, inspired genuine expressions of admiration for the quality of his game over many years, and appreciation for his part in memorable moments of football, national and international.
But the key to Steve Gerrard, and to the affection for him, has surely been his identity not as a footballer, but as a Liverpool footballer – that in an age of mobility for any professional he chose deliberately to stay close to his roots, and thus ensure that he could never have any other answer to the question “where do you come from?” but his beloved city.
At a time when authenticity is much searched for across many occupations, and as other false gods prove unable to provide a reliable guide to the worth of an individual, the weight to be attached to loyalty to ones roots, geographical or philosophical, is not to be understated. There will be very few fans who do not wish him well for the rest of his career.