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ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: How Diego Maradona could show the way to a Remain victory

Diego Maradona uses 'the hand of God'. Photo by Archivo El Grafico/Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images

Diego Maradona’s words of advice to ALASTAIR CAMPBELL give him hope for ultimate Remain victory

It is now 13 years since I played football with Diego Maradona in the first UNICEF Soccer Aid at Old Trafford, and I have mentioned it to someone every day since, as I shall to my dying day.

If you want the full account of this, one of the greatest days of my life, hunt down chapter nine of the number one best-seller, Winners and How They Succeed, in which I spell it all out; how I was so excited the night before that I couldn’t sleep; how on match day I was up first, and Maradona up second, before the breakfast staff had even arrived, and he suggested going up to Old Trafford for a kickabout; how the groundsman would only allow Maradona and me onto the turf; how, as we crossed the white line, he let out a cross between a war cry and childish glee. “Whooooooooaaaaaareeeee-

So we walk the length of the pitch, and he is very deliberately looking all around him. He asks me how many people are coming later. “Seventy thousand,” I say, and his eyes light up. “Full, full, full, people, people, people.” His knee is playing up, he has an impressive array of scars on both legs, a tattoo of Fidel Castro on his calf, and he moves gingerly at first. But as I pass a ball to him, the rather rickety frame turns into an athlete-cum-ballet dancer.

He lets the ball hit the side of his boot; it rolls up his leg, over Castro, up to his thigh, then he flicks it away, turns his body almost to a right angle and volleys the ball goalwards. I pass another ball, he flicks it up and then heads it in the air, again and again, running as he goes, before bringing the ball to a stop, on his neck. He flicks it up in the air and crosses it back to me, inch-perfect from 40 yards.

Then shooting practice. I roll a ball to him. He hits it into the corner of the net from 20 yards, then runs off in celebration. I mean celebration. Not like a child pretending he is Lionel Messi scoring in a park. I mean like Diego Maradona when he was winning World Cup finals. God, Jesus, Castro, his kids, they all get a mention and a chest-beat. Later, showered and dressed, I ask 
him what that was all about, fake celebrations in an empty stadium. 
Back comes the answer: “You must visualise the victory.”

There is method in the Maradona madness. Andy McCann, who specialises in high performance psychological coaching, with international sports teams, frontline troops, brain surgeons – and 62-year-old editors-at-large who once played with Maradona – on his books, explains what happens. “When you visualise, yes you compete only in your mind, but it can have such a powerful effect that your entire body feels as if you’re competing physically. The brain can’t really distinguish between a visualised and an actual experience. To the brain a neural pattern is a neural pattern. MRI scans have shown that blood moves around the brain even if you’re only visualising. And the more you get used to what to expect, the better you’ll cope.”

So what has this got to do with Brexit and the election, I can sense some of you asking, you the non-football fans, the non-Maradona-obsessives among you, sad people that you are?

To explain, let me tell you where I was on election night 2017. On a panel in a TV studio, with an excited live audience, waiting for the exit polls to be announced by Jeremy Paxman.

Despite Theresa May having fought the worst campaign in history, and Jeremy Corbyn having campaigned far better than expected, the general expectation was of a reasonably comfortable Tory win. So, when Big Ben chimed 10, and the audience was told “too close to call”, there was wild cheering more akin to a football crowd than a studio audience preparing to stay up all night. They really, really didn’t want the Tories to win.

And that, dear reader, is the image I will keep centre stage in my mind as I do whatever I can to influence the debate in the next few weeks: The crowd celebrating nobody winning. “Johnson’s election gamble has failed… it looks like another hung parliament.” I shall visualise that moment, and use it to guide me through to December 12, and I urge all who wish the Johnson-Brexit Lie Machine to be halted to do the same.

It is clear to me, having travelled to various parts of the country last week, mainly across the north of England, that if ‘none of the above’ was standing to be prime minister, he/she would win by a landslide. However, that is not the choice. Whatever Jo Swinson says about being PM, (and she would do better to say it less) only Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn will be spending Christmas in Number 10. In the case of both, most people seem to be finding more reasons to vote against than to vote for. I have never known such negativity, bordering on despair, at the state of the race. Most people seem to think that Johnson will win, but even those voting for him appear to be doing so with considerable doubt and reluctance, in some cases matching the scale of doubt about Corbyn. Trapped between the devil and the deep red sea.

Of course ‘hung parliament’ or ‘none of the above’ do not appear on any of the tens of millions of ballot papers which will shortly be printed. But if we are driven by a desire to stop Brexit, or to give people the final say not in this farce of an election but, as it should be, via a referendum, then we all have to think, as individuals, how we can help bring that about.

Most elections of my life I have been able to cast my vote for Labour with a sense of hope, purpose and even joy. That is not where we are right now. ‘Don’t know’ is currently second in most polls. At a business event in Harrogate last week, I was surprised to get a round of applause, mid sentence, for the words “we have done something very bad in a previous life as a country for this to be the choice of PM at this moment in our history”.

So we are in least-worst territory left, right and centre. To have any chance of getting what we want, we have to stop Johnson from winning a majority. The risk of this delivering a Corbyn majority is small, but one that, for all the problems that poses for many people, is worth taking.

The cynical stitch-up between Johnson and Nigel Farage – one minute it was not Brexit, a worse deal that May’s, the next ‘Lord’ Farage is backing it, based on a new set of later-to-be-discarded Johnson lies – adds to the urgency. Make it the motivation to get this done. In an ideal world, Labour and the Liberal Democrats would help do the job for is, but if they won’t, we have to do it for them.

There is going to be a welter of tactical voting advice. Look at it all. Discuss it with like-minded friends. Get a proper feel for where you live and how the mood is. And understand that tactical campaigning is just as important as tactical voting.

Where I live, Camden, with Keir Starmer as our MP, Labour are nailed on. So it might be a better use of my time to head to Finchley and Golders Green and support former Labour MP Luciana Berger, now standing as a Lib Dem, or to Beaconsfield, to help former Tory Dominic Grieve, now an independent.

And surely it has to be worth a day of anyone’s life to head to Wokingham and help Phillip Lee – former Tory, now Lib Dem – if he can topple John Redwood. Such is the strength of my desire to see a parliament filled with people who want a final say referendum that I would risk my parents turning in their graves and help the SNP in a Tory-SNP marginal despite knowing Nicola Sturgeon would count every vote as a vote for independence, not just a vote against Brexit.

This is an election like no other in our lifetime. Let’s keep our eyes focused on the big prize – a People’s Vote. Only parliament can sanction such a thing. A Johnson/Farage majority government never will. A parliament made up of sufficient Labour, SNP, Lib Dem, Green, Plaid, independent and non-hard-Brexit Northern Ireland MPs just might.

While the chance exists we have to fight for it, even if it means voting for parties and people who on other issues we would never support. Visualise the victory, the one where nobody wins… but Johnson definitely loses. And join me in thanking Diego for a lesson in the power of visualisation.

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