Kevin Marx, a view from the left
So Luis Suarez dived to win a penalty against Stoke did he? And he also bundled the ball into the net with his hand against Mansfield did he? So what! His own manager has called his behavior unacceptable and the press are up in arms about Suarez being a Uruguayan cheat. Sadly, they’re all missing the point – which is that England will never be able to compete on the international field unless they learn to cheat as well as foreign players.
One thing I’ve drummed into my kids from the day they were born is that, in sport, as in life generally, it’s not the taking part that counts – it’s the winning. Football is practically the only sport that not only recognises this concept, it embraces it, and there’s one reason for this – it’s a working class sport played by working class people.
I’m not being elitist about this. I’ve tried playing other sports. I even tried playing golf once, but golfers, being mostly middle class toffs, are such sticklers for the rules they ruin the whole experience.
For example, I hit my drive into a lateral water hazard, and had to take a penalty drop from the point where it went in. Like a footballer taking a throw in I ran alongside the lake for twenty yards to get nearer to the hole before I dropped the ball and you should have heard the other golfers complaining. And when I was cleaning my ball on the green instead of replacing it exactly where it was when I picked it up (I placed it a few feet nearer to the hole, like a footballer would with a free kick) the others forced me to put it back.
You wouldn’t get footballers complaining like that. They understand that you have to win at all costs. They realise that cheating when taking a throw in or free kick, diving to try and win a penalty, pretending to be seriously injured or flourishing a make believe red card at the referee to try and get opponents sent off are skills which are as integral to the game as heading and kicking the ball.
Players, managers, TV pundits and fans all agree with this. You will never hear any of them complaining about players cheating by taking a throw in from the wrong place – cheating is accepted by all as part of the game.
The trouble is we in England are not very good at it. I put this down to the growing influence of the middle classes in our national sport. Take Norwich City for example – the club is owned by Delia Smith (not one of our own, she pretends to have working class roots but was given away by the very first thing she cooked on TV – kipper pate – not a working class dish!) Delia has brought to that unfortunate club middle class principles – they play attractive football and they don’t cheat. This means they sit proudly at the top of the fair play league but in the bottom half of the premiership.
Now compare them to Stoke City, owned by Peter Coates (definitely one of our own, he is the son of a coal miner and now owns Bet365 – the online gambling site that brings joy and wealth to millions of working class punters) and managed by Tony Pulis (the son of a steelworker who once famously head-butted James Beattie, one of his own players, in a dressing room argument) Tony Pulis understands that you have to cheat to win. He even admitted that when his team scored a goal against West Ham by cheating, they had been practicing the cheating move in training. Add to this their blend of unattractive long ball football and scoring most of their goals from throw ins taken from the wrong place, in addition to their tactic of breaking the opposing players’ legs with lunging two footed tackles, it has ensured Stoke sit rock bottom of the fair play league, but securely in the top half of the premiership.
This distinction between the approach to football in Norwich and Stoke is exactly the same in the politics of the two places. Norwich is a horrible, unattractive town with only one Greggs, full employment, no wind farms and a Tory MP – whereas Stoke is a proud Labour constituency and a beautiful midlands industrial town.
I bumped into Mark Fisher, Labour MP for Stoke between 1983 and 2010, in Subway a few days ago and asked him what he and the Labour party had done for Stoke during his 27 year tenure.
“When I first became MP, thanks to all the carbon belching out from the pottery factories and coal mines, Stoke was not a very green place,” Mark explained, “but we soon solved that problem by closing the factories and mines down and It makes me very proud to say that not a single pottery factory or coal mine remains open in Stoke today.”
Apart from being the greenest city in Britain and having a cheating premiership football club, they also have more Greggs per person (at a ratio of one Greggs per thirty five residents) than any other town in the world. They also hold the UK city centre record for fast food restaurants and charity shops. Okay, they might not have any jobs after the closure of the mines and pottery factories, but ex-arts minister, Mark Fisher, made sure the good citizens of Stoke had plenty to do, whilst the miserable wretches of Norwich were hard at work, by leaving them a legacy of twenty seven museums and twelve art galleries – all of which allow free entrance to jobseekers.
The people of Stoke were obviously impressed by this, because in the 2012 election they elected new Labour candidate Tristram Hunt (not really one of our own – he went to posh Westminster School with Nick Clegg and wrote a book comparing Oliver Cromwell to Osama Bin Laden) with a huge majority of 5,000 (nearly as huge as Mark Fisher’s majority of 20,000 in 1997.) Tristram did so well he polled nearly six times as many votes as the BNP candidate!
Clearly, in the safe hands of the Labour Party, Stoke is going places.
“So what’s next for Stoke?” I asked Mark as he took a bite out of his foot long Subway Sub.
“Don’t quote me on this,” he replied, “but Ed Milliband is going to put Stoke forward as the next European City of Culture. If I were you I’d log on to Peter Coates’s Bet365 site and have a bit of a flutter.”
And that’s exactly what I did. The bloke on the end of the Bet365 phoneline laughed and gave me odds of a million to one as I placed my five pound bet. Let’s see if he’s still laughing later this year when the announcements are made and the proud Labour city of Stoke finally takes its rightful place as the European City of Culture.