Comment Plus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from the Sunday papers.

1. It's time for change and time for hope (News of the World)

The News of the World follows its sister paper, the Sun, in endorsing the Conservatives. It declares, after "much soul-searching", that David Cameron "must be given the chance to run the country".

2. After this week, we may all owe Obama an apology (Independent on Sunday)

Health-care reform, standing up to Israel and a nuclear deal with Russia prove that we were wrong to doubt Barack Obama, says Rupert Cornwell.

3. The Conservatives have the vision but not the nerve (Sunday Telegraph)

The Tories have a compelling vision of a smaller state and a reformed economy but they are too scared to spell it out, argues Janet Daley.

4. Keep it simple and you'll win, George (Sunday Times)

The Tory offering is too cluttered for voters to support, says Martin Ivens. In the chancellors' TV debate on Channel 4, Osborne must keep his argument simple and tell us a story we can understand.

5. If the US declares economic war on China, we should all tremble (Observer)

If Washington decides to impose unilateral tariffs on Chinese imports, the world economy could slide back into recession, warns Will Hutton.

6. Dave has always been a good finisher (Independent on Sunday)

The Conservative Party may be convulsed by doubts about David Cameron, but the pattern of his career suggests that he is a man who always finishes well, says John Rentoul.

7. Why the future of good news is not free (Sunday Times)

As the Sunday Times prepares to launch a new paid-for website, a leader in the paper argues that giving away expensive journalism for free is financially unsustainable.

8. How an unvalued chancellor became Labour's priceless asset (Observer)

The remarkable survival of Alistair Darling, who has served in every Labour cabinet since 1997, is a lesson to other politicians, writes Andrew Rawnsley. Darling's candour won him the right to be his own man.

9. Who else is "doing a Hewitt"? (Mail on Sunday)

The lesson to be learned from the lobbying scandal is that transparency is king, says Anthony Barnett. Ministers and former ministers should be forced to declare all meetings in a register.

10. I can stay no longer in this Church (Sunday Times)

A church that refuses to condemn the rape of children is not fit to offer moral lectures, argues India Knight.

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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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