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FOOTBALL AND POLITICS - PART 1
The idea of the ‘Beautiful Game’ as a microcosm of politics seems rather fanciful and self-important but one stark example as to why we shouldn’t dismiss the notion entirely is the recent rise of the Women’s game. Would it have had any chance of thriving had it not been for the ‘Feminist’ political movement and the subsequent influence women have gone on to have in all spheres of life? Without Emmeline Pankhurst, there would have been no Marta.
Consider also the similarities between recent responses of the British Government and the governing bodies of English Football in respect of the Coronavirus pandemic with the focus being first and foremost on economic preservation rather than the safety of human beings. Through the course of this article, we will seek to discuss not just the ‘ripple’ effects that politics has had on football but also the parallels between certain political ideologies and football philosophies; we will look in particular at fascism, socialism, and capitalism (liberalism).
Whilst Julian Fellowes new miniseries “The English Game” takes liberties in its depiction of the early days of the game in England, it does a stellar job of highlighting how football was at first a game for ‘Gentlemen’. Football was originally formalised by the likes of elite public schools Rugby, Eton, Harrow and amalgamated into the Cambridge Rules. The thought of opening the game up for the masses would be seen as hurting the prestige of the game. This mirrors the journey of active suffrage in the United Kingdom, which underwent significant change during the industrial revolution. As late as 1884, 40% of adult males and 100% of adult females did not possess the right to vote. In fact, it took the onset of World War One for the Home Secretary to remind his fellow parliamentarians that the sacrifice of those men and women should render questions about gender, class, and qualification redundant thus paving the way to universal suffrage which was established in 1928.
From the outset of the game’s global growth, fascism has enjoyed a perversely strong influence over the game. The aggressive, partisan nature of the game through all levels of the sport is unique and fosters a siege mentality. Tactically and philosophically, it is not obvious as to what parallels can be drawn but rigid, physical, and cynical anti-fútbol centered on ‘dehumanising’ the opposition would probably be the best place to start.
ITALY IN THE 1930'S
Benito Mussolini was particularly keen to use the 1934 World Cup as an overt means of promoting fascism - fighting off accusations of bribery, corruption to secure the first trophy for the Italians. Four years later, the Italian’s triumphed again amidst even further furore with their ‘Roman Salutes’ and All-Black attire intimidating the opposition. In the final versus Hungary, the triumphant Italians were presented with a fascist Gold Medal by Il Duce himself during a 15-minute reception in the Palazzo Venezia in Rome. The Italian National Team was seemingly the perfect fascist propaganda machine but under the surface, the 1934 Team was built around the ‘Oriundi’ talents of the likes of Luis Monti and Raimundo Orsi - South American immigrants deemed ‘native’ as they were pivotal to furthering the national cause. Post-World War Two, when the Italians began to struggle to reassert their influence on the big stage... blame was laid at the feet of the new generation of ‘Oriundi’ who were suddenly deemed to be opportunistic foreigners lacking the requisite passion and love for their nation. Sound familiar?
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FRANCO'S REAL MADRID AND BASQUE NATIONALISM
In Spain, General Franco’s fascist regime has been attributed to the early success of Real Madrid. The regime proved particularly influential in respect of the disputed Alfredo Di Stefano transfer, where Armando Calero, former president of the Spanish Football Federation and linked to Franco, acted as mediator. His decision was to give Real Madrid and Barcelona alternate seasons in which Di Stefano could play for them. This led to Barcelona rejecting Di Stefano altogether and handing him on a plate to Madrid – a decision they would live to regret.
How much influence Franco had over Real Madrid is debatable but opposition to the regime was most vociferous and unpoliced in the football stadiums of Basque and Catalonia. Rather unfortunately, Franco’s legacy counter-intuitively manifests itself in the philosophy of Athletic Bilbao whereby the club will only sign players who were born in the Basque Country, or who learned their football skills at a Basque club.
This form of Basque ‘Nationalism’ was indeed present pre-Franco, but there is no doubt Franco’s regime was key in this long-term establishment. Whilst this policy was understandable during Franco’s reign it is now deemed archaic and discriminatory; Bilbao were the last club in La Liga to have never fielded a black player and Blanchard Moussayou, whose promising career was curtailed by injury, stated his belief that it was 'twice as hard' for a black player to succeed there.
Photo Credit: thesefootballtimes.co
Tactically, it is difficult to describe a team as having a ‘fascist’ style of play but if we are to broadly use the criteria alluded to in the introductory paragraph, teams that come to mind are Italian football sides such as Inter during the 60’s, Juventus of the 80’s and closer to home, Leeds United of the 1970’s. Sides which treated football like war, sought to demonise the opposition – not holding back from dirty play and followed by legions of ‘Ultras’… who sing from the hymn sheet of racial prejudice and nationalist sentiment.
Photo Credit: mightyleeds.co.uk
RE-EMERGENCE OF HOOLIGANISM
Off the pitch, it is hard to avoid the connection between fascism and levels of hooliganism. With emerging populist right-wing governments seemingly dominating the political landscape so too have we seen the re-emergence of racist chanting at football stadiums and an increasing climate of violence.
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