First Thoughts: Full time for football, mushroom magic, and the meaning of Generation Buy

“Following the science” shouldn’t just be for lockdown – ministers have a moral duty to take note of research into therapeutic drugs.

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My grandfather was a lifelong Arsenal fan. Such was his devotion to his club that it endured after his death – although I never met him, I’ve felt the shiver of connection every time I’ve watched the Gunners play. It doesn’t matter that the players, managers, even the grounds he knew have long gone; the club he loved lives on in the one that plays now, less a sports team than a social concept handed down through generations.

We may be about to discover the importance of that connection. Football has been changing: as money and globalisation have reeled in the best players in the world, regardless of geography, it’s been up to the fans to keep the identity of their club alive.

Can they continue to do so with the threat of a new European Super League – and will they even want to? The cynical if financially tempting plans attempted to defy the principle that even the most obscure team can beat the odds, making it to the top to play against the best of the best. But they also revealed who the owners of these clubs consider football’s most important fans: not the dedicated regulars in the stands, but those streaming matches from the US and Asia, who care about the quality of the sport but not its identity.

Maybe these new fans will be enough to maintain the essence of these clubs. But I don’t think my grandfather would be impressed.

[see also: Why talking about football is a feminist issue]

A new bubble

My high street is full of adverts for 95 per cent mortgages, which launched this week with a government-backed deposit scheme. This, the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick says, is the route to “Generation Buy”.

I am unconvinced. While it may help some first-time buyers get on the housing ladder, the scheme enables lenders to charge them higher interest rates while pumping more money into an already inflated housing sector, with taxpayers (including renters who still can’t secure a mortgage) picking up the tab if things go wrong. Haven’t we been here before?

Besides, as long as demand outstrips supply and homeowners are incentivised by the tax system to hoard property wealth, housing will remain an unattainable dream for a third of millennials and Generation Z. Fancy financial alchemy is no match for confronting the cause of the crisis and building more homes.

Reach for the fungi

As the country braces itself for a mental health epidemic, there’s a promising new treatment on the horizon: magic mushrooms. A study has found the psychedelic drug psilocybin, which is present in the mushrooms, could be as good at treating depression as conventional antidepressants such as Prozac. It’s an early-stage trial, but it’s not a new idea: in November the US state of Oregon legalised medicinal psilocybin, which can also be used to treat PTSD and addiction.

The UK government is disastrous on drug reform, even regarding therapeutic use. More than two years since rules on medicinal cannabis were relaxed, only three prescriptions have been issued. Lives are being ruined while the government drags its feet. If this study suggests mushrooms can improve well-being, especially after the miseries of the past year, ministers have a moral duty to take note. “Following the science” shouldn’t just be for lockdown.

[see also: How we misunderstand depression]

The social contract

The festival atmosphere in London in recent days was intoxicating: people were rejoicing, not just at the return of (outdoor) hospitality, but at the wonders of socialising. My friend and I did manage to grab a table and the novelty of being served food was lovely, but I’d have been just as happy picnicking in Soho Square, surrounded by joyous socially distanced revellers.

So much of the unlocking roadmap is based on when we can buy what and where. Yet while the economic impact of lockdown has been brutal, it’s not the shops and restaurants I’ve missed most, but the people. Human connection has been another casualty of Covid-19.

Rachel Cunliffe is NS deputy online editor Peter Wilby is away

Rachel Cunliffe is deputy online editor of the New Statesman

This article appears in the 21 April 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The unlikely radical

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