Manchester United: The Biography, Jim White, Sphere, 2009

This brilliantly crafted history of Manchester United contains, in reality, three stories running parallel to each other. The first and obvious story is that of the football club from its humble working class origins through to the billion pound corporate global monolith that it has become today. Even as a life long Chelsea fan, I found this history of the Red Devils compelling reading. A second less obvious, but equally compelling story, emerges concerning how football in Britain has changed its complexion over the decades from its amateur, local community status to its current status as a global corporate brand and play thing for the obscenely rich. Manchester United is now just one of half a dozen such clubs in Britain whose economic turnover is every bit as powerful as that of a medium sized multinational company.


Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, Jim White has produced a tale that reflects the changing nature of our world; socially, economically and politically. To read this passionate and detailed study of Manchester United Football Club is to understand, in microcosm, how the British nation has been forced to evolve in the face of a rapacious globalism that is drawing everything into its orbit. And, without in any way wishing to detract from the magical story of Manchester United Football Club, it is the latter two narratives that I found myself drawn to, and it is to these historical narratives that I feel I ought now to give my attention.


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Can Capitalism Ever Be Regulated? Editorial

There are two central questions that emerge from the ongoing world wide financial crisis, questions that are underlined yet again by Murdoch’s News International

(see earlier blogs ‘Declare War on Murdoch’ & ‘Murdoch’s Empire Knows No Bounds’); can capitalism ever be effectively regulated and if it can, will it really still be capitalism?


Clearly, we have reached a stage in the rise of monopoly capitalism where some five hundred global corporations, some now state owned in China and Russia, largely control the world’s economic production, and these corporations covering manufacturing, energy supplies and financial and consumer services have become so inextricably linked with casino capitalism that the entire global edifice is perpetually on the brink of implosion. Criminality and corruption are everywhere.


In 2008, large companies and banks defaulted and had to be bailed out to the tune of trillions of tax-payers dollars. Now entire countries, including the once impregnable US, are on the verge of defaulting on their massive and unsustainable debts. Soon, entire trading zones will become vulnerable to the toxic contagion of debt. Urgent action is required but what specifically is to be done? The common call now is for regulation, but can the beast be tamed?

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LTA Incompetence

Attacking the LTA during the Wimbledon fortnight is almost as much fun as the tennis itself. It’s near on impossible to resist. Faced with all that privilege and middle class, self satisfied smugness oozing from our TV screens, no self respecting journalist or self styled blogger should remain silent. I’ve just re-read my own blog on the LTA entitled, LTA Mediocrity’, written nearly two years ago, and to be honest I wouldn’t change a single word. In the past two years nothing has changed.

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Fire In Babylon: Film Review

If you want to get a sense of what lies behind the continuing successes of today’s Jamaican sprinters, this documentary is as good a place to start as anywhere. Documentaries on sport may be informative but are invariably dull and a little predictable. ‘Fire in Babylon’ is anything but dull. In fact, it is wholly uplifting, and must be a candidate for one of the best sporting documentaries ever made.


The history of the all-conquering West Indian cricket team of the 70’s and 80’s, set to a mesmerising reggae soundtrack, brings back to life the history of ‘one of the greatest sporting teams in the history of team sport’. But it does much more than that. You don’t need to be a cricket enthusiast to get a real buzz out of this documentary. Anyone with a sense of history, a sense of social justice, or just a sense of the under-dog biting back, will love every minute of this compelling story. For ‘Fire in Babylon’ is not only the story of the super-charged West Indian cricket team, but an integral part of a much larger story; the story of the anti-colonial, anti racist struggles that were taking place across the globe at that time. From the civil rights struggles in the US through to the anti–apartheid struggles in South Africa and all the other anti-colonial struggles taking place at that time, what was happening on the world’s cricket pitches was very much part of the unfolding story for, in the words of Peter Tosh, ‘equal rights and justice’.

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Britain Still Constrained by Class (Olympic Notes No8)

Two articles appeared in the British media last week that confirm, yet again, the rigid class structures that still hold Britain in a vice like grip. In the Saturday Guardian under the heading; ‘The New Boys network: Etonians flood into Who’s Who’, we see in hard figures just how little class mobility there really is in this country. These figures are particularly depressing given that we have just experienced 13 years of a Labour Government. Elaborating on the latest statistics, James Ball writes,


‘The return of the Conservative party to government has been accompanied by a resurgence in the number of Old Etonian entrants to Who’s Who, long regarded as the definitive guide to the British Establishment. The findings also show the resurgence of the UK’s elite universities and member’s clubs, revealing a glacially slow pace of change. In total, more 2,300 people in Who’s Who attended the top five public schools – Eton, Charterhouse, Harrow, Rugby and Marlborough. Oxford and Cambridge graduates also continue to dominate the establishment.’

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Bob Dylan at 70

Aficionados of Bob Dylan like to play a little mind game, either with themselves or other Dylan obsessives, concerning the ten greatest Bob Dylan songs of all time. As someone who proudly falls into this category of fanatical Dylanites, I can tell you it’s no easy game. If you love the Zimmerman then the permutations are endless. The pre-eminent wordsmith has a song for every occasion and every conceivable mood. As our moods change, so does our all time greatest top ten.  


There are variations to this game that can create for the contestant an even greater challenge – place the top ten greatest Dylan hits in ascending order with the greatest  of the greatest sitting majestically on the top, like a king on his throne, as Dylan might put it.

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Alex Higgins: My Story – From the Eye of the Hurricane

 I Caught the BBC’s biography of Alex Higgins the other week and found it quite hypnotic. Here was a great, great sporting talent, just like his contemporary, George Best, hell bent on personal destruction; of career, of relationships and of his prodigious talent. Yet I found myself glued to the screen, knowing that all was lost yet unable to walk away. Something akin to a Shakespearean tragic character whose fatal flaw all can see, except of course, the leading protagonist himself. You loved him, you loathed him, you despaired of him, yet when he re-emerged at the final scene, withered and broken from cancer, from booze and from gambling, you could not but help fall in love with him all over again. The story of the snooker ‘Hurricane’ was indeed hypnotic and I knew I must read his own account in order to get a more complete picture.

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Terror Police Warned Not To Abuse Their Powers During The 2012 Games.

Sometimes, quite often in fact, I get the feeling while blogging away, that I have become dangerously paranoid. Most people on the left get this feeling from time to time. We are forever warning of the creeping fascism all around us. Then suddenly, you get the unnerving thought that it’s all in the mind. There is no incipient police state in Britain, just the perpetual dialectic between personal liberties and legitimate state security. The modern neo fascist state is nothing but a delusional state; the only fascist jack boots are in the mind. Then a little something happens and suddenly it all comes flooding back. The dangers are real. The State really is malign. And further more, the State is more than prepared to stamp on any dissent, real or imagined. Just consider the following.


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Panorama: Fifa – The Final Whistle

There is little surprise to learn that no less than a third of the FIFA executive have had substantial allegations of corruption made against them.  It is alleged by Lord Triesman, The Times and the BBC that Qatar won their 2022 World Cup bid by employing some FIFA fixers to organise the appropriate backhanders, worth many millions. No doubt similar ‘gifts’ and ‘promises’ were made by the Russian oligarchs to ensure Russia won the 2018 bid. So where does that leave countries like Britain, the US and the other developed nations? Squeaky clean? Not a bit of it.


 Why is it that the poorer, developing nations and their representatives are more prone to be caught taking back-handers than their more wealthy European and US counterparts? The answer is screamingly obvious. The world’s powerful economies tend to carry out their ‘persuasion’ by nothing so crude as a back room transaction. No, their modus operandi is far more subtle but no less corrupt for all that. Without uttering a word, the handful of powerful nations, commonly known as the G8 club, implicitly let it be known that if they were to win the bid, their transnational corporations will be available for business. If for example the World Cup or the Olympic Games heads to the USA, nothing illegal is explicitly said but everything is implied.

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Al-Qaida – Made in the US of A (Editorial) Tariq Ali, ‘The Clash of Fundamentalisms’, Verso, 2002

Memories are short and Western Imperial propaganda is ubiquitous. We conveniently forget, even assuming that we ever knew, the bloody march of European and more latterly, US colonialism. After all, we in the West are the beneficiaries of these past five hundred years of European colonial plunder. We hesitate to remind ourselves of it, but the plain historical truth is that European development was largely at the expense of the rest of the world. We industrialised and, at the same time, deliberately de-industrialised the opposition. Those that stood in the way were mercilessly eliminated.

  The casualties are not to be measured in the thousands, nor tens of thousands, nor even hundreds of thousands, No, we are definitely forced to count in the millions and, despite the whitewashing of this human toll by Tory historians like Niall Ferguson, the real figure is comfortably in the hundreds of millions. It is estimated that some ninety million indigenous peoples of the Americas were slaughtered during the initial stages of European conquest. Similar grisly figures are needed to account for the Africans who did not survive the traumas of Western imposed slavery.

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Royal Weddings: Just another Opiate

Don’t think for a moment that the British monarchy is a benign force. No monarch from any epoch can ever be described as a friend of the people. Emperors, Kings, Caesars and Pharaohs of the classical slave owning societies were tyrants all. The kings and queens from the feudal epoch were tyrants too – bloody barons that usurped power without a shred of legitimacy.  The kings and queens of Britain in the early capitalist era were no less tyrannical - all aristocratic thieves, enclosing the common land for their own gain and stealing foreign wealth at every opportunity. As for today’s crop of monarchs and their ever expanding circles of hangers-on, the best we can say of them is that they are a parasitic growth on society, clinging to their privilege by virtue of an archaic constitutional settlement and the nostalgic longings of the general populous who care to imagine a kinder, less brutal past.

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Sectarian Hatred in Football and Religion

If mankind has a spiritual dimension it is very much an earthly one. Sure we have always stared up into the sky and pondered the big questions, and for those of a superstitious disposition, gods and religions are quickly summoned. For the more rational amongst us, a never-ending quest for scientific understanding is our form of spirituality – an ongoing endeavour to deconstruct the universe and our puny place within it. Down here on earth, our human spirituality is occasionally expressed by an empathy with those less fortunate than ourselves, an urge to share our own scarce resources, and a vague sense of belonging to a human collective. But for the most part, we humans rarely transcended our tribal state, perpetually fearing ‘the other’ and going to war at the first pretext. At this primitive stage of our social development we just can’t seem to help ourselves.

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Civilisation: The West and the Rest, Review by Alex Von Tunzelmann, Evening Standard, 10/3/11

Niall Ferguson is a dangerous man. Victor Vijay is right to lambaste him for being an apologist for imperialism. Alex Von Tunzelmann is no less damning. Why is Ferguson so dangerous? After all there is no shortage of history texts whitewashing the brutalities of the British Empire. No, Ferguson is dangerous because he has the ear of the current Tory government and is advising the government, officially or otherwise, on the history curriculum in schools. Think about it. If Ferguson gets his way, countless thousands of young British students are going to come out of secondary school believing that the British Empire was primarily a force for good, and that any rough stuff was probably the work of a few bad apples. We’ll be back to an era of imperial history at the very time that we desperately need a global history that lays bare the realities of the past five hundred years of barbaric European colonialism.

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Respone to Niall Ferguson by viktor vijay

In rebuttal of the racial-superiority and Colonial justification arguments of Ferguson I quote from my book 'MONA LISA DOES NOT SMILE ANYMORE' (ISBN 978-81-8465-512-4)
" No human or animal desire to live in cage or chains. Would the British have swapped development at the expense of slavery under Nazis? It is the primary motive that counts, incidental outcomes there from are of no consequence. British subjugated India and sent Indians as virtual slaves to different islands—from Fiji to Mauritius, to West Indies to South Africa—to work as indentured plantation labour, they occupied an independent country and used its resources and humans in a bland exploitative manner over nearly two centuries. It is not stupid but cunning to justify robbing of freedom of other nations. No religion should make a business of distributing moral righteousness by way of force and temptation to convert. No religion should have had legions of missionary priests disembarking from colonial ships, whose life mission was to convert as many as possible.

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The London Marathon

Life’s a marathon. Some drop out early and some struggle on to the finish. Of the finishers, some are nearly crippled; others just take it in their stride. Personal physiology, psychological aptitude, training routines and, most significantly, the necessary economic circumstances to allow that training, all come into the equation. Which ever way you look at it, the marathon metaphor proves quite apt to life itself. Perhaps that is why I find myself increasingly drawn to the marathon as a form of sport worthy of human endeavour in the 21st century.  Let’s clear up a few things first though. I have never run a marathon of any type and, at nearly three score years, I have little prospect of doing so. The nearest I came to a sporting marathon came when, in my late teens, a buddy and I cycled leisurely from London to Athens, taking the Austrian Alps in our stride. We took the best part of a month, so it hardly rated as a feat of sporting endurance, rather a damn good cycling holiday with no time limits other than those we set ourselves. We averaged a hundred miles a day over the flat so perhaps I have some vague claim to marathon status. But that was then and this is now.  Now I am content to polemicise about marathons rather than to actually run the things.

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Wiff-Waff for the Riff Raff (Olympic Notes No 6)

 Under the cleverly constructed heading, ‘Wiff Waff for the Riff Raff’, I recently received  a request for a donation towards a bid to win some Olympics table tennis tickets for some youngsters in a hard up community table tennis club.

 (For those unaware, ‘wiff-waff’ was the original name for ping pong, which itself eventually gave way to the more sober sounding table tennis, and it was wiff-waff that Boris Johnson bizarrely referred to in the closing ceremonies in Beijing.) Behind this wonderfully astute touch of self deprecating humour lies a deadly serious point of contention. Why is it that our sporting youngsters have to go begging for the money to get a foot inside the Olympic circus when thousands of top class tickets are freely distributed to every two-bit VIP and corporate tax avoiding criminal? The answer is self evident of course. The modern Olympic Games would be better named the Global Corporate Games, because that is exactly what they have become with any trace of the original Olympic Corinthian spirit long ago being jettisoned in favour of the big buck. The chances of London’s lowly paid working class, let alone the huge impoverished unemployed underclass, getting into the Olympic arena are close to zero.

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