Former Union Unit head says Euro 2020 shows power of football and calls for UK-wide grassroots competition

The former head of Downing Street’s Union Unit has claimed Euro 2020 showed the power of football and has called for a UK-wide grassroots competition to harness the momentum.

Luke Graham has urged the UK Government to use the optimism created by the competition and invest in new facilities across the country.

Insisting sport can be political, the former Ochil and South Perthshire MP told The Scotsman “sport can unite, not just divide the UK”.

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He said: “The big positive from Euro 2020 from a British perspective was the young talent and potential on display from each corner of the UK, and the optimism players brought supporters and young people across our islands. Now the competition is over, we should use this moment to turn optimism into positive outcomes and nurture talent across the country.

Luke Graham called for a UK-wide grassroots football competition
Luke Graham called for a UK-wide grassroots football competition

"This could be done by creating a UK-wide grassroots (male and female) football competition, part funded by the UK Government using the investment powers contained within the Internal Market Act.

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“A new grassroots youth or youth and adult league could allow players to play from, and for, every part of the country, providing new investment into club facilities and new opportunities, levelling up in deprived areas all over the UK.

"At its most ambitious, such a league could take inspiration from the American college football, building relationships and scholarships with colleges and universities across the country.

Football teammates kicking a ball

"Such a league would also have the advantage of circumnavigating some of the issues many have struggled with incorporating professional football teams into a UK league eg, the many discussions about having Celtic/Rangers playing in the English Premiership.

“Euro 2020 has been an upbeat experience for many. Launching a new UK-wide grassroots league could be a positive legacy for all.”

Mr Graham had departed Downing Street after a dispute inside No.10 over the UK Government's strategy to combat growing support for Scottish independence.

He was replaced by Oliver Lewis, only for the Vote Leave veteran to quit his role less than a fortnight after being appointed as head of the Union Unit.

Mr Graham also criticised “nationalism” in sport and accused the SNP of using events to further their own goals.

He explained: “The day before the England-Italy final, ‘The National’ – that well-known separatist title – produced a typically nationalistic front page wishing for Italian success over England.

"Friendly rivalry in sport isn't a problem, inserting rampant nationalism into sport is.

“So, as we reflect on this summer's performances, real thought should be applied to what can be done to keep sporting competition friendly or, as American former baseball pitcher Bob Wells put it, ‘no enemies, just good old-fashioned rivalry’.

“Now many will think that is ridiculous that political parties would leverage large sporting or other cultural events for their own purpose, but in Scotland we have seen the SNP’s interference in many aspects of sporting and cultural life – from objecting to the use of ‘UK’ in the UK Festival 2022 to SNP politicians ‘advising’ that art should be sympathetic to the nationalist cause.

"These can be uniting themes, such as taking a stand against racism – as seen by the England players – or a divisive moment to distinguish one team/area/country above another. Place your bets on which nationalism would prefer."

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