Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Monday, July 12, 2021

A lot more than fifty five years of hurt...



I have been blogging here for fifteen years now and (without checking back) I think I can fairly safely say that I have never blogged anything that was - even tangentially - about football.

I don’t really follow football, any more than I follow any other organised sport (I feel about organised sport slightly less aversion than I feel for organised religion). However, towards the end of each Premiership season these days I do anxiously check results to see that Brighton and Hove Albion are not going to be relegated - and when there is a major international tournament I get caught up in it, like many people, as we do by the Olympic Games (for example).


So it was that yesterday I watched the Euros final with family (including my brother and nephew who are both proper football fans and could comment knowledgeably about tactics, such as when we should have brought on substitutes and who should have been asked to take penalties) - and so it was that I cheered England’s goals and shared England’s disappointments with millions.


I had been impressed with Gareth Southgate, as a manager and leader, and by much about England’s team, including their “taking the knee” and the activities of individuals such as Marcus Rashford, but that was - on the night - all rather secondary to the excitement of the match and, of course, the disappointment at the outcome of the penalty shoot-out.


I don’t have nearly enough football-related knowledge to comment on the tactics employed by individual penalty-takers, or on the decisions as to who should have taken penalties. As an only very occasional watcher of football, the penalty shoot-out seems as fair (and as unfair) as having to decide who was to be chair of our Labour Party branch by drawing names from a hat because the vote was tied.


One thing I think I can be fairly certain about is that a factor which had nothing to do with whether any particular England player scored their penalty was the colour of that player’s skin. 


Yet online - and in the real world - this irrelevant factor has been the occasion and excuse for racists to reveal their racism, which I am afraid is always skulking around wherever the cross of St George is displayed, ready to emerge when it has the opportunity (as it did when people who were supposedly England “fans” booed their own team for making a modest expression of opposition to racism, having been egged on by the opposition to that gesture of leading Tory politicians).


Racism runs deep in this country, a fact which many white people (including many on the left) don’t like to acknowledge - but just as the 2016 Referendum vote was the occasion for a major increase in racist hate crimes (as racists felt emboldened and empowered) so it would appear that a significant number of England “fans” have expressed their disappointment at defeat by Italy through the prism of racist hatred of Black players - and Black people generally.


There is no such thing as someone who is “not racist” - we have all been brought up in a racist society. In particular a white person who is “not racist” is like a man who is “not sexist” (and also like a unicorn). 


There is, however, the possibility and - as we can see today - the necessity for being anti-racist. “Being anti-racist” cannot, however, be some sort of existential state in which an anti-racist individual observes the world around and regrets it - in this case “being” depends upon “doing” and therefore what is needed is anti-racist action.


In the immediate moment this may mean expressing solidarity with individual footballers, and it will include marching, protesting and petitioning - but for trade unionists it will also include working harder to understand and uproot institutional racism in the workplace (and our movement) and for Labour Party members it will include finding ways to ensure that the Party clearly and consistently confronts racism and never accommodates to it.


On reflection, after fifteen years of blogging here, it probably remains true that I have never actually blogged about football.

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