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North vs South

Am I the only one who found it fascinating that the North/South divide in England is apparently so obvious that foreign footballers comment on it? Romelu Lukaku, of course, has been playing in the Premier League long enough to have had time to look around. His first berth in the millionaire’s playground of Chelsea, London was interrupted by postings to Birmingham with West Bromwich Albion and then Liverpool with Everton before moving on again to Manchester United.

Even though he has only made it as far as the north-west, he clearly sees a difference which apparently prompted the idea of a North and South all-stars match. It is a fun idea and was taken up on social media and then the traditional press with some newspapers sponsoring and other outlets reporting on simulated contests played on football computer games. Gone it seems are the days of scholarly thought experiments now we have Xboxes to do our thinking for us.

Years ago I remember the writer and broadcaster Danny Baker proposing that for purposes of one special tournament; all English professional footballers should return to the cities of their birth and be drafted into teams that could play each other. I confess I would like to see that more than the North versus South game and not just because there would be more matches. It seems to hold the promise of some extra value in illuminating the hidden footballing character of our nation in a more forensic manner. No doubt this is an illusion. Young players wherever they are born move between academies for a variety of reason.

I have been a part of a few conversations over the years that considered the best foreign national to play in our top leagues. That would be another way to break things down and build opposing teams: the best Spanish eleven against the best Germans. But here we do start to edge towards slightly worrying territory. Because if that, why not also the top white players against the top blacks? We would need to decide who is doing the judging - a geneticist or the referee with a Dulux colour chart? Less controversially, perhaps, we could go with youngsters against oldies or, to keep up with the times, Brexit voting footballers and ardent Remainers.

The fact that the debate by and large did not become weird or descend into nastiness is a credit to our footballing culture. Football is a sport and that means that while draws can occur we who love this game accept the idea of winning and losing. We embrace it. Personally I believe the joy, despair and occasionally outrage we experience helps to make us more rounded people.

Neither the North versus South game nor any of the other possible match-ups will take place. Not with current professionals, at least, although I suppose there is a chance an enterprising broadcaster might put together a Legends match. The days of Superstars (get onto Youtube kids) are far behind us and the idea that clubs might let their players disappear for anything more strenuous than a day of recording a boot commercial is unthinkable. Still it was an entertaining thought/computer simulation/experiment while it lasted. Keep them coming, Romelu.

Leonard Apple.