UK

Political football – where do the election favourites stand on beautiful game?

Can politics and football really mix?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (right) speaks to England manager Gareth Southgate (left) during a visit to St George’s Park
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (right) speaks to England manager Gareth Southgate (left) during a visit to St George’s Park (Darren Staples/PA)

With England and Scotland about to embark upon their attempt to win Euro 2024, the UK’s political hopefuls are campaigning for a victory of their own ahead of the General Election.

Politicians will find it difficult not to lean on the European Championship in their campaigning, but how interested in football are our potential leaders?

Here, the PA news agency looks at the figureheads of the four highest polling parties according to YouGov, to find out what they really think about the beautiful game.

– Rishi Sunak (Southampton)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (right) participates in a training session with members of Wantage Town Football Club
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (right) participates in a training session with members of Wantage Town Football Club (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The Prime Minister was born in Southampton and has made no secret of his support for the south coast side, having been spotted watching the Saints both in 2023 when they were relegated from the Premier League, and in 2024 when they secured their return to England’s top division.

Mr Sunak appears to be a genuine fan, even spotted on X engaging with a Match Of The Day discussion, and supporting the UK and Ireland’s successful Euro 2028 bid – but he has not been immune to the odd football gaffe like other politicians.

The PM once told a Manchester hustings that he felt Southampton could get back to winning ways by beating Manchester United that weekend, despite the fact they were playing Leicester City.

Meanwhile, when it comes to Euro 2024 Mr Sunak wasted no time putting his football boot in his mouth when he asked workers at a South Wales brewery if they were looking forward to the football despite Wales not qualifying for the tournament.

– Sir Keir Starmer (Arsenal)

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer meets school children at Haverstock School in Chalk Farm, north London
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer meets school children at Haverstock School in Chalk Farm, north London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Born in Southwark, south London, and growing up in Oxted in Surrey, Labour’s leader is a vocal Arsenal fan, possessing a season ticket at the Emirates Stadium.

However, the New Statesman described the way Sir Keir talks about the beautiful game as coming across “like ChatGPT”, also referencing his use of “non-committal, non-specific language”.

Furthermore, the leader of the Opposition seems to make a point of congratulating rival clubs when they achieve success, even posting on Twitter in 2019 to praise Tottenham for reaching the Champions League final.

As for England, in a Labour Party video ahead of the 2022 World Cup Sir Keir talked about being present at the England men’s Euro 96 defeat to Germany, as well as the England women’s Euro 2022 semi-final win against Sweden, naming both games as two of his top three “iconic football moments”.

– Sir Ed Davey (Notts County, Liverpool, AFC Wimbledon and Kingstonian)

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey pulls a pint in The Star in Witley, Surrey
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey pulls a pint in The Star in Witley, Surrey (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

It is fair to say the Liberal Democrat leader, born in Nottingham, takes a different approach to football – speaking in Parliament in 2010, Sir Ed declared himself a fan of no fewer than four teams: Kingstonian, AFC Wimbledon, Notts County and Liverpool.

The Lib Dems meanwhile set out a new manifesto pledge in May for 10 Premier League games a season available to watch on free-to-air TV.

Sir Ed may want to reconsider his PR approach however when it comes to Euro 2024, having been criticised for a picture he shared during the 2023 Women’s World Cup of himself on the day of England’s semi-final win against Australia.

Some accused the Lib Dem leader’s picture, which showed him raising a fist while holding a pint, of appearing staged, with one social media user replying: “How many attempts did it take to get this pose right?”

– Nigel Farage (Crystal Palace)

Nigel Farage in the stands ahead the Uefa Euro 2020 Final at Wembley Stadium
Nigel Farage in the stands ahead the Uefa Euro 2020 Final at Wembley Stadium (Mike Egerton/PA)

Mr Farage, who was born in Kent and went to school in south London, said football is “not my number one sport” in an interview with former Southampton goalscorer Matt Le Tissier, but said that he follows Crystal Palace.

The Reform UK leader has interviewed former manager and pundit Ron Atkinson – who left ITV and the Guardian over a racist comment about a black Chelsea player – and has interviewed former West Ham and Charlton boss Alan Curbishley.

He was however described by Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker in a 2016 tweet as being “a dick”.

Farage attended the Euro 2020 final at Wembley, which saw England lose on penalties to Italy, and has been critical of the current crop of England stars, stating he believed the players had been “gutless” and “should have intervened” after Nike’s new England kit featured a reimagined St George’s Cross.