Clive Betts' Parliament Football Team captaincy
This article is from the January 2013 issue of Total Politics
Playing football is not the most unusual of activities... unless, of course, you’re a 62-year-old MP. It’s probably not what most of my constituents imagine I would be doing on a Tuesday morning.
When the wind is blowing icy rain in my face and I’m trying to keep up with a flying young winger of 40, I might well wonder why I still do it. The answer is I still enjoy it. With Dermot Gallagher officiating at many of our games, I have even learned to say nice things about referees. I won’t comment on whether he maintains discipline better than Mr Speaker...
The Parliamentary Football Team, which I captain, raises money for charity. We have a sponsorship agreement with National Grid and each year give a minimum of £35,000 to charities that include the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and the Special Olympics. Each year we play a charity game at Stamford Bridge, thanks to the generosity of Chelsea FC, and over the years Kenny Dalglish, Mark Bright, Peter Beardsley and many others have turned out to support our events.
The reality is that even MPs get a little star struck by their football idols. During one game at Wembley (the old stadium), Garth Crooks, who I was trying to mark, asked me if I was intending to follow him home, as I hadn’t been away from his side for 90 minutes.
One of the most interesting guest appearances, however, was made on the MPs’ team in the annual Labour Party Conference game against the press lobby, when Ed Balls met Bryan Robson at a reception the evening before our match and casually offered him a game. The look on the MPs’ faces when the new player warmed up for us was more than matched by the reaction of the press team as Bryan skippered us, and coached us to a 5–0 half-time lead.
Many of our games also serve another purpose. We played at Millwall last year against a Show Racism the Red Card team. Listening to experienced pros such as Leroy Rosenior and Brian Deane talk about their hatred and even fear of coming to Millwall as young players when racism was rife was quite an eye-opener. All the more important, then, to keep up the fight against racism in football.
We have also played parliaments from around the world, including Russia, Japan, Germany and Italy. I won’t go into the details of one particular tackle on the Hungarian PM, which lifted him vertically – shown live on national TV. Or the Czechs who refused to come to the post-match reception because of the tackles meted out to their finance minister. I am suggesting a return game with George Osborne playing on the left wing...
Finally, no team is complete without a great, successful manager, and we have that in Lawrie McMenemy, a truly wonderful guy who has given his time not only to us but also to the Special Olympics as their national president. To be fair, Lawrie has to keep it simple for us because every so often, for 90 minutes, 11 MPs from different parties have to find a way of working together and setting aside all the differences they spend the rest of the year developing.