Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. From Washington this looks like Syria's 'Benghazi moment'. But not from here (Independent)

Robert Fisk discusses the situation in Syria: Look east and what does Bashar see? Iran standing with him and Iraq refusing to impose sanctions.

2. Syria between two massacres: Hama's memory endures (Guardian)

As Syrians find their voice to mark the 1982 massacre, says Wadah Khanfar, their resolve to overthrow this brutal regime is clear.

3. Great expectations? No. Hard times? Yes. Enter Miliband Snr (Daily Telegraph)

The former foreign secretary's blueprint to help a lost generation must be taken seriously, says Mary Riddell.

4. Is Lansley the exception to the no-sacking policy? (Times) (£)

The botched NHS reforms could destroy the Tories at the next election. What they need is a new health secretary, says Rachel Sylvester.

5. The way to cut bonuses: scrap public subsidies for banks (Financial Times)

The public interest in bankers' bonuses lies in the fact that taxpayers underwrite them, says Philip Stephens.

6. The right's stupidity spreads, enabled by a too-polite left (Guardian)

Conservativism may be the refuge of the dim, says George Monbiot. But the room for rightwing ideas is made by those too timid to properly object.

7. All is revealed in Gingrich's fantasy fiction (Times) (£)

The Republican contender is a novelist -- who knew? But, Ben Macintyre explains, his stories are less 'what if' history than 'so what' history.

8. The ice is cracking under Putin (Financial Times)

While nobody is talking of a Moscow spring, there is a definite thaw, says Gideon Rachman.

9. If India doesn't want it, why are we still giving them money? (Independent)

David Cameron's decision to maintain our overseas aid budget was intensely political, says Dominic Lawson.

10. Derailing Bonuses (Times) (£)

Network Rail executives have bowed to public pressure over bonuses. This highlights the need to sort out its status, says this leading article.

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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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