Why the daggers are out for Lord Triesman

Since when did ‘wrecking England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup’ become a treasonable offence?

Duleep Allirajah

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So farewell then, David Maxim Triesman. I’m not sure what legacy you left as FA chairman. I’m not sure whether we should be mourning your departure. I’m not quite sure what you did wrong. And, most of all, I’m not sure why private gossip should be a national issue. If this latest sorry episode in the turbulent recent history of the English Football Association teaches us anything, it’s this: that even though football is only a game too many of us treat it as a matter of life and death. It also teaches us that we should never flirt with a ‘flame-haired 37-year-old’ with ‘a slim physique and ivory skin’ without first checking if she’s wearing a wire.

Baron Triesman of Tottenham. Ennobled by his mate Tony Blair. Humbled by a kiss-and-tell story. It’s a funny old game, isn’t it? Triesman, once an unelected junior minister in HM Government, used to be a student firebrand in the Sixties. I first came across Triesman’s name over 20 years ago in an old essay he’d written calling for the abolition of examinations. It probably seemed like a radical posture at the time. However, with the rise of coursework-based assessment, his wishes have largely come true – albeit without the accompanying storming of the barricades. Triesman’s lefty days are long since behind him. Now his days as pillar of the establishment seem numbered, too.

Should Triesman have fallen on his sword for indulging in what one journalist described as ‘priapic grandstanding’? Of course not. What’s the world coming to when a man can’t make inappropriate allegations about corrupt foreigners in private without fear of the sack? It’s not as if he’s the first person to suggest that foreigners might be a bit dodgy. Football people – sports hacks included – are always complaining about overseas footballers coming over here taking ‘our jobs’ and importing dirty foreign habits such as diving, feigning injury and spitting (not to mention wearing gloves). They’re always moaning about English clubs being hawked off to dodgy foreign crooks. Triesman’s remarks would have been ill-advised had he expressed them in a public arena, but they weren’t out of step with the prevailing distrust of foreigners.

Triesman’s crime, however, is not that he insulted the Spanish and Russians but that he supposedly damaged England’s bid to stage the 2018 World Cup. I’m struggling to see what the big deal is here. It’s too early to tell if England’s bid has been affected. But even if the bid has been undermined – whether you blame Triesman himself or the Daily Mail for entrapping him – is that really a national scandal? Am I missing something?

Admittedly, the statistics show that we stand a much better chance of winning the World Cup when we host it. We have a 100 per cent record in winning World Cups we have hosted. So I guess that winning the right to host the World Cup could be seen as a cunning attempt to stack the dice in our favour. But, trying to secure home advantage apart, I don’t really care where the World Cup is staged. Most England games on foreign soil feel like home games anyway. England’s travelling fans will go to almost any lengths to obtain black-market tickets.

The Triesman affair is yet another illustration of football’s over-inflated significance. The whole affair has been treated as a major diplomatic incident. The Daily Mail has been accused of wrecking the World Cup bid by entrapping Triesman. Even if that were true – and it looks more a case of personal betrayal than media honeytrap – since when was wrecking England’s World Cup bid a treasonable offence? It’s only a bid to stage a football tournament for God’s sake. Get some perspective. Indeed, Triesman’s appointment as the FA’s first independent chairman in 2007 was symptomatic of our tendency to take football far too seriously. A distinguished former minister and Labour Party chairman was chosen because the FA took itself for a quasi-governmental body. And if you’re going to pretend that the FA chairmanship is akin to an office of state, it’s inevitable that the incumbent will face the same sort of public scrutiny that politicians face. Their private life, as is the case these days, will inevitably become public property. Invariably they will become prey to media sting operations, as the former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson found to his cost.

Defending privacy – even the privacy of a loose-tongued philandering Blairite crony – is in everyone’s interests. If Triesman himself bears any culpability, it’s because of his complicity in the role Labour has played in corroding the distinction between public and private. New Labour was instrumental in elevating the private indiscretions of public figures into a political issue. They hitched a ride on the anti-sleaze crusade in order to bring down John Major’s government. They appointed unelected sleazebusters like Sir Christopher Kelly to clean up public life. Triesman is the latest casualty in the war against sleaze that made and then ultimately sank Labour.

We shouldn’t shed any tears over Lord Triesman’s loss to English football. Nor should we lose any sleep over the potential damage to the World Cup bid. But we should, to borrow a phrase from Jose Mourinho, park the bus in front of the goal to defend privacy.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked‘s sports columnist.

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