Thursday 21 February 2019

Ewan MacKenna: The far right and its grubby and grotesque ideals are permeating deep down into the core of the sport

Brazilian far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro
Brazilian far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro
That City takeover in 2008 was perhaps the tipping point
Ewan MacKenna

Ewan MacKenna

For a long time, and for a great many, this has been one of the last remaining outlets of withdrawal. The best players, the biggest clubs, the most celebrated competitions, in the most popular sport. But if this is a portal to escape the misery of a sickly society - and its very obvious and very rapid demise - there's a problem with hiding out in the cathedrals of soccer.

How can you be getting away from these ills when so much of the sport is a celebration and a support of those very same ills? It's a great dilemma as one more chunk of our soul is sold off to those who can afford it.

Who stole our game? Actually it was bought.

Look around at the zenith of the once beautiful show and it's an altar to the same wealth, the same greed, the same societal divide, the same elitism and the same corruption that have allowed for a hard shift to the right in a modern political axis that alienates many. We don't say that lightly for history will judge this era brutally and judge us the same.

This is not about conservative values but about non-fascist morality. The f-word is overused, even in the case of some like Donald Trump, but such wastage means there's a fear to use it when there's a need around so many places and people. From Poland to Hungary. From Brazil to the Philippines. From China to the Arab world.

It's true that in one sense, there is nothing new in this as there are some glorious paradoxes right throughout soccer's development. When the sport turned professional in the 1880s in a working-class move aimed at the betterment of their own, suddenly the richest teams like Preston, Aston Villa and Sunderland started winning due to purchasing imports. Indeed when the latter as champions of England beat Hearts as champions of Scotland in the first world club championship in 1895, all those on the pitch were from Scotland.

That progressed and by the 1970s many cross-channel players were proud Tories. Glance back to see Kevin Keegan kissing Margaret Thatcher and he was far from alone in his adoration of her outlook. The nonsense Shankly socialism sounds good until you dare pick at it ever so gently, and even Brian Clough who was an ardent supporter of Labour was a tyrant in practice, flirting with other clubs to drive up his value for self gain over some greater good.

Yet against that backdrop, never has it been this troubling as the march towards the far right and its grubby and grotesque ideals permeate deep down into the core of the sport. It means that glancing around the zenith, who can and who should you support, and why? Because your parents supported that side? Because of links to that area? Because you've liked them since you were a child? When it comes to the biggest and best, is that enough?

In short, no.

Not in this time of turmoil.

* * *

Fascism and fascists have always had a keen interest in soccer. Its tribal sense of identity and dislike of those that are different meant it was ready-made to promote its ideals of national pride and a sense of superiority based on very little logic and very little reason. Today it's again being hijacked by some vile characters.

Recently Hungarian leader Viktor Orban was in London to watch Vidi take on Chelsea in the Europa League, along with a couple of private jets worth of associates who run many of the nation's top clubs. It's also his plan to use their national team as a way to catapult the worst vestiges of nationalist outlook to centre stage.

It goes on...

The leader of the Lega Nord in Italy quickly blamed their country's failure to quality for the World Cup on too many foreigners in the nation's structures from top to bottom.

And on...

Germany's struggles at that tournament in the summer had their AfD party turn predictably and savagely on Mesut Ozil.

Even at the Belo Horizonte derby between Cruzeiro and Atletico Mineiro of late, fans of the latter who push the idea that they are the team of the masses jumped on board Nazi-style politician Jair Bolsonaro's Hitler-esque rhetoric chanting, "Queers will be killed". Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Cafu, Kaka and Lucas Moura have all supported his likely rise to power that will culminate in Sunday's presidential run-off. . Bolsonaro has been criticised for inciting racism, hate and homophobia

Brazilian far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro

Who said sport and politics don't mix? This is horse-and-jockey stuff.

For a long stint such money and power was lapping up against the dam that was holding back outright depravity but when soccer's maximum wage was abolished, the theft of the people's game went into fast forward. Over time local businesses stepped away, making space for a rancid cohort of multi-nationals, hedge-funds, oligarchs and sheikhs.

How could the left ever prosper in such a financially driven world is a fair rhetorical question, but there are degrees.

In this era a dark shadow has been cast over top-level football. Whether it was Russian criminals, Chinese pseudo-communism or Arabian petro-dollars doesn't really matter, but take the latter as being behind a vast acceleration of the ruination of the upper reaches of the sport, making football the playground of those that have prospered due to abuse and atrocity. All the while so many sit and nod, not just allowing it to happen, but cheering it on.

Consider this. Next year, Manchester will mark the 200-year anniversary of the Peterloo massacre, a seminal moment in the movement of democracy in England. It was in 1819 that the cavalry charged protesters, killing 14 and injuring somewhere in the region of 600 more. By the time that comes around though, a working-class city's two most iconic modern-day landmarks may well be owned by the worst form of dictatorships.

City already have Abu Dhabi; reports say Saudi Arabia's brutal regime are now interested in United and there's nothing surprising as its just money from their state in a different form. After all, Saudi Telecom are already United's longest-standing commercial partner, while last year they agreed a separate strategic partnership with the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia. The circle of life? Or the acceptance of decline into a deep, dark hole never to return?

That City takeover in 2008 was perhaps the tipping point. It saw the likes of PR man Simon Pearce (who works for a firm that has previously had clients ranging from Nicolai Ceaucescu to Union Carbide) enter, rinsing clean the name of Mohammed Bin Zayed who has helped along infanticide in Yemen, never mind the acts and actions committed in his own kingdom. It wasn't solely football with that investment and Tony Blair's yearning for any and all cash allowing for a billion-pound housing deal that helped regenerate part of Manchester, but at what cost? It brought in power and influence and airline deals and big business and reputation laundering and a certain amount of beholding to those you should never behold to. By now there's even a large Chinese investment in City too, making bad worse again.

It's not just them, rather they are just an example. We could talk about Qatar and their big favour to Nicolas Sarkozy around Paris Saint Germain in return for Michel Platini's World Cup backing. In fact we could talk about pretty much the entire top table by now for there isn't a member there that doesn't ooze at least some of the traits of this new world.

From there we've had the entitlement and hypocrisy and the obvious attacks on the obvious targets. Uli Hoeness, fresh from a three-and-a-half year sentence for tax evasion and repeatedly attacking Ozil, cited the constitution and morality of media for their criticism of Bayern Munich's performances. Marcelo at Real Madrid went the fake news route as well, blaming journalists for highlighting defeats, rather than owning those losses. Juventus are clinging to their investment before we know more about Cristiano Ronaldo's guilt or innocence as it is always money over morals and profit over people. Barcelona reprimanded Ronaldinho for his support of Bolsonaro in Brazil but this is the same club that are too happy to promote Qatari interests and attitudes from flogging and stoning to forced labour as it pays. Pep Guardiola is no different, wearing a ribbon around Catalan independence while supporting a regime that denies basic human rights.

Is there any joy to get from what is their joy?

This is the pastime of the increasingly far-right, so do you really want a part of that?

As a sliver of upside it has allowed for a huge admiration of those at local level, lost to lower tiers, and those that have restarted clubs way down the ladder as they were meant to be from the start.

But that's the minority as for the rest it's roll up, roll up, as our dignity and decency is for sale.  Someone should tell such supporters there are worse things than losing. After all, there's winning like this.

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