Small beats Big. Well there’s a thing.
We all have our favourite fuflilments. Mine are writing, football, music and gardening. They are all threatened by neoliberal values, and badly in need of creative originality. With more power as communities we can have more time to invest, and more chance to reverse our cultural stagnation. Brexit from the EU and Brexit from the euros tournament are equally relevant.
Following England’s miserable exit from the euros last night, the standard of gags on Twitter was of very high quality. My favourite was the bloke who said we should fire the manager Roy Hodgson, and immediately put him in charge of exiting the EU as quickly as possible. A close second was ‘Poundland 1, Iceland 2’.
As ever, sanguine self-deprecation is the intelligent Englishman’s way of dealing with sporting mediocrity. But if you look at England in the Euros – and the tournament as a whole – there are key insights to take on board about the fault lines in British and Western cultures.
The 2016 Euro tournament has more sponsors than an American news network, and their advertising before and during matches had one thing in common: a feigned (and usually clumsy) attempt to suggest that they care about the grassroots game. Hyundai, for example, went with ‘For the real fans’.
It might have given the Hyundai Board a warm feeling, but not that many real fans were at any of the games. I tried to get tickets for the Belgium v Ireland game, and the cheapest ones available (in the worst seats) were €380. The real fans are given pathetic seat allocations (Ireland got 7,000 for enough fans to fill the Stade de France twice) while the VIP and corporate tickets go to bigwigs with little or no interest in the sport.
This was evident when match coverage continued for most second halves, and revealed the €600 seats two-thirds empty for the first twenty minutes after the break. But with all the European economies – ours included – suffering from an acute loss of spending power, ticket prices at these levels were never going to attract ‘the real fans’.
The so-called fans of football are now the privileged corporate, institutional, political and apparatchik Zil lane drivers who take the tickets for granted. The people who know about the game and reject the contemporary jargobollocks applied to it – the ‘real fans’ – were reduced to watching matches in the various fan zones around France. Instead of watching their religion unfold in church, they were reduced to watching it on telly….albeit Big Screen HD telly.
I would’ve thought the neoliberal/EU élitism parallel is obvious. Like our lives in general, footie has been hijacked by fat amateurs who just want ROI. And that doesn’t stand for Republic of Ireland.
The fan zones themselves were revealing. I went to the one in Bordeaux, and there was little doubt that the providers understood their market: beer, hot dogs, chips and ketchup were very much the order of the day. And although entry was free, the prices were outrageous.
But this being France, the transport links were excellent and the security friendly and effective: the trams were shiny and clean, the Park itself was a G4S-free zone, and the loos were plentiful and civilised.
The atmosphere and fan demography reminded me of US ball games: families, a carnival atmosphere, good natured bonhommie and zero aggro. Unlike the US, however, this was a match between Ireland and Belgium, with the result that a good 80% of the attendees were bladdered by the end of the game.
But here’s the thing: not a single violent incident took place. The Irish fans were despondent but adult in defeat, and the Belgians were happy and legless. Both sets stood side by side watching the screens (no seats here, Mrs Thatcher). As we left, hundreds of them were posing for pictures with each other, and claiming new best friends. This is the generally accepted effect of alcohol in most Western cultures.
But not in Britain….and especially not in England. Or indeed, Russia. England’s first tie against Russia was marred by violence before and after the game. Politicians should think on this:
- All those Remaindeers desperate to tell us that Xenophobia killed Jo Cox seemed unable to make the link between Russian Ultras charging the English with a degree of venom rarely seen even in 1970s British league football, and the Russophobia that has dominated British, NATO and EU foreign policy for the last four years.
- The British and Russian cultures produce frenzied drinking that has no equivalent except in Poland, and on occasions Australia. The thing Brits and Ruskies have in common, however, is a society going back over a hundred years where each régime in turn – from Romanovs via Blairism to Camerlot – has wound up producing a privileged minority looking down on a disgruntled proletariat….and extreme bad behaviour associated with binge drinking.
It is not fashionable to suggest this, but during the British consensus years from 1953 -1970, and the USSR’s Kruschev period of thawing Stalinism during most of the epoch, equality and contentment had never been higher in either country. In different ways, both systems massively expanded social mobility, wages rose, employment was plentiful, and there was an inclusive pride in achievements that stretched from the British NHS and Russian cosmonaut programme on the one hand to rapid Russian industrialisation and British fashion leadership on the other.
It is a fact that human productivity during those years has never been equalled since in either society. Today, the ability to retire comfortably, earn a decent wage and look up to the ‘authorities’ has never been further removed from the daily life of citizens. Both nations too have seen a changed economic model usher in the return of a sort of 21st century feudalism.
The combination of drink and alienation is plain to see in both cultures. We don’t believe our leaders, we have little or no control over our destinies, and the dimension of personal responsibility is on the wane. Top down rule from an out-of-touch (and untouchable) élite ensures the disenfranchisement of the majority: it brings hopelessness, desperation, and the need for regular oblivion. Alcohol and frustration are a deadly mix.
Meanwhile, back on the pitch England have lost, drawn and scraped one victory to reach the last sixteen….and been ignominiously booted out (and outplayed) by a nation whose population one could comfortably fit into Leicester, and whose famous international footballers are as rare as a silent José Mourinho. How and why did this happen? Again, the lessons are, I would submit, more socio-economic than sport related.
First up, Roy Hodgson is a decent but dull donkey. That a bloke with his track record wound up managing the national team reflects the hermetically sealed bubble in which the grandees of the Football Association live. British soccer is stale and formulaic, and is in dire need of a radical visionary at the national level. The FA, on the other hand, want a docile mediocrity they can control. And their entirely unelected power means they are incredibly difficult to dump. It doesn’t take a rapier-like analysis to see the analogy with our political Establishment.
But the power and wealth of the FA has been substantially increased by one man: the man who has done more to brutalise, dumb down and manipulate proletarian values than any other person in our history. I refer of course to Australia’s most appalling export since mixamatosis, Rupert Murdoch.
By his own admission, Murdoch prefers malleable and corrupt institutions to those like, say, the French Assembly, whose admirably defaulted attitude towards him is “Va t’en fou”. He has therefore enjoyed unelected, tax-free access to British politics, policing and football for many decades. And he has royally f**ked up all of them.
The Newscorp boss brought his usual retinue of anti-matter to the English game: big multinational prize-money, broadcasting rights exclusivity, celeb culture, an appeal to the lowest common denominator, and monopolistic pricing that shuts out the game’s core fans from attending the lavishly rebuilt or refurbished stadiums of Britain.
But like the neoliberal piece of work he is, Roop cares not a fig for the worker or genuine investment in the grassroots. The money greedily hoovered up by all the Premiership sides has been spent not on better facilities and controlled entry prices for the loyal club fans, but on paying vast fees for – and salaries to – foreign players, while constructing corporate boxes for the Zil laners. He has turned a national sport into an international business, where the increasingly pauperised consumer pays more each year to buy a different replica kit. But above all, he has destroyed England’s national side.
England’s football problem is a microcosm of neoliberalism’s greedy unwillingness to invest for the longterm. Money has flowed towards a few (mainly foreign) players, and left the encouragement of young talent by the national association entirely to the clubs. Punishing local and European league schedules for the clubs ensure that the national side has far less time to gel as a team. And the short-term desire for safe bets and bums on seats means – as always with the New Model – risk aversion in a game that is, at its best, all about swashbuckling risk and the application of skill on the field to entertainment for the spectators.
Such has typified Hodgson’s entire reign, and was evident last night. He gave the best emerging striker talent in Britain – Marcus Rashford – just 17 minutes of play in the four matches we had. Last night he brought the young 18 year old on….for the last four minutes. Lee Dixon – former Arsenal defender and one of the few pundits in the game who talks sense – pointed out with great precision immediately after the game that “we no longer have a style or system as a footballing nation”. Only massively increased investment in the facilities and skilled staff available (to create the sort of academy that won the World Cup for France in 1998) is going to produce any discernible change.
I am not a nationalist, but the entertainment side of life gave Britain an image of youth, verve, creativity and flair in the 1960s that earned huge exports and almost certainly slowed our decline until poor management and wildcat strikes did for our manufacturing base in the 1970s. Having now Brexited (twice) we need signs of radical change in our outlook to demonstrate that we mean business in every sense of that word.
Tories of every hue talk about being open for business, when what they really mean is opening our legs for every rapist that happens along. At times I cannot help but burst out laughing when the British Left lectures me on what a dumbassed nitwit I am for voting Brexit – and thus giving even more power to the Newscorp axis via Johnson and Gove, as well as pandering to the racist ‘Little Englander’ idée fixe they have of UKIP.
I am neither a supporter of UKIP nor a fan of Nigel Farage. In turn, I have a page here dedicated to the study of what a nefarious and ruthless little toad Boris is: as long ago as 2010, I chose him and Harman as “the two biggest threats to democracy in the UK”. And finally, I have met Gove and found him a bloke with certain dimensions missing and – like Stephen Crabb – rather too fixated on the ‘lessons’ of his own background and childhood. They are already assuming that power is theirs for the taking.
Whether they get it or not is down to good sense in the Conservative Party, effective opposition from Labour, continuing protests by UKippers, Waspis and others neglected by the Establishment, and what happens in the near future to the markets, UK economy and eurozone mess.
As for me, I have never made any secret of my own radicalism. I believe British exports beyond the EU depend on greater encouragement of high-margin goods created by communitarian and mutualist entrepreneurs. I believe Bourse capitalism should play a far smaller role in financing business. I believe several ‘social weal’ supply systems (the NHS, water and the transport system) should be mutualised and then ringfenced from any influence by Government or stock markets. I believe financialised globalist neoliberal capitalism is doomed: I do not buy into Paul Mason’s attempt to slag off this model as “all capitalism”, because it’s a convenient but false argument in favour of a long-dead ideology called socialism. I want Westminster’s powers reduced and community devolution to take off. I want proportional representation as soon as possible. I want to fund all Westminster Parties via taxation, not donation – and bring in draconian restrictions on lobbying access. And above all, I want an extra-Parliamentary decency crowd-power movement to make it increasingly difficult for pols, big business, cops, Judges and lawyers to pervert the values of liberty and democracy.
I will, at any time, support any movement I believe likely to bring those desires to reality. Yes I will give tactical support where necessary, and no, I will not be a joiner of any ideology, nor take part in physical violence. It’s why I voted Brexit in full awareness of the risks, and why I will now press for the next stage during which we shall face even greater risks.
If it looks from time to time like I’m changing sides, so be it. If it means Trump rather than Clinton, I’m all for it. If it means getting Murdoch out of our hair, I’m all for that too. And if it means Corbyn becoming his own man and then foiling the efforts of The Borisgove, I’m all for that.
We need to get the ideologists, megalomaniacs, materialist cheats and foreign power blocs off our backs. We need to stop seeing sensible immigration control as Xenophobic racism. And we need to stop viewing infrastructural investment as Communism. All this may, with luck, one day lead to a pragmatic Benthamist philosophy based on empiricism and maximum citizen fulfilment. Not Utopia.
So that – in the Euros of 2032 – we can have more exciting football, great facilities, and affordable match tickets.
Yes, you may loathe football. But insert your own dream where mine is, and I think you’ll find there is the same advantage to be had: something rewarding for almost everyone.