27 APRIL 2002, Page 63

The enemy within

Sue Mott

THE Vikings finished raiding us in about 1016. It was felt at the time that they'd had enough of strapping on those silly horn helmets that Norwegians wear at World Cup tournaments, and turned to higher things, such as saunas. Perhaps they regretted the rape and pillage, or at least anticipated sanctions through the European Court of Human Rights. Anyway, they packed it in — or so we thought.

Only now do we see that the invasion force merely went underground as foxhunting will have to do in the Midlands. On the surface, Swedes became a series of bland, blond tennis players paying ridiculous income tax, but deep down they were fighting back. Far from turning pacifist, the descendants of Sven Forkbeard and Cnut decided to conquer by another means.

Which leads us to Sven and Ulrika. I am not alone. Everything has led to Sven and Ulrika in the week that their affair became a national obsession. Oh please, spare me the tut-tutting about phone-ins where the indomitably prissy call in to say How Dare We Invade the Privacy of the England Football Manager. Why were they phoning in — in record numbers — if they weren't absolutely fascinated? We all are. We're English. Smut has a special place in our hearts. And the revelation that the cool, mystical man who is revered like a Norse god — on account of his sure handling of our fairly average football team — is getting it on with Ulrika is just, well. splendid.

Could you ask for more? Sex and football, with an added ingredient — weather. (Ulrika was a TV weathergirl, in case you'd forgotten.) Obviously, we must not be hurtful; Mr Eriksson has a live-in girlfriend. But as she is a) a lawyer and b) Italian, there is an overriding consensus that she can take care of herself. And where is the harm in a football coach incurring the respect of a locker room for gentlemanly behaviour in the amour department?

Furthermore, the two protagonists are consenting citizens of Sweden. There is no more liberal conjunction than that. Swedes have sex like the English clean their cars, only more regularly. Or so we are led to believe.

But . . . Sweden. The first shiver of apprehension sets in. Do you begin to see the connection? On 2 June England play Sweden in the opening match of the 2002 World Cup. Upon that match rests the esteem of the nation. Lose that, and Argentina could finish us off. Just like old Forkbeard once softened us up for William the Conqueror.

You don't need to be a conspiracy theorist to see the danger posed by the union of Sweden's two greatest iconic expatriates. But is this the enemy within? The Swedish football team, buoyed by the tabloid reports, may be cock-a-hoop by the time they get to the Far East. Freddie Ljungberg of Arsenal has already hit a rich vein of form, very likely on the strength of his countryman and woman hitting the news so hard.

So we lose, precipitate Viking Raids II and start paying 98 per cent income tax. Is that the future? On the other hand, how bad can it be? Gordon Brown is trying to do that anyway, and he's not even related to Cnut.