Football UK

Boris Johnson is playing political football blackmail with no hope for fans


Political leaders have always exploited the mass popularity of football.

From Harold Wilson partying with the boys of ’66 at their celebration banquet, to Margaret Thatcher demanding an ID scheme to show she was tough on law and order, Tony Blair promising to reclaim “The People’s Game” for fans and David Cameron inventing the new club of Aston Ham United, they’ve never missed a trick when it comes to hijacking the emotional pull of our national sport.

Even though few know anything about it.

When Boris Johnson was asked as London Mayor who he supported, he answered: “I love all the London clubs,” despite only loving Soho’s branch of The Bullingdon.

Getting fans back into stadiums is bottom of Boris Johnson's list of priorities
Getting fans back into stadiums is bottom of Boris Johnson’s list of priorities

Peruse profiles of Sports Minister Oliver Dowden and you’ll find no reference to any footballing affinity.

Yet it didn’t stop him saying, after effectively agreeing to keep stadiums shut until next March, that “nobody could be more disappointed than me or the Prime Minister.”

Really? I’m guessing there’s millions of us who are more gutted that this season is being written off for match-going fans when it has barely started.

And written off not through scientific data, but because an opportunistic government is using football as a stick to beat the rest of the population into line.

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Michael Gove (an Aberdonian who pretends to follow QPR when it suits) said the government can’t tell pubs to close early while we “have stadiums thronged with crowds.”

Even though they didn’t object to Monday’s Liverpool v Arsenal game being brought forward by 15 minutes to beat their 10pm pub curfew, enabling fans to watch until the final whistle in crowded bars with little social distancing.

Meanwhile clubs who have spent months planning how to re-open 75%-empty, Covid-secure stadiums that are far from “thronged with crowds” are deemed more unsafe.

We’re talking about open-air stadiums offering temperature testing, ticketless admission, experienced stewarding, strict social distancing, guaranteed track-and-trace and away fans banned.

Other nations have successfully allowed fans to return to football stadiums
Other nations have successfully allowed fans to return to football stadiums

But they’re not interested in facts or European comparisons.

In fact it probably delights this Brexiteer government not to fall into line with France, Germany, Holland, Austria, Belgium or Denmark, who have all allowed fans back.

Keeping football alive is at the bottom of their priorities.

They dismiss Premier League clubs as convenient cash cows who can save them the job of giving taxpayer aid to the lower leagues despite them never daring to ask their billionaire corporate donors to subsidise small firms who are going under.

Basically it’s not their problem if a working-class community loses a huge part of its identity.

Oliver Dowden has ruled out fans returning amid current restrictions elsewhere
Oliver Dowden has ruled out fans returning amid current restrictions elsewhere

Dowden claims “at a time when we are considering restrictions elsewhere it would not be wise to undertake any further easements.”

In other words, the Premier League may offer state-of-the-art, covid-secure environments after months of successfully staging games, but we won’t even look at it.

Because football is more useful as a tool for manipulating the public psyche.

They used the Premier League during lockdown, by backing Project Restart as a trailblazer to jolt the nation back to normality, and they are using it again to frighten people into believing we need a national semi-lockdown for the next six months.

That’s the worst part of it. They won’t give football hope that if the infection rates fall, or instant tests become widely available, grounds can re-open.

Should crowds be allowed back in stadiums? Have your say below.

Successful test events have been run but the government are not budging further
Successful test events have been run but the government are not budging further


No-one is demanding stadiums reopen next week, or any time when the infection rate is rising.

Just give them hope that some fans can return as soon as possible, in areas where infection has stabilised, when approved by local councils, on a game-by-game basis.

Effectively writing off the season for match-going supporters, as a warning to others, is political blackmail which has no scientific or moral justification.

It’s time to treat football like a vital industry that pays billions in taxes, provides many thousands of jobs, unites communities and brings a mental health boost to millions.

Not like a political football.

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