Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Time For Someone To Show Some Teeth.

Inside Left regular, Richie Moran, returns to take Liverpool's Luis Suarez to task for biting off more than he can chew - but concludes that the Uruguayan's actions were not an isolated incident. Rather it is another example of the violence witnessed on the football pitch, and too often tolerated by the games' governing bodies. It was written before the announcement that Suarez will serve a 10 game ban.

So just as the judge in the John Terry (and Ashley Cole) case gave carte blanche for anyone who chooses to use the term "fucking black cunt" to proclaim they are not a racist, the usual band of apologists have sprung to the defence of the non-racist, non cheating, charmer that is Luis Suarez.

So let's have it right from the start (and for the sake of our children who play the game). Biting someone deliberately is violent, despicable and unacceptable (no matter how good you are). Should that occur gratuitously in a street fight (or a boxing ring, as the convicted rapist and biter Tyson, now a vegan apparently, put, or maybe didn't, his five eggs in) it is met with outrage in the press and the law courts don't look too favourably on it either.

Should you be stupid (or perhaps crazy) enough to do it more twice, having already incurred a seven match ban (and respect to the Dutch for effectively ending his career there) and having previous for head butting a referee and breaking his nose, you should surely not have the cojones to insist you deserve no more than the statutory 3 match ban for violent conduct and perhaps thank your lucky stars that you practice a profession so amoral that you can continually get away with and be defended for such behaviour.


Branislav Ivanovic showed what I thought was remarkable restraint (I personally would be apologising to my team mates for the sending off I had incurred) and no little dignity. What makes the whole situation worse, if you watch the incident again is that when the light bulb comes on and Suarez realises, almost straightaway that he has been caught on camera, he makes a pathetic attempt to feign injury (hardly the first time) to elicit sympathy.
Leaving aside (or maybe not) his tasteless celebrations after his reprieve from his deliberate handball against Ghana in the World Cup, (which he again tried to disguise), there is the fact that he again needed to use the same tactic to knock a non-league side out of the FA cup. Thierry Henry is forever blemished for me for what he did against Ireland.

Then there is his relentless cheating (the pathetic dive against Stoke being one of many) including perpetually kicking and punching people in the most cowardly fashion off the ball, although Pat Nevin seemed to find it really funny on Match of the Day 2 recently, when he showed four clips of Suarez kicking people in such fashion, one being disturbingly close to Dembele's genitals.

Regarding the Evra incident, not only is my Spanish reasonable, but I was sent the transcript of what Suarez said in English and to claim that he merely called Evra a negro, or used some cute affectionate terminology is disingenuous to say the least. For the Liverpool fans (and former players) who have once again excused this vile behaviour, I would say to you that you besmirch the memories of the likes of the magnificent Anne Williams, who died last week and certainly Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Ronnie Moran and Joe Fagan, who I don't believe would have stood for this. How would any of you feel if someone stated that basically Norman Bettinson was a great cop, despite the fact that he vilified the victims of Hillsborough?


The argument that Suarez is a great player (which he undoubtedly is) is absolutely irrelevant. Had he been a youth team player, or not such a valuable financial commodity (which is pretty much the entire crux of the matter) he would have had his P45. So I say to Ian Rush who has vociferously defended him, you too were a great player, but can we really take seriously the opinion of someone who couldn't settle at Juventus, because "it was like playing in a foreign country"!

Graeme Souness - another fantastic player, but one of the biggest thugs on a pitch in recent years. I certainly remember him breaking someone's jaw, his disgraceful tackle against Steaua Bucharest, when playing for Rangers and many more, but at least I suppose he wasn't a coward, which is precisely what Suarez is.

Alan Shearer is another I hope hasn't pontificated too much. I have played against him and know exactly what he is. I'm sure many people have not forgotten his blatant and disgraceful kick at Neil Lennon and it was alleged afterwards that he threatened not to represent England again if action was taken by the FA. Likewise I remember as a non league player, playing against Martin Keown, who threatened to break my legs should I go past him again. Suffice it to say he didn't quite manage it!

There are many others over the years who should simply have been banned for various reasons, in my humble opinion. Current Sheffield United boss, Chris Morgan for his disgraceful assault on Tranmere's Ian Hume, which left him with a fractured skull, being one of them. Likewise John Fashanu for the same thing on Gary Mabbutt (and being a practicising martial artist I know how lethal an elbow strike is, believe me). El Hadji Diouf, who not only spat at fans at Liverpool, Celtic (and possibly Middlesborough), but spat directly in the face of Arjan De Zeeuw at Portsmouth and almost caused a riot at an Old Firm game is another, everyone should be glad to see the back of, no matter how gifted.
 

Wayne Rooney (again because of his worth) has been allowed to get away with several indiscretions, including having the FA support him for his pointless sending off against Montenegro and there was his vicious (cowardly) assault on Wigan's James McCarthy, of course played down by that man of integrity and paragon of behavioural virtue Alex Ferguson! Lee Hughes is still playing despite causing someone's death in his car and fleeing the scene (although he has served his time), as is Marlon King who has served time for sexual assault. When Ched Evans was convicted of rape, it was the victim who was vilified on Facebook and Twitter and had her identity revealed.

Had I been a team mate of Carlos Tevez (or a City fan), I would not have forgiven him for clearing off home for months, leaving his club in the lurch, notwithstanding the fact that he chose to ignore the driving laws of his adopted country on his return. Aside from anything else, if as is claimed his lack of English is a hindrance, is it not more than a little dangerous as he surely has difficulty deciphering road signs?

Earlier this season, Dave Whelan and Roberto Martinez sought to play down Calum McManaman's, potentially career threatening tackle on Newcastle's Haidara. Why oh why, when the evidence is so conclusive can't the player themselves (and his manager and chairman) just say, "sorry, I was wrong"? It is not that difficult!


So to return to the subject in hand (or mouth), how long until a very young child bites his opponent, because he has seen his hero the Liverpool number 7 do it ? And believe me it will happen. I have already seen children as young as 8, replicating the diving and swearing they see every week on the TV.

Liverpool Football Club are held in worldwide esteem and have a certain reputation for integrity, especially in light of all they have endured since Hillsborough. I lost respect for them when their players defended Suarez's indefensible racist diatribe at Evra, but firmly believe that the way Kenny Dalglish handled it, actually cost him his job. Rightly, or wrongly (very much the latter for me) footballers are perceived as role models, but such is the money and influence, they now command that so many believe they are virtually omnipotent.

How many Liverpool fans (especially with the Evra incident, because he played for their hated rivals) said Suarez was wrong? Likewise Chelsea with John Terry. It seems with tribal allegiances any behaviour (and language) is acceptable. Would the same people defend Saville, Mick Philpott or the Yorkshire Ripper owing to their football allegiances? One would hope not.

Whoever you support, what Suarez did was vile, cowardly, potentially dangerous and plain wrong and I'm sure many parents have had to chastise their children for biting, some probably even bit them back. I am no lover of Manchester United, but at least they had the balls to suspend their best player, after his Kung Fu kick at Crystal Palace.

I was not always a paragon of virtue on a football pitch, but if I was wrong, I was wrong. Simples!

I very much doubt it (and I still think a ban for merely the rest of this season is a Kop out), but serious action really needs to be taken (as it should have been when Defoe bit Mascherano), because this is simply not acceptable.

As someone who also have extensive knowledge of working in the mental health field, Suarez has a mixture of mad and bad. I do not accept that his so called will to win is any greater than many players over the years (regardless of ability) but how is biting someone going to increase that chance?

Let us hope the FA, Liverpool (and their fans) actually show some teeth and punish this reprehensible man and his reprehensible act accordingly!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Kick, Run and Think Books

Mark Perryman from Philosophy Football offers a selection of the best football, running and sports politics books of the quarter.

In England there’s no sportswriter quite like Dave Zirin. He writes about sport from the Left with such passion and style that readers will never spot the join. An American, the bias is unsurprisingly towards baseball, basketball and their own bastardised version of ‘football’, yet both the issues raised and his range of coverage are unmistakably internationalist.

Dave's latest Game Over should by rights be a major publishing event for the committed British sports fan, yet our fan culture is so parochial this superb book will be lucky to get a mention of two. Ownership, athletes on strike and supporting others on strike, Egyptian fans at the core of the Tahrir Square protests, the failed legacy of World Cups and Olympics. This book has the lot and more. The writing style provides a template for how to mix politics and sport yet keep the reader engaged whose interests leans more towards one or the other. Simply unmissable. 

The London 2012 Olympics more than any other event has helped stimulate at last some writing over here of the sort Dave Zirin provides in the USA. Accounting for sport’s meaning beyond the touchline, track, pool or ring.

In the build up to the Games Matt and Martin Rogan’s  Britain and the Olympic Games  provided a rare moment of context. Revisiting the 1948 London Olympics, dubbed the ‘austerity games’ for an insight into what London 2012 might become in a period of similar economic recession. Rich in interview material, one year on from London’s Games this is a book that deserves to be revisited as we ponder over the reality of the legacy claims.


Written since the Games ended Phil Cohen’s On The Wrong Side of the Track? locates those legacy claims firmly in the social and geographical context of East London. This was where the regeneration was supposed to take place, acting as a leveller between the city’s tourist and retail mecca, the West End, and the depressed East End. Beautifully written, with an uncanny eye for cultural detail Phil’s book is a powerful response to the overblown myths and broken promises of the Olympian legacy agenda.
 
None of this is to deny the very obvious joy so many of us felt during last year’s summer of sport. What it means though is the need to question the claims made of how these moments of excitement can effect lasting change. Sport is full of such moments, it’s what explains the unique, and enduring appeal. Moments of joy and despair. In terms of the latter a recent outbreak of football hooliganism attracted banner headlines and wall-to-wall media agonising. Of a magnitude city-centre public disorder when the pubs shut rarely if ever attract. Sport, especially football, provides a platform for social and cultural themes which ensure they get noticed, for good or ill. Geoff Pearson’s recently published  Cans, Cops and Carnivals  is an academic study that deserves to become the definitive work on modern English football fan culture. In-depth ‘participant observation’ over a sixteen year period, the book challenges so-called common-sense notions of hooliganism and the crowd control responses in an effective and thought-provoking way. 
 
Whether from the stands, or the sofa, no football match would be complete without a vocal suggestion that the referee needs an optician’s appointment combined with a questioning of his parentage, or words to that effect. We all like to think we know better, and given a chance could do better than the proverbial men (and sometimes women) in black. 

You Are The Ref  by ex-referee Keith Hackett and legendary illustrator Paul Trevillion provides every possible test for your suitability to challenge the officials’ decisions. Strip cartoon style, questions posed and scenarios described, rules patiently explained, the referee’s role described. Ref! With this book at your side blaming your side’s loss on one dodgy decision or another may never be quite the same again.

Football rarely inspires good fiction. Perhaps this is because the reality is so full of intrigue, heroes and villains, loyalty and disloyalty, that the make-believe version would never be as good. Rodge Glass’s Bring Me The Head of Ryan Giggs is one of the rare exceptions. A wicked plot of talent disappointed and dangerous obsession manages to create both a compelling read of fiction yet rooted in the sport that frames it.

Understanding sport requires more than anything else a social construction of sport, addressing the particularities of inclusion and exclusion of each and every sport. Precious few have produced such studies.
 
Global History of Running by Thor Gotaas provides this for the most basic sport of all, running, and by doing so gives an insight into how to write something similar for other sports too. Historical, anthropological and cultural with an international coverage combine to account for both running’s global appeal and national differences. Alexandra Heminsley’s  Running Like a Girl couldn’t be more different. It is written, designed and marketed in ‘chick-lit’ style, aiming for a mass audience of potential women runners with a dose of the self-help manual added too. Not for everyone, yet this is just the kind of writing sport needs if it is to appeal beyond the already committed, the spectator or the active.

Philosophy Football was founded with the idea of putting the words of Albert Camus on to a  T-shirt . “All that I know most surely about morality and obligations’ I owe to football’ was Albert’s maxim that inspired us so it seems only natural that my pick for book of the quarter is philosophy on the run provided by author Mark Rowlands in his superb book Running With the Pack.


This is a book that doesn’t simply explain the appeal of a sport to the individual who does it, but the purpose of sport as play in modern society. Mark doesn’t overload sport with meaning, though as a professional philosopher he does like to cite the ideas behind his core message. That the point of sport is that it is pointless, the joy is to be found in it being play, when we ascribe to it too much of one purpose or another the value of sport loses its meaning. And in the process becomes corporatised, commodified, the stuff of political spin.

There may well never be another summer of sport quite like 2012. Yet every summer there is the potential for sport to excite and infuriate in near equal measure. Once the Champions and Rich Runners Up League Final is out of the way there’s the centenary Tour de France, and the poignancy of the centenary of Emily Wilding Davison’s fatally heroic protest at the 1913 Derby too.  The Lions down under, the Ashes over here, Murray seeking to match his victory in New York with a home Grand Slam at Wimbledon. All this and more are socially constructed, read these books not to distract from the enjoyment of sport, watching or doing, but to inform and enrich the experience.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’, aka Philosophy Football

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Minute's Silence for Margaret Thatcher

Earlier this week Dave Whelan called for a minute’s silence before matches in the Premiership and Football League this weekend as a mark of respect following the death of Margaret Thatcher. The Wigan chairman, a multi-millionaire and union buster, insisted that, “We have got to appreciate that Margaret Thatcher was a world leader who did so much for this country. So much that she deserves a minute's silence.” The response from the Football Association was as swift as it was pragmatic. Their answer was no. Officially the reasoning is that the FA is a non-political organisation. In reality of course it was understood that any attempt to mark the untimely death of Maggie Thatcher – coming, as it did many years too late – would draw a chorus of boos, cheers and a reaction that looks a little like this video.

Following a week of scenes which have driven the right wing press into a state of agonisingly amusing apoplexy, some voices on the left have joined the right in decrying those of us who have celebrated Thatcher’s demise. Perhaps if a minute’s silence had been held and then vociferously disrupted football fans would have also felt their ire, criticised for speaking ill of the dead. Yet football fans have always seen fit to honour their own. No doubt there are those outside what the highly paid administrators of the game like to call the “football family” who view the scenes of a dedicated minute’s silence (or as has become the norm, sixty seconds of applause), the black armbands, the shirts emblazoned with messages, with sceptical disdain. But remembering fans, players and managers has long been central to the culture of football.

On one level it is a manifestation of a distinct strand of working class masculinity, one in which emotional expression is stunted or denied in much of our day-to-day existence before bursting forth on the terraces. The autobiographies of footballers are awash with players recounting similar tales along the lines of: “I never saw my father cry, that was until the day Dixie Dean died and then he was in mourning for a week”. For many football has become both an outlet and an opportunity to feel; passion, anger, excitement, joy, disappointment, even grief are packed into those 90 minutes each week before the stultifying alienation of reality kicks back in again.

More than this, while multinationals and billionaires may hold the power, and increasingly stadiums prioritise corporate hospitality for the prawn sandwich brigade, most fans still consider football something of a community. Therefore when a member of that community dies, their passing is marked. It may be riddled with contradictions but being a football supporter still elicits an elementary sense of camaraderie, collectivity and solidarity. Thatcher was the antithesis of this. Huge swathes of football fans would break any minute of silence in honour of Thatcher not because they have no respect for the dead, but because they were full of hatred for her life.

Thatcher’s impact on the world of sport was in-keeping with the very many other reasons to despise her. The political support she offered the Apartheid regime gave cover to rebel cricket tours of South Africa during the 1980s, and was the reason 32 nations boycotted the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. Her attitude to football was one of instinctive distrust of the working class assembled en masse. Football hooliganism became another example of the enemy within; certainly not a symptom of a desperate society broken by Tory policy. Fans were vilified, ID card schemes touted. Then came Hillsborough. 96 Liverpool fans died in 1989, the victims of a police force, trained and steeled in the miners’ strike and the Wapping dispute, who saw working class football fans as little more than scum. To cover their guilt they constructed an elaborate story: the fans were drunk, they did it themselves, they pissed on the dead. It had to be real, because The Sun told us all that it was the truth. Thatcher knew from the start that the police were lying. One day the full extent of her collusion in the biggest state cover up in British history will be fully understood.

This weekend marks the 24th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy, and a minute’s silence has been held at the Madejski Stadium where Liverpool are playing Reading as I type. It is a silence that was impeccably observed, because everyone in the ground knows that each of those 96 people who died was someone’s sister, daughter, brother or father. And not one of them was a friend of General Pinochet or responsible for the death of industry, stop and search or Section 28. John Madejski, chairman of Reading FC and a Conservative Party donor, was broadly supportive of Whelan’s call for football to pay its respects to Thatcher. Liverpool FC were having nothing to do with it. Brendan Rogers said the silence for the victims of Hillsborough is "the only remembrance there should be" this weekend, before adding that the Reading supporters would want the “opportunity to show their support for the families and the 96 supporters who are no longer here". In contrast, the only chance Dave Whelan had of getting a minute’s silence for Thatcher this weekend would have been to call for a minute’s applause.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Speaking Ill of the Dead

A guest post from Richie Moran.

Twenty five years ago on April 8th 1988, my lovely mother died (also my sisters birthday) at the ridiculously young age of 56.

How ironic that a woman she admired, but one I loathe, despise and hate (and yes, I thought long and hard about the use of such words and where she is concerned I am more than comfortable with them) more than most people to walk this planet should shuffle off this mortal coil on the same date.
 
Amongst her supporters and those in opposition too scared (or subject to political pressure) to express their real feelings about her demise, there is the usual historical revisionism, especially concerning her legacy, which if you look around this country today is appallingly evident in the financial crisis, moral turpitude, racism, cheating bankers and politicians, pointless and immoral wars, the exposure of lying policemen, clergy members, doctors and so called pillars of the establishment involved in child abuse and so much, much more.
 
In this age where the news is often deliberately manipulated for short term memory, I was actually heartened to see that as much as the predictable sycophantic rubbish there are so many who like myself are unable or unwilling to forget what she stood for and the havoc she wrought upon various communities.
 
I almost chuckled at the supreme irony of Tony Blair, having the temerity to say that people who celebrated her death were acting in poor taste. This from a man who obviously thought it was in good taste to bomb Iraq (a country where 42% of the population were under the age of 14) having already been responsible for the deaths of approximately 1 million Iraqi's from the US and UK led sanctions, which prevented children receiving even basic medicine. Then after fabricating the evidence to go to war, he did not even have the good taste to count dead Iraqi civilians! He is now making millions as a Middle East peace envoy, when his rightful place is in front of the International Criminal Court in the Hague. A Thatcher clone if ever there was one.

There appears to be much outrage that the old maxim of not speaking ill of the dead has not been adhered to. We are talking about a woman who stated that there was no such thing as society and was the prime advocate of the greed is good yuppie era, where people were actively encouraged to feather their own nests regardless of the effect it had on others. 
Hence the housing stock was sold off, never being replaced. People bought their council houses, many bought second properties (I remember the interest rate at 15% when I bought my first house) and this has led directly to the situation we find ourselves in today where there is not nearly enough affordable housing for those that need it, repossessions are rocketing and greedy unscrupulous landlords are charging extortionate prices in the private sector (though she would doubtless blame this on immigration)!
 
If people are not being respectful, is it any wonder? We live in an age where you can call someone a "black cunt", yet be found not guilty of racism in a court of law.
Most of the TV watched by the masses is based around conflict such as the odious Jeremy Kyle, and pathetic examples of reality TV such as Made in Chelsea, The Only Way Is Essex, Big Brother and the rest of the brain dead forums. Many of our leading footballers spout all kinds of rubbish on social network forums and are regularly seen abusing officials and condoning cheating.
 
In addition many hypocrites, bigots and loudmouths such as the aforementioned Kyle, Simon Cowell, Gordon Ramsey, Piers Morgan and Jeremy Clarkson are seen as national institutions!!!
 
From her coming to power in 1979 (when I was 16) until the start of the Falklands conflict, Thatcher was immensely unpopular and had an extremely low poll rating of around 23%. Although doing very well academically at school I actively refused to join one of her disgusting YTS schemes.
 
Around 1980-81 she had actively refused to give the Falkland Islanders (somewhere that most British people thought was near the Shetlands as I remember it well) British citizenship calling them merely dependents. I vividly remember the news at the time, the then Governor of the Falklands, Rex Hunt, stating many times that he had written to Thatcher saying that the Argentinians were threatening to invade and could she send a task force as a deterrent. Thatcher saw this as a perfect example to boost her flagging popularity and waited until there had been an invasion before sending a task force. In the ensuing 74 day war, Britain lost around 255 lives and the Argentinians approximately 700. This was entirely avoidable and a cynical ploy to ensure an election victory, duly achieved the next year.
 
I have a good friend, whose brother died at Goose Green, the day before his 18th birthday. Not old enough to vote, or even buy a pint, but old enough to die on a battlefield in a place the vast majority of the country had not even heard of!
 
Then let us not forget the sinking of the Belgrano (which as every one knows was outside the exclusion zone and sailing in the opposite direction) and the disgusting accompanying Sun headline 'GOTCHA'. Thatcher was also pictured with the thumbs up, Yet you ask people to show compassion and respect for a woman with blood on her hands.
 
This woman branded the world's (and possibly history's) greatest human being Nelson Mandela a terrorist. She is not even fit to kneel at his feet. An avowed racist herself, it was her support (along with the equally odious Reagan) that prolonged apartheid and I remember Botha's state visit here in 1984. I also remember Young Conservatives wearing "Hang Nelson Mandela" ties at a Tory conference. Whenever people tell me Mandela was a terrorist, I ask them to name one terrorist incident he was involved in. They never can. Please ask me about her or Winston Churchill and I can give you many examples! When the Great Man did his world tour on his release in 1990, she was one of the leaders he declined to meet.
 
Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr described Thatcher as "unabashedly racist" after in conversation with him she railed against Asian immigration, just out of earshot of his Malaysian wife!
 
Thatcher was one of those who believed that Britain still had an Empire, being white and English made her inherently superior and it is no coincidence that the National Front and British Movement flourished in her era. Her distrust of other Europeans, especially the Germans was rooted in the past and gave vent to many of the despicable racists in her party such as the odious Tebbitt, Bruinvels, Carlisle, Beaumont-Dark etc.
 
Again lest we forget she had the brazen effrontery to cosy up to the repulsive Pinochet, who was responsible for at least 30,000 deaths of his own people in Chile. She was also instrumental in installing the now reviled Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, describing him as a freedom fighter.
 
The culmination of her decimation of the working class she came from, but despised was the miners strike. Even nearly 30 years on, there are still families divided. It destroyed whole communities, left families in poverty (again I attended many fundraisers) and achieved her ambition of crushing the last bastion of working class solidarity (having already destroyed the manufacturing industry). Again rags such as the Sun and the Mail spewed their usual propaganda to place all the blame with the miners. Again Thatcher (with that voice that I find even more irksome than an Afrikaans accent) showed no compassion for those whose lives had been ruined and whose children had literally no food. I will not forget the footage of miners being battered by mounted police. Nor will I forget the crowing police drafted in from Avon and Somerset, using the acronym ASPOM (Arthur Scargill Pays Our Mortgages). Nor will I forget the tragic death of taxi driver David Wilkie who died taking a non-striking miner to work.
 
I also remember her sneering contempt at the death of the democratically elected M.P. Bobby Sands (imprisoned for possession of a handgun) and the families of the other Irish hunger strikers. Like people say about her, these men were also somebody's sons, fathers etc. Her attitude lead to surge in recruitment for the IRA.
 
Does it not strike anyone as more than a touch ironic that a woman who privatised everything, including assets such as gas and electric whose reserves may just have bailed the country out its current financial predicament, now wants a state funeral, to be met at the expense of the taxpayer. Surely, as I believe film director, Ken Loach may have suggested would it not be appropriate to put it out to tender to the highest bidder? Frankie Boyle, who I don't usually agree with had it right when he said give everyone in Scotland a shovel and they could dig a whole deep enough too present her to Satan himself. Morrissey, another with whom I usually vehemently disagree, was spot on in his obituary.
 
Should it be expected that those in places such as Birmingham, Newcastle, South Yorkshire, Nottingham, etc should have any respect for a woman who seemed to delight in destroying their whole employment infrastructure? It is still not forgotten today in Liverpool how she again allowed the Tory press to vilify the whole city after Hillsborough, to the extent that those who lied, fabricated evidence and besmirched the 96 who died so appallingly are now only just starting to be bought to book. It has taken the best part of 23 years and the bravery and tenacity of the families (many of whom did not live to see it) to get to this stage. Again I have no problem with the opprobrium dished out to those who caused the deaths of the Juventus fans at the Heysel stadium in 1985.
 
Thatcher again made no secret that she regarded the majority of football fans as scum.
Again in football no surprise that the likes of Whelan and Madjeski (who would have been principle beneficiaries of her era) want a minutes silence to acknowledge her passing. The FA have not advocated it, as they know it will be met with abuse on so many grounds. I certainly, had I still been playing or in a crowd would not observe it, in any way, shape or form.
 
Likewise the Scots, who after being, as ever, the guinea pigs for the poll tax that eventually bought about her downfall, who at least had the good grace to wipe her off the political map. It was always evident that she had no regard for them at all.
 
As ever her supporters exaggerate her role. She opposed German re-unification, owing to racist views rooted World War 2. The current Con-Dem cuts that as ever, wreak havoc on the least vulnerable are merely an extension of what she started, as is the gradual dismantling of the NHS and indeed public services. If you read the reactions from around the world (with the exception of the insular shoulder to shoulder blah blah blah from the US) reading between the lines it is patently obvious that she was not universally liked. They say she changed this country and put the Great back in Britain. Personally I would be extremely mistrustful of any country that labelled itself thus! She certainly did change this country, unfortunately, for the worst and Blair and other idiots like the awful Boris Johnson and rich kids and chinless wonders  and elitists, Cameron and Osborne are no better, though I look forward to Ian Duncan-Smith living on £53 a week.
 
Her so called legendary intelligence is another lie. Everything about her from her image softening, that awful voice and her speeches was invented. I remember an interview with Jenni Murray where her notes had obviously been delayed and she was clueless.
Again a simple question. If like Churchill, immediately after the war, she was so good, why did her own party, eventually knife her in the back and get rid of her?
 
For those who say people celebrating her death are being disrespectful, I have as ever one simple question. How many of you believe in capital punishment? As someone whose political leanings usually engender a reasonable amount of compassion, I cannot even find it in myself to feel compassion for her odious children. Carol, another racist who a couple of years ago thought that using the word wog was OK. Then there is greedy boy Mark, who not content with becoming a millionaire overnight as a result of one of his mothers dodgy arms deals (and let us not forget Westmoreland), then like many of his colonialist ilk, thought it would be OK to start a coup in an African country to further line his pockets.  Obviously something in the DNA.
 
I remember the western world railing against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and even boycotting the Moscow Olympics over it. Who would that be that Britain and the US have invaded now?!!!
 
She was the first woman Prime Minister, but what did she actually do for women? She abhorred feminism and let's be honest, she wasn't too keen on Carol, much preferring Mark. She had a chance to smash the glass ceiling and make life better for women in this country, but she much preferred men. How many women in her cabinet?
 
So no, like so many others I am not ashamed to say that I will not mourn her death one iota and have no problem with those who choose to celebrate it. Like Blair, Bush, Reagan, Churchill, Kisssinger et al she was prepared for innocent people to die and to wage war to further her own political ends.
 
There is so much more I could write, but I have wasted enough time and effort on this vile woman. As an atheist I don't believe in heaven or hell, but hey even if she did go to hell, she would probably try and sell it off.
 
A beautiful woman died on April 8th. Rest in Peace Mum. XXX
 
Richie Moran

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Rejoice!

In funeral black a special T-shirt from Philosophy Football.

This one is for the miners, the steelworkers, the printers, the millions unemployed, the injustices the Hillsborough families were forced to endure, the Poll Tax protesters, those who lost their lives on HMS Sheffield, and the Belgrano, for what? For the women of Greenham Common and the Trident missiles we didn’t want. For the NHS and the nurses, our schools and teachers, the council houses sold off, the privatisation of our public utilities, railways and buses. For our school milk. For the reputation of St Francis of Assisi.

In remembrance of all we lost 1979-90, much of it never returned to us. A life remembered with decent human sympathy. But lifetimes remembered too, scarred by divisions we’ll never forget.

Special offer just £17.99 until the ceremonial funeral.

Order before Friday12th and Philosophy Football will do their very best to get in time for you to wear on the day of the Funeral. Available here.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Gaming and Alienation - Football Manager

The Football Manager computer games series – previously Championship Manager – is a phenomenon in the gaming industry having sold well over 7 million copies worldwide. In a lovingly crafted digital recreation of the world of football it allows players the opportunity to manage a team of their choice. The most common response from the uninitiated on seeing the game for the first time is often a bemused, “So, what’s the point of that then?” You don’t control the players; you don’t even press a button to pass or to shoot. Instead you ‘manage’ a team, watch matches unfold and tinker around the edges. There are no Mario or Sonic style graphics or any of the adrenalin pumping immediacy of a Grand Theft Auto or Tekken – instead its pages are dominated by reams of statistical data. And yet, as the sales figures indicate, it has an army of fans whose commitment to the game could justifiably be condemned as addiction. People pore over the in-game information, upload highlights of their favourite games and endlessly discuss formations and transfer targets in specially designed online chatrooms. Heck, someone even made a documentary about it.
I remember the very first instalment of the Championship Manager franchise, back when it debuted on the Commodore Amiga some twenty years ago. My best friend at the time and I lost more hours of our teenage lives engrossed in this game than listening to music, talking about girls, or even playing or watching actual real-life football.  Like the other seminal football computer game of the era, Sensible Soccer – a game that still shits on the current supposed Gallacticos of the genre, FIFA and ISS Pro – its beauty lay in its simplicity. Pick a team, play a game, adjust your tactics, buy a new forward, win the league. Since then versions of the game have been released at an increasing rate until they are now a yearly fixture, much like the Charity Shield. Developers have argued, companies were bought out, names have changed, rivals were launched. But the game remains the same – and somehow completely different.
The latest version of Football Manager is to the original what live streaming on a Saturday afternoon is to waiting for the pages of Teletext to change. It is the ultra-modern, updated incarnation of our engagement with the world of football, one which makes its predecessors seem quaintly outmoded. Once upon a time you had to lean forward and hold down the space bar on your keyboard to rush through the text description of a match, now you watch as the 3D simulator renders the game from a variety of camera angles, depicts flares released in the stands, and perfectly captures just how annoying some goal celebrations can be.  Back in the day, the end of the season would necessitate two floppy disc changes and a twenty minute wait, now you feel aggrieved if your laptop takes longer than 10 seconds to process a digital week’s worth of results. Before, only eight managers could take part therefore denying you the hate-filled opportunity to deliberately guide Manchester United into non-league obscurity; now players across the world can network online.
The grand scale of the game attempts to incorporate as much of the real world of football management as the name Football Manager would suggest. Tactics, playing styles and the transfer market are all there – much as they always have been. But now you can also monitor the reactions of the board and the fans; pick nations and regions to scout, encourage aging superstars to take up coaching roles; watch as a well-judged quiet word with a journalist impacts on the morale of the opposition, and then backfires and disrupts your own dressing room.
The vast, sprawling nature of the gaming experience is difficult to pigeon hole. It is undoubtedly a sports game first and foremost. But it could also be described as a simulator, a role playing game, a turn-based strategy game, and might even scrape into the category of massively multiplayer online game in the right circumstances. Yet the game is different from the World of Warcraft fantasy RPG style experience. And I think this is entirely down to its familiarity. I mean this in two ways.
Firstly, no matter how different the game may look to those of us who have been playing for two decades, the essentials are still the same. Yes, of course, the interface is much improved. Yes, graphics have replaced the inevitably repetitive text. And, yes, I did like the fact that I managed Liverpool so successfully that they named the new stadium after me. Taking a chance on a wonderkid or scoring a last minute winner, the unfolding drama of a season, the failures as well as the successes – these are the ingredients that keep fans coming back for more, and have been there since the game’s inception. Much like the real world of football, “improvements” (some cosmetic, some meaningful) are made from year to year. Whether you are stripping away the razzamatazz of Sky TV or the myriad of in-game options, the essential core of football or Football Manager remains much the same.
The second familiarity Football Manager brings you is familiarity with reality. The players, clubs and competitions of the game are simulacra of the real football world. In a bizarre hybridisation of The Matrix and Match of the Day the game becomes a continuation of reality by other means. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the lists of attributes and abilities assigned to each footballer in the game. This is the product of a legion of scouts who compile reports on real life players across the globe, from the established stars of the Premier League and La Liga, to the lowly youth team players of the Conference. Of course it can never be a perfect reproduction of the real world, not least of all because in Football Manager politics and sport do not mix. Tottenham never suffered a slide in form because their boss was on a tax avoidance charge. Chelsea never lost their captain to suspension after a foul mouthed racist tirade. Sunderland never appointed a fascist as a manger. It is a hermetically sealed world of football purity.
What the game could never achieve was to recreate the lived intensity most football fans experience on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Yet players bring this to the game themselves. They want desperately to win trophies with their club, to smash their real-life rivals on the screen in front of them. Why would you buy Wayne Rooney on the game when he played for them in real life? How can I purchase Fernando Torres when I still haven’t forgiven him for moving to Chelsea in the real world? The game perfectly encapsulates the irrationality of being a football fan, and takes it to a whole new level. There is no need for lucky socks, or a mad dash home from work to catch your team on television. Rather than the superstitious pre-game rituals you enter an illusion of living out your dreams, righting the wrong decisions of your team’s boss who you shout at each week from the stand or the sofa. The genius of Football Manager is that it understands we football fans are merely emotionally invested onlookers, made impotent by a game we can never control. By engaging in the virtual footballing universe it offers us the consolation of making decisions we wish we could in real life.
Its triumph and its tragedy is that it takes your alienation – this lack of power, this absence of control – repackages it and sells it back to you as a fleeting impression of empowerment. But, after all, isn’t this the very essence of a computer game?

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Resistible Rise of Paulo Di Canio

Rejoice! After a huge amount of pressure Paulo Di Canio has finally announced that he is not a fascist! What a victory! What a triumph! What a success for anti-racists and anti-fascists everywhere! And yet, it’s just … just … well, do I believe him? I want to believe him, I really do. It’s just that sometimes – sometimes – fascists lie. Do you remember when Nick Griffin said he wasn’t a Nazi? Do you remember the countless times Tommie Robinson peddled that line about not being racist? What if, after a week of stories, editorials, outrage and condemnation, Di Canio just said that he is no longer a fascist in a desperate attempt to make it all go away? Am I being too cynical? Heaven forfend...

At the very least there had been a modicum of honesty to Di Canio’s answers at a press conference last Tuesday, when the Italian was introduced as the new manager of Sunderland Football Club. Under the watchful eye of the club’s public relations officer, Di Canio “declined to answer” questions from the assembled media about his sympathies for the far-right. When asked if he was a fascist he said, “I don’t have to answer that question anymore”. And indeed he doesn’t. Because, quite aside from the Nazi salutes and the Mussolini tattoo, he has already openly stated: “I am a fascist”

The response to Paulo Di Canio’s appointment as Sunderland boss has been quite remarkable. It is not often that I find myself applauding the political integrity of David Miliband, but his decision to resign from the board of Sunderland FC is to be congratulated. The Durham National Union of Mineworkers demanded the return of their banner, on loan at the Stadium of Light, saying, “We are writing to the club asking for the return of the banner unless Di Canio says he is not a fascist. Otherwise his appointment will besmirch the memory of the miners who lost their lives in the fight against fascism in World War II. We do not want our union associated with the club now.” His appointment even made the front page of the red-tops, complete with images of Di Canio sieg heilling. When the Daily Star out you as a piece of racist filth then you know the game is up. UAF released a short, cutting statement, while Hope not Hate detailed some of Di Canio’s previous:
Di Canio was then fined 10,000 Euros and suspended for one game by the Italian football authorities for making the fascist salute against Roma When Lazio played Livorno, a team known for its left-wing following, Di Canio also raised his arm in a fascist salute. Whilst the Livorno fans chanted anti-fascist songs, visiting Lazio “Irriducibili” Ultras held up a swastika banner. Particularly outraged by Di Canio’s salute were various Jewish groups within Italy, including the president of the Italian Maccabi Federation, Vittorio Pavoncello who called on Lazio and the Italian authorities to take action. However, in a display of abject antisemitism, Di Canio replied arrogantly to the criticism declaring: “If we are in the hands of the Jewish community it’s the end”
Di Canio has previously attempted to defend himself on the grounds that he is a fascist but not a racist. As though this somehow makes everything okay! I presume that, since Di Canio, as both a player and a manager, has made a living in a multicultural football world, this is a thoroughly self-serving, hypocritical statement designed to reassure potential employers. But it is worth pausing for a moment on this thought. Fascismo was a counter-revolutionary, anti-working class ideology, which never relied upon racism to the same extent as the Nazi’s despicable deployment of anti-Semitism. Perhaps Di Canio was trying to articulate a historical subtlety when he said that he was “a fascist but not a racist”. Perhaps – but not fucking likely. Even if we accept that Di Canio actually believes this then there are two points. Firstly, Mussolini was both a fascist and a racist, as this quote Il Duce demonstrates:
“[When the] city dies, the nation—deprived of the young life-blood of new generations—is now made up of people who are old and degenerate and cannot defend itself against a younger people which launches an attack on the now unguarded frontiers [...] This will happen, and not just to cities and nations, but on an infinitely greater scale: the whole white race, the western race can be submerged by other coloured races which are multiplying at a rate unknown in our race.”
Fascism and racism have dove-tailed from the outset – and have remained inseparable bedfellows ever since. Irrespective of whatever Di Canio may believe, and this is the second point, his actions and words as a public figure have a profound effect. Did the racist sections of the Lazio supporters listen when he protested in 2005 that, “With this stiff arm I do not want to incite violence or racial hatred"? When bigots booed Mario Balotelli did they wonder if this was an expression of racist or fascist ideology? When Lazio’s fascist Ultras stabbed a Tottenham fan while shouting “Fucking Yids”, did they appreciate the nuance of Di Canio’s thought? When Di Canio declared that he is a fascist – racist or otherwise – he aligns himself with these people, inspires them and helps to legitimise their obscene beliefs.

Given that these facts have been known for some time it is striking how the sports media seem to have only just cottoned on to the story. In fact far too many journalists have spent the last few seasons singing the Italian’s praises. When managing Swindon, Di Canio had a reputation for playing the game the ‘right’ way – attractive, pass and move football, played at pace and with a premium on control, possession and skill. And he was successful – as he was never shy of pointing out. But it was his off-the-field persona that made Di Canio 'interesting'. In a game of corporatized blandness he stood out as a man who would speak his mind, always providing the expectant horde of hacks with a quote to make the morning papers. 

This is no mean feat given the Premiership-obsessed nature of the national media. Yet his popularity (at least for the press) was more than an interesting turn of phrase. Di Canio had previous. As a player he had acquired cult-status at West Ham, been a striker of undoubted flair, and had been responsible for that push of referee Paul Alcock. His image as a bad-boy footballer-cum-manager meant headlines – and headlines meant sales.

As a boss he was cast in the role of quirky anachronism; a throwback to a time when people were unafraid to speak their minds and make bizarre tactical decisions. During one game, in a fit of pique after his side had conceded an early goal, he substituted his goalkeeper. Inevitably comparisons were drawn between Di Canio and Brian Clough. Both were outspoken mavericks, both more than capable of erratic behaviour, perhaps they even share that indefinable quality that too often gets mislabelled as ‘genius’.

Now, Clough was no angel. And, as this post explores, his treatment of the gay footballer Justin Fashanu was unforgiveable. But Brian Clough was no fascist; he never approached the home supporters to give a straight arm salute. He was working class, supported trade unions, gave money to campaigns, and most importantly was one of the original signatories to the Anti-Nazi League. The idea that he and Di Canio can be lumped together in the same breath is quite simply lazy journalism at its very worst.

If Di Canio’s new found political beliefs are to be believed he needs actions as well as a choice phrase or two. He needs to put himself at the heart of the struggle against racism in sport and oppose all forms of bigotry in football. He needs to stand up and be counted without the pressure of a PR department. Following the succession of racist incidents that has blighted the game over the past twelve months the necessity of anti-racist work in the world of football is greater now than at any other time since the early 1980s. Will Paulo's Damascene conversion prompt an engagement with the efforts of anti-racist organisations such as Kick It Out or Show Racism the Red Card?

I for one cannot see it happening. Instead Di Canio has received a character reference from none other than Chelsea captain John Terry. In a seemingly bizarre attempt at satire the racist described the fascist as a "nice guy". Of course he did. Di Canio’s back-peddling is motivated by the express desire to save his own skin, his career and his current managerial contract which is no doubt worth millions of pounds. The Sunderland board have taken an enormous gamble – one which they do not seem to fully understand.  They are quite literally banking on Di Canio staving off demotion to the second tier of English football. Employing an avowed fascist is nothing compared to losing their slice of the billions of pounds top-flight clubs will receive in television rights revenue next season. Unsurprisingly all eyes are now on the North East - in the words of the former Swindon Town chairman Jeremy Wray, "Di Canio is box office". But the man charged with ensuring Sunderland’s Premier League survival is doing more damage to the club’s reputation than relegation ever could.