Proof that football transcends politics

France, December 24th 1914.

German and British troops begin to sing carols in the trenches of Ypres. Christmas greetings are exchanged. Soon, the troops enter ‘no man’s land’ and begin to share small gifts – whisky, cigars, tobacco.

A game of football is played. Letters home confirm the score of one of these games to be 3 to 2 in favour of Germany. Implacable enemies, for a fleeting passage of time, share peace and joy.

Soldiers from both sides gathered and read a passage from the 23rd Psalm:

“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the path of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

West Bromwich, 30th September 2006.

It had been one hell of a month for the Watson household. As a treat for Mrs W we attend the home game of West Bromwich Albion against Leeds United. Mrs Watson has been a lifelong supporter of Leeds and had been looking forward to the match since the fixture list was published.

We sit down. I spy the man behind me. It is Mathew Taylor, head of the Downing Street policy unit. A cold chill descends around both of us. For three weeks we have been in our trenches.

32 minutes into the game and the first victim is Albion’s McShane – red carded for a dubious foul in the box. The penalty is saved. There is joy as we jump out of our seats. Taylor and Watson share a slight smile at the heroism of the Albion players. 10 minutes later, with a man down Albion score. More joy. A punch in the air is shared. Another goal. Then another. Albion three nil up against Leeds United with ten men.

Together, with 20,000 others we sing:

“The Lord’s my sheperherd, I’ll not want. He maketh me down to lie”
“Boing boing. Boing boing. Boing boing”

History is being made. If we could have shared whisky and cigars we would have. We didn’t quite hug each other when the match ended 4-2 up but it was close.

And then, when the historic never-to-be forgotten match is over, a polite and frosty goodbye. Back to the trenches.


Now I found it difficult to blog and be a junior minister. Not because of the political constraints, although there were some of course. No, I just ran out of time in the day. So it is difficult to understand how David Cameron will be able to keep up being leader of the Conservative Party and maintain his video blog and be able to film and edit himself on the self-publishing site You Tube.

One other thing – if the wife and kids were around the breakfast table and he was doing the dishes, who else was in the kitchen holding the camera?

Seriously, I’d be interested to know what people think about this stuff. Is it a new way of communicating or just clever marketing and spin?

John Prescott takes a bow

John Prescott announces his intention to stand down as Deputy Leader in the next year. It didn’t come as a shock but it was the end of an era. I remember his first event as Deputy Leader. It was at the Hull West Labour Party family fun day. By a quirk of long term diary fate, the guest at the event was the new Leader, Tony Blair. I went up to help out a colleague at the event. I think it was at the dockers club.

These were the earliest days of new Labour. This was when you had to beg the club steward to move the drum kit off the stage rather than parachute an entire events team into a hall the size of an aircraft hangar. My colleague, who will remain nameless, even attempted to get the beer coolers turned off because they interfered with the sound feeds for the TV cameras. You can imagine what the answer was – chilled beer being far more important to people’s lives than the quality of the nine o’clock soundbite.

There was an incredible moment with John at conference this week. I was trying to extricate myself from an impromptu TV interview with Cathy Newman, the charmingly persistant political correspondent from Channel 4 news. At a similar moment my agent, his wife and beautiful baby daughter rounded a corner closely followed by friend and colleague Kali Mountford MP. All of them were talking to me at the same time about different things when JP himself entered the fray.

“Hello Tom” said he. “Are you going to resign again” he boomed out down the corridor. I was about to retort “Are you not going to resign again John” when Mrs Watson gave me a look that said remember he is the Deputy PM and that Ms Newman has a camera crew at her side, ready and poised to capture the event for the nation. I swallowed the words and escaped for a strong cup of coffee to recover.