Ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair has flouted his past obsession with a British Football League. As good as this idea might be, Blair’s thoughts lack something and the timing is unfortunate to say the least.
Ten years after leaving office, Tony Blair has spoken about his obsession in creating a British Football League in an attempt to create a feeling of unity in the UK after the Scottish devolution referendum in 1997 which granted Scotland greater independence from the central government in London. Surely, these are no new ideas. However, it is the timing of his remarks as well as some details.
First, he only mentions the Old Firm, i.e. Rangers and Celtic. This is limiting Scottish football to the city of Glasgow. No disrespect to these two clubs which have between them dominated the league for decades, but this section is grossly disrespectful to the clubs that form the Scottish Premier League. The likes of Dundee, Aberdeen, Hearts et.al. will feel left out. Moreover, the clubs from Northern Ireland and Wales will wonder whether they are part of British football or not. If there ever will be a British Football League and whatever its name will be, it should really be comprised of clubs from all four countries that make up the United Kingdom. Anything else will be further dividing the country.
Additionally, it will be detrimental to the development of football in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Scottish football has become the laughing stock because Rangers were beaten by Luxembourg’s fourth best team in the qualification for the Europa League in early July. Celtic will face PSG, Anderlecht and Bayern in their Champions League group. This is difficult but nothing is impossible. However, adding only these two clubs to a British league would widen the gap even further that already exists in Scotland. Not to mention Linfield and Newtown from Northern Ireland and Wales respectively. Though both teams qualified for last year’s Euro in France, their clubs are a long way away from entering Europe during high season, i.e. between September and May. As a matter of fact, such a league as Blair was talking about would only be detrimental to football development and widen the gap.
Putting Britain back on the Map
Another reason why Blair’s advance is problematic is the timing. More than a year after Brexit, the yearning for a strong Britain, maybe even a great Britain is stronger than ever. This is visible in the language used. Put bluntly, it is Britain first. This is best exemplified in this statement:
“Wherever possible, UK employers should look to meet their labour needs from resident labour.”
Rachel Shabi, a Guardian columnist who comments on leaked documents that detail how the British government intends to tackle immigration has labelled it ‘a xenophobic slogan with fascist roots.’ And she is right. Brexit has all been about immigration and Britain. The former is still a key issue in the Brexit negotiations that seem to be stuck and not going forward.
The impression is that there is a lot of talk about Britain but a Britain that no longer exists. A Britain without migration but with a homogeneous population. That Britain has gone and has been replaced by a multicultural place that once welcomed people from across the globe to call their home, even if only temporary. Britain is not the only country experiencing a surge in nationalist thinking, yet nowhere are links between the well-being of the nation and football stronger than in Britain.
Therefore, the remarks by Blair come at a time when British politics are obsessed with putting Britain first in an attempt to make sense of Brexit. Since football is the sport that is most popular in Britain, except maybe Wales, the idea of a British League is floated around once more in an attempt to create unity in a country that seems to be torn apart since the referendum in June 2016.