In the right hands - or feet - football is a powerfully unifying force as well as a potentially divisive one.
You can have a kickabout anywhere. On a beach with strangers who become friends. In a back garden with mates.
In a park - and could anything be more ludicrous than “no ball games” signs in parks?
And in a shanty town, a favela, in Rio. It’s a game which, played with passion, pursued with determination, can carry a street kid out of poverty.
Right now, to the horror of some, joy of many, the world is at our feet.
I love football. I’ve got the World Cup wall planner, alarm clocks set, and have finally found some point to BT Sport included in my Broadband deal.
So if I read one more condescending article along the lines of A Woman’s Guide to the World Cup or 100 Ways to Make Your Footie Loving Fella Turn Off Telly I’ll sing Copacabana in Portuguese wearing an Everton strip outside Rowley’s bistro at Blackpool FC Hotel. Or better still inside the Plough in Staining which is run by a Brazilian - Pedro Camargo. And that village is one of the most competitive when it comes to North West in Bloom.
Football has provided some great moments for me and mine. It offers up the earliest memory too - of being carried into the Kop on my dad’s shoulders. And some of the most poignant - by dint of my Liverpool allegiance. We were there when Pele, 25, got brutally hacked down by the Bulgarians in Brazil’s 2-0 opening triumph - in Liverpool. And I can remember the unadulterated joy when England won the World Cup in 1966 on home soil, to boot. Albeit thanks in no small way to the linesman. I was 10.
Some may think it’s all over but it’s just started now, the anticipation, agonising, flag flying and the optimism that maybe this time we won’t see those flags vanish almost as quickly as they came.
But just what’s the accepted protocol for lowering the household flag of St George after good old England’s snatched defeat from the jaws of victory (again)?
Under cover of darkness? Get the kids to do it as a lesson in life? If you’re going to shout allegiance from the rooftops leave the flags up until the closing ceremonials, regardless of who’s there. Then do it with a Three Lions roar rather than a whimper.
I love the house I spotted in Fleetwood earlier this week - transformed into an England flag. Leave that paint job well alone.
I’ve sat in sports bars in Italy watching AC Milan exact revenge on Liverpool two years after being trounced in 2005 - and had 100 Italians sing You’ll Never Walk Alone ironically at me.
My little car, sporting England flags, found itself leading a victory parade in Brittany back in 1998 when the French won the World Cup. And I’ve started an evening sitting like a superannuated Shirley Valentine on my tod in a Greek taverna watching the footie - and left as an adopted member of the extended family.
Football’s THE game for most of us the world over, the Esperanto of sport. Field hockey claims to be the world’s third most popular sport- after cricket and footie - but we’re hardly likely to host street parties in its honour or know the names of players we would sign for our all time fantasy World Cup side.
Me? I’d have a truly international side - and quite an elderly one. It would be managed by the late Alf Ramsay, the great motivator, and include Pak Doo Ik from North Korea - who beat the Italians in 1966, Brazil’s Pele, Portugal’s Eusebio, Italy’s Maradona, England’s Geoff Hurst, Northern Ireland’s George Best who never played in the World Cup, Germany’s Gerd Muller, Uruguay’s Diego Forlan, Brazil’s Ronaldo, France’s Zinedine Zidane and, much as it pains me, the other Ronaldo (Portugal’s). Beckham, Rooney and Gerrard on the bench. No sign of Suarez. Or Torres.
Game plan? I’m leaving that in Gary Neville’s hands...
Sometimes carers just need time - to be kids again
This is a thank you to - The Gazette.
I really don’t know how many other local papers would have granted a week’s worth of coverage of national carers’ week - in recognition of the immense significance of the role they play locally. Particularly young carers.
These features - which reminded me that of all the things I love about journalism - are a chance to make a difference which matters most.
It’s many years since I met my first young carer, a lad in Fleetwood who lost his childhood looking after his mum, an amputee, and never grudged a moment of it even when left adrift by her death 12 years later. All carers deserve recognition. They save the state billions in allied health and welfare costs.
And sometimes they need to be saved from themselves - given a break by the sitting service run by Blackpool Carers’ Centre, support at hospital, a trip out, or tips on coping with dementia, mental health issues, substance misuse. Or just time - to be kids again.
I can’t thank enough the local firms who turned out this week to sign up for the cash quest for carers to fund a young carers’ champion - and Blackpool Tower for lighting blue for carers’ week.
Here are three other carers - for I’m one myself - who would like to say thank you too. Young carers Louise, 15, Lily, seven and Katie, 10, take a bow yourselves.