Is football important?

A NATIONAL radio phone-in this week asked: Is international football important?Just giving the question an hour or more of air-time, shows the answer can only be “yes”.

A NATIONAL radio phone-in this week asked: Is international football important?

Just giving the question an hour or more of air-time, shows the answer can only be “yes”.

Of course, it depends what you mean by “important”.

Football can never be “important” in the way that combating poverty, global warming or religious intolerance is important.

On the other hand, I've had more or less meaningful chats about football with strangers in four continents, including several states of Europe.

It's just about the one subject you can happily discuss with people almost anywhere.

Most Read

And that gives it an importance way beyond that of a mere game. It shouldn't be necessary to quote Bill Shankly, but in a sense he was right, even if he was half-joking.

(For those who may not know, the best-known saying attributed to the late, great former Liverpool manager is: “Football isn't a matter of life and death - it's much more serious than that.”)

As a truly international language, football has a role in international relations at the grassroots level. And that means it can have a role in combating intolerance and poverty - and not just for those talented few it has raised from African subsistence to European riches.

Of course, the almost unimaginable wealth in top-level football now brings its own problems.

One complaint is that players made ridiculously rich by their clubs no longer care enough to put in top performances for their country.

Another is that the influx of foreigners to the Premier League has squeezed out home-grown talent.

Both of these raise serious difficulties for England coach Steve McClaren going into tomorrow's game with Israel, and Wednesday's against Russia.

Lose either and his side will almost certainly fail to qualify for next summer's European Championship finals. Which is of course why Radio 5 was asking if we care about the international game - we're all preparing to brush off disappointment.

Hit by a list of injuries and suspensions to key men such as McClaren now faces, any boss would struggle to field a coherent team.

At least it offers him one way out of the dilemma never solved by his predecessor - how to accommodate Beckham, Lampard and Gerrard in one effective midfield.

All three of our supposed greats are injured. Steven Gerrard may play, but ought not to.

Still, we have reasonable alternatives in midfield. The area of real weakness is up front.

The suspensions of Rooney and Crouch leave far too much weight on the slender shoulders of Michael Owen, who is not yet back to true match-fitness after being sidelined since that bygone era when Beckham was still captain.

This would be easier to bear without the latest revelations of former referee Graham Poll.

Peter Crouch is an interesting footballer. At 6ft 7in, he's not just taller than most, he's also more intelligent and less arrogant than many.

He's not as dominant in the air as you might expect for his size, and much more skilful with his feet. He's a thoughtful player who might be better for a bit more aggression.

Which makes it strange, as well as highly unfair, that he should have been singled out by international referees for harsh treatment.

Yet Poll says refs at last year's World Cup were told by Fifa “to mark him out as a player we need to watch out for”.

If that's true - of Crouch or any other player - it's an outrageous way for football's governing body to sway its match officials.

It might explain why Crouch is so often pulled up for imaginary fouls when on international duty. And why England must go into tomorrow's game without the one player they might have relied on for a goal or two.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, none of this matters. Our disappointment will be someone else's joy.

And it's only a game anyway, isn't it? Isn't it?

“THIS man has advanced communist views. He dresses in a bohemian fashion both at his office and in his leisure hours.”

This man was Eric Blair, no relation in any way to the then future PM, but better known as the writer George Orwell.

The strange, inaccurate comment on his political views and sartorial style was made in 1942 by a Special Branch officer. It is revealed in papers newly released by the National Archives Office.

Orwell, creator of the original Big Brother, wouldn't have been surprised that he was being watched.

His masterwork, 1984, was really more about the world of 1948 than a real attempt to foretell the future.

But I wonder how he would feel about the unprecedented level of surveillance we live with now.

And the suggestion by top judge Lord Justice Sedley that the entire British population and every visitor to the country should be on the national DNA database.

The power that might give some future government over its people is beyond even Orwell's imaginings.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter