Starmer’s flexing of his footy fan credentials was a dour, defensive display that got the job done

Keir Starmer and Emma Hayes join the Fantasy Football team
Keir Starmer and Emma Hayes join the Fantasy Football team - Ellis O'Brien/Avalon

It’s fraught with risk when politicians claim to be football fans in a bid to boost their everyman credentials. Remember David Cameron forgetting whether he supported West Ham or Aston Villa? Or Matt Hancock referring to Manchester United striker Marcus as “Daniel Rashford”? Or Boris Johnson thinking that Bobby Moore had scored a hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final? Don’t even get me started on Liz Truss urging voters to “channel the spirit of Don Revie”, not realising Revie was a failed England manager and avowed Labour supporter.

Would Keir Starmer fall victim to the same curse on Fantasy Football League (Sky Max)? No, this was a hospital pass he played with relative ease. A long-time Arsenal season-ticket holder who plays five-a-side every week, Starmer knows his stuff and acquitted himself well. As usual, he was dependable if a little dull.

Arriving in a manager’s anorak emblazoned with the initials “SKS”, the Labour leader made his sole misstep early doors, as they say in the beautiful game. His fellow guest was Chelsea Women’s manager Emma Hayes, and Starmer rather ungraciously barged in front of her as they stepped onto the set. Fortunately, Hayes didn’t seem to mind.

Co-host Matt Lucas immediately got a zinger in, welcoming “an inspirational leader who lots of people hope will one day be in the charge of the country – and Sir Keir”. Resident statistician Andrew Mensah dubbed him “Starmzy”, which I can’t see catching on.

Starmer wasn’t worried that fans of rival clubs wouldn’t vote for him, pointedly mentioning that they tend to respect “genuine” football supporters. He took a swipe at fairweather Southampton fan Rishi Sunak, saying: “I think he went once last season, which was the game they got relegated in.” Asked if he’d approve of Sunak buying Arsenal, Starmer said: “No! I want my club to win.”

He laughed along at a gag about Matt Hancock being “more of a goalkeeper because he’s good with his hands”. He insisted that he will keep up his weekly kickabout with friends even if he becomes Prime Minister, since it’s an escape from the stresses of politics, and chuckled at the possibility of a Labour vs SNP grudge match.

He was also full of praise for Gunners manager Mikel Arteta, drawing parallels with his own rebuilding of the Labour party and pointing out the similarities between their lines of work. “It’s very binary,” said Starmer. “Two sets of fans. Blues and reds. And every single person watching thinks they could do a better job than you, so they have lots of advice.” He promised not to over-celebrate if he becomes PM – something for which Arsenal players were recently criticised. Asked if he’d prefer his team to win the Premier League or Labour to win the election, Starmer’s deft answer was “I’d like the Double”.

A solid performance, then, albeit lacking the star quality of his sofa companion. Hayes outshone Starmer to such an extent that she ended up getting more airtime. She joked that she’d thought she was appearing on Loose Women, said she was “bricking it” about becoming USA coach and confessed that she’d made her club’s analyst pick her Fantasy XI. Lucas, Ellis and Mensah all seemed more interested in Hayes’ career than Starmer’s. Frankly, who can blame them?