The beautiful game

08 May 2012 Voices

Love it or hate it, football holds the power for good, argues David Philpott.

Love it or hate it, football holds the power for good, argues David Philpott.

There are ladies wot do and there are ladies wot don’t and in our house the lady definitely don’t. Many an evening I can be found winding down to the dulcet tones of Martin Tyler et al as Sky Sports brings me my fix of footy, whilst “her indoors” soaks up the feast of high culture which is either Coronation Street, EastEnders, Waterloo Road or Holby City in the other room.

Like Marmite, you either love football or you don’t and no amount of preaching to the unconverted will change a woman who is fixed in her view that twenty two men chasing a ball of air is somewhat perverse. Poetic eloquence on my part about the beautiful game doesn't cut any ice, especially when the vulgarity of WAGS and excessive salaries are submitted as exhibits ‘a’ and ‘b’ in this occasional family banter.

Last week, the shareholders of Aviva voted against proposed boardroom pay deals at the Norwich-based insurance giant, but one can never see it happening at White Hart Lane, even Less Stamford Bridge. At this point, she rests her case.

Bill Shankly - perhaps the greatest of all Liverpool FC managers– once said - and I quote, "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." One of his successors - Kenny Dalglish - personified all that was wrong with that whimsical statement when he wandered speechless among the floral tributes in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster when 96 people lost their lives at a football match. 

But not everything about football is broken. “Let me Entertain You” sang Robbie Williams, and later this month, he surely will, when he and a whole host of celebrities take to the pitch at Old Trafford to raise funds for Unicef. The likes of Olly Murs, Jamie Theakston, Marvin Humes (JLS), Aston Merrygold (JLS), Jonathan Wilkes, John Bishop, Paddy McGuinness  and Mark Owen will be lining up alongside footballing legends in order to add to the £7m already raised by this innovative fundraising mechanic.  

No such lofty heights as the upper tier at Old Trafford for me though. It was a wet and windy evening last Wednesday as I took my seat in the Arkell’s Stand at the County Ground, Swindon. Along with the other 3,500 people who had forsaken the comfort of their armchairs, I had come to watch a charity football match of much more modest proportions.

League 2 champions Swindon Town, having made the Wiltshire Air Ambulance their charity of the year, had put their money where their mouth was and staged a Paulo Di Canio Select XI against the charity’s own collection of ex-professionals, paramedics and volunteers. The result? Well that does not matter, but Paulo got a hat trick, Ben Shephard scored a wonder goal and Chris Kamara slotted away a penalty with slide-rule precision. For you football aficionados, I have to say that Darren Anderon was sublime and seemed to have shaken off his sobriquet -“Sicknote” - until it started raining and he self-substituted himself and made his way down the tunnel.

But why all this detail about football and footballers, I hear you asking – especially when possibly fifty per cent of my readers will deplore the game and deplore its excesses? Well, it’s because all those footballers at the County Ground last week did it for nothing, travelled at their own expense, got wet and cold on a wretched night and because of that they made a big difference to a modest county-based charity that receives no government funding and depends entirely on donations for 100 per cent of its operating costs.

The national and international news coverage of the event was simply stunning since the legend that is Paulo Di Canio putting on his boots again was a story to rival the London Mayoral Elections.

Football is a sport full of anecdotes. The late George Best said “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.” Not so Paulo Di Canio. For ‘her indoors’ I give you exhibit ‘c’ – a footballer with a conscience and the determination to do something about it. Sir, I salute you. Caroline Corrigan, I salute you too for having the sheer bloody-minded determination to make it all happen.


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