It was 1988 and a politically-attuned sixth-former was arguing with a rugby-mad friend another over whether apartheid South Africa should be readmitted to international sport.
Exasperated with the ban on the Springboks, which he believed was ruining his favourite game at international level, the rugger-bugger insisted to me, “I think politics should keep out of sport!” Oh, if only.
Politics certainly has tampered with the Beautiful Game too often. Benito Mussolini made the Azzurri wear black shirts at the 1934 World Cup in honour of his fascist movement. Hitler assumed the more talented Austrian wunderteam into a greater German eleven, losing the talents of Matthias Sindelar and others. Then there was the Argentine junta’s manipulation of the 1978 World Cup, Silvio Berlusconi’s use of A.C. Milan as a springboard for his political career and so on.
As football exerts such a strong emotional Togel Hongkong pull on so many people, it is a wonder more politicians do not ally themselves with a successful club or national team.
The players are often the victims, from the England eleven forced by the British ambassador to give Nazi salutes in Berlin in 1938 to the talented Yugoslavia team forced to exit Euro ’92 before a ball had been kicked, to Israel’s national team who, absurdly, play in UEFA competition instead of the AFC.
This month the US axed a planned friendly in Cairo, leaving its players without a February friendly. The USSF had no option but to cancel. Try as we might, sometimes we cannot keep politics out of football.
“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
So goes the famous quote of the former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, allegedly plagiarised from American football coach Henry Russell Sanders.
Well in reality it is not. And fandom is a bacchanalian dreamland, an escape from everyday truth.
Today we heard that Formula One had canceled the Grand Prix in Bahrain, one of the Arab nations suddenly in the grip of volatile government and civil unrest. Even as rich a sport as F1 must bow its head to the serious matter of an unfolding revolution.
More tragically, Monday also brought news that three Somalian footballers, including promising U20 star Abdi Salaan Mohamed Ali, had died in a suicide bombing attack on their way back from training.
Sport must know its place, and it usually does. Human tragedy has a silver lining in giving us a sense of perspective, if only temporarily.
In the aftermath of the Hillsborough tragedy Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish was asked about re-playing the abandoned F.A. Cup semi-final with Nottingham Forest. His answer said it all:
“Football is irrelevant now.”
Other scores – Albania 1:2 Slovenia, Andorra 1:2 Moldova, Armenia 1:2 Georgia, Azerbaijan 0:2 Hungary, Belarus 1:1 Kazakhstan, Belgium 1:1 Finland, Croatia 4:2 Czech Rep., Estonia 2:2 Bulgaria, Macedonia 0:1 Cameroon, Greece 1:0 Canada, Israel 0:2 Serbia, Latvia 2:1 Bolivia, Luxembourg 2:1 Slovakia, Malta 0:0 Switzerland, Namibia 1:1 Malawi, Poland 1:0 Norway, San Marino 0:1 Liechtenstein, Scotland 3:0 N.Ireland, Turkey 0:0 South Korea.
Hammers strike for gold
West Ham United have beaten Tottenham Hotspur to London’s Olympic Stadium, according to the BBC.
After a bitter battle between the two London clubs, the East Londoners are set to be announced as the OlympHammers strike for gold.ic Park Legacy Committee’s preferred tenant.
Neither club has much in reality to celebrate. While Tottenham will now retreat from their audacious cross-city foray to their original plan to rebuild their White Hart Lane home, the club remains marooned in a grubby neighbourhood with poor accessibility.
Hammers fans on the other hand will benefit from 25,000 more seats than at present and Stratford’s modern transport hub but will have to bring their binoculars to spy the action across an eight-lane running track, whatever the optimistic artists’ impressions show.
Athletics and football do not make happy bedfellows and the marriage may end in divorce, but at least the stadium decision, set to be rubber-stamped by the government, respects geography, history and the civic pride of hosting the Olympic Games, of which track events are the blue riband.