WHEN GOD'S ON YOUR SIDE

~ Posted by Charles Nevin, February 5th 2013

The Dalai Lama is a Bradford City fan. No, really: he's sent them a message of support for their Capital One cup final against Swansea later this month. It follows his visit to Yorkshire last year, when City supporters, aware of the similarity between their colours and those worn by Buddhist monks, presented him with a shirt (Dalai Lama 14). 

Not a longstanding fan, then, but still pretty impressive even by the exotic standards of celebrity support for English football teams. In fact, I'd say more impressive than Tom Hanks and Aston Villa, Sylvester Stallone and Everton, and Brad Pitt and Liverpool; right up there, indeed, with Cameron Diaz and Brentford. 

Pretty well attested, too—a letter from one of his staff—which is not always the case. One thinks of Barack Obama and West Ham, for example, Hillary Clinton and Manchester United, and, of course, the late Osama Bin Laden and Arsenal (very keen, apparently, when in London in the 1990s, bought one of his sons an Ian Wright shirt). Arsenal seem always to have enjoyed possibly and allegedly the widest support among the famous: in addition to Osama, there's Kevin Costner, Fidel Castro and the Queen (to avoid confusion over loyalties, I should point out that the subject of the headline, "Queen in brawl at Palace", was Gerry Queen, the Crystal Palace striker, not Her Majesty).  

Some celebrities are so celebrated that there is fierce rivalry for their support: Liverpool and Manchester United both seem confident of Nelson Mandela, while the late Pope John Paul II was claimed by at least six sides, including Liverpool, Barcelona, and, most persistently, Fulham, possibly because they were most in need of intercession. Cardinal Basil Hume chose to watch Newcastle United in the 1998 FA Cup Final rather than join a demonstration against international debt; international debt is still with us and Newcastle lost 2-0 to Arsenal, who were also supported by another absentee from the demonstration, George Carey, the then Archbishop of Canterbury. I can find no mention of Mother Teresa's allegiances. 

Connoisseurs of such splendid incongruities will also enjoy learning that Cameron Diaz's love for small and unfashionable Brentford stems from her friendship with a former chairman who was also a Hollywood restaurateur. And here are three fine quotes, the first Arsenal's reaction to the news of Osama's devotion: "We've seen the reports in the papers. Clearly he wouldn't be welcome at Highbury in the future." The next is from Fulham supporter, Ken Myers: "I'd heard the Pope was a fan so, as it was Easter, I thought I'd give him a ring. I couldn't believe it when I got through to his press spokesman. This guy even knew we were playing Wigan and was happy to talk about it." And this, finally, from a Cuban diplomat: "One journalist gave him an Arsenal football shirt with 'Castro' on the back. The trouble is Fidel doesn't like football. And he doesn't like Arsenal."

Charles Nevin is a freelance writer who spent 25 years on Fleet Street. His recent posts for the Editor's Blog include That's enough sing, sing, sing and The World According to Socks.