Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Britain risks a lost decade unless it changes course (Financial Times)

The first priority must be for the public sector to stop exacerbating the contraction, says Larry Summers.

2. The housing benefits cap means a wretched life for thousands in B&Bs (Guardian)

Iain Duncan Smith's welfare reform will leave families already on the lowest housing rung with nowhere to go, writes John Harris.

3. The Tory guns are ready to find their target (Times) (£)

If David Cameron could design his dream opposition, it would look a lot like Ed Miliband’s Labour Party, writes Tim Montgomerie.

4. Why I want the Iron Lady to go on and on (Independent)

Celebrating the prospect of Thatcher's death has become a macabre substitute for the failure to defeat Thatcherism, says Owen Jones.

5. Kate's right to be angry. But only King Canute would think privacy laws can hold back this tide (Daily Mail)

The topless pictures represent a wake-up call — that we inhabit an utterly changed information landscape, says Melanie Phillips.

6. The GOP shows no sign of braking before the cliff (Financial Times)

Never before has politics been as consciously likely to wreck the economy, writes Edward Luce.

7. How progressive Islam fell to the barbarians (Independent)

I have very deep sympathy for oppressed Muslims everywhere, writes Yasmin Alibhai Brown. But that is no excuse for this counter-productive rampage.

8. Tories doomed if they ignore Major warning (Sun)

The former prime minister is right to argue that a referendum on EU membership is now both desirable and inevitable, says Trevor Kavanagh.

9. The Tories are giving us distractions, not actions (Guardian)

Rather than build for our future, the coalition government has resorted to making endless promises that never bear fruit, says Rachel Reeves.

10. British businesses are taking an unfair whacking from America (Daily Telegraph)

BP has made mistakes, but its endless battering from the US authorities is out of all proportion, says Boris Johnson.

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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