Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Kicking it out

Politics in football is never a pretty sight

As a football fan, I always prefer to keep politics and football separate. So I’ve really struggled with the appointment of Paolo di Canio at Sunderland. The news immediately caused a stir because of his fascist beliefs, his history of giving fascist salutes, and his deeply divisive view that Sunderland should revert to a 4-4-2 formation. In the past he has admitted to being an admirer of Benito Mussolini. While playing for Lazio he was fined for giving fascist salutes. Although, in his defence, he could have been appealing for offside. After the game. At a rally.

This is the first time that his past has really caused a significant problem for him in England. It begs the question of why the national media chose not to make a fuss when he was appointed manager of Swindon Town two years ago. One can only presume that as a nation we view fascism in the same vein as fox hunting. We don’t have a problem with it as long as it’s confined to parts of Wiltshire.

Sunderland is a Premier League club, for the time being, which is why it’s got more attention. Which I understand. But, if that’s that how society works, it does beg a question. If you can’t be a fascist and manage in the Premier League but you can be a fascist and manage in League One, what can you get away with in the Championship? Watching Top Gear? And if fascism is OK in League One what sort of monsters have we got managing in League Two? I’ll be listening out for announcements such as ‘The arrival of Robert Mugabe at Sixfields really has caused a stir here in Northampton, but they’re unbeaten in three, literally annihilating the opposition.’

Football hasn’t had a good few years in terms of headlines, and those who don’t love the game could easily believe that it is a moral blight on our nation, a cesspit of abuse and immorality that lowers the tone of our country. And that’s the main reason why I pay 50 quid to go every week. What some people, inside and outside of the game, struggle with is this: some abuse should absolutely be allowed in football grounds, reserved mainly but not exclusively for: anyone who dives. Anyone who plays for Derby County. Anyone abusing the ref. Anyone who plays for Manchester United. Anyone who has played for Derby County or Manchester United. Anyone who has ever left Nottingham Forest and done well. Anyone who has ever left Nottingham Forest and done badly. Anyone who supports Liverpool, Manchester United or Chelsea.

If di Canio makes fascist statements or salutes then he should be banned for life. But don’t tarnish all of football with him. Football has done more than any other sport on earth to break down barriers of race. In our own country it helped wrestle our own national flag back from the extremists. Thirty years ago if you flew a St George’s Cross outside your house people would think you were in the National Front. Today if you fly one, people just think you’re so drunk you don’t realise we’ve been knocked out of Euro 2012 yet.

To some extent, football is capable of regulating itself. Ultimately we should mock di Canio for his views. I’d love to hear John Motson say ‘Paolo di Canio’s arrival here has caused quite the stir, although ironically, given Adam Johnson’s form, what Sunderland actually need is a strong rightwinger.’


Matt Forde is a stand-up comedian and talkSPORT presenter. He used to work for the Labour party


Photo: Hilton Teper

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Matt Forde

is a stand-up comedian and talkSPORT presenter. He used to work for the Labour party

1 comment

  • Why didn’t they say anything about Paolo Di Canio at Swindon? You’d have to ask them in and around Swindon. The West Country is seen as a less radical, a less militant, even a less
    political area than the North East. But time was when the two were evenly matched.

    David Miliband would have had to have resigned, anyway. He could hardly have done the job from New York. But one hopes, even those of us who are normally indifferent to football, that this furore will bring to a head the question of who owns this country’s last great expressions of working-class culture, and last great focal points of local patriotism.

    There should be mutual ownership of the clubs by the fans, as in Spain. And there should be municipal ownership of the grounds, as in Italy. The Americans would never permit ownership
    of major sports teams by foreign nationals thousands of miles, who knew nothing about the local culture and who cared only about the money. They are right. Nor should we.

    The Durham Miners’ Association, which is rightly demanding the return of the Wearmouth Miners’ Lodge Banner that hangs in the Stadium of Light, is not short of a bob or two. It
    continues to put on the Gala every year. And it co-owns the Morning Star. Don’t knock unless you have recently read Britain’s original anti-EU newspaper, which provides an important anti-war platform, and which still comes out as a daily paper despite also publishing its entire content on the Internet. Watch that space.

    Meanwhile, Sunderland was part of County Durham in September 1943, when the Durham Light Infantry was part of the army that landed at Salerno, Reggio and Taranto, thereby beginning the liberation of Italy. They were still in Italy on VE Day. That city’s football club therefore has until 3rd September 2013, the seventieth anniversary of the start of the Italian
    Campaign, to be rid of this person. Or let all hell break loose from the Tyne to the Tees two months later on Remembrance Sunday.

    As the North East, and especially historic County Durham, still defined as such for the cricket at which we are rather good, burnish our not inconsiderable anti-Fascist credentials, how about a memorial to the ILP Contingent? They went out to Spain to fight the forces of Fascism, and
    they were murdered by the forces of Stalinism.

    There is now a small plaque in the Working Class Movement Library in Salford. But nothing to compare with the Soviet-directed International Brigade’s considerable monument on London’s South Bank, together with at least four more memorials in England, three in Scotland, two in Northern Ireland, two in the Irish Republic, and one in Wales. Including one in Newcastle.

    If Newcastle has one to that, then where better than Sunderland to have one to this? As near as possible to the entrance to the Stadium of Light, facing it as a constant reproof. Perhaps paid for and maintained by the Durham Miners’ Association.

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