CommentPlus: pick of the papers

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

1. David Cameron must sweep aside the impostor who stole his act (Sunday Telegraph)

'Calamity Clegg' managed to come across as the candidate of change in Thursday's leader's debate, says Matthew d'Ancona, but we mustn't count the Tory leader out just yet.

2. The battle of the public school boys (Sunday Times)

Dominic Lawson points out that Sigmund Freud had a perfect phrase for the rivalry between David Cameron and Nick Clegg: the narcissism of minor differences. Both are public school and Oxbridge educated.

3. Cam losing it big time (Sunday Mirror)

New Statesman editor Jason Cowley asks whether Cameron will come to regret pushing so hard for Britain's first televised debates. Coupled with unrest inside his own party, things are not getting any easier for the Tory leader.

4. David, face facts - no immigrants means no NHS (Observer)

Still on the subject of Thursday's debate, Carole Cadwalladr argues that Cameron's anti-immigration rant showed that the more traditional Tory values are still alive and kicking.

5. Afghanistan must be debated (Independent on Sunday)

The war in Afghanistan has hardly featured in the election campaign so far, says the leading article. Polls show that the public is unconvinced by the arguments in favour of war. These strategic issues must be raised for the health of our democracy.

6. Does optimism have a place in British politics (Sunday Telegraph)

Janet Daley wonders why Cameron did not mention his Big Society idea in the leaders' debate, since it brings a vote-winning positive dimension to the campaign.

7. This is a radical revolt against the statist approach of Big Government (Observer)

He may not have mentioned it during the debate, but here Conservative leader David Cameron elaborates on his vision for the Big Society, in which Britons are freed from the 'stifling clutch of state control' to shape their own destiny.

8. Surrender now - the army's no place for you, single mum (Sunday Times)

It should not be the role of the armed forces to move in as childcare managers or social workers or flexitime consultants, says Minette Marrin. Tilern DeBique's tribunal victory is a cautionary tale.

9. A test of the rule of law in Pakistan (Independent on Sunday)

The leading article looks at the verdict of the UN committee on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, which criticised the deficiencies of the Pakistani state. What happens next will indicate whether the country is now any less lawless.

10. So, how do the parties match up on protecting our freedom? (Observer)

The New Labour manifesto asks you to ignore all the suspicion the government has created during its term in office, says Henry Porter, comparing the three main parties' policies on civil liberties.

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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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