Match of the day

AngusSsshhh! Take a moment to listen. Now, tell me what you can hear – that is if you can hear anything above the roar of jet engines ferrying millions of Brits to far-flung holiday destinations.

Can you detect an occasional thump – followed by crowd noises, booing and cheering? It’s a bit early for footie isn’t it?

Indeed, we are a couple of weeks off the start of the beautiful game’s 2014/15 season.

Alas, the same cannot be said for the sort of kick about that is being played around the country at the moment – the one making the thumping noises.

It is of course, the distinctive sound of the NHS football being bounced and kicked about in what promises to be a long and fractious season, culminating in the greatest prize of all. A win at the polls in the election. (That’s the UK General Election in May by the way and not the one taking place North of the border next month in which we are not allowed to play.)

Donning his red shirt and pulling up his socks, solid mid-fielder Andy Burnham has given the NHS ball an almighty punt to kick off his team’s campaign to win back premiership status.

At an opening game in Manchester this week, Burnham centred a cross from left field calling for contracts that put health services “up for sale” to be frozen until after the election.

“[Private contracts] are being signed without a mandate from the public. The prime minister…needs to be reminded that he has never been given the permission of the public to put the NHS up for sale in this way.”

He cited two 10-year contracts for cancer care in Staffordshire worth a total of £1.2bn and a five-year contract worth £800m for the care of older people in Cambridge.

Burnham has written to the NHS England chief, Simon Stevens, calling for a halt to any further contracts for NHS clinical services being signed for the next year.

“The reason why people love and trust the NHS is because, for all its faults, it is a service that is based on people not profits,” Burnham added.

He went on in this vein, gathering no little coverage in what is traditionally a news starved period.

Whatever your views about “NHS privatisation” are, it’s a bit rich for Burnham to knock the notion wholesale given it was Labour policy that introduced us to the mixed results of the Independent Sector Treatment Centre programme. I don’t recall any opportunity to vote for that policy. And, when will people understand that GPs are as good as private business providers?

He refers to Lansley’s infamous promise of “no top-down reorganisations.” In almost the same breath, he says Labour’s policy is to “repeal Cameron’s Health Act.” Would I be right in thinking this might prompt another pretty hefty reorganisation?

As for the NHS being about “people not profits” – it’s good rhetoric but pretty meaningless.

It’ll be very interesting to see how the rest of the season shapes up for the two viable contesting teams. Expect the Reds’ game plan to focus keenly on the NHS because, inconveniently, the economy looks in reasonable shape and there aren’t any wars to speak of.

Blues have a nimble striker in the form of Hunt – but they have to put up with hostile spectators and the Millwall stigma: everybody hates us but we don’t care. Blues are as likely to score an own-goal through disunity in the changing room as win a clean contest. But, they do at least have the power to throw in some emergency funding to counter the Reds’ NHS-is-doomed game plan.

Whether you’ll be cheering for Reds or Blues this season, you can bet that the NHS football will continue to get a right good kicking from both sides – and it won’t be a pretty game.