Ryder Cup spirit proves a bogey for eurosceptics

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Chants and football crowds go together like hymns and church. So it is odd how few of the chants that have lodged in my mind over the years originated in football stadiums.

As a youngster, I was marked less by the profanities of Ashton Gate's covered end than the rolling thunder of Gloucestershire County Cricket Club's hard core, serenading Procter, Brown, Shepherd and the rest of their folk heroes with a relentless, low-pitched "Gloss-terr, Gloss-terr", like the mating call of some long extinct flightless bird.

Cut to a bar in downtown Toronto at the end of the 1988 Canadian election campaign. A group of drinkers strikes up with a perky "Free trade! Free trade!" This came as a graphic reminder of the power of economic ideas. (A free trade deal with the US had been a potent election issue. Even so, Adam Smith would have been surprised and chuffed.)

And then there was the time two years ago when I was going about my business in the Midlands as another surprising chant got up a head of steam. "Europe! Europe!" it went. Not the sort of populist message I had expected to encounter just up the road from the Forest of Arden, with its echoes of Shakespeare and the English pastoral tradition. The precise setting was the Belfry golf club and the time was a few minutes after Ireland's Paul McGinley had sunk the putt that won the Ryder Cup for Europe.

Even so, in the land of the pound sterling, the Daily Mail and - now - the UK Independence party, this rousing chorus had to go down as a rare victory for proponents of closer ties between Britain and the rest of Europe. A Norwegian journalist at the press conference with the winning team certainly thought so. "This victory has to be more uniting for Europe than the euro ever will be," he proclaimed.

Golf fans from Aberdeen to Aachen, even eurosceptics, will be hoping this chant gets another airing on Sunday week when the only team competition that matters in this most individualistic of sports makes its biennial reappearance, this time near Detroit.

As usual, the contest seems to pitch, in the language of Motown, an underpowered, mend-and-make-do European jalopy against a sleek US roadster. But such disparities have not stopped Europe winning in the past. Indeed, the pattern of plucky Europeans pulling off results that defy the form book is well enough established to provide food for thought for anyone who thinks the UK should integrate more fully, politically and economically, with Europe.

Bizarrely, the world of golf, so backward-looking in so many ways, has come up with something that the pro-Europe camp in British politics would give its eye teeth to have created on a broader stage: a vehicle for popularising the idea of Europe. The vital ingredients are the following: The demonisation of a common enemy - the US team, which is a great way of fostering unity of purpose. The establishment of a pan-European construct - the Europe team - that has repeatedly and demonstrably proved greater than the sum of its parts. On paper, the US should have wiped the floor with Europe two years ago. Instead, we witnessed a succession of "impossible" results, such as journeyman's journeyman Phillip Price beating Phil Mickelson, then as now one of the world's best players. "I didn't think I had it in me," Price charmingly observed after his moment of inspiration. "But it was awfully nice to find out that I did." The undisputable improvement of something British (and, for six years, Irish) by the addition of something European. Before the Britain & Ireland team was expanded to Europe in 1979, the Ryder Cup was a one-sided contest, dominated by the US. Since then, the competition has been compelling, not to say ferocious, with the score standing at 6½ cups to 5½ the US's favour (5½ to 3½ Europe since 1985).

It is a moot point whether Europe's Ryder Cup success has converted many golf fans to the broader pro-European cause. Yet with the promised referendum on the European Union's new constitution expected in spring 2006, you could argue that Britain's pro-Europeans have about 18 months to come up with a political equivalent of Europe's golf team.

Failing that, they should push for the date of the vote to be put back to, say, Thursday September 28 2006. That would be four days after the climax of the 2006 Ryder Cup in County Kildare. It might seem like a lot to stake on Tiger Woods failing to retrieve his brilliance for another two years. But chants of "Europe! Europe!" might be just what the "Yes" campaign needs.

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