“I’VE been impressed with Wigan,” said David Cameron. He didn’t elaborate on what it was about the Premier League’s lowest scorers that had impressed him. Maybe it was the fact that they went through an entire match against Chelsea in August without winning or conceding any corners. Or maybe it was their blue shirts.
Anyway, he tipped the Latics to beat Stoke 2-1 when asked to predict this weekend’s Premier League games for the BBC’s Football Focus, shortly before attempting to convince various FIFA delegates that the World Cup should come to England in 2018. Not been Cameron’s week, really.
At the time of writing, you can still watch the video of Cameron’s predictions on the BBC website. (The link may not work if you’re reading this in the distant future. If you are: Hello. Are we all wearing foil suits and living on the moon yet?)
Maybe it’s my imagination, but the Prime Minister looks utterly terrified on the Football Focus clip – far more frightened than, for instance, when Jeremy Paxman collared him on Newsnight following his election as Conservative leader and asked him what a Slippery Nipple was.
Handed the relatively simple task of trying to guess the results of a few football matches, Cameron flails about like Boris Johnson on a visit to Liverpool (or, in the interests of balance, Gordon Brown during a Mumsnet interview), coming up with a series of random reasons for his predictions, only some of them directly related to football.
Watching the fear in Cameron’s eyes, it occurred to me that whoever the Labour leader is these days shouldn’t be challenging him on welfare spending or tuition fees. No, the way to bring the Conservative leader to his knees during Prime Minister’s Questions is simply to ask him to predict a selection of upcoming football matches.
If Cameron is that jittery on top-flight matches, then Labour could probably force an early General Election just by throwing in a few games from the Blue Square Bet Premier.
On the Football Focus video, The PM appears uncertain whether to make a bit of a laugh and joke about the whole thing to show his lighter side, or treat it terribly seriously in case his flippancy goes down badly with the football-watching public. (I would have given him extra marks if he’d had the wit and nerve to shrug his shoulders with affected cynicism and say: “Well, football teams today, they’re all as bad as each other, aren’t they?”)
In trying to strike a balance, he tips Blackpool to beat Manchester United “because I’m a romantic”, picks Tottenham to win at Birmingham as “half the people who work for me are Spurs fans” and, most weirdly of all, Wolves to win at Blackburn because “I’ve spent a lot of time at the Wolves ground – not watching football, but doing presentations”. As Mick McCarthy might say: Halle-bloody-lujah.
Cameron, like Tom Hanks, is an Aston Villa fan. (The Prime Minister’s uncle, Sir William Dugdale, once managed the remarkable feat of relieving Doug Ellis of the Villa Park chairmanship.) And so with tongue in cheek, he tips Villa to win 6-0 at Liverpool tomorrow night.
My favourite Cameron prediction, though, was his Boris-like effort to forecast the result of today’s match between West Brom and Newcastle: “Errrrrrrr…. whoever scores…. one-all.” Despite such floundering, there’s a chance he might be right there, as he was in predicting that Arsenal would beat Fulham 2-1.
When interviewer Dan Walker mentioned that Labour peer Lord Sugar and the party’s former Malcolm Tucker-a-like Alastair Campbell were top of the Football Focus prediction board, Cameron finally got his chance to do a political gag. “If Alastair Campbell and Lord Sugar are at the top, I have to say things can only get better,” he chuckled, instantly blowing any post-leadership chance of following William Hague into a Have I Got News For You guest presenting role.
It is, perhaps, a reflection on the political and media systems we have in Britain when so many politicians can rattle on to infinity from a carefully-prepared spiel about why the other parties are clueless on the economy and immigration – but, say, ask Gordon Brown to name his favourite biscuit and he, um, crumbles.
We seem to have a lot of senior politicians who are terrified of saying the wrong thing, however trivial the subject matter. The result is that they just end up sounding odd. I recall Cameron being similarly flustered a few years ago during an appearance on Radio One, when Colin Murray asked him which member of Girls Aloud he fancied. The Conservative leader, astonishingly, didn’t seem to have the confidence to suggest it was an absurd question, so went along with it and chose Kimberley Walsh.
Maybe you’ve got to be a bit odd to put in the kind of work required to get yourself into a senior political position in this country. And maybe that’s down to the level of media scrutiny politicians are now subjected to. (Look at how much nonsense I’ve just written here on a relatively insignificant interview.)
But somehow, I just can’t imagine Michael Heseltine or Denis Healey would ever have got themselves into that kind of a tangle.
MOTD’s final match: Wigan 2 Stoke 2
Commentator: Alistair Mann
Credit where credit’s due, though. Cameron did correctly predict that Wigan would score two goals, something they had managed in two previous league games this season.
Both Wigan’s goals were deflected equalisers – Ben Watson’s free kick going in off Danny Collins for an own goal, Tom Cleverley’s shot hitting Rory Delap en route to the net. Robert Huth had scored Stoke’s opener with a deflected free kick, and the only reason Matt Etherington’s close-range effort for their second wasn’t deflected was that Wigan didn’t have a defender within about 10 yards of him.
It looked a decent game from the highlights – all the goals came in the first half, but Wigan keeper Ali Al-Habsi made a great save from Kenwyne Jones in the second, before Charles N’Zogbia hit the post at the other end.
Intriguingly, Delap appeared to be wearing some kind of specially-adapted vest under his shirt – which looked not unlike a sports bib – to enable him to dry the ball before hurling in one of those long throws from which Stoke don’t score as often as they used to. Perhaps the Delap vest will become the football’s next must-have fashion accessory once the craze for snoods dies down.
I would suggest asking David Cameron for his thoughts on football fashion. But to be quite honest, I suspect he’d rather talk about tuition fees.
1. Wigan: 5 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
2. Fulham: 4 (2L: 4, 3L: 0)
3. Stoke: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
4. Birmingham: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
5. Wolves: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
6. Bolton: 3 (2L: 0, 3L: 3)
7. West Brom: 2 (2L: 3, 3L: 0)
8. Everton: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
9. Blackburn: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 5)
10. Newcastle: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
11. West Ham: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
12. Sunderland: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
13. Blackpool: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
14. Tottenham: 0 (2L: 3, 3L: 1)
15. Aston Villa: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
16. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
17. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
18=. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
18=. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
18=. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2L=On second last (Birmingham 1 Tottenham 1)
3L=On third last (Blackburn 3 Wolves 0)
(Teams are awarded one point every time they appear last on Match of the Day. Teams level on points are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. Teams still level at the end of the season will be separated by the drawing of lots at a glittering ceremony in Zurich, the outcome of which may or may not have been decided in advance.)