‘It’s all thought out,’ Flavia said. ‘This [music] and the football stadium – they give us two places to scream and curse and stamp our feet. They’re not stupid… they’re evil. They know they have to provide an outlet. Without a valve to release the pressure, this country would explode.’
– Nathan Englander, The Ministry of Special Cases
To some, a World Cup presents the opportunity for an enjoyable grand delusion, a chance for the skilful to shine, allowing dreams of achieving greatness in front of a global audience to become reality for one fortunate group of players. As well as the chance to lift the Jules Rimet, there is also the hope of every no-mark with a political theory going spare of seizing the opportunity to get their byline in the paper. Via Max Dunbar, I learn of Terry Eagleton‘s recent assertions that:
… for the most part football these days is the opium of the people, not to speak of their crack cocaine. Its icon is the impeccably Tory, slavishly conformist Beckham. The Reds are no longer the Bolsheviks. Nobody serious about political change can shirk the fact that the game has to be abolished
If Mr Eagleton had paid closer attention to the English Premier League team nicknamed ‘the Reds’, he might have found much to love. Or perhaps not. His brand of politics is a more ideologically driven variety of the simple socialism proclaimed by Bill Shankly and adopted as a slogan by the fans’ campaign named for him:
The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life
Mr Eagleton might be encouraged by Spirit of Shankly’s progress towards putting these words into practice, as shown at their Independence Day Rally. We heard from great speakers such as Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union, who spoke of his politics having been learnt as much inside Anfield as in his early working life in Liverpool. Yet the aim of the day was not fine speeches, but the launch of a scheme for future fan ownership of Liverpool Football Club.
The glossy, corporate-sponsored face of football is the aspect of the game that has become the dominant force in recent years. It has received a lot of attention and, to a casual observer, may appear to be the only one. There should certainly be disquiet at the way life in South Africa has been presented during the tournament, backed up with support for campaigners who are attempting to change the lives of the population of what is still, for all the first-class stadia that have been built, an unequal country.
That said, to suggest that a love of football and a love of freedom can’t exist side-by-side in the human heart is to miss what many fans take from the game. It is also to ignore that, even in the so often despised professional game, the lowly can still beat those with greater resources. Barcelona, with its ‘more than a club’ ethos, can overtake the corporate-backed Red Devils. For many fans, that alone would be enough to secure utopia!
Unlike other sport football requires no specialist equipment and can be played by two people with a proper ball, or a broken tennis ball, or even a stone or tin can, as the players of millions of worldwide childhood street games can attest. So the effects of football on our political consciousness should not be dismissed and calls for the game’s abolition should not go unchallenged. As Carlos Fernández writes:
It’s one of the most wonderful things when we meet someone new at a game, or our bonds strengthen at dinner or a bar after we play. If the football field is essentially a meeting place for play, it must then extend to wherever people enjoy being with each other. That’s where anarchy might start, or at least where it can blossom. When the idea of self-organization can be made obvious by how a goal is scored or how a team trains, anarchism seems like no great feat
It is time to establish football for the fans, not the fat cats. It is our game and after all, we so often hear that it would not exist without us. As the over-leveraged owners of our clubs cast around for additional finance, we can come together to build a new model, however long it takes, because we know that what we create will stand for generations. In football, so it goes in life, as well as in politics:
I am an Anarchist not because I believe Anarchism is the final goal, but because there is no such thing as a final goal
— Rudolf Rocker, The London Year
(… unless that goal is a last-minute winner against Villa away on the final day of the season to secure us number 19, eh, Rudolf mate?!)