Dear Friends,

‘One down, one to go’ – Italy have defeated Spain in the first semi-final of Euro2021 – now we wait for tomorrow when England play Denmark to decide who will join them in the final. I’m old enough to remember the last time England reached the final of a major football tournament, the World Cup of 1966, a long time ago. At times like these, to suggest that ‘it’s only a game’ does not go down very well.  As the late Bill Shankly – former manager of Liverpool – once said, ‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you that it is much, much more important than that.’ I’ve never hidden my passion for football. I went to a rugby playing school, but my father was a football fanatic and he got me hooked. Cardiff City was our team. Not a top team, but our team…Back to Euro2021. Wales already having been eliminated from the competition, will I be supporting England – because you have to support someone; you can’t just ‘watch’ football indifferent as to who wins – well, we have a saying, ‘If England are playing, always support the team they are playing against’. Ironically Denmark was the team which defeated Wales earlier in the competition, so, draw your own conclusion…But rising above all of this, we are all bound to have been impressed with the way the England Manager, Gareth Southgate, has conducted himself. Not just in terms of his professional competence, but in the way he has engaged with controversial ‘political’ issues that have ‘spilled over’ into football. Most obvious of which is that of ‘taking the knee’ before the kick off of each match as a way of reaffirming the football community’s commitment to confront racism. Even when England supporters booed the players for doing so, Southgate restated his and their commitment to the cause, contending that as far as the players on the pitch were concerned, ‘it’s their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate’. We’ve heard a lot about ‘bubbles’ lately. Sportsmen and women having to keep themselves isolated so they can avoid catching Covid; in that way ensuring that they can continue to compete. Southgate seems to be saying that for him, as far as politics is concerned, footballers cannot, and should not be required to ‘shut themselves off’ from the issues of the day, just as none of us cannot and should not. The old adage that sport and politics should not mix has always been a myth – Cricket fans among you will remember Basil D’Olivera and the furore that grew up around his selection to tour with England to South Africa, then under apartheid rule – but what Southgate has shown us is that the interface between sport and politics can be managed sensibly, to the benefit both of the game itself and of the common good…And so to Wednesday e: let’s hope for a good game. May the best team win. But what if we don’t like football, some of you may dare to whisper out loud, what about us. Well, fear not, your deliverance is nigh…I understand that the latest series of ‘Love Island’ is screening on ITV2.

Euro 2021