Congratulations to Liverpool and all the club’s fans. I am not a big football supporter. I wasn’t as a kid, and am not now. There was a period when I followed Everton quite closely, but it was mainly to be able to talk to my dad who was a big blues fan. Toward the end of his life going for a pint and watching a game in the pub, was an easy way to enjoy each others company. So I was interested to see this article from the Financial Times re-posted by a mate. ( I hope this link works- sometimes they put it behind a firewall)
It is called ‘Why football matters’ by Simon Kuper, and it uses that example of father and son connecting through the support of a particular team. His basic proposition is that communities are enhanced by the collective feeling for a team, and individuals can find meaning in an atomised society.
“Today, atomisation is again common across Europe. Ever fewer people live in their town of birth, belong to a church or trade union, or spend their career in a single workplace. Living alone has become common. Many people from their primary attachment to a football club, or at least to fellow fans of that club.”
The article fails to examine the reasons for this atomisation- ‘There is no such thing as society’ the famous words of Thatcher that opened the door for the rampant sell-off of state assets to private business. What went along with that was the destruction of trade unions, the sales of council housing stock, the wholesale atomisation of the working class and the consolidation of the capitalist class- it’s ok for them to have communities- to have a common interest- but not us. In a reverse of traditional ideas working people are to compete against each for jobs, with lower wages, or accepting worse conditions. While the largest capitalist companies receive taxpayer bailouts in the billions.
Football exists in this context, it is not outside it, neither does it replace it. I like Maych TV a football commentary channel, he is a red and an articulate thoughtful guy. So this is not an attack on football supporters. Everton and Liverpool’s fans regularly collect food for distribution around Liverpool because they know kids are going hungry as the support systems for unemployed parents have been trashed. Yet their focus is on the multi-million, if not billion-pound business venture called Liverpool, or Everton or Man City.
It’s not that I expect football to do things it is not meant for- although Rashford did a good job of embarrassing the Tories over school dinners during the summer. Clubs took the knee before the last premiership game, a little ironic in a sport that buys and sells humans. ( I know, I know they are all millionaires- but the idea is still one of ownership- not free association.)
There has been no national mobilisation of football supporters (that I know of) outside of The Democratic Football Lads Alliance, who’s racism unites them. The article above explains the working-class roots of football, but that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that these billion-pound organisations in the Premier League have nothing to do with a so-called working-class culture. Football support lends itself to the division of workers, between the clubs they support. There is no question at the lower levels clubs and leagues do play a role in communities but at the highest level- they are money-making machines pure and simple.
As a sport and spectacle football is exciting, discussing tactics and strategy can be life filling- the COVID break did put football in perspective for many people, including Klopp, as much as they missed it they accepted there were more important things to deal with- as far as Boris is concerned he would rather tens of thousands of people were worrying about their team’s strategy and tactics in the premiership than worrying about how demand for food banks has risen by over 300% in some areas. Of course, both are possible, but while the whole national media encourages one rather than the other. Maybe there is room for a re-balance.
People coming together and identifying around a shared pursuit is not in and of itself a progressive or good thing. There are clubs with progressive and far right fan traditions. What matters is the content of any community action, is it to defend each other? Fight for better pay, schools, or food for our kids? Or to glorify a multi million pound business operation?
And before you say it- I know I am a miserable git – enjoy your celebrations!