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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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.