“It’s a game of two halves” is seen as one of the more idiotic phrases spoken by a TV football commentator. The title holder, since you asked, has got to be “That was just a yard away from being an inch-perfect pass.”
But some people consider the two-halves utterance a piece of sage philosophy, and I agree. With the laser-like accuracy of a Kieran Trippier free kick, it hits the back of the net as a metaphor for things possibly ending up very different to how they look.
Which is the current state of play in the interminable game of Brexit. If it’s a game of two halves we have reached half time. Seconds from the ref blowing his whistle and the teams trooping off the Chequers pitch for restoratives of Pimm’s and strawberries, Theresa May shocked everyone by scrambling the ball over the soft-Brexit line, although the VAR verdict is awaited on all that pushing and shoving by ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis and flagrant leg biting by the Conservatives’ very own Luis Suárez, Boris Johnson.
So there’s everything to play for in the second half, which runs until 29 March next year, and it may go to extra time in order to stop us crashing out of the EU without a deal and the country descending into the chaos of flights over European airspace being grounded while motorways to Hull and Dover become vast lorry parks when customs points at ferry terminals are shut down.
I think a penalty shoot-out is inevitable. In other words, Brexit will end in a sudden-death defeat for one side or other, perhaps through a second referendum or general election. I only hope that Boris, having flounced off the field to an early bath without waiting to be red-carded, doesn’t sneak back on again in a last-gasp bid for glory.
England’s heroic progress to the World Cup semi-finals running parallel to the ignominious spectacle of the government’s Brexit implosion has made these comparisons irresistible. After Boris, Davis and sundry non-entities left the field a newspaper cartoonist drew the England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford standing over the door of 10 Downing Street, gloved hands outstretched to stop more ministers from leaving.
A letter in the Telegraph picked up the theme: “Old-fashioned values, empathy, straight-talking and a smart waistcoat seem to have done wonders for the English football team’s performance. Could Jacob Rees-Mogg be the Gareth Southgate of politics?”
I live in fear of someone asking Southgate whether he’s a Remainer or Brexiteer. If he’s the latter, such is his God-like status in England right now he might be turned into a new Nigel Farage, capable of winning the case for leaving the EU with a simple: “We can destroy the opposition by a few well-worked set-pieces.”
Southgate is an honorary Northerner, living in some style outside Harrogate. On a stupid o’clock birdwatching trip I once encountered him jogging round a nearby reservoir. And no, he wasn’t wearing a lycra waistcoat. But it occurs to me that Boris, who never misses a trick to get more publicity, might try copying the Southgate look of waistcoat with tie affixed in a perfect Windsor knot, and brush up on footballing clichés.
Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe