Don’t worry, it’s only fanaticism

Wishing others were less obsessive is futile, writes Brian Groom

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‘Cause he’s fitba’ crazy,
He’s fitba’ mad.
The fitba it has ta’en away
The wee bit sense he had.

(credited to James Curran, 1885)

As Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager, once put it: “Football. Bloody hell.” There is an outbreak of fretting in the media, of all places, about whether Britain is too obsessive about its national game. To which one thinks, it probably is – but what can be done?

Concern was sparked by Fabio Capello’s resignation as England coach and acquittal of heir apparent Harry Redknapp on tax charges – events that knocked the plight of the Syrian city of Homs from the top of news bulletins and front pages. This follows sagas involving Manchester City’s Carlos Tévez, Liverpool’s Luis Suárez and Chelsea’s John Terry. Now the financial straits of Glasgow Rangers and Portsmouth FC have added to the frenzy.

Matthew Syed in The Times worries that the game “seems to subvert sense and judgment”, “bulldozes all other sensibilities” and “has morphed from a rather beautiful metaphor for tribalism and community into an escapist fantasy that brings out the worst in so many of those who follow it”.

Mary Dejevsky in The Independent complains that “the pre-eminence of football in England – with its status, its vulgarity and its money – has distorted and debased national life”.

People have been worrying about football all my life and probably a lot longer. In the 1970s the anxiety was over hooliganism. In the 1980s it was about yobs on the rampage abroad, stadium safety and shrinking crowds. Now the problems are seen as ones of success: high season ticket prices and takeover by the middle classes, or the misbehaviour of pampered stars.

True, there are unedifying aspects to the game: the bile that spews out on fan forums, racism, parental aggression at youth matches. A sense of proportion gets lost. It is absurd that politicians pronounce on every controversy and MPs spend hours debating the game’s governance.

However, football is at the top of news lists because millions are interested. As fanaticisms go, it seems more benign than religious or political intolerance. If it worries you, you can stop watching matches or reading about it, though you would miss out what can be a thrilling game and an absorbing human drama. Simply wishing others were less obsessive is futile.

Coming home

The fashion industry is the latest sector to bring some manufacturing back to the UK, spurred by rising wages in China and higher transport costs. Sir Philip Green, owner of Arcadia, wants to help train young people as sewing machinists and pattern cutters. Retailers Fat Face and River Island are among those sourcing more garments in Britain.

This is part of what is wincingly known as “reshoring” or “onshoring”. A survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit for KPMG found more than half of UK manufacturers expect to increase domestic sourcing over the next few years. Fewer companies are prepared to put up with unreliable delivery and quality and long supply chains now the lower pound has narrowed the cost gap. Santander UK, United Utilities and BT have shifted call centre work from India to the UK.

We should not get carried away. Tim Leunig of the LSE argues that reshoring will not happen because there are millions more Chinese willing to work for $2 a day and productivity is still rising there.

Low-value manufacturing seems likely to stay offshore, while high-tech stuff never left. Coming back are some medium-skilled activities. UK productivity is so high that these will not create a lot of jobs, but any boost appears worth celebrating.

Job envy

The south Pennines – the area between the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District – has created a “local distinctiveness co-ordinator”. Job description: working with pubs, breweries and craftspeople to find new market opportunities. Sounds idyllic.

Iceberg ahead

The Royal Mint has released a £5 coin to mark the centenary of the Titanic’s maiden voyage in 1912. Thankfully, this commemorative coin will not be issued into circulation, where it might send a disturbing signal about the economy.

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