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House of Cards

FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
14/11/2007

For some time the EU pursued a case against Microsoft and recently Microsoft ran out of legal ploys. It was fined 500 million Euros and agreed to make details of its main operating systems available to competitors so that they could offer rival software which was compatible with Microsoft. The ruling was based on the fact that Microsoft had become a monopoly in the High Street and was unfairly protecting its position.

Twelve years ago a Belgian footballer, Jean-Marc Bosman, argued his case to an EU court and won. Football's governing body, FIFA, had stipulated that no club could field more than two overseas players. Under EU law, citizens of member countries have the right of freedom to move and work within the union (now 26 nations) and FIFA's rule was deemed to be in contradiction of this and was overturned.

To the ordinary football fan a ruling from the EU had little impact. Twelve years on and it is possible to see an English Premiership game without an Englishman on the park. Wages have rocketed and so have admission prices. I was taken to Arsenal at the age of four, it was my local team. Arsenal is no longer a club, it's a brand. It is the team most supported in Africa because it has so many African players and the Premiership is televised in so many countries.

This is the reality and I am not tut-tutting about a nonexistent Golden Age. I was born to one form of reality, when players were paid a pittance, kids today are born to a different reality.

Being a Brit, I still need a passport to put the car on a train to France, but once there I can drive in 24 countries without border controls and with all using the same currency. Only a few years ago, if I wanted to drive to Amsterdam, I had the entry control in France and then checks on the Belgian and Dutch borders. I had to make sure I had French francs, Belgium francs and Dutch guilders in case I wanted to buy a cup of coffee.

Part of me misses the old days, it used to be an event when you crossed a border. The officials wore different uniforms, you had the different money and so on. Now all you get is a sign at the side of the road.

There was a time when crossing a border with a racing car was so complicated and required so much documentation that teams used to stamp out chassis plates to fit the paperwork.

Imagine 1960, the Cooper team returns to Britain with prize money. You have World Champion Constructor, John Cooper; World Drivers' Champion, Jack Brabham. and you have Jack's Number Two, and runner-up in the World Championship, Bruce McLaren. You might guess that they would all be chilling out, not a bit of it. Currency restrictions were tight so they went from bank to bank changing what they could into Sterling.

Now think of Ronzo, Lewis and Fernando, traipsing around High Street banks changing lire or marks into pounds.

Lewis is moving to Switzerland, presumably to keep his money away from the paparazzi. Fernando is already there and to think that the Swiss have gone hundreds of years without warfare.

Switzerland is not a member of the EU. Some years ago, when the FIA was defending tobacco sponsorship in motor racing, it uprooted from Paris, its traditional home, and moved to Switzerland to escape any action from the EU.

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