Date: 7th November 2007 at 4:51pm
Written by:

Frank Lampard has declared that he is Tory and that he would love David Cameron to win the next election. Why does this disappoint me so much?

WARNING: the article below contain opinions of a political nature. If you are offended by these opinions, I don`t care: I`m right, you are wrong, best to move on from this site for fear of being crushed by my intellectual superiority and the overwhelming force of my arguments. Besides, it was Super Frankie Lampard who started it, bringing football and politics together.

Gleefully reported in a paper that even one of my Tory friends calls ‘a repellent rag`, the Daily Mail, Frank Lampard declared after meeting Mr David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, that “I had a really good chat with David. As a footballer I don’t want to get involved with the campaigning thing but I am a Tory and I really like David Cameron.” Apparently Frank met Mr Cameron earlier this year but waited to publicly declare his support. Now the cat`s out of the bag, Frank.

Football and politics are uneasy bedfellows in England. For every footballer who has declared his allegiance, there are others who have kept quiet about their opinions, possibly out of fear of alienating any supporters who vote the other way. Probably many more have said nothing because they don`t have anything to say. Just as R&B is the music of choice of any footballer, we can expect them to be probably bored about politics and pretty apolitical.

Of course, we can cite any number of football`s greats who HAVE been involved in politics, one way or another. Alex Ferguson likes to bang on about socialism (and was a strong supporter of the striking miners in the 1980s.) We wonder whether he skipped the class in socialism 101 about republicanism; that`s the only way we can square his acceptance of a knighthood. Our own Pat Nevin was also famously left-wing in his politics. He stands fairly lonely on that wing, though: more footballers and people involved in football tend to be right-wing. You don`t have to go as far as the delightful American owners of Liverpool FC (who donated to George Bush`s election campaigns, which must go down well with the supporters of a club proud of its working class roots), but, frankly, Ken Bates was no liberal. In fact, he has happily pronounced himself on matters political that firmly stamp him on the right of the political spectrum. Including some incoherent rant he made years back, on the single currency. That said, he is entitled to those views: he single-handedly stamped out Chelsea`s links with extreme right-wing organisations, and for that we are truly grateful.

The link has also gone the other way around, with politicians happily declaring support for a club. It gives them the common touch, see. Hence that serial loser, Ian Duncan Smith didn`t seem to mind being associated with Tottenham Hotspur (one wonders who, of Spurs of Duncan Smith, was more mortified). Another leader of the Tories who has ‘something of the night about him` (isn`t that an essential job requirement for the post?), Michael Howard, is a Liverpool supporter. The man who was of the hanging and flogging flavour when he was Home Secretary apparently found only compassion for Liverpool fans at the Champions League final when the loveable Scousers ran riot trying to get into the stadium of the final without tickets.

Tony Blair, of course, supports Newcastle United (in the film ‘The Queen`, he is seen in his Toon shirt, though not bare-chested displaying a morbidly-obese tattooed belly); David Milliband supports Arsenal. As does Chris Patton, who said, in his autobiography, that he was ‘A Tory, A Catholic, and an Arsenal Supporter`. Former sports Minister Kate Hoey also supports the Gooners. As for those politicians who profess their allegiances to Chelsea, we remember that John Major was a Blue (to be fair, he prefers cricket, though). However, it is difficult not to be moved by the friendship forged between David Mellor and the late Tony Banks. They were on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but nevertheless were extremely close as a result of their shared passion for Chelsea.

In other countries, the link between a club and politics tends to be more institutionalised. In Spain, for instance, Barça was a club that symbolised the resistance to Franco during the dictatorship years, and still maintains a strong identity in opposition to Castillian centralism. And in opposition to Real Madrid, the club that was, until Franco came to power, the second club of the capital (behind Atlético). Franco, however, was a Real Madrid supporter, and he used the privileges of his autocratic dictatorship to bend the rules of the football tournament not only to ensure that Madrid won everything at home, but that they could also build on this base to make a clean sweep in the new European tournaments.

To this day, Real Madrid is strongly linked with conservative politicians in Spain; many people (who are not conspiracy theory nutjobs) date Madrid`s meagre trophy haul these past 5 years precisely to the moment when the Spanish conservative party, the PP, lost the elections. Conversely, Barça`s rise took place at once the Spanish elected socialist Prime Minister, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who is a Barça supporter. Coincidence? I think not. Maybe it is also a sign that the leader of the opposition in Spain, the bearded lump with the charisma of an arthritic robot Mariano Rajoy, famously once declared that he is a Member of Real Madrid, Celta Vigo, Deportivo La Coruña and Pontevedra. How can you possibly trust (and elect) a man who is a member of 4 different football clubs, at least 3 of which are involved in intense and bitter rivalries?

The political division is reflected in the sociological division that characterises many Spanish cities. In Sevilla, Sevilla FC is the rich club (and therefore right wing); Betis is the ‘popular` club, and therefore more left wing. Similar divisions exist in Italy, perhaps more worryingly though: Milan is the club owned by megalomaniac businessman turned populist clown politician, Silvio Berlusconi. Small wonder that the fans of Milan`s city rival, Inter, are more left-wing. And in Rome, AS Roma fans are from the better off area of the city, their bitter opponents, Lazio come from the more working class areas. They are also areas that have had a long association with Italy`s fascist movement, making Lazio fans some of the most unpleasant in Europe. Small wonder that they welcomed Mussolini apologist, Paolo di Canio, who would celebrate goals with an unmistakeable outstretched arm salute. Coming back from extremist politics, we can also cite the fact that the victory of a very multicultural French national side in the World Cup contributed to a temporary slump in the racist National Front`s electoral strength.

We could go further into the murky depths of football in places like Turkey or the Balkans (where local warlords owned football clubs as part of their power empires); even Romania, where Steau Bucarest owner, Gigi Becali, used his football notoriety to launch a bizarrely demagogic political campaign. Or elsewhere in Eastern Europe where clubs` names (Red Star this, Dynamo that, CSKA the other) reflects the fact that they were the clubs of a particular branch of the state or party apparatus. Pele has been involved in politics in Brazil, and our very own George Weah stood (unsuccessfully) for Presidential elections in Liberia. Didier Drogba might not be actively involved in party politics, but he continues to play an active role in bringing together a bitterly divided Ivory Coast.

The conclusion we can draw is that, perhaps, we are lucky that British football is not so closely linked to party politics, even if some of the people involved (inevitably) are. It`s bad enough that politics becomes involved (think of the sectarian divide in Glasgow), isn`t the pure football rivalry between fans on an abstract level enough? After all, you can shout at the opposition during the match and then go for a drink afterwards in a spirit of football camaraderie. That`s somewhat more difficult if the fan is, in fact, identified with The Other through a political labelling.

And so we come back to Frank Lampard. Frank likes to think of himself as an educated person. Of course, as any individual, he is entitled not only to an opinion, but also to express it (even if that opinion is to support David Cameron). Frankly Chelsea has been oft-labelled a Conservative, an epithet that brings me no joy. It`s certainly located in one of the most solidly Tory areas of London, one that, according to a hopelessly outdated stereotype, is populated by Hooray Henries and Sloane Rangers. And footballers, who are extremely highly-paid compared to their work effort, fit also the profile of the archetypal Conservative, probably desperately worried about the amount of their weekly 6-figure pay packet the nasty taxman will take away.

However much I admire Frank Lampard on the pitch, I can`t help but feeling disappointed by this declaration, however. He`s always been a Tory? Maybe, Frank, you aren`t quite as clever as you think you are.