THE truth can now be told:

Tony Blair's 10 years as Prime Minister was down not to the political gods but the footballing ones - the famous victory by Sir Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen in the 1983 European Cup Winners' Cup against Real Madrid.

The revelation comes in the book, The 10 Football Matches That Changed The World … And The One That Didn't, by Jim Murphy, the soccer-mad Labour MP for East Renfrewshire, which is published today.

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On the evening of May 11 1983, a squeaky-clean 31-year-old lawyer turned up at the door of John Burton, secretary of the Labour Party's Trimdon Village branch of the newly created Sedgefield constituency near Durham. He and four other Sunderland fans were about to sit down to watch the match.

The young Blair was desperate. He had tried and failed 12 times to get a nomination for the June 1983 General Election. Time had all but run out; the Sedgefield candidate had to be nominated by May 23. This was his last chance.

"I met the critical people that night," the ex-PM explained. "I knocked on the door in Front Street South, which was the house that belonged to John Burton, who later became my election agent. And as he opened the door the Aberdeen match had literally just begun. I needed to see him but he basically said: 'Sit down and shut up.' Which I quickly realised was very important because if I'd blabbered away throughout the game, then it was obvious I wouldn't have been suitable."

To add to the Blair nerves, the match went into extra-time, but Aberdeen eventually won 2-1.

Mr Murphy wrote: "It seems clear what would have happened if that night he hadn't hit it off with Burton and the others over a drink discussing football … Without the support of his newly discovered footballing friends, he wouldn't have become an MP at all in the 1983 election."

But there was more.

The Shadow International Development Secretary asked Mr Blair what would have happened if he had not gone to Mr Burton's house on that night and won over the party grandees by talking football not politics.

"Well," Mr Blair told a shocked Mr Murphy, "I wouldn't have been Prime Minister … because I wouldn't have got into Parliament until the next election in 1987. I wouldn't have been at the right stage of development. In those days the political development process was a little longer."

He added: "To be absolutely blunt about it, Gordon [Brown] would have been, you know, so far ahead there wouldn't really have been any doubt about it. By the time John Smith died in 1994, I would only have been seven years in Parliament and at the time that just wasn't long enough."