In defence of football: a lefty writes

Crude caricatures of all football supporters as sexist homophobes insult readers’ intelligence.

An article claiming that "all Tories hate women and gays" would rightly receive short thrift from NS editors and readers alike. When it comes to football, however, such easy stereotypes have twice graced these web pages in the past year.

A polemic smearing football lovers as fascists was followed yesterday by another post attacking supporters, calling on them to "justify [their] decisions" to support misogyny and homophobia, and asking: "How on earth can lefties like football?" Such crude caricatures insult readers' intelligence.

Left-wingers in football are not only to be found haring up the port flank on a Saturday afternoon. Indeed, the sport has been home to many intelligent, progressive voices. The manager Brian Clough was chair of the Anti-Nazi League, while Alex Ferguson is still a regular fixture on Labour Party campaign material. In November, Eric Cantona called for a run on banks to start "a real revolution" against institutions at the heart of a system that "must be destroyed".

Outspoken left-leaning stars are matched by a growing grass-roots movement to counter the greed and commercialism rightly criticised by Laurie Penny and Helen Lewis-Hasteley. The formation of FC United in protest at Malcolm Glazer's controversial takeover of Manchester United was followed in 2007 by the mutualised purchase of Ebbsfleet United by ordinary fans, each paying £35 through the website myfootballclub.co.uk.

It is fans who are leading the battle against the tide of capital sweeping through the modern game. When Red Bull bought SV Austria Salzburg, summarily changing the club's name and kit and declaring that "this is a new club with no history", the drinks giant was forced into concessions, in the wake of a Europe-wide campaign by supporters' organisations. Ridicule of grotesque consumption in football, such as El Hadji Diouf's absurd gold Cadillac Escalade, will first gain traction in online forums.

Sweeping generalisations that "women are nothing more than baubles" are insulting to those blazing a trail of equality within the sport. The second target of Richard Keys's career-wrecking remarks was Karren Brady, married to the Canadian football club manager Paul Peschisolido and, as such, a "footballer's wife". As the former managing director of Birmingham City Football Club and the youngest ever director of a UK plc, however, she would surely object to being referred to as maîtresse-en-titre.

The sport has made huge strides in confronting head-on issues of racism that were rife on the terraces in the 1980s, but no one will deny that football – like politics – still has issues with sexism and homophobia. Rather than champion the cause of women within sport, however, Lewis-Hasteley counsels abandoning the Beautiful Game to what is now a small minority of bigots. To suggest that those taking their daughter to under-11 training or cheering Stonewall FC from the touchline are wasting their time is more Helen Kendrick Johnson than Emmeline Pankhurst.

A myopic scrutiny of testosterone-fuelled Premier League excess will never recognise the spirit of community and solidarity engendered in local areas by the tens of thousands of clubs outside of football's elite. In the words of Bill Shankly:

The socialism I believe in is not really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day. That might be asking a lot, but it's the way I see football and the way I see life.

This sounds more like the game I know.

Football isn't fox-hunting. Attempts to link something so gloriously variegated to a single political outlook are doomed to failure. We're not asking you to enjoy our sport. But stop tarring those who do with the same sexist, homophobic brush.

Laurence Durnan is the editor of Political Scrapbook.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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