It began with John Major, the South London boy who we could well imagine having a team - Chelsea, in his case. But as with so much, Major was unusual in this. The odd reptile tagged along as a Blues supporter (desperate careerist, David Mellor, giving up his first love, Fulham, to do so). But, at that point, football supporting amongst politicians was remarkable for its rarity rather than its ubiquity. And anyway, cricket was so obviously Major's greatest sporting love.
No, it really kicked off, so to speak, under New Labour. I say New Labour, rather than Labour, as it was very much part of that phenomenon. And quite appropriately. If you're going to ditch as many traditions of the People's Party as they did, then playing up your allegiance to the People's Game is a handy figleaf for your ideological embarrassment.
You might have gone to Fettes (the 'Scottish Eton'), been brought up in a Tory family, love tennis, be attracted to rich people, have no sympathy with socialism, but, hey! I'm a Newcastle United supporter! So I'm just like you, really - Tony Blair, member of the Toon Army. (But it turns out he wasn't lying about watching Jackie Milburn play).
Blair wasn't an isolated example: Brown (Raith Rovers), John Reid (Celtic, becoming chairman after retirement from politics), Jack Straw (Blackburn Rovers), Geoff Hoon (Derby County), Alastair Campbell (Burnley), Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool United, ha!), etc. etc. Here's a typical New Labour politician's profile, when attempting to look as normal as possible (for the Mumsnet website):
This is an edited transcript of a live webchat with Ed Balls, secretary of state for children, schools and families, on 9 Sept 2009. Ed is MP for Normanton, married to Yvette Cooper, the work and pensions secretary, and they have three children aged 10, 8 and 5. He loves cooking and is a Norwich City supporter.
Two defining facts.
Interestingly, the more authentically left wing a Labour politician, the less it seems necessary to identify as a football supporter: I can find no record of John Prescott or the late Robin Cook following a team, for instance. None for that touchstone of traditional Labour probity, Clem Attlee, either - even though his East End affiliations might be expected to make him an Iron.
What about the future? The value of identifying yourself as a follower of the sport has probably diminished. In the age of corporate hospitality and £100 and above tickets, it's no longer an affordable weekly habit for your average working man. Bankers and lawyers are found in abundance at stadiums like the Emirates. And when Prince William identifies himself as a Villa fan (like Cameron: is there a trend here?) its potency as social marker can be said to be somewhat weaker.
It may also be that we're entering an age when politicians can be a bit more honest about who they are, not feel the need to pay obeisance at the shrine of the uncouth football supporter. Perhaps they feel they've nothing to prove: they may not like the People's Game, but they're still very much one of a perhaps more widely defined People. Or is not liking the game an admission that they're not one of the People - but who cares? We've all grown up about that now. Or perhaps they just realise people have seen through the charade...
If we have now got the confidence to dispense with the social fakery, the whole patronising rigmarole, I'd welcome it. It would surely be a sign that we don't care so much about class, our leaders no longer feeling the need to pander to 'ordinary people' by pretending to follow their supposed enthusiasms.
The proof of the matter may well come in how the Tories respond to Labour's new 'playing fields of Eton' attack line (a football school, by the way). If Cameron suddenly starts talking about how he cherishes the memory of sitting behind the goal at Villa Park (even if he was actually in the Directors' box) watching Peter Withe banging them in, we'll know that a football scarf is still seen as a useful accessory for pulling the wool over people's eyes.