On the wrong side of the”Lefties”

17 03 2011

Despite the amount of rubbish on the internet you can still find great stuff. A few weeks ago I found the beautifully written blog  Twisted Blood.

Whilst I perused its content I came across a post based around the New Statesman piece  “How on earth can lefties like football?” . The New Statesman piece was written, in that annoyingly smug liberal middle class style (think Observer Magazine article), by someone called Ms. Helen Lewis Hasteley.

To say that Ms. Lewis Hasteley doesn’t get football would be a massive understatement. Firstly she thinks “football” is all about  the annoying pantomime that excites our tabloids (as well as the less discerning visitors to Llandudno’s cultural quarter). Like most of the “liberals” writing for the “progressive” media a sneer is never far  away, and a  “right on” middle class sneer  doesn’t seem much different from a reactionary middle class sneer.

You just can’t beat the sneering middle classes for crude stereotypes;

“Every time you buy an absurdly overpriced ticket, every time you buy a dubiously sourced replica shirt, every time you cough up for that Sky Sports subscription, you are propping up this whole edifice. You are using your spending power to say that the misogyny, the homophobia, the rewarding of people for a fluke of genetics rather than a worthwhile contribution to society — that’s all OK. Or, at least, that you don’t care enough about it to find something else to do with your Saturday afternoons.”


I’m sorry to shatter your illusions Little Ms. Smug but football fans have finer feelings too. For a start some of us don’t even like the premier league. Then consider that some of us are  able to not only see the aesthetic quality in football – a sport that Billie Whitelaw once comparing to Ballet – but we can actually appreciate its aesthetic quality too. You can call it multi-tasking.

Little Ms. Smug you should also consider the idea that me, and others like me, enjoy going to matches because we like spending time in good company and forgetting about our worries for a few hours. We may not spend our Saturday afternoons in fashionable trattorias disscussing the merits of intermediate Swedish for little Charlie, or searching for that statement handbag, but that doesn’t make us less human. Why won’t you let us be? (Oh dear, I seem to have stereotyped in this paragrah. I must be smug and self-satisfied)

Now Little Ms. Smug, see if you can get your head around another idea. If proper football fans were posed the following question; “Do you consider the tabloid coverage of football to be abhorrent or riveting?” I’m sure that a lot of fans would opt for abhorrent.

On the other hand….

You could argue that Ms. Lewis Hasteley has a point. You can’t be a proper “lefty” and actually like watching a load of sweaty men, wearing  overpriced sweaty polyester shirts made by children in Indonesia, kicking an overpriced ball made by kids in Pakistan.

To be a proper “lefty” you need to be an ardent revolutionary, and when you’re an ardent revolutionary you don’t have much time for football. It’s all class struggle, permananent revolution and Internationalism. Or at least that’s the way I remember it……….(Here Comes Jet Set Memory Corner)…………..

……………..Every Wednesday afternoon  I was there, outside a Midlands University with the Socialist Worker in one hand and a petition in the other. It didn’t matter whether my comrades and  I were caressed by the warm sun or buffeted by an arctic gale we were there, pacing around our trusty tressle table laden with posters and pamphlets.

Trying to sell the Socialist Worker to class traitors was an intestesting way to spend a Wednesday lunchtime (even if keeping warm was a big issue); you just never knew who would ignore you next. You never know who would sidle up for a chat and a quick thumb through the  pamphlets about The Interfada and the Spanish Civil War. You could never tell which place a person had to hurry off to when you approached with the petition. 

On one particular Wednesday an earnest chap turned up. We thought he was something to do with the Muslim students’ society but he turned out to be a nutcase. He tried to engage us in a debate but found the idea of a two-way debate to be a novel concept. We declined his request. During in the following weeks I noticed his pronouncements of religious ferocity on A4 paper around the campus.  I got a chill down my spine when I read this and remembered meeting him. 

Anyway back to the point, I don’t know if you’re familar with the layout of the Socialist Worker but I think Oscar put it best when he said, in his usual cynical style; “Once you’ve read 10 you’ve read them all”. All of the articles were about the exploitation of the proles, the corruption of soictey and the potential for revolution. The analysis was good but it was all a bit ” samey”. The self-proclaimed point of the Socialist Worker is to encourage the proletarian revolution so I thought that it should include a bit of Proletarian culture to encourage interest in the argument. But the Socialist Worker was not the Morning Star, there were no sports pages.

Football was not a feature of many conversations when we were freezing for the workers (and being ignored by the ungrateful bastards). Our organiser was called “Jake” and he knew what the workers wanted. He knew his Marx and Trotsky backwards. He didn’t care about the beauty of  Johan Cruyff’s footwork. When I asked if “Jake” liked football, I was told he liked Chess.

To be truthful, revolutionary agitaion wasn’t always a clinical ascetic experience. Two comrades helped me to retain a balance of normailty; Byron, a Cardiff supporter and Oscar, a Wolves supporter. They both kept me sane, not just with dry wit but with un-revolutionary football chat aswell, both are important when you were swimming in a sea of cold hostility. It was a shame they only turned up occasionally.

Unfortunately you can’t have a really good time when time you’re trying to bring down the corrupt rule of Bourgeoisie.   The glorious example of our glorious organiser told us that there wasn’t much time for such momentary interest, as Lenin calls such things. Besides knowing the latest scores won’t convice students to revolt.

From this point of view Little Ms. Smug may be right. There are far too many important issues in the world to be bothered by 22 sweaty men in shirts made in Indonesian sweatshops. Football will only divert the bovine workers from their historic mission, as Trotsky once opined;

“The revolution will inevitably awaken in the British working class the deepest passions which have been diverted along artificial channels with the aid of football.”

Mind you, at the end of the day, to be fair, on the other hand, people started to play football and organise football so people can shape football in anyway they want to, if they like. For example, consider the fact that  Bath City have decided to offer the Polish residents of Bath a discounted entry into matches;

“A football club is attempting to boost its crowds and reach out to a minority community by offering an 80% discount on matchday tickets to Polish people.

If they produce their Polish ID card, football fans can watch Bath City FC take on Grimsby Town on Saturday for £2.50. The normal price is £13 to stand on the terraces and £14 for a seat.

Film director and City fan Ken Loach welcomed the club’s call to the Polish community. He said: “It is a good idea, I hope they will chant in Polish. There is a fantastic opportunity on the playing side and we just want to boost the attendance.”

Officials at Bath say they are simply trying to draw in a minority group and have checked with the Equality and Human Rights Commission that they are within their rights to offer the discount.”

This example shows a couple of things. Firstly it shows that a football club is part of a community, secondly it shows how that club can add to community cohesion. Schemes like Bath’s are useful for immigrant communities, and the wider community, because immigrant communities can become isolated. In Llandudno, the small Polish and Slovak communities seem to keep themselves to themselves. For example there’s a Slovak team in our 6-a-side league yet I’ve never seen any of them out on a Saturday night. This is a shame becuase they seem to be one of the more sociable teams after a match (shaking hands and having a chat that sort of thing). Unfortunately we  see plenty of dickheads from the other teams out and about.

Scheme’s like Bath’s can work too; we tried a “Students in for free” match at Bangor and  some students are now regulars. To judge from the students that I have spoken to, they feel a bit closer to Bangor because they go to Farrar Road. So football can be an agent for social cohesion and to “lefties” social cohesion should be a touchstone idea.

Consider the fact that several clubs have been set up by people with “lefty” ideas about “Community” and “Fairness”. FC United of Manchester, AFC Wimbledon and SV Salzburg are three examples of this. For example, FC United are run as a co-operative and they are part of the Co-Operative Society’s “Join the Revolution” advertising campaign;

As far as I can tell the co-op movement has impeccable “lefty” credentials. I wonder if “Little Ms. Smug” is aware that FC United shatters her stereotype because they were set up by football fans alienated by modern football.

Clubs can actually help “lefty” aims as well, consider the example of  Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War, they went on fundraising tours for the Republican side. Spartak Moscow are the so-called People’s Club of the USSR and Russia. The Zapatistas have their own football team. Hapoel Tel Aviv are affiliated with a Trade Union. Livorno are based in the birthplace of Italian Communism and are a workers’ symbol, etc etc etc.

Consider the fans. Here is a tiny selection of clubs with fan groups with a “lefty” point of view; Hapoel Tel Aviv, Celtic, St. Pauli, Bath City, Swindon Town, Clifftonville, FC United, Livorno, Atalanta, Pisa, Bologna, Bangor City, Bordeaux, Marseilles, Rayo Vallecano, Tenerife. Not many of these fans would tolerate football as described by “Little Ms. Smug”.

Consider the “lefty” players. Spurs players Tony Galvin and Chris Hughton were Socialists. Galvin backed the TGWU’s ‘Campaign for a Living Wage’ during the Thatcher years and  appeared on a Union poster and  Hughton  “formerly wrote a column for the Workers’ Revolutionary Party publication News Line”. Brian Clough was a well known supporter of Arthur Scargill. Brian McClair “was once asked in a Match questionnaire: “What scares you the most?” to which he answered: “A Thatcher government.”Gordon McQueen was well known as a Labour party supporter; “I came from a family and from an area that was and still is solid Labour…………In fact, there were more communists than Tories. I just did what I was asked to do. I went to local meetings. I helped with fundraising.” Javier Zanetti has supported the Zapatistas, Romario has declared support for the Socialist Lula. Socrates made a subtle protest against Brazil’s military leaders by co-founding “Conrinthians Democracy“.

Cristiano Lucarelli is “of an increasingly rare breed of Italian footballer who openly brought his politics onto the pitch; his goal celebration consisted of a dual clenched-fist salute, a gesture made famous by the Communist party. He has openly admitted that he, like most of Livorno’s fanbase, is a supporter of communism. One of his cell phone ringtones was Bandiera Rossa, and he once gregariously declared, “We Livorno get no favors from the referees because we are Communists!”. A more recent example is the three Austrian women footballers that stood up to their far-right chairman.

There is enough evidence here to suggest that not only do “Lefties” take an interest in football, they try to shape football into a more pleasing form. Take that “Little Ms. Smug”!!!!




2 responses

7 07 2011
Steven Kruse Kagawa

Great article, love it! Only just came across this.

I also find that almost all fellow socialists dislike or are neutral towards football. Almost none have any interest in it. And they dismiss it all as right-wing distraction – an opiate of the masses, etc. In truth, of course, it’s much more complicated than that, as your article demonstrated!

18 03 2011

Nice one (and thanks).

My favourite leftie perspective on football comes from Antonio Gramsci, who called it “the open-air kingdom of human loyalty.”

Makes me feel all warm inside.

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