Mark Perryman

Mark Perryman

Mark Perryman is co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football. He is the author of Ingerland: Travels with a Football Nation.


Bobby, Frannie and what we have lost
Friday, 27 October 2023 10:39

Bobby, Frannie and what we have lost

Published in Sport

Bobby Charlton: 1966 World Cup Winner, 1967 First Division Champions, 1968 European Cup Winner.

Frannie Lee: 1968 First Division Champions, 1969 FA Cup Winner, 1970 League Cup Winner and European Cup Winners' Cup Winner. 

The red and the blue halves of Manchester have always been divided, yet for four years were united – no not that United – in their pomp, a shared Mancunian Supremacy. Never before, never since, always been one, or the other, or neither. Only the city Liverpool – no not that City – can boast anything similar, not that any Manc would admit as much. From seasons 1981-82 to 1989-90, just once did Arsenal break the Liverpudlian First Division Supremacy of Liverpool six league titles, Everton two. Two clubs, two cities divided, but united by these shared periods of quite extraordinary success.

Northern clubs and cities, too: London clubs have had their moments – well Arsenal and Chelsea – but it is different in a two-club city when fans are for one and against the other. Add the geographical antipathy to all things southern, and London in particular, and how much this means to the fans is obvious.

Toxic masculinity and fan culture

This Sunday, City visit Old Trafford for the Manchester derby. Tuesday’s Champions’ League fixture at the ground came too soon for all the pomp and circumstance to mark the passing of undeniably United’s greatest player, Bobby Charlton – arguably England’s greatest too. Sunday will be a uniquely poignant moment for the vast majority of fans, red and blue, perhaps for a vocal minority the opportunity to offend too. Hence the emergence of the phrase ‘tragedy chanting’, indicative of a rotten element within all that is so magnificent about fan culture. Never a majority, or even close to, but ever-present nevertheless, it justifies itself by the warped morality of love of our lot, hate of the other lot. It’s amplified by the toxic masculinity uniquely generated by male football fan culture.

But for the vast majority of fans, whether we follow United, England or not, the passing of Bobby Charlton has been marked by a sense of loss. The opportunity to connect this loss to a collective experience as part of a stadium crowd makes it all the more poignant and powerful. In a way, almost no other act of mourning comes close to stands packed with the raucous crowds of fans, transformed into universal silence for a few moments – and then the release of a huge shout when the moment ends.  

Sunday’s derby will of course have an extra edge. City are enjoying a period of absolute dominance over United in terms of trophies won for an extended period. The reign of Guardiola is condemning the Ferguson era of even greater success to the history books – and to date there is no sign of a new edition.

To extinguish this rivalry is to remove what makes football’s fan culture so uniquely special. The ingrained loyalty, the warm feeling inside that when the other lot chant ‘Where were you when you were shit?’ we were there with our team, never forsaking them, keeping the faith, and now able to enjoy the success – the promotions, the cups and league championships – all the more, thank you very much.

Of course, none of this ‘being shit’ applies to either the period of Bobby Charlton’s greatest success, 1966-68, nor City legend Frannie Lee’s, 1967-70. The pair of them overlapped in life and now in death, Frannie having passed away this month too.

They shared something else too. They were undoubtedly stand-out stars of their respective clubs, yet also very much part of teams of all the talents. Denis Law, George Best and bobby Charlton at United. Francis Lee, Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee at City. The site of Law, Best and Charlton’s statue at Old Trafford is currently besieged by fans’ wreaths and tributes. City are currently finalising their own stadium statue for Lee, Bell and Summerbee. Football, however modernised, commodified and globalised it has become, can never escape from its history: good!

Nothing is constant but change

This history, however, shouldn’t be the subject of a hagiography. In those halcyon days of the 1960s it was a parochial game, a foreign player back then meant a Scot, a Welshman, a Northern Irishman. It was a mono-cultural game, black players almost entirely absent. In the stands by the end of the seventies there was a racist layer of support that was to take shape in large numbers of votes for the fascist National Front, and streetfighters for the neo-Nazi British Movement.

The women’s game was close to non-existent, and where it did exist was frequently banned from using men’s pitches and facilities. None of this should be extinguished from our memorialising. 

Remembering what we lose, when the greats who for one generation loomed so large in our growing-up as fans, and for the fans of today feature as a star-studded cast of our club’s history, must be multi-dimensional if it is connect past to present and future. There’s a need to frame what we miss in this moment of loss, the forces behind the changes from then to now, because as the philosopher Hegel so wonderfully put it, ‘Nothing is constant but change.’ 

And when the minute’s silence is over, to use Hegel’s maxim, we must loudly understand why our present, good, bad and in-between, is so vastly different to the one belonging to those we mourn.


The memorial T-shirts Law, Best & Charlton and Lee, Bell & Summerbee are exclusively available from Philosophy Football  

England, Scotland, independence and internationalism
Friday, 20 October 2023 11:24

England, Scotland, independence and internationalism

Published in Sport

What's the connection between England and Scotland Euro 2024 qualification with internationalism? Mark Perryman argues the need to mend the popular-political disconnect

England and Scotland have each qualified direct for Euro 2024, with Wales having more than a shot of joining them after the November round of qualifiers. Not Team GB, the UK or Britain, but three nations sharing one small island. It has ever been thus, since 1872, the very first football international, England vs Scotland, a dull 0-0 draw by all accounts. On the football pitch not only have Scotland and Wales secured what their respective nationalist parties strive for – independence – but England receives the independent recognition our political class endlessly deny us.

The latest example? Labour Party membership cards in Scotland emblazoned with the saltire, in Wales the Welsh flag, in England no sign of St George but the Union Jack all over. Not only Englishness denied but subsumed into a Greater-Englishness – and sod the Scots and Welsh. Yet any politician who campaigns for the merger of our football teams into one, well an electoral deathwish beckons that not even Rishi Sunak could match.

But surely all this only has one conclusion, an ugliness bordering on xenophobia? OK former Welsh legend Mark Hughes would be regaled from the stands all over England with the near-universal allegations of the carnal acts he was alleged to commit with sheep, well he's Welsh, isn't he? And England's national anthem (sic) booed so loudly by Scotland fans it is barely audible. Not nice but worthy of some unpacking.

Was Hughes, and for that matter Law, Best too, most of all perhaps Alex Ferguson, any less loved by Man Utd fans because they weren't English? No, of course not. And while his managerial career has now hit the rocks, for a good while, certainly fans of Blackburn Rovers, Man City and Fulham welcomed Mark Hughes as their manager and the success he brought them. Many no doubt having previously shouted their allegations about what he got up to with sheep!

Kenny Dalglish, a Scot, ex-Celtic to boot, an all-time Liverpool legend another case in point. A Greater-Englishness co-existing, competing, with a more receptive and welcoming localism.

And Scotland fans booing God Save the King, widely reported as showing disrespect to England's National Anthem? Which of course it isn't, because England doesn't have any such anthem to call its own. Rather it is the National Anthem of the United Kingdom, but Scotland, and Wales have independently – that word again – opted out to sing their own compositions.

OK it is a bit of stretch to read too much into all this booing, but the English should perhaps have more cause to look at the root cause, Britishness as a Greater-Englishness, the latter paying lyrical tribute to a system in two lines of the anthem's first verse, thankfully the only one ever sung, 'happy and glorious long to reign over us'. There we have it, Englishness as subjecthood which we then seek to inflict on others, the singing of, and worse. In all our interests, to deconstruct, loyalties getting in the way of.

Not much to write home about? There is another dimension to all this, where England and Scotland are heading, the Welsh possibly, Germany, Europe, the Euro's.

The year Britain voted to leave the EU England and Wales were battling to stay on the continent, in the shape of Euro 2016. The Welsh having their best ever campaign to do so, reaching the semis. Yet none of this earned a single mention in the ill-fated 'Remain' campaign.

Europe thus reduced to a single institution, the European Union, which apart from those strange individuals who go on Remain marches in their EU flag berets, most of us endure but haven't got a massive beef to remove ourselves from either. Jeremy Corbyn was lambasted during the course of the campaign when asked what he'd give the EU out of ten, his answer 'seven'. Apart from those beret-wearers, I'd suggest where most of us are.  

But think of the line-up-of our clubs' first team squads, for a fair few clubs, managers and coaches, the beers we drink on the way to the match or while we watch on TV, the fast food we wolf down, the supermarket shelves for our suppertime afters, and more drink, where we holiday, but most of all the one place we dream of all our clubs getting into, E-U-R-O-P-E. Then search in vain throughout the referendum campaign for any sort of expression of any kind of version of such a popular Europeanism.

Or irony of ironies – the one time the EU flag makes an appearance in sport, the Ryder Cup. Golf, standard-bearer of a popular Europeanism, who'd have thought it?

The absence of all this, from the 'Remain' and now 'Rejoin' campaign, there's no worse example of the political class – popular culture disconnect.

Will Euro 2024 be another missed opportunity to make this this connection between the popular and the political? As an England fan I can't wait for the supremely gifted Jude Bellingham, from Stourbridge in the West Midlands - via Birmingham City to Borussia Dortmund in Germany and now to Real Madrid, young, gifted, black, English and European, to light up next summer's tournament as a big up yours to all the small-nationhood, stop the continent we want to get off, Faragism would to my country.

And along the way, I admit it, wishing those neighbours of ours on this one island, all the best as they celebrate a nationhood. A nationhood the English outside of a tournament summer are denied, before its back to the old regime of a Union and the political baggage this Greater-Englishness brings with it, the martial, imperial nonesense. Not much good for us, not any good for our neighbours, and absolutely no use to Europe either.

But before we get too lovey-dovey, just keep Scotland, and if they're there Wales, away from us in the draw. OK?

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The Philosophy Football England and Scotland Euro 2024 shirts are now available from here

Top Ten Books (and a T-shirt) for Understanding Labour Party Conference 2023
Saturday, 07 October 2023 17:54

Top Ten Books (and a T-shirt) for Understanding Labour Party Conference 2023

Published in Cultural Commentary

Mark Perryman offers a 'how to read guide' to the last Labour conference before the 2024 General Election

All things Keir, bright, shiny and new in Liverpool after an unlucky, for the many very unlucky thirteen years of the Tories in power. Well perhaps not that new, not if we allow history to get a peep in to the proceedings. Here are ten books to help us do precisely that.

1. Richard Toye: Age of Hope: Labour, 1945 and the Birth of Modern Britain


If Labourism was a religion the source of its faith would be Attlee and all things 1945 – the NHS, the welfare state, comprehensive education and the nationalisation of coal, gas and electricity. It was a faith that helped establish a post-war consensus until 1979, when Thatcherism brought it all to a shuddering end, and never restored since. Richard Toye offers no hagiography of the 'Spirit of '45', rather an historical context of what came before, what came after, and leaves us thinking about the extent Labour can restore what has been lost.

Available from Bloomsbury Continuum here

2.  John Williams: Red Men Reborn: From John Houlding to Jürgen Klopp


The north-south divide of party conferences used to be the alternating duopoly of Blackpool/Brighton, now the former for Labour replaced by Liverpool, which with the greatest respect to Evertonians is a 'red' city. For a less conventional start to conference revisit the survival of Bill Shankly's 'The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards. It's the way I see football, the way I see life' (product placement alert, these are words proudly worn on a Philosophy Football Shankly T-shirt) in this otherwise entirely modernised club. A lesson for Labour? Read John Williams' superb social history of Liverpool FC to see if any lessons can be learnt.

Available from Pitch publishing here 

3. Shabna Begum: From Sylhet to Spitalfields: Bengali Squatters in 1970s East London


The 1970s saw institutionalised racism in (mainly Labour controlled) council housing, while on the streets a revived East London fascism developed in the shape of the National Front. Caught in between was a Bengali community from which emerged a squatters’ movement barely acknowledged by more conventional histories of both the area and the period. Shabna Begum challenges such an omission and begs the question when watching the 2023 Labour conference proceedings – do such omissions remain today?

Available from Lawrence Wishart here      

4. Lynne Segal: Making Trouble:  Life and Politics


Another take on the 1970s and omission is provided by Lynne Segal's autobiographical account of the period.  Wilson vs Heath, Thorpe getting a look-in, two great Miners' Strikes,  the 3-Day week, the vote to join the Common Market, the Vietnam war, the emergence out of all this of Thatcherism. While on the margins the growth of social movements, most potently feminism, never enough to transform the mainstream yet with too much of a potency to ignore, however some tried. To achieve such weight in the 2020's there are some awkward lessons to be learnt from this most splendid read.

Available from Verso Books here  

5. Anthony Broxton: Hope & Glory: Rugby League in Thatcher's Britain


Perhaps it is a little unfair to judge Labourism's relationship with popular culture via the deliberations of Labour Party Conference. But as the single biggest gathering of party members in one place I'd argue it's as good a place to start as any. Compare what we hear in the set-piece speeches from Keir and senior Shadow Cabinet members with Anthony Braxton's innovative account of Thatcherism, resistance and Rugby League. Or tour the fringe in search of anything like Anthony's grasp of class, popular culture and politics. No joy? Read this book for a sense of what Labour is missing out on. 

Available from Pitch Publishing here 

6. Ed Gillett: Party Lines: Dance Music and the Making of Modern Britain


Or how about music and dance? Ed Gillett charts a movement of resistance and change that existed almost entirely outside of the party political. Labourism is surely the weaker for not finding the means to engage, and be changed by such an engagement. In part this is generational, Ed's book centres on the radical potential of 1990s dance music, the era of illegal raves, huge open-air gatherings and the 1994 Criminal Justice Act. But several decades on the fear remains that in Keir's dash for respectability the gap between party and parties will simply widen to turn into mutual hostility. What a waste.

Available from Picador here  

7. Alwyn Turner: All In It Together: England in the Early 21st Century


Alwyn Turner is the unrivalled historian of late twentieth century Britain with Crisis? What Crisis? Britain in the 1970s followed by Rejoice! Rejoice! Britain in the 1980s and concluding with A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s.  It’s a splendid trilogy, though reading one's youthful teens through to thirtysomethings as history is enough to make baby boomers feel old. Now it's the turn of millennials to start feeling the same way as Alwyn turns his attention to the Blair, Brown and Cameron years. Under the influence of Blair this period as primer for Keir at Number Ten? We won't have too long to find out.

Available from Profile Books here

8. David Broder: Eric Canepa and Haris Golemis (Eds) Facing the State: Left Analyses and Perspectives


The days of 'Pasokification’, an  analysis pioneered by James Doran, appear to be long gone. In the 2010's Syriza, Die Linke, Podemos, Bloco, Rifandazione and Mélenchon challenged European social democratic parties from the Left. Without proportional representation this is a forlorn task in Britain, instead such a challenge came from within Labour – Corbynism. The annual Transform Europe! collection brings together writings and ideas from what remains of this challenge across the continent. The standout essay is from these shores – Hilary Wainwright on the greening of socially useful production. An absolutely vital argument in the face of trade union sectionalism that resists just such a change, aided and abetted, despite Ed Miliband's best efforts, by an over-cautious Labour leadership.

Available from Merlin Press here

9. Marral Shamshiri and Sorcha Thomson (Eds): She Who Struggles: Revolutionary Women Who Shaped The World


Ellen Wilkinson, Barbara Castle, Audrey Wise, Harriet Harman, Mo Mowlam, Diane Abbott, Angela Rayner and plenty more from where that lot came. Part and parcel of Labour's past, present and future too? With Keir in the space of twelve months expected to be Prime Minister, and a whopping majority enough to virtually guarantee two terms, barring some kind of upset the next Labour leadership election could be a decade away. The long wait for Labour, unlike the Tories, Lib Dems and Greens, to have a woman leader continues. Would this change the party entirely? No. But neither is this absence irrelevant. For an idea of what a difference women can make to movements, She Who Struggles will inform and inspire in huge measure. 

Available from Pluto Books here

10. Colm Murphy: Futures of Socialism: 'Modernisation’, the Labour Party and the British Left, 1973-1997


For my top pick Colm Murphy's impressive account of Labour's transformation out of the lows of a crushingly disappointing end to being in government, followed by years and years of defeat (sounds familiar?) cannot be faulted. Was Blairism a self-fulfilling prophecy after Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock’s failings, plus the Bennite retreat? Not at all, this book is no 1990s tribute act, rather the debates and alternatives are carefully tracked.

One plea though to author and publisher. This book has a sizeable potential readership from a broad spectrum across Labour and beyond. It should be being snapped up in Liverpool by delegates but is only available as an £85 (!) hardback edition designed for university libraries. When will academic publishers ever escape from their crushing lack of ambition? Let’s have a mass market paperback edition soon, please.

Available from Cambridge University Press here

Note: No links in this review are to Amazon. Please avoid buying from a tax-dodging platform which exploits their low paid workers.


Bill Shankly 'socialism' T-shirt available from Philosophy Football

Mark Perryman is the organiser of Mission Possible: A Festival of Ideas for the Next Labour Government – details and tickets here

The Old Oak - and the legacy of great films by Ken Loach
Thursday, 28 September 2023 18:56

The Old Oak - and the legacy of great films by Ken Loach

Published in Films

Ken Loach's latest film The Old Oak, opening in cinemas this weekend, may also be his last. At 87, if it really is time for Ken to hang up the clapperboard and exit across the cutting room floor, there is little doubt that apart from his bitterest critics this is a moment to mark an unrivalled career in film.

Documentaries, thrillers, historical pieces – Ken Loach has made the lot, but what makes most of his films which exist outside of these genres so special is their mix of comedy and socialist realism. A Ken Loach film always provides a compelling exposure of society's failings, while never omitting a lighter touch to lift spirits and aspirations. It was the critic David Widgery who was the first to name a fundamental cultural failing of the left, 'miserabilism'. But without exception Ken's films, however depressing the circumstances they depict, always find the means to go above and beyond leaving his audience feeling miserable.

That's not to say he's a hopeless romantic in the manner of the many films that seek to portray the sunny side of capitalism. Instead, his work is rooted in an unapologetic class politics which is centred on the liberatory potential of collective action – especially trade unionism. And at the same time, they are movies to sit back and enjoy, in between the popcorn.

Compare and contrast to Richard Curtis, a latter-day contemporary. It would be a tad miserabilist to deny chuckling along to the trilogy of Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Notting Hill (1999) and Love Actually (2003), but these films portray a twee, middle-class version of England which is entirely disinterested in anything apart from its unchanging self.  The coincidence with the rise of Tony Blair, and plenty more like him, is surely not coincidental.

There are other films that share Ken Loach's cinematic ambition. Brassed Off (1996) and Pride (2007) are two obvious examples, both depicting the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike in a Loachian manner and along the way expressing a counter-narrative to Blairism. But these were pretty much one-offs, fondly enjoyed because they were so rare. Steve McQueen's extraordinary Small Axe (2020) a five-film anthology about immigration, racism and resistance in London, is perhaps the closest thing yet to what Ken Loach has managed to achieve.

What makes Loach unique is the scope and longevity of his work – he has kept on keeping on, making films for the best part of sixty years. This is an extraordinary achievement, and the values and subject matter he champions have remained unchanging, yet never samey.

The early days saw classics Up the Junction (1965), Cathy Come Home (1966) and Kes (1969) The 1990s saw Riff Raff (1991). His first Palme d'Or was for The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006). Then there was Eric Cantona as himself in Looking for Eric  (2009), followed by the late flowering of I, Daniel Blake (2016)  and Sorry We Missed You (2019).

Homelessness and poverty, the 'gig economy', Irish republicanism, mod£rn football, the cruel indignities of the social security system – what other film-maker can match Loach for this kind of subject matter, made into damn good films? But don't take my untutored word for it. Just a short selection from an impressively long list of awards he has won would include the Palme D'Or for The Wind That Shakes the Barley, and in the same year the accolade of a BAFTA Fellowship. In 2012he won the Cannes Jury Prize for The Angels’ Share, and in 2016 he became one of the few to win a second Palme D'Or, this time  for I, Daniel Blake – the same film also landing the 2017 BAFTA for outstanding British film of the year.

Film reviewers greet his films with near universal praise. The Guardian has made The Old Oak its 4-star film of the week describing it as 'a ringing statement of faith in compassion for the oppressed.' While the Evening Standard  welcomed The Old Oak with this ringing endorsement 'we need someone with Loach’s righteous fury to make films about the deplorable treatment of Britain’s often invisible and maligned underclass.'

Not a single reviewer, not a single awards jury, his films have won an astonishing 117 awards in total has ever cited Ken Loach for antisemitism. And as an occasional filmgoer I can't for the life of me remember a single anti-semitic trope appearing in any of his many films. Which rather leaves the Labour Party expelling him for antisemitism a tad out on a limb does it? And begs this question – what does the Labour Party know that legions of film reviewers, film award panels, and filmgoers don't?

Endlessly repeated Labour figures claim Ken's expulsion was for antisemitism, but it wasn't. Most recently Rachel Reeves made precisely this claim until unlike most she was corrected by her interviewer Simon Hattenstone, who happens to be Jewish. Yes, Ken signed a petition protesting against members – a high proportion who are Jewish – being expelled under the charge of antisemitism. That's a protest, not a trope.

A celebrated former Director of Public Prosecutions is presiding over the replacement of this right to protest, to replace it with guilt by association. And along the way as under Sir Keir Labour expels more Jewish members than any other time in its history, the title of a much celebrated account of antisemitism, Jews Don't Count, is reinvented by Labour as 'Some Jews count more than other Jews.'

Earlier this year Jamie Driscoll was banned from standing as a Labour candidate for North East Mayor for interviewing Ken Loach at one of Newcastle's leading arts venue about the film, The Old Oak, and two previous films, I, Daniel Blake and Sorry We Missed You, that he'd made in Jamie's patch, the North East. The reason for the ban? By appearing with Ken Loach, he was allying himself with anti-semitism.

Has Loach ever erred to such an extent to deserve being ostracised by Labour, and only by Labour, to such an extraordinary extent? In 1987 he directed the play Perdition written by his long-time collaborator Jim Allen, which was then withdrawn before opening at the Royal Court Theatre. The play centred on a much-contested suggestion that one branch of Zionism sought to negotiate with the Nazis free passage to enable some Jews to escape being sent to the concentration camps. In typing those words the very obvious explosion of anger that giving any kind of platform to such a tale can act as a means to legitimise anti-semitism is startlingly obvious.

In my personal opinion Loach's decision to direct the play was wrong - but enough to disqualify his entire legacy of work? I don't think so. At the time, 1987, Neil Kinnock's Labour Party leadership, not exactly backward at expelling known Trotskyists and others, didn't think so either, taking no action against Loach who'd been a party member since 1962. Is the suggestion therefore that Kinnock was soft on anti-semitism? And if he was, why does he continue to sit in the House of Lords as a Labour peer? Put simply, none of this adds up, and outside the world of the current Labour leadership few would countenance a blanket ban on Ken Loach or on any kind of association with him.

So this weekend as Loach's film opens, what is it to be?

Will we have a Labour Party three-line whip barring the Shadow Cabinet, MPs and members from  a crafty looksie at The Old Oak? Accompanied by Constituency Labour Party picket lines (oh I forgot Labour MPs are barred from those too) outside the flicks to collar any waverers? Because that is the logical conclusion of where Labour's strictures on Loach have ended up.  Anything less and we're tempted to suspect all the huff and puff about Loach's antisemitism is for show.

Or will we have a celebration of a much-loved maker of films that fire up indignation and hope in equal measure? Films that depend not on a star-studded line-up but jobbing actors we've never heard of, and for most parts those who've never ever even acted before. The Old Oak follows this unique Loach tradition and is none the poorer, quite the opposite, for it. And Ken Loach is most certainly the only director who would include in his final film a banner made by a Syrian refugee and a former mining community, to march behind together at the Durham Miners’ Gala.


The words they choose for their banner? 'Strength, Solidarity, Resistance', in English and Arabic. It makes a great banner - and a great T-shirt too. The exclusive and strictly unofficial Philosophy Football Old Oak Banner T-shirt is available from here.



Top Ten beach reads to ideologically warm up any long hot summer
Tuesday, 25 July 2023 08:46

Top Ten beach reads to ideologically warm up any long hot summer

Published in Cultural Commentary

Mark Perryman makes his annual selection of holiday page-turners

With southern Europe temperatures approaching sub-Saharan levels, and while England's south coast summer heat is close to Mediterranean, a 'long hot summer' may be the last seasonal request on most of our minds. But then of course the phrase is more associated  with ’68 and all that , the continental predecessor of our domestic version, the decidedly Anglicised  'winter of discontent.'

A top ten to read, revolt, and in between recline.

1. Leon Rosselson: Where Are the Elephants?      


One of the founders of folk as protest Leon Rosselson weaves his own musical and political journey into an extraordinarily powerful account. He tells us how with an acoustic guitar and a good tune while we may not be able dance to it the spectacle of how and why we must change the world is more than enough to have us humming along.

Available from PM Press here.

2.   Suzanne Wrack: A Woman's Game: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Women's Football

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Until the 20th August final, the Women's World Cup will dominate the sporting action through the Group stages, and then as the knockout matches ensue the start of the men's season will likely dominate. The tie difference doesn't help either. Suzy Wrack's book brilliantly explores the causes of such inequality and the force for liberation women's football can become.  The Lionesses lifting the trophy wouldn't do any harm, and then some either.

Available from Faber & Faber here.

3. Stefan Szymanski and Tim Wigmore:  Crickonomics: The Anatomy of Modern Cricket

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Co-author with Simon Kuper of the groundbreaking Soccernomics Stefan Szymanksi has partnered with cricket writer Tim Wigmore to do something similar for a sport that long departed the village green to become a quasi-global behemoth. 'Quasi' in the sense that more than any other spirt remains framed by the legacy of Empire yet uniquely is being reinvented from the global south, in the shape of the Indian Premier League. This is the book to get to grips with such a tasty contradiction. 

Available from Bloomsbury Sport here.

4. Raymond Williams: Resources of Hope

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Folk music, football, cricket, what about some serious reading matter? We have the theorist Raymond Williams to thank for the counter-argument 'culture is ordinary’ which he brilliantly developed into the argument that it was culture that provides not only the tools for creative effort but also the means for a way of life. And crucially the latter wasn't the preserve for just 'high' culture. Want to understand idealism, gender, the post-colonial start with music, football, cricket? Resources of Hope helps to show how.

Available from Verso here.

5. Helen Hester and Nick Srnicek: After Work: A History of the Home and the Fight for Free Time

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What characterised the writings of Raymond Williams was a practical utopianism rooted in both a sobering assessment of the present with an abundance of hope for the future. At a super-micro level this is precisely what After Work provides, what could be more micro than the home?  Yet in this space, much neglected by a meta-politics, our lives are shaped, relationships negotiated, and prospects determined. As a building block for change this splendidly written book makes a most powerful case for the opposition.

Available from Verso here.

6. Dan Evans: A Nation of Shopkeepers: The Unstoppable Rise of the Petty Bourgeoisie 

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A rather good phrase that Keir Starmer has been using is the 'class ceiling', though whether he has the politics to shatter it remains a point of considerable conjecture, and that's putting it politely. The starting point to arrive at such a moment of change must always be a rounded understanding of class relations.  Ruling Class? Tick. Working Class? Tick. The bit in the middle (sic). Much neglected, the middle classes, Dan Evan's puts that right with an extended polemic that combines  the sharply critical with how such criticism can be the basis of a transformative politics to the benefit of all.

Available from Repeater here.

7. Polly Toynbee: An Uneasy Inheritance: My Family and Other Radicals 

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Covering similar ground but in an entirely different way, Polly Toynbee, the doyen of the tofu-eating Guardian-reading wokerati. Mixing her own family's background with a powerfully written account of Polly growing up this is the feminist maxim 'the personal is political' writ large, and very well. A soft touch compared to the Dan Evans polemic? Not at all, a pluralist left learns to appreciate how different contributions complement one another precisely because they are different.

Available from Atlantic books here.

8. Jo Littler: Left Feminisms: Conversations on the Personal and Political

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The mix of left, feminism, personal and political in many ways first erupted in that faraway long hot summer of '68 and all that came with it.  A mix, an eruption, not always a happy one as documented by three of Jo's interviewees – Hilary Wainwright, Lynne Segal and Sheila Rowbotham in their trawl ten years on from '68  and how it (mis)treated the women involved, Beyond The Fragments : Feminism and the Making of Socialism. It’s a superb collection of interviews – but two gripes. First, described by the publisher as interviews with 'key feminist academics' this is too modest, these are women central to what left politics should look like. And second, given the heritage of Soundings journal where these interviews first appeared, there are some curious omissions – namely Anne Showstack Sassoon, Beatrix Campbell, Rosalind Brunt, Suzanne Moore. Why? For the second volume, perhaps?

Available from Lawrence Wishart here 

9. Dexter Whitfield: Challenging the Rise of Corporate Power in Renewable Energy

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The '68 long hot summer was heated by strikes, protest and a generational revolt. The summer of '23 has all three – but only in bits 'n bobs and without the sense of being on theedge of epochal change. Our hot summer marks a different sense of such change, with record- breaking temperatures for the umpteenth year in a row. Southern Europe is now approaching a sub-Saharan climate while the sub-Saharan itself is becoming uninhabitable, while Northern Europe including the English south coast enjoys the Mediterranean heat. An 'enjoying' which is accompanied by soaring summertime mortality rates, with the connection barely remarked upon. 'Greenwashing' aids and abets such obfuscation. Dexter Whitfield offers an alternative, a renewable energy programme rooted in saving the planet not saving the fossil fuel industry from itself. More than enough to brighten up any beach read.

Available from Spokesman here.

10. Andreas Malm: How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire

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And if all else fails Andreas Malm's book has the title, and as they say major motion picture, to put paid to all our nightmares of where long hot summers, and flood-strewn other seasons, may be leading us to. This is a book as weapon, a manifesto for forcing change framed by suffragettes, civil rights, anti-apartheid, and national liberation struggles. It has been updated to force us to consider how far we would go to save our planet from itself. For if in doubt of the answer, ask the question of  how each and every one of those struggles was won. 

Available from Verso here.

Note: No links are to Amazon, if low-wage employer tax-avoidance corporations can be avoided to purchase books, please do so. Mark Perryman is the organiser of Lewes Labour's Saturday 18 November Festival of Ideas 'Mission Possible' and the author of Corbynism from Below available here.                                       

The Women's World Cup - will it change anything?
Tuesday, 18 July 2023 08:51

The Women's World Cup - will it change anything?

Published in Sport

On the eve of the tournament opening Mark Perryman has a ponder. Image above by Hugh Tisdale

"Italia '90 was a watershed for English football. Post-Hillsborough, post-Heysel, post-awful 80s hooliganism. It wasn't just a working-class sport anymore. It was a national sport for everybody." - Gary Lineker 

Gary's right. Italia '90 was without doubt a glorious moment. But one that was then transformed to enable the wholesale transfer power from football's governing bodies, at least nominally governing in the interests of all, to the richest clubs only interested in their own, and now super-charged, financial self-interest. AKA mod£rn football. 

So deep breath, what might be the aftermath of the women's game's glorious moment, England winning the 2022 Euros? Well first off, instead of losing in the most dramatic of fashions, a feat the men's team repeated at Euro 2020, but this time in the final, at Wembley, the women won, and at home. Those two factors are of course crucial. The men losing meant the 2022 final was only remembered for flare-up-the-arse man, mass antisocial behaviour on Wembley Way, and online racial abuse of the three black missed penalty takers. 

The women? A near faultless campaign, a team made up of hugely engaging personalities, a thrilling final, the whip off the shirt sports bra celebration, beating Germany (Germany!) at Wembley. No, not 1966, this was 2022 and women, not men ending England's 56 years of hurt. Who would ever have thought it?

And since then, England have beaten the reigning World champions, USA, and reigning South American champions, Brazil, both in front of full-to-capacity Wembley stadium crowds. Despite a raft of injuries affecting key players from the Euro '22 winning-squad anything less than the semis at the '23 World Cup would be considered a disappointment. Will that be enough to sustain the momentum since 2022? Possibly, though of course nothing like the impact of winning the World Cup! Now that would be off the scale, to put even '66 in the shade. But before we get too ahead of ourselves, what's the current state of the women's game?

Domestically more and more clubs are hosting their Women's Super League and Women's Champions League games at the men's club grounds. In front of sold out or near capacity crowds. For the spectator sport side of football this is both unprecedented and most welcome. Yet with precious few exceptions hardly any of the women's clubs have a ground they can call their own, playing games at lower division or non-league grounds miles away from the men's stadium, in many cases not even in the city or town the club is named after. Chelsea have tried something different. They’ve bought up AFC Wimbledon's old ground, Kingsmeadow in Norbiton, and turned it into a tasty little stadium for their hugely successful women's team, shared with the men's age group teams. Manchester City have done something similar with a mini-stadium just a long throw-in away from the Etihad. Both give their women's teams a home to call, and make, their own.

Accelerated mod£rnisation

However, women's clubs lack of their own, or to use the classic feminist term 'autonomous', identity is rooted in the structural, not simply the geographical. The classic account of Italia '90, All Played Out, was written by Pete Davies and was a runaway 1990 bestseller. Six years later Pete shocked his publisher, and no doubt a lot of readers, with instead of a rewrite for the Euro '96 version, same result, out on penalties to the Germans in the semis, I Lost My Heart to the Belles. Long before the popularity of the Lionesses, Pete's book revealed the community and spirit of at the time the most successful women's club team, The Doncaster Belles. And the book inspired a fictionalised BBC series, Playing the Field, that ran 1998-2002.  For what an autonomous women's game might look like, neither book can be bettered.

Of course, the resources ploughed into their women's clubs, including crucially professionalisation, by Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United are good news but it has come at a cost. Clubs like the Belles now hardly exist, certainly not at the elite level – the Belles themselves have been subsumed into Doncaster Rovers. This process won’t help shape a specific identity for women's club football, and it’s produced the total domination of the women's top division and cups by more or less the same 'big 4' as the men's game. But in the men's game this unwelcome process took several decades – in the women's game it has been achieved in a matter of a few seasons. This is what accelerated mod£rnisation looks like. 

The social construction of sport

My own club, Lewes FC is in part an exception to this frankly depressing picture. The non-league part-time semi-professional men's team play in the Isthmian Premier League. The full time professional women’s team, including a good number of internationals, play in the Women's Championship. Quite a contrast, enabled by the ideas and financing of the club's pioneering Equality FC initiative. Though even with all this magnificent endeavour, whether Lewes FC is still thought of as primarily a 'men's club' is a moot point.     

A new wave of participation as players, driven by school and grassroots football does at least offer the basis of a different model. And while the spark was the Lionesses’ success, there's been a welcome break from the flawed mantra of the 'role model'. In its place a focus on dramatically improving the number of girls able to play football at school. This at least has the rudiments of an understanding that sport, and in particular participation, is socially constructed. 

The initial results are encouraging but this was from a very low base. And just the same as with boys, school sport is the relatively easy part to fix, what happens when they leave school and compulsory PE lessons is an entirely different matter. Competitive team sports are one of the worst versions of physical activity to encourage lasting participation – once you’re not picked for the first team, interest plummets. If participation levels are to be sustained, the challenge is to foster a culture that values all those who want to play. We need to see women's football as a social space as much as a competitive sport – the women's equivalent of Sunday league park football. And this most of all demands resources, starting with having a park which has a pitch to play on!    

The men's game and the women's game - compare and contrast

And the global game we're about to enjoy in the shape of World Cup 2023? The spread of winners since World Cup 2011 albeit restricted to just two, Japan and USA (2), would appear to show how markedly different the women's global game is to the men's. With China, and Canada numbered amongst the quarter finalists through the period, this seems to further emphasise the point. And while it might pain fans of the men's England team but back-to-back England World Cup semi-final appearances is something not even Gareth Southgate has managed, nor any other England men's team manager for that matter.  

So far, so different, but the women's World Cup in another way isn't so very different. There is no African winner, semi-finalist or even quarter finalist. FIFA's effort to affect this imbalance is exactly the same as for the men's game. To expand the tournament first from 16 to 24 for the 2015 tournament and just 8 years later to 32 for 2023. Again, this is accelerated mod£rnisation, and in the process it necessitates co-hosts, divided by an ocean. This only serves to undermine the cohesion of a tournament – a single host stamps its identity to make the World Cup really special, but for travelling fans and those watching on TV, co-hosts really struggle to do so. 

The 2023 debut teams Philippines and Vietnam, Zambia, Haiti, Panama and Republic of Ireland, well let's see if any get out of their groups. This is a FIFA top-down rebalancing act, a fast-forward version of the men's. Far better would have been to keep to 24 nations, with a single host, but invest seriously in the confederation tournaments to raise the standard of the game globally. In hock to the Arab petro-dollar states, the striking absence of teams from this part of the world, unlike at the men's tournament, goes largely unremarked upon by FIFA – maybe it’s something to do with women being banned from playing football in these countries? 

Anyway, are we going to win?

Once the tournament begins, while it's important not to forget these various failings, all England fans' eyes will be on the Lionesses’ progress. In the group Haiti up first should be a walkover, Denmark failed to get out their group at the Euros, China have been a major power, quarter finalists in 2007 and 2015, almost made knockout stages in 2019. Still, anything less than England topping their group would be quite an upset. Group 16 stage? Hope for Canada and avoid the hosts Australia, though either should be beatable.

Quarters, when England men usually exit, if pluckily, toughest opponent so far are Germany, who are desperate for revenge after the Euros. But they’re not quite the force they once were, so if England advance expect Lionesses-mania to take over. The quarter final could be a tougher proposition than a semi against France or Australia, both beatable unless the home advantage has fired up the Aussies (and losing the Ashes, yes please!). The final? Having to date avoided the reigning World Champions, well it has to be the USA, and you know we beat them only last year and weren't far off doing the same at World Cup 2019 either.

Get the bunting ready? We can but hope. Will any of this change the world of English football, not to mention anglo-masculinity? Not entirely, but neither would be quite the same ever again. Good.


The Philosophy Football Lionesses World Cup 2023 T-shirt is available here   

Why the NHS matters so much to so many
Tuesday, 04 July 2023 08:16

Why the NHS matters so much to so many

Published in Cultural Commentary

Mark Perryman and Steve Bell celebrate 75 years of a nation being looked after by the NHS

On 5 July 1948, the National Health Service was born. The architects of this magnificent endeavour were Labour firebrand socialist Aneurin Bevan – a sort of 1940s cross of Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn – together with archetypal social democrat economist John Maynard Keynes and liberal reformer William Beveridge.

It was a curious mixture: today we might call it a 'progressive alliance' but in those days it was a 'popular front'. A politics and culture of co-operation, extra-parliamentary as well as at Westminster, founded in the 1930s with anti-fascism the core. At home to stop in the streets Mosley's blackshirted British Union of Fascists, abroad to defend on the battlefield Republican Spain from Franco's fascists.

It is scarcely remarked upon by the cult of the Churchillian that in the year arguably Britain's greatest-ever wartime leader secured final victory against the Axis powers of Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Imperial Japan, Churchill led the Tories to one of their heaviest ever defeats.

Churchill's much lesser-known deputy in the coalition government, Labour leader Clement Attlee, captivated the electorate with his pledge to 'Win the Peace'. Our allies, the USA had their New Deal, the Soviet Union their Five-Year Plan.

Attlee's post-war settlement was founded on five momentous changes. The welfare state, nationalised public utilities, free, including university, education, full employment and the creation of a National Health Service. Campaign pledges were turned into institutional change once in office. Bevan summed up the scale of ambition and achievement beautifully:  " We have been the dreamers. We have been the sufferers. And now we are the builders."

The NHS is widely regarded as the pinnacle of this shared purpose, and for the intervening three-quarters of a century the NHS has often been described as the closest the British have to a state religion. It is worth remembering therefore that it was created in the teeth of fierce opposition from the Tories, who described the NHS as nothing less than communism. In addition, the main doctors' organisations resisted this momentous change with a diehard defence of their over-privileged professional position.

Labour 's failure to build a popular bloc in support of the new settlement, to be proud and public about the scale and consequences of what it was setting out do, contributed to Churchill's comeback win in the 1951 general election. Attlee would never lead Labour to victory again, Bevan became both a compromised and marginal figure.

Yet what both had created, the ideas of Beveridge and Keynes, remained in place, largely untouched for the best part of 40 years.  The post-war settlement transformed into a post-war consensus, neatly encapsulated by a 1960s politics buzzword 'Butskellism' that signified the large scale agreement by the two leading figures of political renewal, Tory Rab Butler and Labour’s Hugh Gaitskell    


All of this was to change in 1979 and Margaret Thatcher’s victory.  Not in one term, not by one leader nor by one party, but all the core components of the post-war settlement were dismantled, never to be replaced. Public utilities were privatised under Thatcher, and none renationalised by Labour. State schools were handed over to the private sector masquerading as academies, a device massively expanded by Blair. University tuition fees were introduced by Major, grants replaced by student loans by Blair, the cost tripled by Cameron with the support of Lib Dems, and as a result, universities are now entirely marketized. Full employment as government's first priority was dropped by Thatcher and rates of poverty have soared ever since.

So is it a celebration or a wake for the NHS? In theory its founding principle remains intact – providing care based on need, free at the point of delivery. But visit any modern hospital and those bright shiny ideals are rusting away. Vast 'super ' hospitals are replacing closed-down local services, funded by Gordon Brown's flagship economic strategy, PFI (Private Finance Initiative), leaving the NHS in ever-increasing debt to financiers for decades to come.

Scanners and all sorts of other medical services are operated by private companies to make a profit out of the NHS. Entire ambulance services are operated by the private sector, ditto hospitals' vital ancillary services. The nurses and doctors the nation clapped for through the Coronavirus crisis are denied wage rises just to keep pace with inflation and are forced to launch the biggest strike in the NHS 75 year history – for what? A living wage.

And there's an irony barely remarked upon with two 75th anniversaries taking place in the space of a few weeks – first Windrush, second the NHS. No institution in our society is as much loved as the NHS or so dependent, from top to bottom, on migrant labour. In all this feverish hatred of the very idea of immigration, the NHS is testament to how immigration is a benefit to our society and economy, not a cost. For all of Labour's welcome talk of training thousands of new doctors and nurses – though the training infrastructure for such a ambition is almost entirely absent – it should be recognised that the foundation, survival and future of the NHS would be impossible without immigration.

We celebrate the NHS as a popular institution, one many of us could quite literally not live without. Precious, sometimes flawed, right now more vulnerable than at any point in its history, with rates of obesity at an all-time high; levels of participation in physical exercise at an all-time low; the vape replacing tobacco smoking with the same health dangers this entails; the scourge of gambling addiction and all manner of other versions of mental health problems; and an ageing population with dependants who have neither the time or the money to provide the care previous generations gave.

The idea of the 'nanny state' has been reviled but in the shadow of war this is precisely what the NHS and the wider welfare state represented – society that takes the responsibility of caring for all.  

The NHS 75th anniversary mug designed by Steve Bell is available here. 

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The beautiful Pelé
Tuesday, 10 January 2023 12:29

The beautiful Pelé

Published in Sport

Mark Perryman goes in search of what the game has lost

This week Brazil is recovering from a large crowd of Bolsonaro supporters storming presidential  and government buildings in an attempt to overthrow Lula. Despite almost the entire crowd wearing Brazil shirts this was anything but the beautiful game that the kit has come to symbolise. Brazilian right-wing populism if it wasn't ugly enough already, turned uglier.

Meanwhile last week at Pelé’s funeral it was noticeable how few of his surviving team-mates from the 1970 World Cup squad were present, only a few of those who followed him to Brazilian global superstardom, in particular Ronaldo and Ronaldinho both absent, and not many of Brazil's current stars either, Neymar the most high-profile absentee. What was it about Pelé they had failed to notice the game had lost and needed marking?

World Cup Final 1970, just round the corner my childhood friend Grant Ashworth's family had recently acquired a colour TV, the first in the neighbourhood. Grant invited all his friends round for a Sunday afternoon, the game on the TV, his mum had baked a delicious cake. I don't have any distinct memories of the game but I do remember the fun we had, the excitement of watching, in colour, this extraordinarily gifted team, the players' joy at winning Brazil's third World Cup, which meant they got to keep it, oh, and that cake. Afterwards we all piled out into the sunshine, Brazil fans, for life.

This was Pelé's fourth World Cup but it is the one that frames almost all our memories of him and what he came to mean. Sweden 1958, his debut tournament as a 17-year old was unarguably his greatest tournament as an individual player, and after the ignominy of Brazil losing their 1950 home final to Uruguay the country's first World Cup win too. This was also the first, and to date only, World Cup all four home nations qualified for, Wales the most successful , until the teenage Pelé famously  'broke Welsh hearts' after holding out, if anything looking like the likely winners, until Pelé scores the only goal of the match. A game few if any back home would have watched on the TV, let alone in colour, grainy after-the-event newsreel footage down the local cinema, at best. 1962 Chile, Pelé was injured in the Group stage and played no further part in the tournament, Brazil's second successive World Cup win. A promising England team made it through to the Quarters, this time it was England's turn to have their hearts broken, by a Pelé-less, Brazil. And so 1966, three-on-the-bounce with Pelé in his prime? Pre-tournament favourites, in both senses of the word, for many, the brutal, clearly targeted and unpunished tackling of Pelé by opposition players put him, and Brazil out of the tournament at the group stage. A long forgotten footnote to England's triumph.

Brazil's 1970 victory was something else, a team, not just Pelé but Gerson, Jairzinho, Rivelino too, for once they even had a decent goalkeeper, Felix, and the finest World Cup Final goal, of all time scored, not by Pelé, but Carlos Alberto.  This was the beginning of the era of televised football, for the lucky few in colour, but the access to watch at home pretty much universal, in the UK 93% of homes had a TV. The stage for Pelé's triumph, global TV.

No other team sport comes remotely close to football's global appeal, as an individual sport boxing, well until the bastardisation of what constitutes a World Heavyweight Championship, the only sport that comes close in terms of popular reach. It is no accident that when citing the biggest icons of twentieth century sport Pelé would often be coupled with Muhammad Ali. They both meant, and mean, so much for many countless billions. It is futile to juggle an argument of the two who was the 'greatest' of them all, they are equals but different.

I sometimes pose the question to students, name eleven past or present Brazilian footballers. Easy-peasy. Now name the current Brazilian President, blank faces. OK Lula has his well-deserved appeal, Bolsinaro his well-deserved notoriety, but even with this week's attempted coup in Brasília both are names instantly familiar only to a select group outside of their own country and continent. Brazil's status around the world almost entirely reduced to its football. Of course this isn't right, since 2001 Brazil has been grouped with Russia, India and China, the four fastest growing economies, with South Africa added in 2010 to become 'BRICS'.  The survival of the Amazon rain forest, which is estimated to absorb a quarter of the world's C02  is central to our global climate's future prospects. The Brazilian city Porto Alegre pioneered participatory budgeting, for a while a hugely influential, idea on how to build economics , and politics, from the 'bottom up'.   And that, for a non-Brazil expert, is my just for starters.

So why does Pelé matter? If I was to choose the world's three most popular figures of the latter part of the twentieth century my choice would be Mandela, Marley and Pelé. OK we can argue over the particularities of my threesome but few would dispute each had a worldwide popularity of considerable magnitude.  Three black men, from the global south. Politics, music and football, but each had so much more than 'just' this to scale that appeal. 1970 Mexico,  Brazil v England, Group stage. Tournament favourites vs reigning world champions. In typically English style, a game we lost yet celebrated for the miraculous Gordon Banks of Stoke City save of what was otherwise a certain goal from then the world's most famous player Pelé. A game that ended with the iconic picture of Bobby Moore and Pelé, stripped to their white and black chests, swapping shirts.

Today we might think nothing of it, but it meant the world back then. Rivals, very different individuals, neither campaigners in the mould of two years previously, also in Mexico, Tommie Smith, John Carlos and their Olympic podium black power salutes. Yet in another way a sight, a picture, every bit as, arguably more so, significant. What can be an ugly game, part and parcel of a society in Brazil this week displaying its uglier side, made beautiful, the hope of a more beautiful society too. Pelé, Obrigado

 Further reading      

Alex Bellos Futebol: The Brazilian  Way of Life

David Goldblatt  Futebol Nation: A Football history of Brazil 

Tony Mason Passion of the People? Football in South America

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Limited edition Philosophy Football Pelé memorial shirt and print available from here.


Sports Politics Of The Year
Tuesday, 20 December 2022 11:06

Sports Politics Of The Year

Published in Sport

Mark Perryman reworks the BBC's 'Sports Personality Of The Year' programme into ' Sports Politics Of The Year', and joins up those controversial dots between sport and politics

Nowadays, there's not a lot I agree with Julie Burchill about. Her and her partner Tony Parsons' decline and fall from 1970s verbal punk vitriol  to 21C reactionary bugbears is deservedly notorious. However when Julie in her customary barbed style declared 'Sport. Personality. Now there's an interesting idea' - well, I had to laugh, and agree with her.

Wednesday night's  primetime slot for the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year is, and always has been, a platform for celebritising sport. For entrenching the entirely false division between sport and the social, cultural, and political worlds that frame it. For denying the existence of a sporting economy run on capitalist principles that is a key factor in success and failure. For ignoring how all sports are socially constructed. Perhaps it isn't the job of Gary Lineker and Clare Balding to tackle any of this during the show, but the enduring resistance to doing so by too much of the sports establishment and media deprives sport of meaning, of its context. As CLR James in his 1963 book Beyond a Boundary famously put it:

What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?

This insight was further developed by Garry Whannel, whose 1983 book Blowing the Whistle: The Politics of Sport sought to establish a socio-cultural understanding  of the games we watch and play and avoid narrowing it down to something you just did:

Sport is marked down as a natural, taken-for-granted activity. You don’t need to talk or write about it. You just do it.

It was Garry's book that started me thinking about the sport I just 'did', which at the time was road running, and within a year I'd had my first piece published in Marxism Today on the London Marathon as a participatory spectacle. 

So almost 60 years on from Beyond a Boundary, almost 40 years on from Blowing The Whistle, let's rearrange S-P-O-T-Y to spell 'Sports Politics Of The Year' and think about what 2022 might look like through such a lens.

To start off with, theWorld Cup for men's football, in Qatar. A groundbreaking recognition that 'sport isn't political' is oxymoronic? No, not quite. The approach of the Guardian, liberal opinion and the wider sports media more widely, was frankly embarrassing. The Guardian declared this was 'a World Cup like no other', which was an entirely ahistorical approach. It ignored the host of the 1934 tournament - one Benito Mussolini - the brutal Argentinian dictatorship hosting 1978, Vladimir Putin's Russia hosting 2018 only 4 years after his invasion of Ukraine's Crimea region - and that's just for starters.  

Once the games kicked off, the Guardian's grandly titled coverage 'Qatar: Beyond the Football' became a mere footnote to the match reports, as it was always destined to be. Meanwhile the England team's protest amounted to wearing an armband, until it was decided in the face of FIFA opposition that even this was too much.

Fans before Brazil Portugal match at World Cup 2010 06 25 5 resized

Fans before the Brazil vs Portugal match. Wiki commons image by Marcello Casal Jr.

Far more significant than any of these damp squibs was the widespread popularisation of the Palestine flag and cause by fans and players, in particular Morocco's - and on this, the biggest global sporting stage of all. Perhaps now European FAs, commentators, pundits and football journalists might question why the Israeli team competed in the European World Cup and Euro's qualifying groups and their clubs compete in UEFA European competitions, but Palestine compete in the Asian confederation contests because Israel was expelled, due to their militarised mistreatment of Palestinians. Will the aforementioned ever mention this salient fact? Let's not hold our breath.  

And then the Cup Final. England's rivalry with Argentina, on and off the pitch, is every bit as bitter as ours with Germany. Rivalries constructed by playing each other in crucial and incident-strewn World Cup games: England v Argentina World Cup '66 Quarter Final, Argentina captain Rattin sent off; World Cup '86 Quarter Final England v Argentina, the infamous 'Hand of God' Maradona goal; World Cup '98  last sixteen game, England v Argentina, David Beckham sent off; World Cup '02 group stage, Beckham's redemption, his penalty securing England's victory. But of course, just like Germany, the rivalry is about something else too, the Falklands/ Malvinas. In the immediate aftermath of that war 40 years ago Eric Hobsbawm rather neatly summed up the mood at the time:

Everybody's looking down on us and if anything pitying us, we can't even beat the Argentinians or anyone else at football anymore.

Of course Eric wasn't approving of such attitudes, but he was realistic enough to recognise how widespread they were - arguably even more so four decades on. So how to explain the widespread recognition that last Sunday's World Cup Final was the best ever,  and Lionel Messi entirely deserving of the accolade 'Greatest of all time'? Because football represents easily the most popular version of both nationalism and internationalism.

All sports are socially constructed

How does the Women's Euros fit in? Well, England won it beating Germany to boot! There's nothing that boosts sport in England like domestic success, in two ways. 

First, it's a very different way for fans to parade our Englishness, free of toxic masculinity. As someone who has followed England to 4 World Cups I'd argue that this 'soft Englishness' has always existed and been majoritarian in England fan culture but when a coked-up lad stuffs a flaming flare up his arse the afternoon England men are in a Euros final, the framing by the media makes it appear we're all like that. The absence of such enabled England women's fans to establish a different framing, but a gut patriotism lacking such softening still exists and won't be entirely reversed by England women winning the Euros alone. This is a version of Englishness embedded in a martial and imperial tradition mixed with 'fuck-you' anti-social behaviour, which 'toxic masculinity' alone isn't enough to account for. 

Second, the impact on women's participation in playing football. Attendance levels for England women, the October game versus USA at Wembley sold out, the April game versus Brazil will likely do the same. The top women's clubs - Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd, Arsenal - can fill Stamford Bridge, the Etihad, the Emirates, and Old Trafford with tens of thousands of fans. Good, but this is spectating, not sport, and the key to a healthier society is doing sport not just watching it. Elite success boosts the latter but has next to no lasting effect on the former. Transforming school sport to enable all girls (and boys) to play football from the earliest possible age is essential, with crucially such opportunities to be vastly expanded for post-school years. But don't bet your house on any of this happening on the scale required.  

Across October to December uniquely England were competing in 4 World Cups. Men's football World Cup - England exited at the Quarter Final stage, so statistically top 8 is our ranking in this tournament. The men's rugby league - semi-final, exit. The England women's rugby team came oh so close to lifting their World Cup trophy but ended up losing finalists. Only the men's T20 triumphed to be crowned World Cup winners.

Those of us who share the Jamesian philosophy, however, would ask that apart from football, are any of the others truly World Cups? Sure they have the title, but the contenders are restricted to ex-British Empire states with assorted hangers-on doing not much more than making up the numbers for the group stages.

Two factors account for this. One, football was spread worldwide by trade, unlike cricket and rugby by empire. Two, football requires next to no facilities, simple rules, all body shapes can excel, and there's a global path to a professional career. In other words, all sports are socially constructed. 

Sport and politics are indivisible

Ireland's test series triumph over the All Blacks absolutely deserves to be ranked as one of the greatest team sport achievements of all time, never mind 2022. But Irish rugby is a bit of a curiosity. Unlike in football and the Olympics, there's a united Ireland team. The all-Ireland Irish Rugby Football Union predates 1916 and despite partition was never dissolved. This most English, and certainly not Gaelic of sports with its heartland clubs Leinster and Munster were never cast out, nor those that stick with the Union, Ulster another rugby heartland club, and in every other regard rejecting any notion of a united Ireland. And just like the football with Jack Charlton, the team's greatest success came under an English manager, Andy Farrell. We shouldn't overstate the significance of a team that unites both sides, given the centrality of republicanism vs. unionism to politics north of the border and a resurgent Sinn Fein south of the border, but we shouldn't ignore this most unexpected symbol of what a united Ireland could look like.  

So there we have it, a first stab at an alternative SPOTY. Not to ruin our enjoyment of sport, either watching or doing, but to enjoy, enrich and empower us. I'm sure Messi and Mbappé, Beth Mead, Ben Stokes, and Andy Farrell will enjoy the 'other' SPOTY night out and if they win them, their gongs are entirely deserved. But both sport and politics are all the poorer when they are treated as anything but indivisible from each other.  

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Philosophy Football's 'alternative SPOTY' T-shirt selection is available here.

Steve Bell, the pre-eminent political cartoonist of his generation
Monday, 19 December 2022 22:41

Steve Bell, the pre-eminent political cartoonist of his generation

Published in Visual Arts

Mark  Perryman shows how Steve Bell's visual dissent targets the entire establishment. All cartoons are courtesy of the man himself

Politics can be an ugly business. There is a nasty habit of refusing to listen to those we disagree with, a failure to recognise that through difference we can learn from each other. Such inbuilt attitudes are common across left, right, in-between and green. Nor are sections of social movements immune either. So where lies the political cartoonist's right to offend?

Copyright Steve Bell 2016/All Rights Reserved e.mail: tel: 00 44 (0)1273 500664

Steve Bell is without much doubt the pre-eminent political cartoonist of his generation, or in other words from Thatcher to Sunak. He mercilessly caricatures the lot of them, not a physical, or political feature is spared. This is The Political Establishment and they deserve everything they get, but Steve's work is never hateful. It’s sharply critical certainly but almost warmly appreciative of the make-believe characters he crafts out of their reality.

This year marked the fortieth anniversary of the 1982 Falklands War. With Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Out Out! Out! plumbing the depths of unpopularity the Argentine invasion of these faraway and half-forgotten island with considerably more sheep than human occupants the opportunity to wrap herself in what Stuart Hall described as:

A rampant and virulent patriotism. Once unleashed, it is an apparently unstoppable, populist mobiliser - in part, because it feeds off the disappointed hopes of the present and the deep and unrequited traces of the past, imperial splendour penetrated into the bone and marrow of the national culture.

Steve draws in outright opposition to such ideas but with a humour almost entirely lacking in conventional so-called activism. His militancy represented by his penguins, reducing Thatcher's militarism to the sheer stupidity of the idea that the Empire was back, the 'Great' put back into Great Britain and you can stuff that up yer Argies.

The necessity for such dissent couldn't have been more obvious at the time with Labour led by  Michael Foot, once a key figure in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, in hot pursuit of the Tories' march to war. Stuart Hall, again: 

More scandalous than the sight of Mrs Thatcher's best hopes going out with the navy has been the demeaning spectacle of the Labour front-bench leadership rowing its dinghy as rapidly as it can in hot pursuit. Only of course - here the voice of moderation - 'Not so far! Slow down! Not so fast!'

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Penguins, John Major with his underpants on the outside, Tony Blair as the manic moderniser, a condom-headed David Cameron accompanied by an S&M clad George Osborne, Bumface Boris Johnson and most recently Sir Cardboard Starmer. This is the political establishment, but as we're used to knowing it.

Copyright Steve Bell 2022/All Rights Reserved e.mail: tel: 00 44 (0)1273 500664

And then there's the British monarchy. Sainted, any critique beyond the pale. What better target for Steve's visual dissent? But why should the monarchist majority have all the fun of the royal family merch and tat? Philosophy Football first worked with Steve on the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, his Damian Hirst-inspired 'Diamond Liz' mug perfect for raising a disloyal toast. Since then we've 'celebrated' a Royal Wedding, birth, another Jubilee, and of course next year for many the first royal coronation of our lifetime. With each and every subvertised Royal Crest he creates for these occasions as always with Steve the opposition is sharply obvious, the human warmth of his caricature conjuring humour out of dissent.

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When the Guardian made the ludicrous decision to axe Steve's If... cartoon strip he marked his final week with those much-loved penguins. Anti-establishment to the last, a quiet rebellion in the face of all that's wrong in politics, an exposure of the limits of a commonsense discourse that is anything but commonsensical, by penguins! Nothing could represent  Steve Bell's artistic genius of visual dissent better, and whatever 2023 holds, King Chuck the Third with the crown on his head,  Sir Cardboard Starmer knocking on the door of Number Ten, we'll need plenty more of that. 

Steve Bell's King Charles III Coronation Mug (below) is available from Philosophy Football. Tons of Steve Bell's brilliant cartoons can be viewed and purchased here.

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