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A Third Way for football

What is it with New Labour and football? Hardly a week goes by without some minister draping themselves in the colours of the beautiful game. But their desperate attempts to salvage some working-class credentials have brought some delightful humbug.

Tony Blair's reminiscences about a childhood spent at Newcastle's all-standing Gallowgate End were hard to beat, but our favourite was Peter Mandelson's unlikely claim that the one thing he would rescue from his burning home was his Hartlepool FC scarf.

Now schools minister David "Brains" Miliband has brought some trademark sophisticated analysis to the problems of declaring sporting allegiance.

Miliband, MP for the Tyneside constituency of South Shields, told a conference on Tuesday that he had been talking with Tony Blair about the dangers of declaring oneself a fan of a team in a region deeply divided between supporters of two teams. (On Tyneside, Sunderland and Newcastle fans do nothing to disguise their loathing for one another.) The solution? A typically Third Way one: commit youself to another, less contentious local team. So Miliband, who is in fact an Arsenal supporter, has become president of the tiny Northern League Division Two outfit South Shields FC, cleverly sidestepping hatred from either side. The boy will go far. South Shields play their distinctly Old-Labour-sounding neighbours "Shotton Comrades" of Shotton Colliery next Saturday. Watch this space.

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