Britain is facing a General Election today where every seat in Parliament is voted on and the leader of the largest party generally becomes the new Prime Minister. This tradition may be deviated from today, with good reason if the Conservative’s David Cameron somehow emerges at the front. (Best election joke I’ve heard so far “David Cameron says he wants change. Give him 30p and tell him to f*** off”).
Football has always had a stand-offish relationship with politics, especially in the UK. Labour leader Harold Wilson opined that England only won the World Cup under a Labour Government (so far, so true), but generally football only became involved when hooligans were used as a not-so-subtle battering ram to impose draconian law and order legislation in the 1980s via Margaret Thatcher – made honorary Vice President of Blackburn Rovers in the decade, which ensured the seat would go Labour for many more years to come. Thatcher herself saw the game as a problem and while her Tory successor John Major was a genuine Chelsea Fan, his Heritage Minister David Mellor took his devotion to new heights, allegedly wearing his Chelsea kit whilst servicing his mistress.
Tony Blair swept all before him in 1997 and adopted a football supporting guise to add to his all things to all men persona – becoming a born again Newcastle United fan, as it was near his constituency (although not as close as Middlesbrough), and playing head-tennis with then Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan on the campaign trail. Keegan himself is something of a political gadfly having been pictured kissing Margaret Thatcher in the run up to the 1982 World Cup Finals. Incredibly, she looks more uncomfortable than him. At least Cameron has the good grace not to trot around wearing an Aston Villa scarf in public, claiming he’s stood on the Holte End for 30 years.
It’s an interesting anomaly that the great British football managers of the past decades, Shankly, Paisley, Clough and Ferguson have all been great Socialists whereas the majority of the footballers themselves have been out and out Tories. The politics of the pocket at work. Clough himself was once Chairman of the Anti-Nazi League and supported striking miners in the 1980s.
Europeans of course do these things so much better, Internazionale of Milan being a workers co-operative that became a football team with strong links to Left wing politics and campaigns ever since. Their former captain Xavier Zanetti donating 5000 Euros to the Zapista Army of National Liberation. Livorno’s Cristiano Lucarelli is a self-avowed Communist and celebrates his goals with the double clench-fist salute of the movement. His ringtone is the Red Flag and when he scored on his debut for the Italian Under-21 side, he pulled up his shirt to reveal a picture of Che Guevara underneath.
The impact of Football on this political campaign has been slightly more amplified with a Labour proposal to legislate that fans should legally own a percentage of their clubs but like many other things in the past 13 years, it is seen as too little, too late by the majority of their supporters. A nice idea though.
The answer to the question, “Why isn’t British football more political?” is like your earnings, public displays of political affiliation are seen as vulgar and between a man and his pocketbook, or in this case, season ticket.
Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.