Anyone want to play on the left?,,2064746,00.html

Anyone want to play on the left?

When football was the workers’
game, it was the home of charismatic leftwingers like Bill Shankly and Brian
Clough. Now, with the Premiership awash with TV money, the socialists seem to
have disappeared. Do politics and the beautiful game just not mix any more,
asks Barney Ronay

Wednesday April 25, 2007

The Guardian

Later this month Italian footballer
Cristiano Lucarelli will be the celebrity guest of honour at a UCL seminar
called Money, Politics and Violence. At first glance this seems an unlikely
choice of speaker. It is tempting to speculate on Lucarelli’s themes ("At
the end of the day you’re talking about a decay of the post-capitalist economy
situation"), his insistence on taking the positives, giving 120% and
always remembering that left-leaning political theory is a funny old game.

Tempting, but in this case probably misguided. Lucarelli is an
unusual footballer, a self-avowed communist and an oddity both in his own
country and in the context of our ideologically neutral Premiership. At the top
level at least, footballing socialists are an almost extinct breed. This is
hardly surprising. The Premiership player lives a rarefied life. Alienated by
celebrity and his own vertiginous wealth, bombarded with the tedious
superlatives of a deeply introverted industry, it seems barely conceivable he
might still be capable of making the distinctions required to call himself a
socialist, a monetarist, a disciple of Chairman Mao, or anything else for that
matter. Premiership football has very little political content; it’s all on one
note. As the former
Scotland international Gordon McQueen says:
"Football is all about money and greed and everyone’s involved in

McQueen played
Leeds and Manchester United in the 1970s and
80s. He was also well known as a Labour party supporter who wrote an article
explaining his politics in the Daily Mirror. "I came from a family and
from an area that was and still is solid Labour, " he says now of his
native Ayrshire. "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."
McQueen was hardly a raving Trotskyite; just an everyday Labour man who also
happened to be a professional footballer. This is something he believes is
pretty much incompatible with the modern game.

"There are
plenty of smashing lads involved now, but whether they could be bothered with
something like that is a different story. The difference is they don’t live in
the real world. They’re cosseted in a way we never were. I’d say 99% are
totally uninterested in politics."

The players
might not be interested, but in its own way modern British football is a deeply
political affair. Just take a look at the Premiership to find out what 15 years
of hot-housed free-market economics looks like. From the first BSkyB broadcast
deal in 1992 the revenue from subscription television has utterly transformed
the game. The new Sky and Setanta TV contract is worth £1.7bn over three
seasons, a significant amount of which will end up in the pockets of the men
kicking the ball around. The escalation to a current average Premiership wage
of £12,300 a week has been like an unplanned social experiment. The players
have come to represent an acme of consumption, a brutally linear expression of
a certain way of living. In our footballers we see a funfair mirror reflection
of the same forces working on the people watching them from the stands. We
don’t admire them, so much as aspire to their lifestyle, crave their large
American cars and holiday homes in
Dubai, bandy their salaries around with a
Gollum-like mixture of avarice and disgust. The top tier of British football
stands as an extreme expression of a certain kind of politics, rampant
capitalism with the volume turned up to 11. A Premiership socialist? It might
not even be possible.

This is all
relatively new. We’re not talking about golf here. Historically, football’s
politics, such as they are, have tended to loiter on the left wing. The
majority of Premiership clubs have their roots in either a local church or a
local pub. For 100 years these clubs existed as an extension of their local
community, a living riposte – albeit an occasionally violent and shambolically
administered one – to the Thatcherite notion that there is no such thing as

Bill Shankly is
probably still British football’s most celebrated socialist. Wisecracking,
dapper and a charismatic orator, Shankly was a hugely successful manager of
Liverpool through the 60s and early 70s. What
seems most remarkable about him now is his insistence on talking politics, even
while talking football: "The socialism I believe in is everyone working
for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards. It’s the way I see
football, the way I see life."

Shankly traced
his political beliefs to his upbringing in the Ayrshire mining
village of Glenbuck. A childhood spent in areas dominated by
heavy industry and trade union influence has been a common theme among
football’s senior socialists. Sir Alex Ferguson was a Govan shipyard shop
steward before he became a player with Rangers. His backing for the Blair
Labour leadership is well documented. At the last general election he posted a
message on the government’s website praising "two brilliant barnstorming
speeches from Tony and Gordon".
Ferguson, with his fine wines and his
multi-million pound racehorse ownership disputes, has frequently been subjected
to the familiar jibe of "champagne socialism". Football is fond of
this kind of reasoning, based on the idea that those with socialist beliefs are
expected to live exemplary altruistic lives, whereas rightwingers can pretty
much do whatever they want.
Nottingham Forest legend Brian Clough, a sponsor of the
anti-Nazi League and a regular on picket lines during the miners’ strike, had
his own riposte. "For me, socialism comes from the heart. I don’t see why
certain sections of the community should have the franchise on champagne and
big houses."

Clough was
pretty much the standard-bearer for football socialism in the 1980s, a decade
that saw the emergence of a new strain of rightwing footballer. Certainly
something about Margaret Thatcher touched a chord with the aspirational
pre-Premiership player, with his golfing sweaters, his sponsored Rover and his
first intimations of the spiralling financial rewards that would reach frantic
levels in the decades to come. The famous photo of Kevin Keegan and Emlyn
Hughes cosying up to Thatcher on the
Downing Street steps remains a pungent image. It wasn’t just Keegan.
Thatcherism mobilised footballers in unprecedented numbers.
Coventry players Keith Houchen and Steve
Ogrizovic campaigned for their local Tory candidate at the 1987 election.
Footballers even managed to muscle their way in among all the Tarbies and
Brucies at the grisly party glad-handings: Arsenal manager Terry Neill and star
striker "Champagne" Charlie Nicholas were among those to appear on
stage at a Thatcher rally. For reasons that are still unclear, Thatcher herself
was installed as honorary vice-president of Blackburn Rovers.

In the 20 years
since, the footballing socialist has all but disappeared. Certainly, we’ve not
had a lot to go on: Thierry Henry wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt; Diego Maradona
smoking Montecristos with Fidel while detoxing in
Cuba; Eric Cantona and his elusively loopy
left-of-centre persona. "Perhaps you may find it odd that I think
happiness does not come from being able to buy a car that one wants," he
challenged in his autobiography, before reminding us that "the woods are
full of bows and arrows".

This is a
confusing time for any top-level footballer with a twitching of social
conscience. The problem is, he often ends up looking a bit silly. Take Rio
Ferdinand, for example. Ferdinand is an intelligent man. He lent his name to a
campaign against knife crime in
London. Peckham-raised, he discreetly offered
his support in the aftermath of the Damilola Taylor murder. But somehow it
seems that just making a bit of a difference isn’t enough. Not when you’re this
important. "I want to join forces with the Government," he wrote in
his autobiography, before going on to describe his plans for a countrywide rehabilitation
of the nation’s youth via his inspirational chain of Ferdinand-branded leisure
centres, a vision of a brighter tomorrow he once tried to share with Gordon
Brown after discovering they were staying in the same hotel
("unfortunately he had gone out for something to eat").

The suspicion
is that socialism – in the everyday sense practised by the likes of McQueen –
is simply incompatible with the life of the Premiership footballer. Leftwing
sympathies are still present in isolated gestures.
Liverpool player Robbie Fowler celebrated scoring
in a European Cup-Winners’ Cup game in 1997 by pulling up his shirt to reveal a
T-shirt expressing support for striking
Liverpool dockers. As a gesture it was widely
appreciated. But solidarity only goes so far: Fowler is also English football’s
fourth-richest man, estimated to own almost 100 houses as part of a £28m
buy-to-let portfolio (inspiring the Yellow Submarine-style terrace chant,
"We all live in a Robbie Fowler house").
Wigan manager Paul Jewell’s dad was a trade
union activist in
Liverpool. He keeps a pet tortoise called Trotsky.

And then
there’s Gary Neville, the man most people would pick out as an example of a
modern footballing socialist. Neville’s "
Red Nev" nickname was given to him by the
tabloid press after his stewardship of a revolt in the
England dressing room over Ferdinand’s
punishment for missing a drugs test. It’s not exactly flogging Marxism Today
outside Sainsbury’s, but the nickname has stuck.

Neville is one
of the Premiership’s more thoughtful players. He has called on his colleagues
not to use agents, although having always been represented by his father makes
this an easy position to adopt. He signed up to the recent initiative for
footballers to donate a day’s wages to a nurses’ hardship fund. He might even,
you never know, see himself as a socialist. Still, you come up against the
insurmountable stumbling block of his profession. In Neville we can see an
intelligent man placed in an unintelligent situation. Earning £80,00-a-week for
playing football places him on one side of a very real divide, whatever his
potential leftwing leanings. The old distinction of champagne socialism doesn’t
really do it justice, unless perhaps we’re talking about taking an Olympic
swimming pool-sized Jacuzzi in the stuff every morning. Which is possibly
something Neville might be planning to do in the £3m home with golf course,
gym, pools, stables and a cinema he is having built in
Lancashire. Clough is right. Socialism doesn’t
necessary exclude you from living in a big house; but there are limits to

Does any of
this matter? Certainly, football’s central relationship, that between fans and
players, seems to have suffered some collateral damage. The working man’s
ballet is now very much the middle-class man’s ballet, too. Nothing wrong with
that, of course, but the speed with which the demographic of football’s target
market has shifted is unprecedented. Not least in the idea of actually having a
target market in the first place. Andy Lyons is editor of When Saturday Comes,
UK‘s only independent national football
magazine. WSC began as a fanzine in 1986, at a time when following football was
a relatively marginalised activity. "There used to be a sense of a shared
experience of being a football supporter,"
Lyons says. "This has splintered now, due
in part to the sheer weight of numbers of the Sky generation of new

Various forces
have been working on this relationship between supporters and players: the
repackaging of the game as televised entertainment and the dilution of the idea
of a geographical fanbase; the hyper-inflationary hikes in ticket prices and
the emphasis on football as a corporate hospitality product. Going to watch a
game at Arsenal’s new Emirates ground feels more like attending a stadium rock
concert or visiting the Ideal Home exhibition. Your relationship to everyone
else inside the stadium has changed. You’re united by consumer choice. The
people performing in front of you are skilled entertainers.

This is not
necessarily what football’s traditional consumers (formerly "fans")
actually want. A feature of some recent Liverpool home games has been a habit
among home fans of a concerted holding up of scarves en masse and singing of
their traditional anthems in a self-consciously "Liverpool Kop"
manner. Always a club tradition at bigger games, at every home game it is a
relatively new thing, fetishising the club’s own past, perhaps out of a sense
of nostalgia for a still-present but undeniably fragile sense of footballing
community. This feeling of a collective identity is what sustained football
through its lean years. Will it still be there when they come again?

football is ahead of the rest of the world here.
Lyons believes that in other countries players
are not only more openly political, but possibly also have a greater bond with
their supporters. "You find in countries where the working classes tend to
be more political, such as Argentina, where there is still a strong trade union
movement, there tends to be more of a sense of communal identity," he
says. "Society is perhaps based around older social patterns that no
longer exist here, such as heavy industry. In among these, football is one of
the forces that bind people together."

There are
plenty of examples of political South American footballers. The World
Cup-winning Brazilian striker Romario is a high-profile supporter of the
progressive President Lula and has also assisted with projects to relieve
poverty in the favelas. Italian club Internazionale were persuaded by their
Argentinian captain Xavier Zanetti to donate €5,000 (£3,400) to help Zapatista
rebels in
Mexico. "We believe in a better,
unglobalised world enriched by the cultural differences and customs of all the
people," Zanetti said, possibly surprising some of his team-mates in the

Where all this
leaves us is hard to say. Is it really impossible to be a socialist and a
top-level footballer? Probably, in the hard line "property is theft"
sense of the word; the bar has simply been raised too high. But then, all of
this is very new. There is no precedent for the Premiership, outside of the
transcontinental sporting conferences of the
US – never exactly a hot bed of leftwing
politics and, what with the market-led sports "franchise" system,
certainly not an environment where the social bond between supporters and club
is valued.

It would be
nice to see someone trying, however. In the future, perhaps a few of our
footballers might be willing to challenge their environment, rather than simply
accepting its rewards. Former
England goalkeeper David James made the
relatively radical suggestion last week that players might be paid only on a
performance-related basis. This might not exactly be up there with Paul
Breitner, a West German World Cup winner in 1974, who combined a mastery of
attacking full-back play with growing a bushy beard, espousing Marxism. But
James’ notion of footballers-as-estate-agents at least goes pleasingly against
the tide. It’s an acknowledgment that there might be another way. And, like
Lucarelli who cuts a slightly cartoonish figure with his Che Guevara T-shirts
and clenched-fist salutes, it’s also appealingly silly; a counter to the
po-faced sense of entitlement that has too often been the Premiership player’s
defining trait. This is only football, after all. It doesn’t have to mean
anything. But it’s usually much more fun when it tries.,,2075171,00.html

English football takes a pasting
– again

Barney Ronay

Wednesday May 9, 2007

The Guardian

‘Put a shit hanging from a stick,
and there are people who will tell you it’s a work of art." So said
Argentinian football pundit Jorge Valdano this week in the Spanish newspaper
Marca. Oddly enough, Valdano was describing the recent Champions League tie
between Chelsea and Liverpool,
a game hitherto held out with a quiet satisfaction as a showcase of the best
that English football has to offer.

Valdano is an unusual figure. He
occupies a unique role as football’s philosopher-critic. He played in Argentina’s
1986 World Cup-winning team. He published a book of epigrams called Apuntes del
Balon ("Notes of the Ball"). He once compared criticism of his
tactical approach to "the time they dared ask Borges what poetry was

So, he’s a footballer, a
philosopher, a name-dropper. But is he right? The answer is that in some
contexts – such as trendy east London
– "a shit on a stick" can indeed be art. Like art, football arranges
itself in different genres. When Valdano was sporting director at Real Madrid,
his team was a travelling sideshow of back-flicks and nutmegs, in contrast to
the pragmatic styles of Liverpool and Chelsea.
This is clearly a case of the baroque versus the brutalist.

There may be politics here, too.
Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho, managers of Liverpool
and Chelsea, are both candidates to
take over at Madrid. Valdano is
speaking not to us, but to Madrid’s
board and fans, while offering a reminder of his own legacy.

Which is all very well, but it’s
still rude. The obvious riposte is that our football may be a shit on a stick,
but it’s a successful shit on a stick. Three Champions League semifinalists:
count ’em, Jorge. More likely, it comes down to different notions of beauty. We
don’t produce extravagantly skilled Maradonas. We produce tough John Terrys and
tall Peter Crouches. We run around a lot and, occasionally, we forget to take
the ball with us. Which, in the right light, can be just as lovely.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Hoy me siento de humor Chacotero para comenzar
el día. Mmm. Hagamos un rápido ejercicio. Izquierdosos versus fachos en el


Gabo (García Márquez), Cruyff, Valdano (según
él, mmm), El Chava Barragán (¡Ah, no!, ese táchenlo), Camilo José Cela, el
DIEGO (MARADONA, but of course), Eduardo Galeano, Nabokov, El “Vasco” Aguirre,
todo el INTER de Milano, el EZ (Fut REBELDE, YEAH!), Los Fab Four, Villoro, “El
Flaco” Menoti … M@rco (¡Je!),


Mourinho, Franco, Leaño, ¡Ah! Ahora que anda
de moda … Ahumada, ¿le acoplamos a la Chayiyo Robles?, KISSINGER (Calla boca,
esas ya son palabras mayores, remember el Palacio de la Moneda), Musolini ¡Utas!, Slim, Azcárraga, Fox, Vergara,
Berlusconi, Abramovich, Salinas-Pliego, … “El Chaparrito-Peloncito”.

En esto Pelé ni fu ni fa. No pinta el BATO.

Al rato si me acuerdo les traigo más, tengo
que terminar la TESIS, para imprimir YA.


U(n) K(ick-off),


P.D.PAYASA. "…through SPACE and time, always
another SHOW/we all need the CLOWNS to make us SMILE…" – FAITHFULLY

P.D.HUMILDE. "… and Harry doesn’t mind if he
doesn’t make the SCENE/he’s got a day-time JOB, he’s doing alright…" –
Sultans of Swing (Dire Straits).

Pilona “Bronceada”.

No reparéis en que soy MORENA,

Porque el SOL me miró …

Cantar de los Cantares 1:6 (Casiodoro de
Reina, 1569).


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