Clarke Carlisle's TV trial: when will football face up to Question Time?
Clarke Carlisle talks a good game. For a footballer. Does this, along with Carlisle’s role as chairman of the Professional Footballers Association, merit his spot on BBC One political panel show Question Time last night? The show was recorded in Burnley, home to the club Carlisle plays for, but this was a tricky away tie.
Forgive me. The dodgy football metaphors were out in force, Carlisle offering a bland statement about “teamwork” in answer to a question about the appointment of Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor in place of Alan Johnson earlier in the day. He later supplied an even more spurious analogy that attempted to make a connection between GP reform and the Director of Football model. Carlisle’s ambition and confidence was certainly admirable but it would be patronising to merely pat him on the back for his oft-quoted “eloquence”, a label which can only be applied in relative terms given his profession.
From a football perspective, it would also be easy to say that Carlisle’s assured performance showed footballers in a positive light and there were inevitable responses to the broadcast that suggested it demonstrated that “not all footballers are thick”. They certainly aren’t, but this remained a shrug of the shoulders from an uncaring sport and a “best we can offer” attitude towards an important political show.
This is a critical time, not just for now or for the next two or three years. The coalition government’s proposals make this a critical time for the long-term future of this country. So people can be forgiven for wanting more from Question Time than the opportunity to be dazzled by Clarke Carlisle’s use of the word “prevalent”.
Even football will be hit by the coalition government’s plans to reduce the budget deficit. It may think it can get away scot-free and the media may swallow the continued multi-million pound transfer fees as evidence of the game’s separate status. This runs far deeper. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of public sector job losses will affect football. The redundancies are going up and the ticket prices are going with them. There will always be demand, but the game will continue to alter and only the rich will survive.
There was no place for the mention of football in the show. There are far more important things to worry about. But there could have been some small acknowledgement on Carlisle’s part of the detrimental effect that the current government, a member of whom was sat immediately to his left, will have on low-paid public sector workers. Even if it had to be shoehorned into proceedings by making the connection that these are the supporters that will soon be priced out of football all over the country.
Instead, despite Carlisle’s admission that he voted Liberal Democrat in the election, we were treated to another bland answer about the importance of compromise. Well, what can you do? The vast majority of the national media is determined to espouse the inevitability of the need for huge public sector job cuts, so why should we expect anything radical from a professional footballer?
The hope came in Carlisle’s two other, far more impressive answers during his stint on the show – one regarding the bleak future of our young people in this country and another focusing on a member of his family currently serving abroad in the armed forces. This was powerful stuff. It provided a glimpse of a man who was not afraid to convey his empathy for people in difficult positions.
Standing down for a moment, it is obvious that Carlisle’s appearance on the show was an overall success and that there would have been many football supporters watching with both interest and admiration. Of course it is unfair to expect anyone to whip out their soapbox if they fail to possess any depth of feeling for the subject.
And yes, the connection between Clarke Carlisle’s presence on Question Time and the wider relationship between football and politics is an extremely tenuous one. In fact, it barely exists at all.
Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see whether any football clubs, particularly those in the lower reaches of the Football League and beyond, react in any way to the mass unemployment that is being threatened in this country. The elite Premier League clubs will still be able to charge over £50 for a match ticket, safe in the knowledge that waiting lists of thousands are queueing out of their silver-plated revolving doors, but that is not true everywhere.
Thus, the gap between rich and poor in football – as in everyday life – will grow wider over the next few years. My local library is facing the threat of closure to enable an annual saving equal to the weekly wage of an average Premier League footballer. Not a good one. An average one.
That isn’t football’s fault. And it certainly isn’t Clarke Carlisle’s fault. He just wandered into the firing line at a time when emotions are running high in places. Earlier in the evening, at a meeting about the immediate future of public services in one area of the country, the father of an autistic child gave a distressing speech about the effect that funding cuts will have on their lives.
It was an extreme example of the reality that many of us are facing. And we like the escapism of football each weekend. And we need to be able to continue to enjoy it and resent it and love it and hate it all at once. Above all, we need to be able to afford it.
Challenging times ahead, and not just the close of the January transfer window.