Conservative Member of Parliament Jake Berry has faced a backlash in the UK after defending the importance of northern football clubs struggling to survive during the Covid-19 pandemic – with a ballet company leading the critics.

The MP for Rossendale and Darwen, which has been one of the areas in the UK worst affected by the crisis, used an opportunity in parliament to promote the vital position of football clubs in communities.

Berry told a debate that dozens of lower league football clubs in the north were just as loved by locals as major opera houses and theatres were to people in the south.

“For many people who live in London and the south of England, things like the opera house and ballet will be at the heart of their culture,” said Berry, who has been involved in efforts to boost the economy in northern England through his former role in the ‘northern powerhouse’ initiative.

The reaction of many to this is full of class prejudice @JakeBerry isn’t saying local football replaces high culture he is saying that for many it is where they find their high culture – and it is Shakespearean and operatic, true high culture sees the transcendent in the ordinary

Jake Berry MP is absolutely right. Nobody outside the north of England cares about football…

Irate Millwall fans at Wembley after discovering a football match has replaced an outdoor performance of Cosi fan

“But for many of us in the North it is our local football club… Blackburn Rovers, Accrington Stanley, Barrow, Carlisle or Sunderland.”

Northern Ballet, which has around the same number of Twitter followers as the lowest-placed team mentioned by Berry, League Two Barrow, accused him of perpetuating stereotypes that people in the north place “less value” on culture than those in London.

“Culture is equally important to a huge percentage of people in the north,” they said, describing themselves as “disappointed” by the remarks.

Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside Kim Johnson hit back at Berry: “Tell that to the five theaters, eight museums, three art galleries and more music venues than you can count here.

“You might have ignored the people who work in them but they are the soul of Liverpool. But yeah, two fantastic football clubs too.”

Following comments by Jake Berry in today’s #PMQs, we are disappointed that an MP and former government minister continues to perpetuate tropes that culture in the north is of less value than that in London.

Unbelievable level of ignorance from @JakeBerry and so damaging. Hope the culture lovers of the North voice their disappointment in this reckless stereotyping. Perhaps spend more time in the North and learn about its cultural riches (Lancashire constituency but lives Anglesey?)

Forgive me for being stereotypically Northern, and even more for agreeing with a Tory, but I absolutely prefer Accrington Stanley to ballet, and always will. The Arts have a vital place in our lives, but not on Saturday afternoons.

One viewer accused Berry of an “unbelievable level of ignorance” that was “so damaging.”

“Perhaps spend more time in the north and learn about its cultural riches,” they added, pointing out that he lives in Wales.

Despite being heavily followed, many of the 72 clubs outside of the Premier League are calling for further government support at a time when they are facing huge financial challenges in the absence of fans and associated revenue.

Berry argued that football clubs had received little compared with the £1.5 billion ($1.97 billion) in support that he said the the arts sector had been given.

Disgraceful comments by @JakeBerry and I as a #ProudNortherner am insulted by his words. No better than #GregClarke The prejudice and narrow mindedness is ugly.

I completely agree. I grew up in the north, on a diet of @northernballet and concerts given by the @the_halle and others. Ridiculous and offensive comments indeed.

I completely agree with Jake Berry. Pick any northern football club on a map and draw a 50mile circle around it, now count all the footy clubs inside that, now do the same for a southern ballet or any ballet place. Nothing wrong with @northernballet just more folk like footy here

“Our football clubs in the English Football League, almost all of them the social cornerstone of the towns and cities they bear the names of, now stand on the brink of a financial collapse,” he warned.

“These are structures that have taken decades to establish and will take decades to replace if they go bankrupt.

“While football grounds in Sunderland, Blackburn, Barrow and Preston might seem an awful long way from Glyndebourne [Opera House] or the Royal Ballet, they are nonetheless equally important parts of our nation’s heritage and cultural fabric.”

Phillip Blond, who influenced former Prime Minister David Cameron, defended Berry. “The reaction of many to this is full of class prejudice,” he observed.

I detest football and its toxic “culture”.I choose to live within easy rail access of theatre, ballet, opera, classical music, art galleries… All of the EXCELLENT things that so many of our NORTHERN cities have to offer. We should not support one sport over all other things.

Be annoyed all you want but he is correct. Football, rugby and cricket over Ballet, opera and the arts every day of the week. Those fairies down south might prefer the latter, but northerners certainly don’t

Well, football must be doing something right because it doesn’t require stacks of taxpayer’s money taken from people who have no interest in it to subsidise its cost for the well-heeled.

“He isn’t saying local football replaces high culture. He is saying that for many it is where they find their high culture – and it is Shakespearean and operatic.”

Despite their fears for the future of the game, many fans chose to react with humor rather than sensitive outrage, including one who produced a photo of a group of Millwall fans – a club which is notorious for its diehard supporters – responding to an outdoor theatrical performance.

A northern artist and fan of League One Accrington said: “Forgive me for being stereotypically northern, and even more for agreeing with a [Conservative], but I absolutely prefer Accrington Stanley to ballet and always will.

“The arts have a vital place in our lives – but not on Saturday afternoons.”