Let's play fussball

We've had foreign managers, then players. Why not foreign fans?

It's not often that the Football Association and the Premier League do something sensible, so I take my hat off to them. Except I don't wear one. No football fan does today. Look at old crowd photos, and you'll see that every spectator wore a cap. They didn't get in otherwise.

The FA initiative addresses the matter of foreigners. I suppose it was bound to happen. For 30 years, we've had more and more foreign players, until we now accept it as normal that a team such as Arsenal is totally foreign. Most top Premiership teams are mostly foreign, with only the poor sods recently up from the peatbogs of the Football League having to field mostly Brit players, not yet being able to afford an exciting shirt or an educated left foot from Argentina.

Next came the foreign managers. Four in a row at Chelsea (Gullit, Vialli, Ranieri, Mourinho); two in a row at Liverpool (Houllier, Benítez), four in the past few 13 years at Spurs (Ardiles, Gross, Santini, Jol). Foreign managers attract foreign players, hence all the Spaniards at Liverpool and the French at Arsenal. I do wish we had a Polish manager bringing in Poles. I could then write: "Like poles attract, unlike poles repel" - which I haven't written since O-level science.

Now the next stage has arrived: foreign owners. We already have them at Man United, Chelsea, Villa, Portsmouth, Fulham, and very soon at West Ham, so we are told, with more to follow as dodgy Russians and shady Americans, helped by mysterious Middle Easterners, engage in a new cold war over English football.

Hence the announcement by the FA and the Premier League that they are going to do the obvious and logical thing: Next season, all fans will have to be foreign.

We are at present just talking about the top league, which is where nearly all the foreign players and managers perform. It makes perfect sense. We've pinched all these stars and managers, so it's only right that their countrymen should come here to watch them perform.

Gordon Brown is all for it, as it will help the economy. Foreign fans will bring their wives and girlfriends who will go shopping. They'll stay overnight, filling hotels and restaurants. Parking problems will be eased, as they won't have cars, taking a coach from Luton or Teesside airports.

English fans will be quite relieved. Sky TV has already taken over the game, organising kick-off times, running so many games one after the other, so it's easier just to slump at home.

The clubs will be thrilled, as we know it's the foreign fans who go mad in the club shops, buying souvenir tat. Language will not be a problem, as they know all the chants. Just listen to the crowd in any foreign ground and they are singing our songs, cheeky beggars, with one or two of their own swear words thrown in.

I was delightfully surprised, as I watched Spurs play away to Slavia Prague, to see signs among the home fans announcing, in English, "Slavia Hooligans" and "Fans of Alcohol". No problems there about assimilation when they're staggering through the squalor of Tottenham High Road.

The language of football itself is, of course, comprehensible everywhere, as England gave the rules of football to the world, as well as most of the words. Did you know that the Italians are about the only people who have retained their own word for football - calcio - and not botched up some funny version of our English word, such as fussball, futebol, fartball. I might have made the last one up. Everything else is true. Honest . . .

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