Find Us Funds For Fields Or We'll Meet Our Waterloo

Jeff Powell
Date Published: 
Daily Mail

WHEN Wellington observed that the Battle of Waterloo had been won on the playing fields of Eton he did not mean literally to restrict the credit to one school.

The Iron Duke was dedicating one of the most famous of all British military victories to the strength of character which had been forged through this nation's traditional team sports.

So it went through history, with the Kaiser and Hitler joining Napoleon among the host of aggressors confounded by our bulldog spirit.

So it was reflected in England's winning of the World Cup in 1966, when football first really became recognised as a metaphor for war. Bobby Moore captained a team whose members had been schooled for greatness in a time when even the humblest seats of learning had their own wide open spaces for recreation.

Where are they now?

Not those players, the playing fields?

All over England school sports grounds have been sold off to help subsidise the costs of education.

Supermarkets, office blocks, apartment buildings and petrol stations now stand where our boys were once forged into gallant young men.

The youth of Britain have never been so unfit. If Napoleon's Old Guard were to come over the horizon now it is a matter of worrying conjecture as to how many of our overweight lads could climb off their couches without stumbling over the bags of crisps.

Everywhere, teachers have been giving up the unequal struggle to coach games in cramped, inadequate and in some cases virtually non-existent facilities.

Cricket has suffered the worst but the decline in school sports remains the biggest long-term threat to the renaissance of our football.

There simply isn't the funding.

So it is not difficult to imagine how thrilled our games masters must be that Pounds 3million of government money has been donated, via the Sports Council, to the campaign to bring the World Cup Finals of 2006 to England.

The total cost of the FA's bid is estimated to reach Pounds 9m but at least now they have a third of that to be going on with.

Exactly how many football pitches could be laid and maintained for Pounds 9m I can only guess. But add that amount to the sum about to be wasted on the disposable Millennium Dome and it would transform the playing fields of England in the next century . . . and the health of our young people along with it.

That, however, is nothing like as politically sexy an idea as bringing the biggest single sports jamboree in the world to these shores.

Not when the one thing our population now relishes above all else is a booze-up and this one would last an entire month.

So while so many our schoolboys traipse around on buses, on bikes or on foot in search of somewhere to kick a ball, our high-powered delegation is jet-setting cross the Atlantic and around the Caribbean trying to drum up votes.

That is the good news for those committed to a bid which had its origins in some rather shadowy backtracking on promises made to our Continental football allies in order to bring Euro 96 to England.

The bad news is that Tony Banks, our foot-in-mouth sports minister, says: 'I will be accompanying the FA on a number of visits to meet with FIFA representatives.' The Germans, no doubt, will be suitably encouraged in their rival bid.

Nor are they likely to lose much sleep when they discover exactly which FIFA household names the FA team are calling on during their exotic travels.

First stop New York this weekend to meet with none other than Chuck Blazer.

No, that's not an order. Do not throw out that worn jacket. We are talking about the Chuck Blazer.

Then it's on to Costa Rica, complete with Spanish translators, to bend the ear of Isaac Sasso Sasso.

No not any old so and so, the Isaac Sasso Sasso.

Never mind president Havelange who happens to have promised the 2006 World Cup to Africa and is under secondary pressure to award the Finals to his native Brazil.

Our chaps are lobbying from the bottom up, no taxpayers' money spared.

From Costa Rica it's on to Trinidad and Tobago to convene with Jack Warner.

No, no, not Dixon of Dock Green. To be fair, this Jack Warner is one of FIFA's vice-presidents.

So the process will go on until the vote is taken in the Year 2000 and the Pounds 9m has been spent. And I thought I had a good job.

And even in the unlikely event of their bid being successful, dare we ask Banksie and his fellow travellers how they think our schoolboys will still be feeling as they trudge through the rain searching for the last of the playing fields of England?