Category Archives: Sport

After FIFA? The Sluice Will Only Get Bigger

Just a quick one, but I felt I had to write on the topical issue of FIFA.

The corruption, the stink, the melodrama! The teetering real politic tower of FIFA is wobbling to a newsworthy degree.

Indeed it is a rotten representative for a rotten borough. Er, I mean, “The Football Family”.

But if it goes, what replaces it?

I fear it would be the further control of elite clubs, who have long collectively recognised international football as an inconvenience to their ability to strengthen their growing monopolisation of the sport.

I’m sure whatever takeover or propping up of FIFA would be dressed up in the finest hyperbolically altruistic aesthetics. For the good of the game… But in truth it would facilitate the further privatisation of the game.

FIFA is an utter mess which well deserves bloody execution. But, like revolutions before it, it will not be us without trousers who would take control but our new masters.

To use the language of sociologist Anthony King, this undead relic of the international era of football/capitalism would be removed and replaced by an evermore victorious transnational power bloc.

Expect a European League.

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Filed under FIFA, Football, Sport

Dulwich Hamlet v Contemporary Logic

So, in my last post, when I said Millwall are now my closest professional football club, the emphasis was on “professional”. For here in Dog Kennel Hill there’s a club on our doorstep.  Challenging for mid-table obscurity in a regional subsection of the 8th tier of English football, ladies & gentlemen, may I introduce… Dulwich Hamlet.

Last Saturday I went to see them beat Chipstead (which I am assured is a real place) 3-2 at Champion Hill Stadium.

Surely, you must be thinking, surely the humble author isn’t going to repeat his tactic from the Millwall post and claim that Dulwich bloody Hamlet hold some secret of epitomous ritualized ecstasy?!

Well, yes & no. Here’s what I found.

Colour – Football clubs play in blue, red and/or white. Dulwich Hamlet play in pink & navy. Pink & navy! The game was immediately a unique experience by this virtue alone.

People underestimate the value of colour. Colour is the first difference between teams, the definition of opposition, hitting you a million miles before the subjective fairytales of “location”, “tradition” and “style”. Colour is the primary building block of partisan spectating.

The football fixture I’m most guaranteed to enjoy is FC Barcelona v Villareal. Regardless of quality, excitement and goals, the game is a carnival of colour, both teams standing out so vividly against one another. In this immediate, intimate sense – what you see – the two teams oppose. They clash.

Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal. That’s less a three way title race, more a conspiracy. Navy & pink Hamlet, sporting deviants, I salute you.

Some notes on the game:

“Shit” Football – The football was shit, I suppose. Both sides raggy doll collections of freaks, technically skilled but portly/skinny, or physically impressive specimens with no control of the ball. Tactical undiscipline. Formational lapses. The ball was all over the place… This was very imperfect.

But it struck me: if a Champions League or World Cup final was played like this it would be considered a great game. Open, end-to-end, action packed.

Maybe the upper echelons of football only seem better because we’re told they are! By buggers like Andy Grey. Vomitworthy.

Death Row – Clubs like Hamlet are on the edge of existence.

(1) Their continued running is contrary to contemporary cultural logic…

These lower reaches of the non-leagues are very barren to the sugarcoated mind of a modern child. The grounds look like Old Trafford or Anfield after a nuclear war. The attendances are tiny. 241 at the Hamlet match. Two hundred and forty one.

Now, the barren stadia I’m fine with. I don’t like football motherships like the Emirates, but I do like a touch of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

But the numbers are problematic. Football, as I’ve clumsily tried to argue in this blog, is a group event, a social happening. Few would admit this, but fans turning up is more important than getting eleven players out on the pitch. 241, spread over a 3,000 capacity stadium, is not enough people to get lost in the crazy midst of. Sad, but simple.

(2) Anecdotally I’ve heard that Hamlet lose £2,000 a week. The football industry is in a process of ongoing monopolisation by a shrinking and increasingly transnational elite. Times are tough for the vast majority of league clubs, nevermind these smaller non-league clubs. They don’t fit in with cruel economic logic at all.

So… – There’s a man who lives in the flat above me. He very loudly supports Arsenal, via the television. I don’t think he goes to games. Probably can’t afford it.

Contemporary logic dictates that the lonely, atomised Arsenal fan upstairs is on the right side of history. He is quite right to avoid these clubs. What point is there in investing time, emotion and money into a small club awaiting relegation to the glue factory?

And maybe he’s been to see Dulwich Hamlet. Maybe, like me, he thought This isn’t so bad… but it’s just missing that throng if people, that crowd, that dash of collective lunacy… (an experience I gather is quite common)

Fuck, maybe he even wrote a wanky blog post about it. But before I too continue the cycle by slipping back into the Big Club fandom of my youth, allow me a moment of ambitious zeal.

There is a tenuous, highly imaginative and utterly hypothetical reason for you and me to pay attention to these Dulwich Hamlet-sized clubs. While they remain out there, grimly holding out, small clubs have potential, possibility. They are cultural facilities. They are bloody great canvasses, in fact, often within walking distance.

During the Hamlet match, something struck me. WHAT IF? What if even a fraction of London’s disenchanted or disempowered football fans went en masse to a club like Dulwich Hamlet? 250 could double an average attendance. We could transform a club. We could make an ignored non-league match THE ritual to be at in this stinking choiceforesaken city.

I’m not one for tubthumping, it sits uncomfortably with my introversion. But isn’t this a good idea?

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Filed under Culture, Dulwich Hamlet, Football, Ritual, Sport

Trying To Explain Millwall…

I recently moved to Dog Kennel Hill Estate. It’s between Dulwich and Peckham, in South London. The nearest professional football club is the infamous Den-dwelling Millwall FC. And so, with uncharacteristic trepidation, I’ve been to a few games, including the 2-0 win over “boutique football club” QPR last Tuesday.

Seeing Millwall is… amazingly good fun. Where I expected a repressive, scary miasma, I instead found a liberating atmosphere. It is, undoubtedly, the most communal football experience I’ve ever been part of.

Millwall fandom is spectacular, extravagant, dramatic. The chaotically compiled group identity is profound, loud, and has a discernible effect on the team. And, most importantly, it is relatively unique – a dash of heterodoxy in the homodox world of blandly commercialized football.

Millwall is what a lot of other clubs’ fans secretly wish they were.

I can’t claim an exhaustive empirical basis, but from what I’ve seen Millwall have a far more defined group identity and enjoyment of the footballing ritual than any comparable club.

This is a club that historically yo-yos from second tier to third. A club that has spent a mere two seasons in the top division. A club whose biggest achievement was losing the 2004 FA Cup final. In short, they are unsuccessful – especially compared to the few clubs who moribundly dominate English football.

But Millwall fandom seems to partially wriggle out of that logic. Not entirely – they cheer goals, they bemoan decisions against their side etc. But Millwall exists above and beyond the “sporting” hierarchy of being shat upon by the Manchester Uniteds, the Liverpools et al. Which all clubs do, really. But at Millwall there is a tangible sense of existing for themselves. “No-one likes us, we don’t CARE!!!”

Too many other clubs that size meekly beg, “Please like us and offer a few crumbs…?” Well, fuck that! Millwall provide the beginnings of the two fingered salutation – we exist for ourselves – that the rest of football deserves.

In terms of identity, Millwall are up there with the most successful clubs, which when you think about it is quite staggering. Those clubs have a lot to shout about – they’ve won football’s Harsh Economic Reality lottery. Millwall haven’t. So, I applaud them for Being. They are a great socio-economic anomaly, but so very social.

Former Millwall chairman Reg Burr described his club as “a convenient coat peg for football to hang its social ills on.” They should instead be a coat peg from which other clubs and fans hope to hang their own ambitions of a grand, encompassing and fun (!) ritual.

Notes

Racism – Was worried about this, but haven’t heard a peep. Not even when new pantomime villain Danny Shittu played up to the role on Tuesday. And the home fans cheered the shapes pulled by a half-time urban dance performance by a group of kids from a local estate. This is not the nightmare Millwall of people’s wild imaginations.

The Roar – This is surely the greatest (and most deconstructed) football chant I’ve ever heard. The crowd basically start screaming. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. It whips around the stadium, like a disordered Mexican wave of Bermondsey banshees. It is worth a trip down the Den for this alone. I’m told it evolved from a simple chant of “Millwall!” Absolutely splendiferous. This video doesn’t do it justice:

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Filed under Culture, Millwall, Ritual, Sociology, Sport

North Korea versus Brazil/Ironic Consumption of Football

Japanese-born DPRK striker Jong Tae Se, "the People's Rooney", is overcome with emotion during the national anthem.

I watched this in a gentrified old estate pub/social club in Brixton, at the inaugural meeting of the heavily ironic South London North Korea Supporter’s Club. It was organised by Chris of the excellent Football Voodoo blog. It was a role playing kind of football fandom. We addressed each other as “comrade” and mock-criticized the imperialist pig-dogs of brazil and their capitalist overlords, Nike.

For me, this was the night the World Cup came alive. Mainly because in the face of the football failing, we made our own fun, tenuously claiming the Brazilian goals should be disallowed on ideological grounds and really going bonkers with genuine joy when our comrades scored the “winning” goal.

Some thoughts on the game:

1. The vuvuzelas, like them or no, are far less noticable when you actually care about what’s going on in a match.

2. The DPRK team represented the Old World Cup of yesteryear/romantic memory. Here was a side that we knew next to nothing about. The vast majority play in their homeland. Indeed, most are amateurs. Pictures of the team kit were even difficult to source ahead of the competition. They were, as surely most World Cup squads used to be, an unknown quantity. Which is very rare nowadays given the globalisation of football labour & consumption.

3. Ironic football consumption is actually a lot of fun. And genuinely engaging. A shortcut to the ecstatic ritual of sporting celebration.

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Filed under 2010 World Cup, Culture, Football, Ritual, Sport, Vuvuzela

In Celebration of the Vuvuzela

How very dare you, you sick fucking cunts!!!

There’s a buzz about the 2010 World Cup. The constantly wavering hum of the vuvuzela. More swarm of angry bees than musical instrument.

I’m quite amazed. Just when you though the FIFA World Cup was a homogeneous and sterile experience that would be the same in any city, in any continent, changing only over time with the desires & technological capabilities of the very many vested interests, such as Coca-Cola & Adidas… Just when you thought that was the case, here is something, some little tiny sensory invasion, that offers the difference that is promised in a World Cup but never delivered.

Rejoice! Rejoice? Television broadcasters, corporate sponsors, audiences and – amongst others – the frankly pathetic French national team want vuvuzelas banned from stadiums. And the World Cup organisers are considering it. But these lot are exactly the kind of distant power sources I thought us little people are meant to “reclaim” football from…

There is a lot of lazy fairytale talk amongst football fans about the game being, in essence, “ours”. Ignoring the historical problems of whether this has even been the case, there is a latent feeling that we have a right – as normal fans, whatever that is – to take football back. From the Glazers, the Murdochs, the Blatters and other pantomime figureheads of contemporary footballing hierarchy.

And yet it would seem that the majority of romanticist armchair-fairytale football fandom and it’s hierarchal masters/servants (delete as appropriate to your own view on simple pluralism) agree on the Sonic Plague of the Vuvuzela.

But I say, Gods Save The Vuvuzela!

My reasons? (1) We are lucky to be made to feel uncomfortable watching football on television. It’s a vulnerable position. There’s little else in the world that can so tempt me into such an open sluice of repeated attacks of advertising like football can. I suppose because it ensnared me, and most of us, in youth. Nostalgia. Knee-jerk romanticism. You’ve got my balls in a vice-like grip. The ease of consuming football leaves you openmouthed to the sluice. Yum.

(2) FIFA et al. got what they wanted. Or claimed what they wanted. They said they want the colours and sounds and happy poverty smiles of the negroes. They wanted this to be Africa’s World Cup. But the first hint of the developed world’s media and rape industries getting upset at the slightest hint of heterodoxy and it’s time to wipe that beaming I-can-beat-AIDS smile off that filthy negro face. Well done FIFA. Well done postmodernity. Well done all. Enjoy your identikit world and identikit megaevents. For me the vuvuzela should be merely the beginning. For you, you want it to be the continuation of the end. Or something that feels – and sounds – like the end.

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Filed under 2010 World Cup, Art, Culture, Football, Rebellion, Ritual, Sociology, Sport, Vuvuzela

The Glazer Takeover of Manchester United FC

Recently I’ve been cultivating the interesting habit of approaching strangers wearing green & yellow scarves and discussing the political economy & ontology of football fandom. Sort of. And this is a blog post about it. Time to address the elephant in the womb: the Glazer takeover of Manchester United FC and the various things it means, or could mean.

United. Fuck me. What an evocative word. United. United. I Love that word. United. United. United, United, United, UnitedUnitedUnitedUnited. A lot of snottynosed political correctionists erroneously claim that there are several clubs all with an equal claim to the name United. They are wrong. There is only one United. Admit it! As I wrote elsewhere, “The truth, the terrible thrilling dynamic truth, is that there is only one United. The others are wandering, aimless, undead. They’ve been fucked. And we stood back and watched it happen. Though I dare say it was so wrapped up with wider socio-economic transformations that the only way to save these (non-existant) golden years was a vigorous anti-capitalism over the entire post-war period. Too late. Absolutely too late.”

I grew up as a United fan. My mum had been a quite zealous fan since the late 60s, enticed by a decades-spanning crush on George Best. Nothing quite compares with something you learn to adore as a child. You mind is drunk on a nostalgic warmth since before you can remember, your own time immemorial. Wildly subjective, yes, but they did and do mean a lot to me, deep in my guts. My intestines slither like snakes for them.

But my manchild adoration of United hit enormous difficulties when the controversial takeover by the Glazer family finally went through in May 2005. I like many fans had been against it, and had campaigned against it. The takeover was financed by incredible levels of debt, and many of us had very romantic (and impractical) notions of the supporters “owning” the club… The Glazer takeover was a double insult.

Ever since the takeover I have had a lonely sense of detachment from my childhood sweetheart.

The green & yellow (or, gold – apparently) has been adopted as a visible sign of antiGlazerism, that simultaneously manages to be both challengingly subversive and highly traditionalist/conservative (green & gold were the original colours of the club, back in the 19th Century when they were known as Newton Heath). The best of both worlds. The authenticity of both progress and history. Well done! I would say this is the very epitome of what fandom desires. And I’m quite sure once the instability of Glazernomics are sorted out Nike will relish producing a green & gold commemorative kit to celebrate the passing of a regime they had happily worked with.

When I speak to these antiGlazerists in the scarves we talk inevitably about the takeover being “wrong”. No discussion. No question. It was wrong, we assume. But was it?

Of course, as widely predicted beforehand and coming to rotten fruition now, the takeover is bad on a basic level for United fans, in the simple sense that they want cheaper ticket prices (or at least less wildly rising ones) and team improvement.

But one thing that surprises me is that rival fans sympathised a great deal with the plight of United. Why? Why on Earth not take the opportunity to drive a hated rival into the dirt? Why not exploit this moment in the same way United’s former owners were so willing to (with the moves away from shared gate receipts, the formation of the Premier League etc.)? I think this is because, to use Foucaultian language, the discourse of Sport & Sportingness still dominates the more visible discourses of tribal loyalty (one club fandom.) But the fact remains United have historically been… economic… with this sporting ideology. And are thus very lucky to still have good will.

This is perhaps the result of skill media operation, both micro and mass, by the self-organised United fan pressure groups such as Shareholders United who campaigned very publicly against both the Glazer takeover and the earlier (defeated) Murdoch takeover attempt.

So… well done. And now that the tide seems to be turning, that the fans are growing more and more vocally antiGlazer as the oft-predicted financial difficulties seem to be becoming undeniable and affecting United’s sporting progress (i.e. the inadequate replacement of Cristiano Ronaldo)… I’m left wondering how I will feel if the Glazer family is indeed bought out and replaced with a more “fan friendly” (whatever that means) regime. Will I get rid of the sense of detachment? Will I flock back?

I fear not.

The years since the takeover have coincided with my own re-imagining of what sport is, what it means. In many ways this is liberating. Allows me to experience and enjoy things on various levels. I can be in and above the ritual simultaneously. But it also seems to have broken the link between me then and me now.

I write this blog floating deeper and deeper into sport space.

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Filed under Football, Manchester United, Personal Memories, Rebellion, Sport