NEWS: English football is victorious, in the PR battle at least

So, has soccer at last won a PR battle? Before I try to answer this question, let me confess. I am an undying supporter of lost causes - Halifax Town, Burnley and Crystal Palace, where my son and I have stand seats.

So, has soccer at last won a PR battle? Before I try to answer this

question, let me confess. I am an undying supporter of lost causes -

Halifax Town, Burnley and Crystal Palace, where my son and I have stand

seats.



After sitting through all Margaret Thatcher’s No 10 meetings to curb

murderous hooliganism, I found the soccer authorities even less inclined

to take responsibility when the death toll soared beyond 100 than they

were when it was in single figures. It was, they said, society’s

problem, not theirs.



I proclaimed it a serious blot on the judiciary’s escutcheon when it

substituted Eric Cantona’s prison sentence (for going feet first kung-fu

style into a Crystal Palace moron) for the hero worship of community

service, teaching kids the finer (?) arts of the game. Nor can

brilliance on the park excuse players’ boorishness off it.



I accused retired Lord Chief Justice Taylor of whitewashing, in his

inquest, the real culprits of the Hillsborough disaster; the tanked up

yobs who arrived late determined to force their way in. This has earned

me condemnation on sensitive Merseyside where their Stalinist

politicians banned me from speaking. It has also moved Glenda Jackson,

our thespian MP, to table an early day motion censuring me on the

Commons Order Paper.



Having thus established my credentials, let me answer the question. Euro

96 has been astonishingly successful both on and off the field. Skill,

fitness and stamina have generally risen. There is not much between the

best and worst of soccer nations. The quality of referees is more

variable and some, it seems, absurdly wish to eliminate bodily contact.

The yellow card count might have been lower had they been able to impose

their personality on the game immediately, but let us not quibble. It

has been an entertaining and emotional tournament.



Golden goals in extra time and penalty shoot-outs may be an

unsatisfactory way of deciding matters. But only duelling at dawn with

pistols would be more dramatic and bloody. As Desmond Lynam, the BBC

presenter, said before Gareth Southgate failed to keep England in the

competition: ‘You’ll probably want to hide behind the sofa now.’ But the

greatest success has been in Britain’s staging the tournament in a

carnival atmosphere without the brutal menace of a minority of ‘fans’.

They were exiled miles away in Trafalgar Square for, let us hope, their

last forlorn violent provocation.



If that is what it was, English soccer will at least be able to claim a

deserved and unexpected PR success. We lost the tournament but won the

war, as it were. All that remains is to clean up our grubbier press

which daily corrupts the game with its juvenile hysteria. England 5

Tatty Tabloids 0.



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