Cloud of Suspicion, The Guardian, 25/07/09, Anna Kessel

We all like fairytales. They brighten up the all too often grim business of life. 

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Come On-Be A Sport-Linda Whitney, London Evening Standard, 2/07/09

It was a particularly dispiriting article that I’m sure had the opposite intention. Linda Whitney had set out to show how sport is growing as an industry and consequently so are the number and range of jobs involved in sport. 

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Ecclestone, F1 and Hitler, Observer, 12/07/09, Catherine Bennett

Let me start off by saying I know nothing about F1 racing and its supposed attraction to millions of people world wide. 

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Sport As The New Religion

The world is coming together. Not in some utopian sense that I imagined in my communist youth. Nor is it coming together willingly, enthusiastically or in any sense, in a planned way. But coming together it surely is albeit kicking and screaming like a child being forced to go to school for the first time. Still clinging on to the old myths and institutions of nation, religion and race, yet day by day at exponential rate, the world is becoming one entity. Hooray! The process may take another hundred years to solidify and maybe a few more centuries to fully mature but what are a few hundred years compared to the millennia that have already passed in the human story.

 

What are the material forces at work in this accelerated development where humans are taking their first tentative steps out of their own grubby, tribal prehistory? I would suggest technology is the driver. In a sense, we’ve been here before with the advent of the printing press and the associated communication revolution that that ushered in.  Then came a series of industrial revolutions firstly based on steam, then electricity and more recently with atomic energy.  So you could argue that what is happening today is merely another chapter in the unfolding story of human technological innovation. But it is tempting to opt for the alternative argument that something qualitatively different has occurred with the computerisation of technology with its most visible and popular manifestation, the globally linking internet.

 

While I try not to get caught up with all the hype surrounding each new development on the information super highway, I cannot but shake my head in disbelief at the speed of it all, where within a few years we can realistically expect every book ever published and every piece of music ever recorded and every film ever created to be at our digital finger tips but furthermore, and this is the nub of the matter, that all this is becoming available to a growing proportion of the planet’s population. A villager in India, South America or Africa, armed with a basic computer and an internet connection can access the lot; information, education and globalized culture (more of which later) Overnight an isolated villager  becomes a citizen of the world no matter what designs their local masters have for them and no matter how the masters of global capitalism seeks to exclude them from their rightful spoils of human endeavour. For once one has a clearer picture of the injustice of global capitalism it cannot be long before those most oppressed and excluded will come banging on the door. That is their inalienable right.

 

Connected to all this exhilarating technology comes the down side .Chronic pollution and planet overheating leading to god knows where: bacteria that are becoming increasingly resistant to our earlier discovery of antibiotics; new diseases that spread nearly as quickly as information on the super highway; and weapon systems that can simply obliterate life itself. But bleak as these developments may be they are surely a crucial part of the globalisation process because they collectively make an unequivocal statement: either we survive together or we perish together. Marx, I recall, said it more poignantly; ‘either socialism or barbarism’, and that is the crossroads we have now all reached.

 

Then there is capitalism itself. Technology does not exist in a vacuum. All our new fast flying digital technology is inextricably linked to the prevailing economic system of the day, capitalism. And while we can debate whether capitalism has exhausted its creative, revolutionary potential, I think we can agree that the first five hundred years of capitalism has seen an unprecedented growth in all aspects of human knowledge and associated technology. After a thousand years or more of relative human stagnation under the stultifying land based feudal system of production, notwithstanding some major leaps forward in the Arabic and Chinese civilizations, capitalism unlocked a pent up energy that has transformed nearly every aspect of human activity   The real question is this: is capitalism now retarding human development or does it still have some more laps to run?

 

The one thing that capitalism required for its meteoric growth was a cheap and plentiful energy source other than brute human and animal labour. Coal and then oil were the answers. Now we have reached the period of ‘peak oil’ where existing sources of fossil fuels are declining and becoming increasingly more expensive to extract and where new sources are becoming increasingly hard to locate. Hence the obvious transition to renewables but the capitalist conglomerates are proving very reluctant to make the switch. Clearly, finite resources like oil make for better profit margins than the infinite energy of the sun and the wind and the seas. Here is a classic case of capitalism acting to retard human development and the depressing corollary; the longer we remain wedded to fossil fuels the greater the likelihood of doing irreparable damage to the Earth’s ecosystems. Not only then is capitalism retarding human development, it is threatening to derail it permanently. The irony of course is that these global corporations have become so powerful that they can extract huge state subsidises and are now at the point where many cannot survive without state bailouts. The irony being that our tax revenues are now being used at a phenomenal rate to prop up a system which is patently acting against the wider interests of humanity. Something will have to give.  

 

‘In fifty years history barely moves a day yet in one day it can move fifty years.’ Another of those famous Marxist truisms. Have we reached such a point now? The speed of events certainly suggest so. Who could have imagined just twelve months ago that General Motors, that flag bearer of US corporate capitalism, would have to be saved from bankruptcy by the US taxpayer? And they are only one of many. Are we now moving to a new phase of human organisation, a form of state funded capitalism or perhaps even the transition to state socialism? Has the world economy become so interrelated that only global governance can work?  Has the twentieth century struggle between capitalism and state socialism created some unforeseen synthesis, a kind of hybrid between the two? Clearly we are too close to events to see what is actually happening but what is clear is that the culmination of economic, ecological and political crises made more acute by the epoch of peak oil and made more visible to ever more people by the digital information revolution, has led humanity to a crossroads never before encountered.

 

Hovering over all this economic, technological and political activity is a new global culture to which sport, the immediate interest of this website, is very much a part of.

The defining features of this new culture are invariably banal, escapist, dehumanising and naturally, emanating from corporate capitalism, consumerist throughout. There are noble, truly life enhancing exceptions in all genre; literature, film, music, theatre and even sport. But these exceptions, and of course we are in the realm of high subjectivity here, are in constant danger of being submerged in a sea of vacuous dross. Here though, is not the moment to expand on this thesis generally. My intention is to cast an eye more specifically on what globalised sport has become as we stand at the crossroads of human affairs.        

 

Sport as a new religion. I certainly won’t be the first to advance that proposition. The picture is depressingly familiar. Multi- millionaires, nay billionaires, buying chunks of the sporting world as play things to enhance their playboy status. Corporate conglomerates, whose wealth is invariably tied up with the exploitation of cheap third world labour, sponsoring the superstars in each sport. Like everything that capitalism touches, athletes are reduced to mere commodities, bought and sold in the market place like cattle, though extremely well paid cattle. Loyalty to club or community a distant memory. And rich and poor alike, we all buy into it. What else have we to divert our attentions?  Bread and circuses as the Romans would say. Religions are fading in their powers of persuasion though not nearly as fast as I once imagined. In fact if we include the fundamentalists of all religions there might even be construed something of a renaissance of the religious ideal. But even the most fanatical of mullahs, be they Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Jew, seem powerless to dampen our enthusiasm for our new sporting gods. That they receive obscenely grotesque remuneration for their efforts only seems to add to their allure. In the streets of Tehran, Islamabad and Pyongyang through to the Western capitals of New York, Sydney, London, Moscow and Berlin this religious fervour knows no national bounds. No continent is left out; no village too small and no metropolis too sophisticated to resist the lure of the new gods. Our personal calendars are set to the rhythm of the sporting calendar. The Christmas and New Year football fixtures are what Christmas time is all about. Summer is Wimbledon, The Ashes, and in the even years, The World Cup and the Olympics.

 

Should we cheer this new secular religion? I, for one, certainly will not mourn the passing of the medieval superstitions that we irrationally refer to as the Orthodox religions. Virgin births, resurrections, heaven and hell, all knowing, all seeing gods: this is the stuff of primitive, childish fairy tales. Surely it is time to put away these childish things. But nature abhors a vacuum. We must have something to worship other than ourselves. While swathes of the planet wither under the combined nightmare of global warming, economic plunder and political corruption, we collude with the moral obscenity of paying our sporting gods ever higher mountains of gold.

Just as we, today, look back at slavery and shake our heads in moral condemnation, so too, I suspect, will future generations condemn our heartless preoccupations.

 

The political dialectic however, knows no morality. Yes, professional sport has become a modern day obscenity and a diversion of religious proportions, but it also heralds a global culture that increasingly binds us together. Africa, the most used and abused of continents, rejoins the world community as it prepares to host the FIFA World Cup. North Korea, that pariah state of the corporate world, will be there. Iran, another pariah tried to get there but failed. Every country wants to be there and every citizen will dream the dream. For an illusionary moment the world will be one, locked together in a global fantasy as the impending economic, environmental and political crises are put on hold.

  

The picture of world sport is undeniably ugly yet who could deny that our global, corporate sporting jamborees are locking an ever greater proportion of the World’s population into a single emotional mindset. In this respect it could be argued that sport is ahead of our political institutions. World governance of football is more advanced than world governance per se.  For example, UEFA includes Russia as an integral part of European football but politically Russia is still excluded from European political institutions, a clear relic of the Cold War mentality. Similarly, the IOC regards North Korea, Iran and Cuba as part of the World family yet politically they remain isolated. Once again sport leads the way. The most famous of all examples is the Ping Pong diplomacy of the 1970’s where table tennis was able to lead a rapprochement between East and West.         

 

So the dialectic is clear enough. Sport as a new diversionary, secular religion and sport as a medium for dragging the world’s nations into one collective entity. In twelve months time this dialectical conundrum will be seen in stark relief as the FIFA World Cup plays itself out amidst the economic and social poverty that Africa has been reduced to after 500 years of colonial plunder. Which of these opposites predominate will be a matter of intense subjective interpretation.

  

   

 

Kelly is a true Brit.,Daily Mail, 21/06/09,Patrick Collins.

After decades of the incessant drip drip drip of Daily Mail ‘little england’ bile, it was a wonderful surprise to cast my eye across Patrick Collins’ headline, ‘Ignore this vile abuse, Kelly is a true Brit.’ And when I got round to reading the article it was every bit as cheering as the headline itself. The vile abuse that Collins refers to derived from a one Andrew Brons, a leading light in the British National Party, who we learn, chalked up nearly 10% of the vote in the Yorkshire and Humber Region, thus earning this arch racist Europhobe a lucrative seat as an MEP. We also learn from Collins that Brons is a former member of the openly neo Nazi National Socialist Movement. Remember that lot. We went to war against them sixty years ago under the supposed rationale of stopping Britain becoming part of the Nazi fascist empire. A little ironic then that just sixty years on, nearly a million British voters put their little cross next to a party that rather thinks that Hitler and his thugs were basically OK.

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Britain’s tennis Superbrats-Nicola Pearson, The Times, 22/06/09

This dispiriting article detailing the bullying culture on the junior tennis circuit would make an excellent appendix to Joe Humphries’, Foul Play ( see book reviews ). Just to give you a flavour of the piece Pearson laments, ‘We are at the Lawn Tennis Association junior tennis tour, where cheating and rows have become so commonplace that the former British No 1, Annabel Croft, has withdrawn her 15 year- old daughter from the tour and the former world No 5, Jo Durie, has said she wouldn’t be surprised if someone was knifed at a tournament.’

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Black and Blue: Paul Canoville, 2008, Headline Publishing

There are so many powerfully tragic angles to pursue in Paul Canoville’s autobiographical, Black and Blue, it is hard to know where to start. The racism he experienced and eventually overcame as a professional footballer at Chelsea, the career ending injury he received at Reading, his drug addiction to crack-cocaine that he now hopefully has under control, the fight against cancer which is at least in remission, or the inner torment concerning the parental love that he always craved but never received and the eleven children he fathered with ten different women as a distorted form of compensation for the missing affection. Each of these are compelling stories in themselves. It’s a rollercoaster of a journey with some truly uplifting chapters as Canoville reaches middle age, and if Paul can contain the cancer and the drugs there will hopefully be some more illuminating chapters to follow. The matter of fact way his story unfolds makes for compulsive reading and it would surely make an excellent addition to the school curriculum reading list either as literature, sociology or citizenship.

 

It’s the racism emanating from the Chelsea terraces that I wish to comment on here. As an armchair Chelsea fan I honestly didn’t know! All those years of supporting the blues and I had no real understanding, other than a vague knowledge that football terraces harboured racist bigots who were easy fodder for NF recruiters. But the specifics of what Canoville had to endure needed to be told in all its ugly detail. If we are going to persist with our irrational allegiances to this or that football club then at the very least we should know exactly what it is we are buying into-warts and all.

 

The good news is that things have got better in English football. Of course racist and homophobic attitudes still persist right across all levels of English football but no longer to the institutional and endemic extent that it now occurs across large swaths of Europe. Whether we have been fully inoculated against this disease remains to be seen. As the economics situation deteriorates, expect a rise in little England bigotry. Nevertheless, things have moved in the right direction. While Canoville, being the first Black player to play for Chelsea, was jeered by his own supporters for the single crime of being Black, now it is not unusual for Chelsea and other top clubs to field a team with an overwhelmingly majority of Black players. Winning trophies seems to take priority over racial prejudice.

 

But what of the overall picture? Black referees? None. Black administrators? None. Black managers? A couple. Multi-national spectators? A slow improvement. Racism in non league football? A long way to go. And what about Asian representation? We have barely started. The official attitude to racism and other forms of bigotry? Definitely improving with the FA’s, Lets Kick it Out campaign fairly active across all aspects of the game. What conclusions does Canoville draw about the situation today?

 

‘ I’ve been to watch Chelsea games a few times in the last few years and was there at the Bridge for the Charlton game in September 2006. I witnessed the reception given to the great ex-Blue Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink by Chelsea fans. There was loud applause and they were singing his song when his name was read out. Then Jimmy scored against Chelsea. He actually looked apologetic, arms raised, no celebration. And in the stands? The whole Chelsea end stood and cheered him, and chanted this opposition black footballer’s name again. That’s how it should be, but it shows how different the game is now from my day.’ Canoville adds; ‘I began to work a lot with the Kick It Out campaign to drive racism from football. You only have to see the abuse Chelsea’s  black players get now in Spain or when they’re on England duty to see there’s still a job to be done.’

 

As for football so for sport generally.

 

End JPK 21/06/09

   

 

The Gimmick goes International


Review; The Blair Sport ProjectObserver Sport Monthly June 2009

From the man who gave us an illegal war in Iraq under the patently false pretext of ridding that country of weapons of mass destruction and resulting in an estimated half a million Iraqi deaths, comes ‘Beyond Sport’, one of those slick Tony Blair  initiative for, ‘ promoting sport as a tool for social development and conflict resolution.’ The audacious hypocrisy of the man! With his neo-con mates in the Bush regime he turned the brutal but secular Iraq into an international base for Islamic fundamentalists and in true Anglo Saxon form, sort to rule the resources of the country by turning Shia against Sunni, community against community, Iraqi against Iraqi. Now he wants us to believe that he is a peace maker intent on healing the world’s troubles. For my part I don’t believe him but let’s see what his game is. 

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Has football now lost touch with reality?


James Olley, Evening Standard, 12/06/09

Three cheers for the London Evening Standard. I never thought I’d find myself writing that, but finally a mainstream newspaper has dared to say what most sane people already surely think. £80 million for one footballer when vast sectors of the world’s population are hovering on the edge of subsistence is surely a football obscenity too far.  James Olley explains,

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Will the Bubble Burst?


Four interrelated stories concerning the financial state of English football suggest that English professional football may be heading the same way as the British banking sector. Are we talking millions? No, we are talking billions. David Conn of the Guardian estimates the English Premier League has accumulated over £3 billion worth of debts. Chelsea, Manchester United are in the worst shape but Liverpool are on the ropes as well. Every single club is carrying debt and with the wages bill set to escalate even further the debt can only get worse. The irony is that Man United and Liverpool are making a profit but are ending up as loss making concerns because of the interest they must pay on their debt. ( The Guardian, 3/06/09 )

 

The second story focuses directly on Liverpool Football Club. The figures in the Guardian article tell the grim picture. Two years after US speculators  Hicks and Gillett took over Liverpool the club has £313 million of debt. Interest on that debt amounted to £36.5 million. The crunch figures are the £25 million operating profit has turned into a £42.5 million loss after the payment of the interest on the debt and other accounting provisions. So dangerous is the situation that the auditors spoke of ‘material uncertainty’ about Liverpool’s ability even to continue in business’. The warning lights should be flashing when we learn that the holding company carrying the loan is based in the low tax US state of Delaware via the Cayman Islands. As for the proposed new stadium, that seems permanently on hold given that the money was to come from another £400 million loan. The bigger the loan the bigger the interest payments. You don’t need to be an international finance guru to work that one out.

( The Guardian 2/06/09 )

 

The third story involves West Ham United. Once again the state of the global banking system is making itself felt. As Ken Dyer in the London Evening Standard stated, ‘The departure of Icelandic businessman and old fashioned philanthropist, Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, ended the West Ham dream of being able to compete financially with the fat cats of English football.’ Gudmunsson soon became aware of West Ham’s poor financial situation and demanded a more self sufficient regime. This was made more imperative when his bank, Landsbanki were one of the first casualties of the global banking collapse. That was the end of that dream. The new owners, CB Holding who are primarily owned by Straumur Investment Bank insist on continuing the policy of self financing all future signings. Zola will have to sell a player in order to buy a new one. Dyer believes, ‘This model is likely to become the norm in the coming years as financial realities hit home even in the cash rich Premier League.’

( Evening Standard 8/06/09 )

 

The forth story, which underpins the first three, tells the bleak but inevitable details of the imminent collapse of Setanta and the possible loss of £100 million in TV revenue English football. Daily Mail correspondent, Charles Sale explains, ‘The shock waves from Setanta’s switch-off will reverberate throughout the professional game from the FA, who now face a £100 million black hole in their budget, to the Premier League and down to the Blue Square Premier, all of whom will have serious problems finding buyers at a competitive price for their lost TV contracts.’ Of course the bulk of TV revenues still come from the highly lucrative Sky deal but even Murdock’s empire is not immune from the global recession. Advertising revenues are down across all the media and that can only mean a contraction of available cash for sport.

 

What are we to make of these four stories? Do they represent the beginning of a long tern trend or is that reading too much into their importance. What is significant is that at the very same time as English football is feeling the reverberations of the global economic crisis, Real Madrid have set a new record of weekly wages: £200,000 per week for Kaka. If Chelsea, Liverpool, Man United want to compete they will need to offer similar rates. The bubble just gets bigger!

 

End JPK 10/06/09    

  
 

KEANE The Autobiography, Penguin, 2003

Keane’s Autobiography is a great read. Whether that is down to the journalistic skill of the ghost writer, Eamon Dunphy, or simply that Keane has a great story to tell, is not clear. Either way I felt somewhat mesmerised by his footballing life and I can only hope there is a volume two to come. Keane’s story oozes with painful contradictory pulses; between the desire for fame and the desire for privacy, between the cravings to play beautiful football and the need quite often to deliver brute force, between the temptation to play the playboy and the desire for a quiet family life, and of course, between the demands of team discipline and the urges of individual spontaneity.

 

All of the above interweave themselves throughout Keane’s life creating an almost Shakespearean character whose flaws seem inevitably to drag our protagonist down. Keane is aware of his flaws but doesn’t always have the resources to rise above them. That is probably what endears him to the footballing public; he is human and fallible and he is not afraid to admit it. You cannot but hope that he makes a success of his , managerial efforts but you wouldn’t want to bet too much money on a blemish free career. That just wouldn’t be Roy Keane.

 

One aspect of his autobiography that I found particularly poignant was his denunciations of agents and all they represent. In typical blunt style Keane lays it on the line. ‘ An unsettled player, especially one who was coveted by other clubs, was a potential source of income for his agent. One of the things that unsettled footballers was the transfer rumour mill, which-fed by agents-provided copy for the Sunday newspapers. In this speculative game footballers were pawns, bemused by newspapers seeking stories and agents intent on making money.’  P78 Keane continues, ‘Agents took substantial amounts of footballers’ new wealth. In other ways, too, agents could unsettle players, whether it was tempting them to make unsuitable but lucrative (for the agents) moves, or hawking rumours of imminent transfers to newspapers to up the ante in negotiations with your own club. The middle-men were always at it, in some form or another.’ P133

 

Another aspect of Keane’s story that impressed me greatly was his frank admissions about the down side of fame. Keane confesses, ‘I found it very difficult to cope with the kind of fame that accompanied my status as a footballer.’ Keane then revealed that in his early days at Old Trafford, ‘… I couldn’t hack small talk and glad handling, or casual invasion of my space, I actually ached for company at times.’ P104  Of course, you don’t need to be a famous footballer or famous anything to feel the friction between your social world and your need for a private life but obviously this particular dilemma is infinitely more pronounced for those that are permanently in the public eye. As Keane quickly learnt, ‘…fame came with a price tag.’ P42

 

Footballing autobiographies are invariably bland but this one definitely is not one of those.  Like his football his autobiography has attitude and that alone makes it a riveting read. Good luck with the tractor boys Roy.

 

End 3/06/09 JPK

 

     

 

Barcelona FC


A very useful piece by David Conn, explores the structural differences, real and imagined, between Manchester United Football Club and Barcelona. As the two giants of world football strut out onto the world stage to slug out the UEFA Champions League Final, the apparent difference will be plain for the whole world to see. The Catalan club will be proudly wearing the Unicef name emblazed on the front of its shirts, a symbol of moral standing, while United will have the AIG logo, ‘the ultimate symbol of reckless financial speculation’, a company now existing only thanks to a massive US Government bailout.

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Tribal Chanting: A review of, ‘Shall we sing a song for you?’ Tom Lamont,


If ever there was a sporting intractable, a conundrum outside of the realm of rational thinking, it is the question of football terrace chanting. The chants are sometimes warm and amusing but more often, outright insulting. By definition they have to be. That much is clear. Who could imagine terrace chanting without that nasty sting in the tail?

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‘ Blair starts race to find grassroots sports heroes’


Another Legacy Gimmick Once again they have got us jumping through hoops. This time it is to find, ‘the most imaginative (grassroots sports) projects across London and show them to the world’. Tony Blair, we learn, ‘called for the community heroes behind London’s amazing grassroots sports projects to come forward to be celebrated’. Olympic Legacy awards are, we are told, to be doled out in order to highlight the, ‘vital role of community sport’. Now would this be the same community sport that has been chronically under-funded by the Blair/Brown government for the past 12 years? Would he be referring to the community sports projects that often survive only through the paternalistic goodwill of some local charity? Might he be thinking of those thousands of sports projects that received a one off payment from the Awards-For-All Lottery funded scheme and then left to flounder for the rest of their days in financial penury? Once again we are back to one off gimmicks that flatter only to deceive. What London and indeed the entire United Kingdom desperately needs is a coordinated, long term, comprehensive grassroots funding scheme that provides financial stability so that the army of grassroots volunteers can get on with what they do best; coaching youngsters into sport rather than getting bogged down endlessly juggling the accounts. As for the concept of granting awards to the best projects or project organisers, I find this highly subjective and quite divisive. Who is to say which is the most important piece in a jigsaw? Clearly every piece is equally important. A large well funded, high profile club is not necessarily the one with the greatest input into the ill-defined world of social inclusion. And how do you measure these things anyway? Social cohesion by its very nature is a complex tapestry. Why attempt to award one project over another. Recognise the importance of social cohesion and promote all those who work in the area by creating a sustainable financial structure. Interesting to note that once a short list of five sporting heroes has been magically conjured up, the Evening Standard readers get to vote, X Factor style, for the winning entrant. So with London awash with disaffected youth finding solace in gang culture, all our beloved leaders can come up with is a celebrity style award for the person or project with the greatest wow factor. Thanks but no thanks! End JPK 29/05/09              

 

More Than Just A Game: Football v Apartheid, Chuck Korr and Marvin Close, Collins, 2008


The promotion on the front cover boasts, ‘The most important football story ever told’. Not only was I mesmerised by this story from the very start, but by the story’s end I seriously began to wonder if this book was a genuine contender for the title. The story is amazing enough in itself. The South African prisoners on Robben Island, a place made famous by Nelson Mandela’s thirty year imprisonment, organise firstly a football league and later an entire prison Olympics in the face of the most severe brutality meted out by the Apartheid prison authorities. With the majority of prisoners being political prisoners, the aim was to keep up morale and train the men both physically and mentally for the ongoing struggle once they were released. The fact that many of the prisoners went on to play leading roles both in the final defeat of apartheid and in the governance of the newly liberated South Africa is testimony to the tactics and courage of the imprisoned freedom fighters. The detail that is collated by the authors over a fifteen year period via interviews and documentation enables them to recreate this extraordinary story as if they had been there themselves. The debates, the passions and the tactical planning by the leading organisers is laid out with such painstaking clarity that the whole anti apartheid era struggles come hurtling back into view.  All this is enough to allow the publishers/authors to make claim to this being the most important football story ever. But there is another dimension to this book that serves to elevate it above all others; the interweaving of the international political situation with the football story on Robben Island. On the one hand Korr and Close have produced a story specific to one place at one time but on the other hand they have produced a piece of political history that has reverberations to this day. Their chronicling of the appalling attitudes of many of the sporting governing bodies and the World’s governments themselves is brought back into the spotlight and many of these organisations and their leading individuals do not come out smelling of roses. The key events outlined centre around the proposed MCC tour of South Africa and the actual South African rugby tour of Britain. But before recalling those dramatic events Korr and Close are particular in highlighting FIFA’s own dire record in the early days of the apartheid regime. They recount, ‘In 1961 FIFA had imposed a ban on South Africa’s whites-only national team playing competitive or friendly games against other countries. However, its then president, the Englishman Sir Stanley Rous, a die-hard colonialist, had campaigned long and hard against what he described as political interference. He was content to ignore the fact that the South African government’s racial policies were a political decision that ensured that only whites could participate in international football at the highest level. In 1963 the world ban was withdrawn based largely on Sir Stanley’s assessment that South Africa’s coloured footballers are happy with the relations that have been established.’ P54 This was not to be FIFA’s finest hour but to their credit the ban was reinstated the following year. The cricketing crisis for the Apartheid regime began when the MCC refused to select the inform South African born UK resident, Basil d’Oliveira for the tour of South Africa. It seems the MCC had not wanted to offend their racist hosts. A national outcry erupted in England and after intervention by the Minister of Sport, Denis Howell, the MCC did a U-turn and included d’Oliveira in the team. The Apartheid authorities were incensed and declared that the England team was no longer welcome. The English cricketing authorities, who had now been humiliated both at home and internationally, were forced to call off the tour.  British sport had barely recovered from their cricketing disgrace when our ‘enlightened’ sporting bodies were confronted with the fall out from an all white South African rugby tour of the UK. Every match of the tour was met with mass demonstrations both on and off the field and although the tour limped on, it was clear that racist South Africa would never again be allowed to peacefully compete in international sport. Korr and Close explain;  ‘Other international rugby players were quickly getting the message that it was impossible to separate politics - and injustice, oppression and racial prejudice – from sport but, while many international sportsmen and women were making a stand against apartheid, the men running English cricket again revealed how determined they were to hold to their stance to keep politics out of sport. A deeply conservative body run by deeply conservative men, the MCC proved it had learned nothing at all from the Basil d’Oliveira affair. The following year, 1970, the MCC invited the all-white South African team to tour Great Britain again. The outrage in Britain was massive but predictable.  But it was only when the African, Asian and West Indian countries threatened to pull out of the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh that the British Government was forced to intervene and cancel the tour. The key point in all this is not that the cricket and rugby tours were being supported by their respective UK governing bodies or that there was massive protests to these tours, but that the then Labour Government was so weak in its opposition to a regime that was every bit as fascist as that of Nazi Germany. The fact that South Africa was then Britain’s third largest trading partner may have had something to do with our government’s disgraceful prevarications. Despite this collaboration, by both government and governing body, with the South African racist regime, sport found itself in the front line in the battle against apartheid and ‘More Than Just A Game’ is a very apt title for what may well be the most important football story ever told.  And in one important sense this story has got one or two more chapters yet to be written; the chapter detailing South Africa’s winning bid for the 2010 World Cup and of course, the coming events of that World Cup itself. Those that played football on Robben Island, against all the odds, will no doubt shed a tear or two when the opening ceremony finally comes around. From the prison camp football league on Robben Island to hosting the World Cup in a multi racial South Africa: that must surely be the most important football story ever told.  JPK 25/05/09     .          

 

The Chelsea Syndrome


I can recall clear enough, even though I was just ten at the time, the day my sister and her boyfriend returned home from a football match armed with a gigantic glossy poster of Chelsea Football Club. You know the type. The whole squad including the coaches, the reserves, the backroom staff and the management neatly arranged in three rows with the front row kneeling, the middle row somehow rising above them and the back row standing tall and proud. I’m sure that football clubs still produce those standard set piece posters, no doubt at ridiculously inflated prices for their globally marketed fan base.  Anyway, it was a present for me, though I never thought to enquire on whose initiative the present materialised, the boyfriend or the sister. I don’t ever recall my sister engaging in anything remotely resembling sisterly love so I guess it was down to the boyfriend. Either way, I loved that poster and even now, some forty four years later, I can name at least a half dozen of its star studded cast. Peter Bonnetti, Peter Osgood, Chopper Harris and his brother, Alan Hudson and the bloke with the amazing throw, Ian Hutchinson. There was a Dempsey and a Bobby Tambling I recall, but it all starts to fade after that. As for the manager, it was probably Tommy Docherty, though he may well of come on the Chelsea scene some years later.

 Should I be eternally grateful for that poster or simply regard it as just another piece of ammunition in my life long feud with my elder sister. I can say without hesitation that it was that poster that hooked me into a lifetime of Chelsea addiction that even now, with all that I know about sport generally and Chelsea FC in particular, it is an addiction I am unable to break.

The point of all this, is the increasingly random nature of football affiliation. Long gone are the days of local families following their local team.  Why a youngster in Indonesia or Thailand or Australia should choose to follow a Liverpool or a Man United or a Chelsea only the gods may know. And if not the gods, then the marketing department of these increasingly global conglomerates. And that is the unpalatable truth. Top flight football is just a commodity with player loyalty increasingly to their obscenely fat pay packets. A player sitting on the bench may earn more in a week than a nurse may earn in five years. Where is the humanity in that.   And where does the money to pay such morally corrupting amounts come from. In the case of my beloved Chelsea, the case against is very compelling. The trail goes all the way back to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the privatisation of their once nationalised resources by a process commonly referred to as gangster capitalism. Workers in each of the former State industries were given shares at the time of privatisation but the workers were hungry and you can’t eat shares. Unscrupulous agents swapped food hampers for shares and before you could say Boris the shares had found their way into the hands of a handful of oligarchs. Get the picture. A lot of shooting also went on behind the scenes as a way of reinforcing the new political order. Russia today is still an extremely dangerous place for those that oppose the new status quo.

Yet knowing all this I still cannot break the addiction. When we lose I feel mortified. When we win I am euphoric.  Getting the results is like a shot of caffeine in the morning. I need the hit to kick-start the day. I can be twelve thousand miles away in the Central Australian deserts yet still I hunger for results.     
I crave Champions League success. I yearn to be triumphant at Wembley. I pine for another Premier League title. And all the time knowing that I am complicit in a gigantic corporate scam with its tentacles reaching across the globe.

As it is for Chelsea Plc so it is for an increasing number of English clubs. US money, Arab money, East European money and even Thai gold. British Football up for sale to the highest bidder.

Things will get worse. Soon there will be no national football leagues worthy of the name. Only the Champions League will count. That may even involve a fixed number of teams with no promotion or relegation. Some of the big clubs are already pushing in this direction. Corporate sponsors would love this scenario. So too would the big twenty European Clubs. Financial security guaranteed for life. Yet still I will follow my beloved Chelsea. Can anyone out there help me with this crippling addiction. I need help.
 

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