An annoying ghost from the past is back to haunt English football.
Colin Moynihan, Margaret Thatcher's loyal elf who shrilly yet unsuccessfully hawked her ill-conceived plan for I.D. cards for football fans around an unwilling nation 22 years ago, has returned to put his foot in it with soccer again.
Moynihan, UK Minister for Sport between 1987 and 1990, has waded into the debate over the 2012 Great Britain Olympic team, in his role as chairman of the British Olympic Association.
Despite categorical opposition from the Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh football associations, Moynihan has insisted the Olympic team must reflect the UK as a whole, and allow the likes of Gareth Bale, this season's outstanding performer in the UEFA Champions League, to play for Britain.
The diminutive Tory points to the BOA's Constitutional requirement that all British sportsmen must be considered for selection and warned that an English-only team could trigger a flood of legal challenges from excluded Celts.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has assured the four associations in writing that a truly British Olympic team will not change anything regarding their status, but he alone cannot out-vote any motion to that effect supported by a majority of his organisation's delegates.
The infamous ID-card plan which Moynihan trumpeted was a desperate response to 1985's Heysel tragedy and a never-ending saga of domestic skirmishes involving English football fans.
It had first been mooted in Judge Popplewell's verdict on 1985's Bradford fire, but the driving force behind it was the late and unlamented MP David Evans, a former chairman of Luton Town. Evans, who belonged to what was colloquially known as 'The Broadmoor Wing' of the Conservative Party, took the unprecedented decision in 1985 to ban all away fans from Luton's Kenilworth Road ground following a famous riot by Millwall supporters. Meanwhile, Luton's own supporters had to register and gain an identity card which was swiped at the turnstiles.
Moynihan, crassly, sported a Charlton Athletic tie for his TV appearances - he was MP for nearby Lewisham East at the time, but wore his soccer knowledge lightly as he told us again and again the only way to stop hooliganism was for all fans to carry cards. The then government was football-unfriendly, with the exception of Nottingham Forest-supporting Ken Clarke, and made no effort to tap into the sport's popularity like every subsequent government has.
Thatcher's provincial market town upbringing and education at Oxford had kept her far from professional football and the industrial regions it sprang from. Her reign coincided with the darkest years of English hooliganism but she adamantly refused to accept that it was social, rather than footballing problems, that she was dealing with.
The opposition to ID cards was near-universal amongst football folk and the whole sorry episode was instrumental in giving birth to a national supporters' association in response to a suddenly politicised environment.
It was the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989 and the subsequent Taylor Report which delivered the coup de grace to Thatcher's foray into football. The axing of a dud idea was welcome, but it should not have taken 96 deaths for it to have happened. CCTV had already turned the tide against stadium violence, and by the early 1990s, football fighting was just no longer a cool thing to do. Cards would have made no difference.
The Iron Lady resigned in 1990 and Moynihan scuttled away into the shadows after losing his seat at the 1992 General Election, only briefly reappearing in court in 1996 to claim the title 'Baron Moynihan' after the death of his brothel-keeping half-brother. Football fans were glad to see the back of him.
Perhaps the Celtic associations do have nothing to fear from the passing novelty of a UK team, but being clearly petrified of the unthinkable, they have every right to refuse to participate.
What Moynihan the BOA man fails to understand is that Olympic football has so little prestige compared to the real prizes in the game that the three smaller British associations cannot allow a minor competition they never enter anyway to risk ending their existences.
Against this background, a man with apparently no knowledge of the sport really should back off. Football decisions should be down to football people, and Moynihan is not one of us. If no association apart from the FA wishes to participate in the UK eleven then we can all live with that.
One man who knew how to deal with Moynihan was Brian Clough. Cloughie referred to him as 'The Miniature for Sport' and brought a puppet of him onto television to ridicule. When Moynihan charged onto the field to congratulate Britain's gold medal-winning hockey team at the 1988 Olympics, Clough judiciously pointed out how Moynihan could never again lecture football fans about pitch invasions.
When Lord Justice Taylor killed the ID cards off once and for all, Cloughie concluded,
"I would like to thank Mr Moynihan, and anyone who is above him...which is most of us."
- Sean O'Conor
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