Friday, June 11, 2010

The true story of the football team which three contenders for the Labour leadership used to play for

It sounds like a piece of satire, but you absoutely must read the true story of the football team "Demon Eyes", written in 2008 by FT journalist George Parker. Demon Eyes were an amateur football team which played in the Thames League between 1998 and 2001, which was founded by James Purnell and Tim Allan, and which David Miliband, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham all played for.

Here's a couple of excerpts:

"By 1998, Demon Eyes were cutting their teeth in the Thames League, where anyone bluffing as a footballer would be quickly found out. The games were bruising and expletive-packed. The fact that the Market Road pitches were knee-wrecking surfaces "like green concrete and covered with sand" gave the games an added physical edge

In this abrasive environment, Demon Eyes twice won promotion, rather undermining the claim they were a load of soft middle-class boys playing at being lads. In 2001, they reached the apogee of their success, winning Thames League Division One.

Tales from the dressing room suggest a degree of toughness and determination that might explain why Demon Eyes players have progressed from the Ralgex-infused gloom of the Market Road changing rooms to the height of politics or their other chosen professions

Hugh Sleight, editor of the football magazine Four Four Two, recalls team members before the match talking about theatre or broadcasting. "It was not like any other changing room I had been in." But once on the pitch Demon Eyes started living up to their dark name. In a league where over-the-top tackles and mouthy behaviour were commonplace, Demon Eyes were notorious. "In all truth, we had a reputation as a fairly unpleasant team to play against," recalls Andy Burnham. "We all backed each other up quite a lot. It could get quite fruity."

Liam Halligan, a Financial Times journalist in the 1990s, recalls: "Most of them didn't have any touch - they couldn't really play football, but they tried. They ran their arses off. And it was when we were playing the really hard-nut teams, when the chips were down, that they fought hardest."

David Farr, artistic director at the Lyric Theatre in west London, says James Purnell, now work and pensions secretary, was typical of the team's fighting spirit. "He was a very capable and solid central defender. He could be very physical."

Andy Burnham was also a "very physical" centre forward, while David Miliband, foreign secretary, was already displaying his diplomatic class, a cultured presence in the centre of defence with "a good eye for a pass". However, colleagues remember that he was able to "shout very loud".

Ed Balls was a more occasional player but colleagues remember him as a rampaging centre-forward with a good line in abuse - sometimes aimed at fellow players, sometimes the opposition, more often at the referee. The team's willingness to challenge authority made them unpopular with the referees who gave up their weekends to officiate. Sleight recalls: "You could tell these people were involved in a lot of debates. They seemed to think if they had a better argument than the referee they could persuade him to change his mind."

One long-time Blair aide, who was regarded as the team's best player, could be relied upon to blow a fuse. Goodhart remembers one "perfectly friendly match" in which the aide ended up punching another player.

On another occasion a West Indian referee - accustomed to Demon Eyes' players moaning at every decision - masterfully disarmed his critics. As future cabinet ministers screamed abuse at him, he gave a laid-back, Caribbean-accented response: "That's right boys. Let it all out. Don't take it home with you."


Playing against Demon Eyes was like watching the Labour party up close. For them it was a case of win at all costs. Demon Eyes had a policy of claiming for every decision, even when it seemed to us that they had blatantly kicked the ball into touch. They knew that the standard of refereeing was variable and they were happy to exploit that. Nor, it seemed, were they averse to leaving their foot in or feigning injury if they needed to waste time.

What stood out - and really grated - was the strong whiff of arrogance and privilege that surrounded the team. Built more like rugby players, as half the team appeared to be, they motivated themselves by shouting "Winners!" every time the ball was launched in the air. It was part Will Carling, part David Brent.

Demon Eyes punctuated their games with comradely cries such as "Come on, Timbo! Win the game for us!"


At 10:40 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wasn't Ed Miliband in the team as well?

At 5:46 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who cares, they are in the best position now. they can play all week.


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