Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The PM will forever be saddled with Raisa (Telegraph)

Stories of horse-riding with Rebekah Brooks in Chipping Norton embed a deadly image of Cameron as part of a swaggering lofty elite, writes Matthew Norman.

2. We need a welfare state that secures Beveridges legacy (FT)

James Purnell, former Labour Work and Pensions Secretary, calls for rebalancing welfare provision in lean times with an emphasis on quality childcare.

3. Silence in the court (Guardian)

Leading article attacks government proposals to hold certain trials covering 'sensitive material' in secret.

4. Knives out for Boris (Daily Mail)

Sonia Purnell, biographer of Boris Johnson, catalogues some of the reasons why his campaign for re-election is proving tricky and why senior Tories are determined to thwart any other ambitions he might have.

5. Labour must bite the welfare bullet to catch the public mood (Independent)

The economics of welfare reform aren't working out so well for the government, but the politics are, says Andrew Grice.

6. Maybe they are scroungers, just don't say so (Times)

The Tories' are right to be instinctively hard-hearted towards people on benefits (and the generally destitute), but to be elected they have to pretend otherwise, Matthew Parris argues.

7. From Google Downwards our Digital masters must be watched (Guardian)

Westminster's power pales beside the titanic reach of the new online leviathans, writes Jonathan Freedland.

8. Our era needs to rediscover economic statesmanship (FT)

America is reneging on its historic obligations to help the world sort itself out in a time of crisis, writes Financial Times Editor Lionel Barber.

9. As recession bites is a new kind of Northern politics emerging? (Guardian)

Ian Jack hunts for a Socialist revival in Huddersfield.

10. Admit it, the NHS is a rotten way of doing things (Telegraph)

The nation thinks it loves the health service, but it is deluded. In fact, the NHS is a vast, selfish bureaucracy, writes Charles Moore.

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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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