Article about anarchism and supporting your national football team.
I wrote this aimed for Shift magazine readers, then their website doesn't work so I've put it on here. Feel free to print it other places. I've done a search in Libcom and don't reckon it's been discussed before, so thats why i put it in the library. I will try and check in regularly to try and offer a catenaccio defence to your criticisms.
I've been around The Movement' for a few years now, and have been made to feel very at home, I definitely think we're on to a winner with this Anarchism thing. But, as i came late to it, i have always felt a bit of friction between what could be called my 'old self' and the person The Movement has helped me become. For example, i used to be a man, now i refer to myself as a person. I used to work full time and then get high and play computer games on the weekend. Now i do paid work 3 days a week and don't seem to have ANY spare time anymore!
I used to fill my boring days dreaming of scoring the derby winner, jumping into the a terrace boiling with joy, pitch invasions. I used to go to the home games, one minute calling for patient football, building from the back, then the next minute be screaming “Get into 'em! Fuck 'em up!” Every two years, i would dream of England. Through the qualification campaigns, then into the tournament, pure excitement, a nation holds it's breath. Me and my brother trudging up to bed in tears after Keegan missed the header. Lineker with his arm in a cast making Jimmy Hill scream in orgasmic joy. Platt over his shoulder, Gascoigne-Sherringham-Shearer-goal, Beckham sliding on his knees pumping his fists after slotting the free kick in the last minute of the must-win.
When i joined The Movement, i was forced to accept that this simple pleasure wasn't so simple. Was i really proud to be English, proud of a history of racism, plunder, rape and murder? Do i really think God should Save 'our' Queen? Was i happy that women were so unwelcome at football matches, could i turn a blind eye to monkey chants and hardcore homophobia? Didn't i see that money was the real master, that Capitalism had conned me with it's circus diversions, that TV was the pinnacle of the passive spectacle? All the rage on the terrace, the unhealthy competition, the drunken violence - surely this is the patriarchy we want to destroy, not protect?
It felt like club football was tolerated, but England was strictly off-limits. Half convinced, half peer-steered, i backed off. I still watched but in secret, dreading the clash between a meeting and a match, always choosing the meeting (i'd watch the match highlights later). When i met a fellow football fan anarcho we would both begin with a clear rejection of England, instead nodding respectfully to Saint Pauli or Athletic Bilbao, before praising grass-roots kickabouts to the skies.
England football was a guilty pleasure. I was made to feel that this was just part of the nationalist, patriarchal baggage that i had picked up in my previous incarnation as an unreconstructed working class man. And who was i to argue when this argument was so right in almost every other sense? Time and time again i faced epiphanies as i was helped to uncover the motivations behind my thinking, my subconscious reactions, to accept the advantages i had in being a white man in a patriarchal, racist society, and the role i play in supporting that society.
This hasn't been easy. At every challenge i bridled, smelling bullshit, before thinking it through, accepting it, and trying to adapt to this new understanding. I'm still doing it, nowhere near the end of the journey, and am very glad of the wisdom of others in The Movement in prodding and guiding me through it.
As i said, I've been around for a few years now, and feel that I'm starting to get a bit of wisdom of my own. The most major slice of that is understanding that there is no one answer to any problem, no 'right way' of doing something. Everyone has a different code of morals, a different outlook, and I see Anarchism as all about fighting to be true to yourself, while at the same time accepting the need for us all to get along. What your heart tells you is right and what your head tells you must be done. It seems to me that almost all of the arguments we have amongst ourselves are over where the balance between the two lies.
The referee of these ideological arguments should be practicality, based on knowledge of the subject. There is no Perfect Knowledge in the real world, only in the fantasies of religions and other delusions, such as Free Market Economics. All arguments are subjective, I am well aware of that
But. But. Read the second paragraph of this article. If it doesn't make any sense to you, you do not know about football. You may know about nationalism, racism, patriarchy, group dynamics, or working class culture but you do not know about football. If you have never been in a football terrace you do not know about terrace culture. if you have never been a regular in a working class pub you do not know about working class drinking culture. If you have never supported the England team, you do not know about supporting the England team. To think that you do is the same as me thinking five years ago that women have the same rights as men - it is an ill-informed position to take.
Football is not just a blank screen on to which the symptoms of Shitty Britain are poured on thick. It is not a shop dummy dressed with the worst excesses of Capitalism. Football is a thing in itself, a collective expression, a joy to behold and a nightmare of it's own making, separate from all the things attached to it. If you don't know that, please, take my word for it.
Following on, England football, the national team, is a thing in itself - a national team in an international tournament, the highest level of expression and quality, eleven men or women against eleven. We may not want to live in a world of nation states, but that is the reality at the moment, and all it really means for football is that's the way you use to pick the sides.
Of course. Nothing exists in isolation, i know that. England football is a dirty word with Anarchists for a reason, the evidence is there for all to see - nationalism, racism, aggression, division. The Bomber Song, God Save the Queen, No Surrender to the IRA, We Want Our Country Back. The sunburnt bonehead flapping his cock about in the bar, while his mate pukes over the side of the veranda. The German tourists locked in a nightclub to protect them from a howling mob, the Iraqi Kurdish kebab shop smashed up when we lose to Turkey.
I am aware of all of this. In fact, when i was a young man, i was a lot closer to all of this than i would care to relate. But this is not the whole story, these are the negatives, but there are positives.
I've been in pubs watching World Cup matches as a neutral, where people find out that there are, say, a couple of Romanians in the corner and so the whole pub starts to cheer Romania on. I've talked tactics with taxi drivers who support England in the football and Pakistan in the cricket, and watched games in Wales where half boo an England goal and the other half cheer. Why shouldn't someone who hates the state cheer a Wayne Rooney hat-trick? The state is the state, the football is the football. Don't underestimate people's ability to be perfectly aware of that, and to think maybe its you who has got the wrong end of the stick if you can't see the difference.
Some football fans are racist, more are sexist, and most are homophobic, but that's because a lot of people in this country are racist, sexist and homophobic. How do we change that? Distance ourselves from them, judge them, shout at them? As the rise of the EDL and the misguided response from the Left shows, if you're not part of these communities you find it much harder to affect them. Also, don't underestimate the power of football to change things for the better. Football changed people's minds when black players started being terrace heroes, now the England captain is black and it's not even seen as worth mentioning. The same (slow) process will also happen with South Asian and openly queer players, and will have the same positive effect.
France hosted the 1998 World Cup against a backdrop of rising support for anti-immigration, nationalist politicians. King rat Le Pen tried to harness the mood of the nation when he criticised “immigrant” players for not singing the national anthem. This 'mixing of football and politics' was rejected by the French fans who were looking for these players to win the cup for them, the long-suffering fans, not for France. When they did, Le Pen's vote collapsed and he was made to look like the arsehole he was. Football fans may act stupid but they're not. Take comfort from that.
England, like France, could do with a win. As an ex-power, nationalists harness a backward-looking viewpoint. “44 years of hurt” refers to the time since we last won the World Cup, but sums up the decline of everything English in the eyes of many. A World Cup win would go a long way to ending 'the past' and starting 'the future' for these people, who's lack of hope forms part of the present problem. I certainly would take a lot of convincing that it would lead to the rise of fascism, but the chances are even less if the Left are active supporters and claim the win as our own as well.
Let's cut to the chase. If you don't like football, fine. If you think the whole thing is stupid, grown adults chasing a ball around etc, fine. I'm not asking you to change your mind on that. What i am asking is that you reflect on your assumptions about the role that football plays in life, and in particular the role of the national team. As i have gained wisdom from others in other areas, i'm asking you to consider mine in this.
England football is not something to fear, or to despise. It is something to criticise, for sure, at times, but it is also something to celebrate. Come June, come join the party, feel the unity - remember, as the old saying goes - “it's only a game!”(ha.ha.ha). If you can't see it that way, i at least hope you will not judge me and Anarchists like me for doing so. For you, maybe if you can't dance it's not your revolution. For me, if i can't play and watch football, it definitely won't be mine.