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November 17, 2004

Portrait of the European Union as a Game of Football

Posted by Hector Boffey

Newspapers close to the Blair government have recently reported that the Government is contemplating asking David Beckham to help lead the yes campaign for the EU Constitution. A senior Government spokesman told the Daily Mirror: "Celebrities, supermodels and sports stars can show people, especially younger people how Europe is working" (16th October 2004). The reality is that Europe is not working very well - especially for young people, a disproportionately large number of whom cannot find employment. But this fact has not prevented our eurocrat friends Maurice and Gerhard from thinking along similar lines, as the following conversation reveals:

Gerhard, I have recently been reading a book called The United States of Europe: the New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy by T.R. Reid which has just been published by Penguin. The poor deluded author seems to believe that Europe is on the verge of challenging US power. However, the book does contain an interesting insight upon which I would appreciate your considered judgement as a football fan.

I always thought you despised football, Maurice.

I most certainly do, Gerhard, but that is irrelevant. Reid argues that football is the biggest cultural and social phenomenon of our era – just huge, and one therefore that has huge political implications. During his researches Reid says he talked to many thousands of ordinary people and one of them, a television salesman from Rheims summed things up when he said – and I quote - "Football brings millions and millions of us together – football is Europe, don't you see. If I meet somebody from England or Norway or Spain, I just say 'David Beckham' and we immediately have something we share". Now, Gerhard we can longer sell Europe as the economic powerhouse of the 21st century – no one is stupid enough to believe that. We can't sell it as the best means to maintain the peace – most of our armed forces are just woeful and their equipment is third rate or still on the drawing board – which is precisely where it will remain. Given the looming pensions catastrophe we can't sell Europe as the world's best welfare agency. But if we can sell the EU as a game of football we might be on to something. To put the matter more precisely, if Europe can be identified with soccer and soccer with Europe the potential benefits could be immense! And there is an additional bonus: football is a game that the United States scarcely plays - and when it does do so, it loses! On the whole, I frankly doubt whether football fans are sufficiently bright to see through my stratagem, and, if I am right, we have at our command a PR asset of amazing power. What do you think?

Football as a metaphor for political union… well, it's a fascinating idea, Maurice.

And this man Beckham is the ideal figurehead for our purposes. No wonder Tony Blair wants to sign him up. He comes from the most eurosceptic EU country, but plays for the most glamorous club in continental Europe. He is a fashion icon. And he is mobbed wherever he goes in Europe. I read recently that there had been an exhibition of paintings by no less than 25 professional artists who say they have been inspired by him. How many portraits have been inspired by Romano Prodi?

Yes, but Beckham is not just mobbed in Europe, Maurice. He evokes the same response in Japan, Mexico and Timbuktu – everywhere. He has embraced celebrity like no other footballer in the history of the game. He is an international phenomenon.

You would not say that he that he is seen as typically European?

I frankly doubt it Maurice. He does not speak any European language. His critics would say that includes English. His wife can't stand Spain and has admitted responsibility for causing strains in their marriage by going back home on the first available private jet. And there are one or two other reasons for thinking he might not be our man.

Such as?

Well, recently, during a World Cup qualifier he deliberately kicked another player after being injured himself. That way he cleared the slate as far as previous penalty points were concerned so that these were not hanging over him when he returned to the English team following recovery.

Do you imply that he cynically exploited the rules of the game for reasons of national and personal advantage?

Precisely so, Maurice.

In that case he should fit into the scheme of things very well – it's precisely what every EU Commissioner does on a routine basis, especially the French ones.

I am afraid there are other reasons for being hesitant about seeing Beckham in this role.

Such as?

Unfortunately, there have been a number of extramarital trysts since he moved to Spain.

No problem. It is taken for granted that a rich, good-looking young man will find local distractions if his wife is absent. It may not play well in Hartlepool, Gerhard but I assure you it will not harm his image in Paris, Milan or Athens. After all such alliances can be depicted as a symbol of political unity – European union in action! Beckham bonks for Europe! I can see the headlines, Gerhard.

Unfortunately, Maurice I am not sure he has been bonking the right girls. One was a member of his English PR staff, another was his wife's beautician, also English, and another was an Australian lap dancer. The boy may be virile but I don't believe that his sex life can be presented as symbol of European integration. If anything, he seems to be making the case for Imperial Preference.

Well, I grant you there are one or two problems to be sorted out. Is there is anything else I should know?

Well, yes I am afraid there is. I understand that when a British eurosceptic organisation approached Beckham's PR advisers to find out whether he would respond positively to the British Government's invitation they indicated that they were not keen on the idea. I can only conclude that David has thought about the matter and decided that any association with the EU would be bad for his image. His company now earns millions in sponsorship and he is adamant that in order to maximise to his multi-million earnings he can only be associated with success.

Oh dear, well that's it, then! Such a pity! Never mind. Book a table for lunch Gerhard. I have another idea I want to discuss. If we can somehow get the words 'EU constitution' into the title of the winning entry in the European Song Contest we might still pull off a famous victory. It's going to be uphill work but desperate problems require desperate remedies!


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