Mark Perryman

Mark Perryman

Mark Perryman is a writer and the co-founder of Philosophy Football.

If a week is a long time in politics......Mark Perryman catches up on the World Cup
Friday, 22 June 2018 12:35

If a week is a long time in politics......Mark Perryman catches up on the World Cup

Published in Sport

Mark Perryman draws some lessons from the first week of World Cup 2018, as England prepare to take on Panama. 

It’s a well-worn footballing cliché that you can only beat the team in front of you. But in most regards, England taking until the 91st minute to secure victory over Tunisia doesn’t look good. Nevertheless, with three points in the bag, and a widely-expected second victory against Panama on Sunday, England’s third match versus Belgium no longer looks as critical as it might have done. If last 16 qualification has been secured by Monday, and the certainly beatable likely opponents of Senegal, Japan or Poland who are next up after Belgium, thoughts will inevitably turn to a possible quarter-final .

Without doubt this is English progress, of sorts, but let's not go getting above ourselves. Our natural status is beaten quarter-finalists, prior to that golden day in ’66 it was the best we’d ever done, and we’ve only bettered this the one time since, at Italia ’90 all of 28 years ago. Sven was the last England manager to get us to a quarter-final, at World Cups 2006, 2002, and another at Euro 2004 for good measure in-between. If we make it this time Gareth Southgate will have got us back to where we belong, amongst the top 8 World Cup nations, but unless the team proves otherwise still a long way short of being among the top 4. It was ever thus.  

Thankfully the games are all being played out against the backdrop of a happy clappy Ros! Si! Ya! In contrast the build-up was full of dire predictions of heavy-handed policing, neo-nazi hooligan gangs, racist attacks, homophobia and the grimmest environment imaginable to ‘enjoy’ for watching a World Cup . The build-up was the same for South Africa’s World Cup 2010, muggings, car-jacking, a race war was what travelling fans were promised, nothing of the sort happened. And again for Brazil 2014, political unrest combined with Favela drug gangs was what was predictd to ruin the World Cup for travelling England fans. Once more, no such incidents occurred.

None of this getting the hosts so spectacularly wrong will be explained as England prepare to head home. And before you know it the same lazy predictions will be rolled out for the next time. But actually, it's even worse than that. When the football begins we go from one extreme, destination hellhole, to another, football paradise. The truth is Russia does have problems - an authoritarian regime, Greater Russian nationalism, massive inequalities of wealth distribution, racism, homophobia and a violent fan sub-culture. None of these were ever going to be allowed to ruin a World Cup which is Russia’s unmatchable opportunity to showcase the best of its nation to the world. And none of them have gone away either just because a game of football is underway. As with the England win against Tunisia, the whistle blows and all sense of perspective is booted out of the window.

We already know it will be Qatar hosting the tournament in 2022, followed by the successful joint bid of USA, Canada and Mexico for 2026. And England is apparently considering a joint British bid for 2030 with the Scots and Welsh FAs, which will face competition from the Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay joint bid, and no doubt more to come too. These tri-nation hosts are a result of the World Cup’s expansion from the current 32 team format to a gargantuan 48. The global reach of football is continuing so some kind of increase is justified, as it was when the tournament grew first from 16 to 24 nations for Spain ‘82, then again to 32 for France 98 and the same since then.

But 48 is too big a jump, it creates too massive a tournament, too many games, many of which will be meaningless, and too big a disparity in ability. 40 would have been a much better compromise, 8 groups of 5 rather than the current 8 groups of 4, a step-up of 8 teams as every previous expansion has been. With all the extra places awarded to the under-represented continents, ie anywhere but Europe and South America, so sorry Scotland!

This would have also preserved the feasibility of single host nations too. Every previous one has helped define how a World Cup is consumed and remembered almost as much as the football on the pitch and the eventual winner. The one exception, joint hosts Japan and South Korea in 2002, just about worked. Thanks to the extraordinary success of the Korean team and their Red Army of supporters as they reached the semis, while Japan largely defined the consumption of the football and Brazil’s eventual victory in the Tokyo final.

So here’s an idea. 2030 is the centenary World Cup. The first one took place in Uruguay which England, like most of the other European nations, shamefully chose to boycott because South America was too far away and the footballing world revolves around Europe, or in England’s case, ourselves, or so they liked to think. Why not award the hosting of 2030 now to Uruguay, and abandon the expensive and corruptible bidding process? The world of football to give every assistance to this one small nation to host it. Organise it as a celebration of one hundred years’ worth of the growing international appeal of our game, the people’s game. Fly in the face of all that FIFA has become.

Well, like England reaching the semi - even my optimism of the will has its limits - we’re allowed our World Cup dreams aren’t we?

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football and their England World Cup T-shirt is available from here.

England WC 2018 Navy s s

Thirty-two nations under a groove: World Cup 2018
Wednesday, 13 June 2018 14:49

Thirty-two nations under a groove: World Cup 2018

Published in Sport

Will the World Cup be an orgy of petty-minded nationalism? Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman doesn’t seem to think so.

In between the matches from Russia over the next few weeks, here’s a Trivial Pursuit question to test your mates’ footballing knowledge. Which is the only World Cup squad with the entire list of players playing in their own country’s domestic league?

Easy! Easy! Easy! I hear the chant go up. The answer is England, of course, except it’s not just a knowledge of football that provides the answer, but politics, history and culture too.

Firstly, and most importantly, the political economy of the game. In other words, English clubs pay heaps more dosh than most overseas outfits.

Secondly, Anglo-superiority complex. Who in England’s 2018 squad would make it as a certain first team starter at a top German, Italian or Spanish club? Precious few – there’s a number who aren’t even regular starters at their own clubs, edged out by Johnny Foreigner’s talent.

Thirdly, the domesticity of our players betrays a certain very English parochialism. More comfortable at home than abroad, Europe after all is a foreign country.

England’s second most successful World Cup campaign remains Italia ’90. Of England’s starting line-up in that year, Lineker had played for Barcelona, and Waddle was then playing for Marseilles in France. Gazza, Des Walker and Platt all went on to play for Italian clubs.

As for the victorious West Germany side who went on to win the trophy, none of them played in England, though Klinsmann would end up being snapped up by an English side – but that was in 4 years’ time, in 1994.

The lesson that was drawn from Italia ’90 was that English football had the potential to recover its reputation and popularity, following the ban on our club sides from European competitions post-Heysel, and the human tragedy of Hillsborough.

This, like so much else after Thatcher’s election in ’79 – until Jeremy Corbyn came along to break the spell of its appeal – was down to neo-liberal deregulation. The FA effectively gave up its right to govern the elite level of the game by floating off the First Division, now the Premier League, to be run by the clubs themselves.

With Murdoch in hot pursuit following the dawning realisation that broadcasting live football was the only way to save his fledgling satellite TV company, Sky, the deregulation accelerated via the vast wealth generated by TV contracts.

Neoliberalism isn’t the same as globalisation, but they are intimately connected. Globalisation, which has involved the shifting of capital investment – and the jobs that go with it – from the West to the East, has produced a counter-reaction.

In the U.S. of Donald Trump, this is his populist America First nationalism. Across Europe movements for independence, from Catalonia to Scotland. And throughout the same continent anti-migrant movements have been resurgent, too.

In the case of football, we see the counter-reaction in the persistent influence of racism and worse amongst certain fan subcultures, co-existing with the huge influx of foreign players.

Again, the World Cup illustrates this. Consulting once more my handy pocket-sized World Cup Squads ‘guide for reference, a tasty looking English Premier League eleven out in Russia would line up like this: De Gea in goal, Mendy, Monreal and Christensen providing three at the back; Pogba, Eriksen, Hazard and De Bruyne packing the midfield; and up front Firmino, Aguero, and Salah. And there’s plenty more where that lot came from too.

Yet precious few fans in their right minds are going to complain about these particular migrant workers, over here, nicking our players’ jobs, with their foreign ways and the like. Racist attitudes to that extent are thankfully fairly marginalised.

Another Trivial Pursuits question for you: what is the most globalised public institution in English society and culture? Again, easy – the football club, up and down the divisions, even stretching down into non-league football, is easily the most globalised public institution in English society. The owners, the management and coaching staff, the aforementioned players, the fan-base, the sponsors and advertisers , the TV viewing public – all are globalised, and few would object to that.

This doesn’t mean the process is entirely unproblematic. Football mythologises itself as the People’s Game, although it has never been thus, clubs have always been owned by the local butcher, baker and candlestick maker. In Manchester United’s case, quite literally, as the Edwards family were butchers who sold the club they owned off to the Glazers, US sports moguls. Local business elites have nearly always owned the game and ran it in their own local interest. The only difference now is that it’s a global business elite running it, in their own trans-national interest. Corporate monopoly capitalism has replaced small businesses, in football as in everything else.

Resistance to absent owners erupts from time to time, though home-grown owners are often not much better – just look at West Ham. But what frames modern fan culture most of all is a popular cosmopolitanism. While England agonises over how and when it will exit Europe, every football club’s ambition is to get into Europe. This is our cultural barricade against the hateful rise of the Football Lads’ Alliance. Their values, founded on division, are the complete opposite to the way the modern game is consumed and supported.

For every fan cheering on England over the next few weeks there will be others keeping an interested and supportive eye on how their club’s foreign players are doing, and most importantly many are fully capable of doing both. One nation, thirty-two nations, for the next three and a week under the same groove. For this precious moment, nothing could be more powerful as a resistance to racism and division.

What’s more, despite FIFA’s worst efforts, it’s broadly equitable too. My last Trivial Pursuit question is this: what have the superpowers of the USA, Russia and China got in common? They’ve not got one World Cup between them. And that’s because international football is regulated, no country on earth however rich is ever going to persuade Messi, Neymar or Ronaldo to sign for them. If that’s not neoliberal globalisation turned on its economic head into something a tad better, I don’t know what is.

WC 2018 32 teams tee shirt

The Thirty-Two Nations Philosophy Football T-shirt is available from Philosophy Football

USSR Rocket Sweet Tin
Monday, 27 November 2017 13:31

Every revolution needs some smashing plates

Published in Visual Arts

Mark Perryman went to the 1985 Exhibition of Soviet Design in London, and learned the real meaning of revolution.

In 1985, Thatcherism reigned triumphant. The Miners' Strike was coming to a sorry end. With Reagan in the White House the second Cold War dominated what remained of international relations. It was perhaps curious therefore that the Crafts Council of England and Wales should choose to open the year with an exhibition of Soviet textiles, fashion and ceramics 1917-1935, Art into Production.

In 2017 there has been a whole host of Russian Revolution centenary exhibitions, conferences, TV specials and the like. But 1985? The extraordinary richness of the art however was more than sufficient to resist and reverse the pessimism that leftist visitors to the exhibition like myself were suffering from as any prospect of a progressive, let alone a socialist, politics receded ever further into the faraway distance. The emotional downturn of opportunities for change in turn created bitter divisions in and around a Left in retreat. If our lot was convinced we were right, then we were absolutely certain the other lot were wrong - and this was just on our own side.

How could a dash of Russian Revolutionary art impact upon this? In the beautifully produced exhibition catalogue, there were some lines extracted from Komsomol’skaya Pravda, the newspaper of the Young Communist League, 28th April 1928 which began to form in my mind a very different approach to a Left cultural politics to the one most of us were used to. And as the 1917 centenary fast approached, with a resurgent Corbynite Left, I’ve been reminded of those words:

We must not accept this ‘non-resistance’. The cultural revolution, like the bugler’s trumpet, is summoning for examination and revaluation everything which mobilises or poisons our consciousness, our will and our readiness for battle!

So far, so familiar. The over-familiar instrumentalism of almost all versions of socialist, and communist too, cultural politics. But then the extract took a less predictable turn:

In this ‘parade’ of objects there are no non-combatants – nor can there be! Plates and cups, ie things we see daily, several times a day, which can do their bit for the organising of consciousness – these occupy an important place.

MP Sofranova plate 2017

Blimey, this was wasn’t the usual socialist fare I was used to. Perhaps susceptible to a workerist ‘proletkult’ tendency perhaps, though the colourful, often highly feminised, designs throughout the exhibition indicated this was a relatively minor deviation (sic). Rather what the young communists of 1928 were mapping out was a cultural politics that was both all-embracing and highly practical. Pluralist and pre-figurative as the leftie-jargon speak I had learnt by ’85 to drop into any conversation of the right political sort might describe such a venture. And they weren’t going to put up with any naysayers and feet draggers either:

We demand that a plate should fulfil its social function. We demand that the role of everyday objects should not be forgotten by our young specialist artists and the bodies in charge of our industry.

It is easy to mock the idealism but if the debates over what happened in 1917 serve to mask the boldly radical ambition in these words, then we surely lose something invaluable. This is what Art into Production all those years ago achieved. and I’ve never forgotten it. More recently Owen Hatherley’s peerless book Landscapes of Communism does something similar via the architecture of the Soviet era, as does poet Rosy Carrick’s stunning reading of Mayakovsky’s epic poem Lenin. And cartoonist Tim Sanders' hugely imaginative depiction of the events of October 1917 via the subversive idiom of a graphic novel, Russia’s Red Year.

All three sit outside the orthodoxy of both an establishment culture that treats the Russian Revolution purely as an historical event, and a tendency on parts of the Left to divorce the insistence on a particular political interpretation of the revolution from a broader understanding of the heady idealism 1917. All these books are a most welcome addition to the centenary celebrations, but also they suggest an approach to understanding the Russian Revolution that can be traced back to those young Communists of 1928 exhorting the production of socialist plates, cups and saucers.

Also coinciding with the centenary has been the release of Armando Iannucci’s blockbuster comedy The Death Of Stalin. The man behind the brilliantly funny The Thick of It which skewered the Blairite world of spin and soundbites with brutal wit, has turned to an era that the film’s posters mischievously describe as ‘ a comedy of terrors’. Only the most po-faced would stifle the laughs as one wisecrack after another demolishes what Stalinism had turned Soviet Russia into. But the film ends up being satirical for a cheap laugh’s sake, and leaves this cinemagoer at least with a sense that if all we are left with is the cynicism of pointlessness then the prospects for change are inevitably narrowed, and all we are left with is the motto ‘who cares, who wins’.

This is what the likes of Iannucci, Private Eye and Have I Got News for You thrive on, a manufactured anti-politics with the lazy assumption that everybody is as bad as each other and never mind either the causes or consequences. The political clowning of Boris Johnson becomes the natural expression of all this, a rebel without a cause except his own personal advancement. Oh c’mon he’s only having a laugh, and what’s the harm in that? £350m for the NHS thanks to #Brexit has at last partly put paid to that sorry myth!

MP Chimneys plate 2017

So instead of rollicking in the cinema aisles as one Death of Stalin joke piles into another, I prefer instead the necessity of having some smashing plates, mugs and saucers. Framed by the utopian idealism for a better world than the one that those in Russia had endured in the years preceding 1917, and visualising via the most vivid combination of imagination, originality and clash of colours the prospect of constructing a new society. When that hopeful vision is absent then our capacity to imagine what change might look like lacks something vital too. A sentiment worth preserving via some tasty antique ceramics. Not trapped by the past - that way spells dogma and cultural conservatism. But there is something wrong too with the ahistorical version of modernity which became the watchword of 1990s Blairism. If it’s old it must be crap, the denial therefore of the past ever inspiring the present towards changing what the future otherwise has in store for us. And most crucially, if you like the revolutionary element, given practical expression via its lived presence in the everyday. Pasokification across Europe has led to a new era of headlong retreat for social democracy but this time accompanied by an insurgent, popular, Left that is seeking to challenge and transcend the limitations imposed upon it by a wholesale surrender to neoliberalism. The advances are patchy, and incomplete, not remotely revolutionary according to the 1917 model but decidedly radical and seeking a decisive rupture with the existing system of ideas. In 2017 that’s more than enough for me.

So where do the plates, mugs and cups of 1917 fit in to all of this? Not to merchandise but to politicise. The revolutionary ceramics, and the process of production the Young Communists demanded, is entirely different from the naff trinkets and trifles emblazoned with Jeremy Corbyn’s name and face the Labour was flogging at party conference.

MP Red Wedge plate 2017

Harmless fun? Well possibly, and to declare an interest Philosophy Football has produced its own COR 8YN T-shirt but if that is the scale of our imagination and productive capacity it just shows how far we still have to go to get anywhere close to the scale of ambition of those 1917 plates. What might a 2017 version look like, fired up and framed by The Corbyn Effect? That’s the kind of question I’d like to hear both being asked, and answered with practical output. And in that process of originality and production creating a great variety of means to identify with a politics that can effect a wholesale shift in the balance of forces from those few, to our many.

Now that’s what I call politics!

The 1917 centenary plates collection reproducing original Soviet designs is available here.

 

USSR Rocket Sweet Tin
Friday, 03 November 2017 17:11

Every revolution needs some smashing plates

Published in 1917 Centenary

Mark Perryman went to the 1985 Exhibition of Soviet Design in London, and learned the real meaning of revolution.

In 1985, Thatcherism reigned triumphant. The Miners' Strike was coming to a sorry end. With Reagan in the White House the second Cold War dominated what remained of international relations. It was perhaps curious therefore that the Crafts Council of England and Wales should choose to open the year with an exhibition of Soviet textiles, fashion and ceramics 1917-1935, Art into Production.

In 2017 there has been a whole host of Russian Revolution centenary exhibitions, conferences, TV specials and the like. But 1985? The extraordinary richness of the art however was more than sufficient to resist and reverse the pessimism that leftist visitors to the exhibition like myself were suffering from as any prospect of a progressive, let alone a socialist, politics receded ever further into the faraway distance. The emotional downturn of opportunities for change in turn created bitter divisions in and around a Left in retreat. If our lot was convinced we were right, then we were absolutely certain the other lot were wrong - and this was just on our own side.

How could a dash of Russian Revolutionary art impact upon this? In the beautifully produced exhibition catalogue, there were some lines extracted from Komsomol’skaya Pravda, the newspaper of the Young Communist League, 28th April 1928 which began to form in my mind a very different approach to a Left cultural politics to the one most of us were used to. And as the 1917 centenary fast approached, with a resurgent Corbynite Left, I’ve been reminded of those words:

We must not accept this ‘non-resistance’. The cultural revolution, like the bugler’s trumpet, is summoning for examination and revaluation everything which mobilises or poisons our consciousness, our will and our readiness for battle!

So far, so familiar. The over-familiar instrumentalism of almost all versions of socialist, and communist too, cultural politics. But then the extract took a less predictable turn:

In this ‘parade’ of objects there are no non-combatants – nor can there be! Plates and cups, ie things we see daily, several times a day, which can do their bit for the organising of consciousness – these occupy an important place.

MP Sofranova plate 2017

Blimey, this was wasn’t the usual socialist fare I was used to. Perhaps susceptible to a workerist ‘proletkult’ tendency perhaps, though the colourful, often highly feminised, designs throughout the exhibition indicated this was a relatively minor deviation (sic). Rather what the young communists of 1928 were mapping out was a cultural politics that was both all-embracing and highly practical. Pluralist and pre-figurative as the leftie-jargon speak I had learnt by ’85 to drop into any conversation of the right political sort might describe such a venture. And they weren’t going to put up with any naysayers and feet draggers either:

We demand that a plate should fulfil its social function. We demand that the role of everyday objects should not be forgotten by our young specialist artists and the bodies in charge of our industry.

It is easy to mock the idealism but if the debates over what happened in 1917 serve to mask the boldly radical ambition in these words, then we surely lose something invaluable. This is what Art into Production all those years ago achieved. and I’ve never forgotten it. More recently Owen Hatherley’s peerless book Landscapes of Communism does something similar via the architecture of the Soviet era, as does poet Rosy Carrick’s stunning reading of Mayakovsky’s epic poem Lenin. And cartoonist Tim Sanders' hugely imaginative depiction of the events of October 1917 via the subversive idiom of a graphic novel, Russia’s Red Year.

All three sit outside the orthodoxy of both an establishment culture that treats the Russian Revolution purely as an historical event, and a tendency on parts of the Left to divorce the insistence on a particular political interpretation of the revolution from a broader understanding of the heady idealism 1917. All these books are a most welcome addition to the centenary celebrations, but also they suggest an approach to understanding the Russian Revolution that can be traced back to those young Communists of 1928 exhorting the production of socialist plates, cups and saucers.

Also coinciding with the centenary has been the release of Armando Iannucci’s blockbuster comedy The Death Of Stalin. The man behind the brilliantly funny The Thick of It which skewered the Blairite world of spin and soundbites with brutal wit, has turned to an era that the film’s posters mischievously describe as ‘ a comedy of terrors’. Only the most po-faced would stifle the laughs as one wisecrack after another demolishes what Stalinism had turned Soviet Russia into. But the film ends up being satirical for a cheap laugh’s sake, and leaves this cinemagoer at least with a sense that if all we are left with is the cynicism of pointlessness then the prospects for change are inevitably narrowed, and all we are left with is the motto ‘who cares, who wins’.

This is what the likes of Iannucci, Private Eye and Have I Got News for You thrive on, a manufactured anti-politics with the lazy assumption that everybody is as bad as each other and never mind either the causes or consequences. The political clowning of Boris Johnson becomes the natural expression of all this, a rebel without a cause except his own personal advancement. Oh c’mon he’s only having a laugh, and what’s the harm in that? £350m for the NHS thanks to #Brexit has at last partly put paid to that sorry myth!

MP Chimneys plate 2017

So instead of rollicking in the cinema aisles as one Death of Stalin joke piles into another, I prefer instead the necessity of having some smashing plates, mugs and saucers. Framed by the utopian idealism for a better world than the one that those in Russia had endured in the years preceding 1917, and visualising via the most vivid combination of imagination, originality and clash of colours the prospect of constructing a new society. When that hopeful vision is absent then our capacity to imagine what change might look like lacks something vital too. A sentiment worth preserving via some tasty antique ceramics. Not trapped by the past - that way spells dogma and cultural conservatism. But there is something wrong too with the ahistorical version of modernity which became the watchword of 1990s Blairism. If it’s old it must be crap, the denial therefore of the past ever inspiring the present towards changing what the future otherwise has in store for us. And most crucially, if you like the revolutionary element, given practical expression via its lived presence in the everyday. Pasokification across Europe has led to a new era of headlong retreat for social democracy but this time accompanied by an insurgent, popular, Left that is seeking to challenge and transcend the limitations imposed upon it by a wholesale surrender to neoliberalism. The advances are patchy, and incomplete, not remotely revolutionary according to the 1917 model but decidedly radical and seeking a decisive rupture with the existing system of ideas. In 2017 that’s more than enough for me.

So where do the plates, mugs and cups of 1917 fit in to all of this? Not to merchandise but to politicise. The revolutionary ceramics, and the process of production the Young Communists demanded, is entirely different from the naff trinkets and trifles emblazoned with Jeremy Corbyn’s name and face the Labour was flogging at party conference.

MP Red Wedge plate 2017

Harmless fun? Well possibly, and to declare an interest Philosophy Football has produced its own COR 8YN T-shirt but if that is the scale of our imagination and productive capacity it just shows how far we still have to go to get anywhere close to the scale of ambition of those 1917 plates. What might a 2017 version look like, fired up and framed by The Corbyn Effect? That’s the kind of question I’d like to hear both being asked, and answered with practical output. And in that process of originality and production creating a great variety of means to identify with a politics that can effect a wholesale shift in the balance of forces from those few, to our many.

Now that’s what I call politics!

The 1917 centenary plates collection reproducing original Soviet designs is available here.

 

Football from Below
Friday, 08 September 2017 07:46

Football from Below

Published in Sport

Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football criticises the commercialisation of football, and explores the possibilities of fan culture as a social movement.

During the international break, a mini-spat over the England players’ pride – or lack of – in wearing the three lions on their shirt, provided a helpful starting point towards the remaking of football as a social movement.

Explaining England’s inability to go even 1-0 up against the proverbial minnows of the Maltese football team until well into the second half has a lot less to do with the lack of emotional commitment from Harry Kane et al to end now more than half-century’s worth of years of hurt, than their actual inability to play.

‘Pride’ is the easy cop-out – what we’re actually witnessing is the ever-decreasing quality of English football. How many of England’s starting eleven would Paris Saint German be chasing after with their chequebooks, or Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund be in the market for after their most talented players have been sold off ?

Of course the best eleven England can put on a pitch isn’t all bad, but mostly their talent is boosted at club level by playing alongside foreign, more technically gifted and able players. On their own they’re not half as good.  

And for those players who turn out for United, City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs, a World Cup Qualifier, and – short of reaching the long-forgotten semi-final stage – the tournament itself, doesn’t come close to being the biggest match of their careers compared to the more realistic chance of Champions League glory.

It gets worse. The enormous wealth the Premier League provides to their clubs means that even for those players who are a long way from making it into the Champions League, the season-long battle to maintain that status pushes England games pretty far down their, and their coaches’, list of priorities. Arguably this also applies to clubs competing for promotion to the Premier League.

Is it lack of passion? No, it is the result of commercial calculation.  This is at the core of the sickness of what football has become, the hopeless confusion of mistaking the richest league in the world with being the best. It’s no accident that the Championship play-off final is described almost exclusively in terms of the riches awarded to the victor rather than the quality of the football played.

MP against modern football

For a while, those of us who were disillusioned with that corrupting commercialisation adopted the mantra ‘Against Mod£rn Football.’ We first turned this into a T-shirt having spotted the words on a Croatian banner at Euro 2008. The sentiment was internationalist enough to make perfect sense. It’s a catchy, oppositional phrase that fits neatly on to chest sizes small-XXL – but ‘Against Mod£rn Football’ is increasingly problematic in two ways. 

Firstly, there’s more than one version of modernity. Is the ‘against’ aimed at the growth of women’s football, or refugee leagues? Is it aimed against a game that has no intrinsic borders, a game that is all about overcoming divisions of race, gender, sexuality and nationality? Being against all that ends with oppositionalism masking conservatism, or worse.

Secondly the business of football has become inseparable from multinational corporate power. The macro-politics to reform the game traditionally adopted by both Labour and groups such as the Football Supporters Federation means any agency to enforce these policies seems almost impossible to imagine. Somehow I think an incoming Labour Government is going to have more immediate issues on its mind than nationalising the Premier League.

For these reasons it is absolutely vital to the future of the game to reimagine fan culture not just as hardpressed consumers, but as a social movement with the capacity to achieve change.

Currently this is very much a minority movement, but all such movements start out with big ambitions and modest advances. Their potential to grow and effect change is dependent on the ability to inspire via small victories which help convince wider forces that this is a direction of travel worth pursuing.

We can see this in the rise of militantly anti-racist ultra groups, at Clapton, Whitehawk and elsewhere. We can also see it in the growth of start-up football clubs – Hackney Wick FC, City of Liverpool FC and the women’s football club AFC Unity in Sheffield. The spread of community ownership up and down the divisions is another encouraging sign, as is the pro-refugees message heard from at least some stands – not on the scale of what was seen across the Bundesliga but present nevertheless.

At the core of any such movement will be gender issues – the recognition that if football is to become modern for all then the sport’s entrenched masculinity has to be challenged. Treating women’s football as different yet equal is a key step towards a truly inclusive game. On this basis the Equality FC initiative at Lewes FC, where the playing budgets are the same for women and men, is a model for all clubs to aspire to if the pressure ‘from below’ can be developed and sustained.

This isn’t fantasy football. It is about the remaking of the political, the recognition that it is in popular culture more than any other space that ideas are formed, the limitations on what is possible challenged and transformations take shape.

Brighton, for example, is now a Premier League club, playing in their own city. This is an ambition only made possible because of a 15-year campaign by their fans developing and sustaining a fan-led club culture.  And it is fitting therefore that it is in Brighton, at The World Transformed Festival which runs alongside the Labour Party Conference, that many of those involved in these practical initiatives will be gathered together by Philosophy Football to launch a discussion on what a campaign for ‘Football from Below’ might look like.

Any such discussion, if it is to have a meaningful purpose, demands allies. Labour and the trade unions via such a dialogue will be forced to address the narrowness of their own agendas and the scarcity of their own alliances. Football is a signifier of so many other spaces in popular culture where Labour and the trade unions need to be present, be part of, connecting ideas to lived experience towards change. 

New Labour adopted football in the same way it adopted Britpop as a cultural accessory, providing photo opportunities and celebrity endorsements. It was a flimsy appropriation, coming out of a flimsy politics.  Corbynism promises something different, the framing of a popular, cultural politics will be vital to any fulfilment of that proud boast.  Football is just one of what should become countless journeys of putting the ideas of Corbynism into practical extra-parliamentary achievement. All of our cultural activities, all of the topics covered by Culture Matters – poetry, film, theatre, visual art, religion, eating and drinking, fashion and clothing, the media – should be the subject of campaigns to resist commercialisation and ideological manipulation, democratise access, and reclaim our common cultural heritage. We need culture for the many, not the few.

‘Football from Below’ wears the colours of FC St Pauli as our inspiration. But it is time to make that change in our own image too.  From the bottom-up, not in opposition to those who choose to follow the Premier League moneybagged bandwagon, that would be not only futile but also self-destructive. Instead as a minority we will be pioneering the practical possibility of building a game that doesn’t have to be run in the way it is. Rethinking football as a sport for all not a business to be run.

Idealistic? Guilty as charged.

Philosophy Football’s Football from Below T-shirt is available from here

Nothing to lose but our chains
Friday, 30 June 2017 14:31

Nothing to lose but our chains

Published in Sport

Looking for a communistic sports event to take part in? As the annual cycling spectacle of the Tour De France begins, Mark Perryman argues the case for advancing to communism on two wheels.

Who would have guessed it? Karl Marx was clearly a bike mechanic when he wasn’t plotting the downfall of capitalism. ‘Nothing to lose but your chains’ is handy advice when the derailleur slips and furious pedalling propels bike and rider precisely nowhere.

OK Marx was more interested in liberating the workers of the world than the freedom of the road, though with committed cycle-commuter Jeremy Corbyn quite possibly in need of a Downing Street bike rack soon, there doesn’t seem a better time to make the case for cycling as the people’s sport.

For those who take an interest in the competitive side Le Tour will be on television for the next three weeks as it weaves its way from the Grand Départ in Germany, through Belgium, a quick detour to Luxembourg  and across France to the traditional finish on the Champs Élysées.

That’s two boxes ticked straightaway in my case for a people’s sport. Firstly, despite Sky’s sponsorship of the premier British team competing, the race is broadcast on terrestrial TV – both live and highlights packages are free to air on ITV4.

And secondly this is a genuinely internationalist event. Fundamentally French of course but shared with all manner of other European countries too in terms of where it may start – the stages too – but never the ending, that will always be Paris.  Not quite the proletarian internationalism of our Marxist dreams but not a bad model for a sporting culture beyond borders! And of course lined up along the route in their hundreds of thousands are the fans, none paying even a cent – or nowadays a Euro – for the privilege.

Nor is there any significant infrastructure to waste huge amounts of money on, leaving stadia and other facilities behind never to be filled again. Instead just about the only spend is to improve the road surface, for the benefit of all. It’s a sporting event not for the few but for the many – pedestrians, cyclists and car-drivers alike.

Of course like previous Tours this one will be mired in an unfolding drugs controversy. It’s particularly  awkward for British cycling fans because the spotlight will fall mainly on Team Sky, on rider and race favourite Chris Froome and Team Sky Principal Dave Brailsford.  Allied with both the unresolved drug allegations against Bradley Wiggins and the prolonged furore over sexism and bullying in and around the Olympic Team GB track cycling squad, this has all threatened to dim the golden glow of Britain’s single most successful sport over the past decade.  Cycling has taken a knock, there’s not much doubt about that. But the roots of its appeal are now so deep all the signs are that it will not only survive but continue to flourish too.

MP Cycling chain for tweet

Marx, notwithstanding my spurious claims for his contribution to the art of bicycle maintenance (famously, similar claims have been made for Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance too) is at least partially responsible for the answer. Cycling, like all sport, is socially constructed. It is a leisure activity we can take part in without scarcely even noticing. What other sport can double up as a means of getting to work, to do the shopping, to pop down the pub?  A bike can provide the basis for a family day out too, perhaps best of all it’s a habit we can pick up as children and once we’ve learned not to fall over it’s a skill we never lose. 

It’s true that at the upper end of cycling culture, particularly among men suffering from a midlife cycling crisis, the bikes cost the proverbial arm and a leg. Many observers suggest that this in part explains the decline in golf, and maybe it’s true that middle-aged men who should know better are investing in handbuilt carbon frames with all the gear to go with it, rather than ever-escalating green fees to tee off at the most expensive 18 holes. Yes the recession hurts even the most highly paid, so there’s almost certainly something in this. Still the class enemy on two wheels represents only a tiny fraction of cycling’s growing popularity. 

Likewise with the impact of the drug, bullying and sexism scandals. Elite success, Wiggins and Froome winning Le Tour, bucketloads of Olympic Cycling Gold medals certainly contributed something to cycling’s appeal. It was a bit like Coe, Ovett, Cram and Elliott’s success on the track coinciding with the late 1970s to early 1980s running boom.

It may be a a factor, but it’s not the total explanation that the media-boosters would like to claim for their coverage. Other more important reasons are implementation of socialist and green policies like increasing investment in safer cycling routes and paths, sunnier summers, and austerity staycation culture. These things help explain cycling’s growing and enduring popularity, not to mention the likelihood of it growing more popular under a genuinely cycle-loving socialist PM. There’s a durability to this appeal which is unlikely to be materially affected by news of dodgy medicines or bullying coaches.

Sport’s core attraction is always assumed to be competition. Wrong. For most this only applies to the spectators, those who watch but don’t do. Being on the losing side bringing up the rear does more to deter the young from sport than virtually anything else. And once deterred, regardless of the presence of compulsory sport lessons, hardly anything else proves effective in reconnecting the inactive with participation.

I think it was Jose Antonio Viera-Gallo, Undersecretary of Justice in Allende's Marxist government, who said this: 'Socialism can only arrive by bicycle.' So I’ll conclude with a quick mention of just about the most communistic sports event I’ve ever taken part in – the increasingly popular cycling sportive. No, the organisers aren’t planning revolution via long rides through the countryside, but to my mind the format unwittingly subverts the competitive instinct, via equalising participation.  There are staggered starts over varying distances, so nobody knows who the winners are – or crucially, the losers either.

For some people, it’s racing against their own individual clock, but for everyone it’s a collective race against the shared distance and terrain. And more often than not, participants are raising money for a good cause. The same prize, wherever you finish – what could be more politically progressive than that?

Not that I’ve ever seen Marx on one mind, he must be back in his bike shed working on unfettering those chains……

Thanks to Hugh Tisdale for both images. The ‘Nothing to Lose but Your Chains’ Cycling T-shirt is now available from Philosophy Football.

Celebrating the politics of punk
Tuesday, 04 April 2017 20:44

Celebrating the politics of punk

Published in Music

8th April is the 40th Anniversary of The Clash's debut album. Mark Perryman reminds us what the 1977 punk and politics mix was all about.

The birth of punk for most is dated on or round 1976, with the November release that year of the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK. Music and movement were catapuoted into the ‘filth and fury’ headlines via the band’s expletive-strewn Bill Grundy TV interview.

More Situationist than Anarchist, Rotten and the rest were of course key to the detonation of a youthful mood of revolt alongside the not entirely dissimilar The Damned, Manchester’s Buzzcocks and the more trad rock Stranglers. Giving the boy bands a run for their money, The Slits pushed perhaps hardest at punk’s musical boundaries, their Typical Girls track quite unlike what the others were recording.

But it was The Clash who more than anyone symbolised the punk and politics mix, showcased on their debut album The Clash, released 40 years ago on 8th April 1977. From being bored with the USA and angrily demanding a riot of their own, via hate and war to non-existent career opportunities, fourteen tracks, played at furious speed to produce two-minute classics. The one exception was their inspired cover version of Junior Marvin and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Police and Thieves, played slow, the lyrics almost spoken rather than sung, backed by a pitch-perfect reggae beat.

The album cover shows the youthful threesome of Strummer, Jones and Simonon in their artfully stencilled shirts and jackets that was to become their signature stagewear, completed by the obligatory skinny jeans, white socks, and black DMs. The print quality is purposely poor to add a degree of authenticity that this band more than most hardly needed. But it was the back cover that is the more telling. A scene from the 1976 Notting Hill Carnival Riots with the Met’s boys in blue, these were the days before RoboCop style body armour, riot shields, helmets with visors, in hot pursuit of black youth retreating and regrouping under the Westway flyover.

MP police 2

It was that experience in ’76 that inspired The Clash’s anthemic White Riot and the lines ‘ WHITE RIOT! I WANNA RIOT. WHITE RIOT! A RIOT OF MY OWN.’ At the time the National Front’s streetfighting racist army was laying waste wherever they marched, their leaders John Tyndall and Martin Webster were household names, and the NF was getting enough votes to suggest an electoral breakthrough might be a possibility. The potential for ‘White Riot’ to be misinterpreted then, and now too, is obvious. But the band’s intent couldn’t be clearer. Living and recording in and around the Westway, they embraced the changes this West London community had undergone since the 1950s. Caribbean music, food and fashions were as much a part of The Clash as rock and roll, Sunday roast and safety pins. They sought to share the spirit of Black defiance, not oppose it.

All the power is in the hands
Of people rich enough to buy it,
While we walk the streets
Too chicken to even try it.
And everybody does what they’re told to
And everybody eats supermarket soul food!

A year after the album’s release, The Clash headlined the first Rock against Racism carnival in London’s Victoria Park. The dayglo politics of this musical culture of resistance fitted perfectly with the agitprop look and lyrics of the band, as it did with Polly Styrene of X-Ray Spex’s punk feminism, Tom Robinson’s liberatory Sing If You’re Glad to be Gay, and Birmingham’s Steel Pulse with tales of a Handsworth Revolution. This wasn’t just a line up that commercial promoters in ’78 would die for, it was a platform to challenge prejudice both without and within that we could dance to. In her book 1988 The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion, Caroline Coon predicted of The Clash that "their acute awareness, and ability to articulate the essence of the era which inspires their music, will make their contribution to the history of rock of lasting significance. Happy times are here again."

The Clash inspired, and continue to inspire, a wave of bands who play music we can dance to and march to in equal measure. Belfast’s Stiff Little Fingers, Southall’s Ruts, and the Au Pairs stand out from back then. Poets too, who often styled themselves as ranters, like  Seething Wells, and of course Attila the Stockbroker. Then came the unforgettable and much-missed Redskins and the hardy perennial favourite, Billy Bragg. Today? A new wave (sic) of bands whose influences, musically and politically, can be traced back to ’77 era Clash would certainly include The Wakes, The Hurriers, Thee Faction, Joe Solo, Louise Distras, Captain Ska, Séan McGowan and more. Off the musical beaten track yet holding out for a better tomorrow with tunes to match!

Like all successful musicians The Clash did become celebrities, their appeal went mainstream, and the venues became bigger and bigger. But through force of circumstance the band bailed out before they reached U2’s overblown proportions, or outstayed their musical welcome to play into their dotage Rolling Stones style. 1977 is a year to remember but not to fossilise - that would be the antithesis of everything they represented. As the final track from the album put it :

I don't want to hear about what the rich are doing, I don't want to go to where, where the rich are going.

Garageland. That’s where they came from and never entirely left either. Its why more than anything else ‘77 Clash in 2017 matter still.

MP Clash ad for Tweet

‘77Clash Night is presented by Philosophy Football in association with the RMT and supported by the FBU, Brigadista Ale and R2 Magazine. Saturday 8th April, the 40th anniversary of the release of The Clash Debut Album side one played live ‘as was’, side two ‘played now’ by artists of today remixing and rewriting the originals. At Rich Mix, Shoreditch, East London. Tickets just £9.99 from here.

’77 Clash T-shirt range available now from Philosophy Football. This is an extended version of an article first published in the Morning Star.

Books (Please)! In All Branches of Knowledge by Alexander Rodchenko, 1924
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 10:52

All Power to the Ideals!

Published in Visual Arts

What kind of cultural celebration, Mark Perryman asks, do the art and the politics of the Russian Revolution deserve?

A century ago, on 23rd February 1917, Russian women workers marched out in protest from the St Petersburg factories to defy Cossacks armed with swords, and took control of the city’s streets. In less than a week they had been joined by hundreds of thousands of other workers. The St Petersburg Military Garrison mutinied in their support. A rebellion led by women for people’s power had begun.

MP Petrograd Soviet for tweet

The 1917 centenary will be one of the publishing events of the year, with writers from Left and Right battling in words over the legacy. The Royal Academy, the Design Museum, British Library and Tate Modern will all host major exhibitions of Revolutionary-era art. In October Philosophy Football, in association with the RMT, will present a night out at London’s Rich Mix Arts Centre ‘To Shake the World’ celebrating the culture of the Revolution. On the same day, Michael Rosen and friends will host an event for families featuring the children’s books of the revolution. And there will even be a guided history walk to visit the hidden history of connections between London’s East End and 1917.

Not all agree that 1917 deserves any kind of celebration at all. Art critic Jonathan Jones writing in the Guardian rages against the spectacle of the Royal Academy ‘Revolution : Russian Art 1917-1932’ exhibition because “The way we glibly admire Russian art from the age of Lenin sentimentalises one of the most murderous chapters in human history.” Unless the Royal Academy (the clue might be in the title, Jonathan) has reinvented itself as a bastion of Marxism-Leninism it is most unlikely they will be sentimentalising communism. Nor, given their reputation, is glibness likely to characterise how they showcase the art via context.

It is undeniable the Russian Revolution cost lives, millions of lives. It took place in the era of World War One when millions of lives were being lost on the fields of France too. And this was the age of Empire with millions more lives sacrificed in the cause of imperial plunder and subjugation across the world. All three events, 1917, WWI, Empire were bloody. None should be sentimentalised. Each needs to be understood – anything else is the denial of history.

In ’89 the fall of the Berlin Wall was famously claimed to mark ‘the end of history’. Yet a generation later the cause of radical change in an era of #dumptrump and #chaoticbrexit remains .The strength of the connections between these 2017 social movements and 1917 are there to be argued over, the history contested but to dismiss the revolution of a century ago as either wholly irrelevant or entirely the model for change now would be both arrogant nd unwise.

The crucial point of the October Revolution was reached some seven months after those women workers first marched when the Russian Royal Family’s Winter Palace was successfully stormed. The signal for the assault to begin was he firing of a blank from the bow gun of the Russian warship, Aurora. The ship’s crew, inspired by the protesting women had mutinied back in February to side with the Bolsheviks.

MP Aurora for tweet

And what followed 1917 was a movement, in Russia but beyond too, that unleashed an unprecedented wave of creative imagination. It was a cultural revolution. Today the art of the period has become chic, fit to hang on the most respected gallery walls, treated as historic artefact and not a tool of revolutionary change. Of course nobody would decry the simplistic beauty of Lissitzky’s Red Wedge - which of course inspires this website's banner - but to divorce the aesthetic of this, and hundreds and thousands of other pieces from a period when art, poetry, music, film, theatre and more went into production with a revolutionary impulse, would be a travesty.

Perhaps the most famous cultural movement out of 1917 was constructivism. But these weren’t shapes artfully assembled without purpose. This was construction with designs on everlasting change, permanent revolution. Too often this is represented by both the establishment, and reproduced too by those who fail to learn the lessons of 1917’s failings, as a top down, didactic project. Rather at its best, politically and artistically the Russian Revolution was a movement from below, inspired by the human capacity to shake the world in which we live.

MP Soviet Construction for tweet

This is the point those who decry the 1917 Celebrations miss, and some who join with the commemorations miss it too. This wasn’t a revolution made by Lenin, Trotsky, or Stalin. Though all three played their part of course in what it was, and what it became. But most of all this was a revolution made by ordinary people - women factory workers began it, rank and file sailors fired the starting signal. And with their actions and achievements they inspired a vision for a better world. This is what we should celebrate about 1917, and this is what the art of the Russian Revoltuion shows us - the potential that we the people have, together, to effect political change.

This is an amended version of an article which first appeared in the Morning Star. Philosophy Football's 1917 T-shirt range is available here.

Don't Burn the Books
Thursday, 14 July 2016 12:13

Don't Burn the Books

Published in Round-up

A scorching hot list of summer political reading selected by Mark Perryman.

A year ago as Labour sought to recover from the May General Election defeat, halls were starting to fill up for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign rallies. But even as the halls got bigger and the queues round the block longer, few would ever imagined that this would result in the Left for once being on the winning side. The overwhelming majority of Labour MPs never accepted the vote. They bided their time, and chose the moment for their coup in a way to cause maximum damage. Richard Seymour’s Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics is to date both the best, and the definitive, account of what Corbyn’s victory the first time round meant. One year on, it is the essential summer 2016 read.

But as Corbyn would be the first to admit, his victory will never amount to much unless he can refashion what Labour also means. A Better Politics by Danny Dorling is a neat combination of catchy ideas and practical policies towards a more equal society that benefits all. Of course the principal barrier to equality remains class. In her new book Respectable, Lynsey Hanley provides an explanation of modern class relations that effortlessly mixes the personal and the political. If this sounds easier written than done, then George Monbiot’s epic How Did We Get Into This Mess? serves to remind us of the scale of the economic and environmental crisis we are up against.

Labour’s existential crisis is rooted in competing models of party democracy, and how this should shape a party as a social movement for change. An exploration of what a left populist mass party might look like and the problems it will encounter is provided in Podemos: In the Name of the People, a highly original set of conversations between theorist Chantal Mouffe and Íñigo Errejón, political secretary of Podemos. And it's introduced by Owen Jones - what a line-up!

MP Podemos

One of the more positive aspects of Labour’s crisis should be pluralism, and a rejecion of simplistic binary oppositions such as Corbynista vs Blairite. To begin with, all engaged in the Labour debate should read the free-to-download book Labour’s Identity Crisis: England and the Politics of Patriotism, edited by Tristram Hunt. There is much here on an issue vital post-Brexit, yet scarcely acknowledged as important by most on both ‘sides’. One criticism though - why no contributors from the Left side, such as Billy Bragg, Gary Younge, or the young black Labour MP Kate Osamor?

Taking a tour round Britain to portray the state of the nation(s) is fairly familiar territory for writers on Britishness but Island Story by JD Taylor stands out, thanks to a the author’s sense purpose, tenacious imagination - and a bicycle. It also avoids the common tendency in attempts to produce a settled national narrative of  producing a bastardised version of English nationalism, combining the isolationist and the racist to produce a toxic mix. As a shortish polemic The Ministry of Nostalgia from Owen Hatherley is also more of a demolition than a deconstruction of the rewriting of our history that flows from this naionalism, and all the better for it.

Anglo-populism is mired in the issue of immigration as a mask for its racism. Angry White People by Hsiao-Hung Pai encounters the extremities of this - the far Right, whose politics of hate have a nasty habit of not being as far away as many of us would like. In the USA, the brutal institutionalised racism of its police force has sparked a mass movement which is reported with much insight by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s in her From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, another essential read if a similar popular anti-racism is going to emerge on this side of the Atlantic sometime soon. Of course #BlackLivesMatter didn’t emerge in a political vacuum, it connected movements that date back to the 1950s and 1960s. These connections are expertly made by one of the key Black political figures of both then and now, Angela Davis, whose new book Freedom is a Constant Struggle is an absolutely inspiring read.

MP black lives

Do the deepening fractures around race spell a new era of uprisings? Quite possibly, though their political trajectory and outcomes remain uncertain. Joshua Clover comes down firmly on the side of the optimistic reading in his new book Riot.Strike.Riot, while most wouldn’t be so sure. A handy companion volume would be Strike Art by Yates McKee which helpfully explains the protest culture created via the Occupy movement. However, doubt remains whether such moments, direct action or insurrection, can generate a positive impact beyond their own milieu or locality. Shooting Hipsters is a much-needed up-to-date account of, and practical guide to, how acts of dissent can break through into and beyond the mainstream media. And for the dark side? Mara Einstein’s Black Ops Advertising, which details the many ways in which corporate PR operations have sought to colonise social media.

MP shootinghipstersthumb

We can be inspired by history to carve out a better future from the present. A Full Life by Tom Keough and Paul Buhle uses a comic strip to illustrate the life, times and ideals of Irish rebel James Connolly. Alternatively, enjoy the extraordinary range of writing from the Spanish Civil War compiled by Pete Ayrton in No Pasaran! And Owen Hatherley’s carefully crafted The Chaplin Machine provides an insight into the aesthetic of revolution that was abroad at the time in the immediate aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, on a scale never seen before or since.

It is also a period that is recorded with considerable skill by the twice-yearly journal Twentieth Century Communism - the latest edition providing the usual thematic range, including Trotsky’s bid to live in 1930s Britain, and an outline of the basis for a cosmopolitan anti-imperialism. Of course there are plenty who would seek to bury all of this. David Aaronovitch comes to the last rites with his brilliantly written if flawed Party Animals. An entirely different perspective is provided by the hugely impressive Jodi Dean and her latest book Crowds and Party, an impassioned account of modern protest movements as the enduring case for a mass party of social and political change. Sounds familiar, trite even? Not the way Jodi argues it, mixing an acute sense of history with a vision of the future.

MP Crowds and party cover

But enjoying the here and now of a super soaraway summer perhaps demands more than the promise of a better tomorrow. My starting point for a today to look forward to usually revolves around finding a recipe for a decent supper. Plenty of these can be found in The Good Life Eatery Cookbook with a mix of good-for-you, or more importantly in this instance good-for-me recipes, temptingly delicious-looking photography, and a philosophy behind it all that reminds me of that useful maxim ‘small is beautiful.’

Of course no summer should be complete without a visit to the beach. Highly recommended reading for the sun-lounger searching for a dash of a thriller for a mental getaway is Chris Brookmyre’s latest Black Widow which, as always with Brookmyre, is dark, twisted and entertaining. And for the children? Pushkin Press do the hard work for parents, tracking down the best in European kids’ books, translating, repackaging and producing such gems as Tow-Truck Pluck from the Netherlands. The perfect holiday read for families needing to be cheered up post-Brexit.

MP Chris Brookmyre

And my book of the quarter? Food is never far from most of our minds. Summertime picnics are for the fortunate, worrying about what we eat and the impact it has on our health. For others, the spread of food banks is testament to the failure of austerity politics. Few writers could appeal to both the modern obsession with food as well as to consciences concerned with those who don’t have enough of it to get by, never mind baking off. But Josh Sutton does with his pioneering account Food Worth Fighting For. This is social history that packs a punch, while written in a style and with a focus to transform readers into fighting foodies. Brilliant, and incredibly original.

 Food rev2

 

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’, aka Philosophy Football. No links in this review to Amazon, if you can avoid purchasing from offshore tax dodgers please do.

Don't Tell Him Pike!
Friday, 19 February 2016 21:56

Don't Tell Him Pike!

Published in Films

Mark Perryman describes Dad’s Army as the most popular front of them all.

1968 was a tumultuous year. The Tet Offensive, the civil rights movement, the May events of ‘Paris, London, Rome, Berlin/We shall fight, we will win’ and the Prague Spring. This was also the year, 15th April to be precise, that Dad’s Army, Britain’s most loved TV comedy series, was broadcast for the very first time.

Quite remarkably almost fifty years on, never-ending repeats from the nine original series are still being broadcast as primetime Saturday night TV. Over Christmas a drama-documentary closely based on fact, We’re Doomed: The Dad’s Army Story appeared on BBC, again in primetime. And perhaps most amazing of all, Dad’s Army has been remade into a new feature film, not reinvented for a 2016 audience but recreated to be as close as possible to the original version.

That very first appearance of the Walmington-on-Sea volunteers featured Jones the butcher sabotaging any threat of a Nazi invasion by reversing the road signs ‘To the town’ and ‘To the sea’. Of course the result was obvious, a local motorcyclist stops, takes the wrong turning and off camera there is a loud splash. A comedy classic has begun.

It is easy to mock but a decisive connection is made via Dad’s Army with the Popular Front against Nazism which is ever-present amongst all the English slapstick humour. Look at the characters: the bank manager, his hard-pressed chief cashier and the most junior of junior cashiers, the butcher, the miserabilist undertaker who is an English coastline economic migrant from Scotland, the pensioner, the local ducker and diver, the vicar and verger and their precious church hall, the busybody greengrocer. What brought them all together? The defence of Britain and all it meant to them, from all that they feared Nazi rule would do in the name of hate.

Only a few years previously Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists were being cheered on by the Daily Mail ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’. Despite the best efforts of the stalwarts of Cable Street, even in the autumn of 1939 after the declaration of war, Mosley was still able to attract crowds to his ‘peace rallies’ numbering in their thousands. The mood of appeasement remained ever-present, spearheaded by the Tories’ Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax.

The middle-class, and very English, pomposity of Captain Mainwaring of 1940 is too easily confused with the nasty populism of UKIP 2016 but this is to seriously misunderstand and misrepresent what Walmington-on-Sea’s finest were all about. These were ordinary men (women, apart from Mrs Pike and Mrs Fox are almost entirely absent) doing extraordinary things and in the course of this reinventing what Britain could become. The selfless sacrifice of Mainwaring’s volunteers in the face of a Nazi Blitzkrieg that to date had laid waste to all resistance in its path is remarkable. In 1941 Hitler would launch Operation Barbarossa and do the same to any resistance in his way on the Eastern Front, until Stalingrad started the turning of the tide of course.

The sacrifice is obvious in every episode, the heroism perhaps less so, although when a washed up U-Boat Commander tries to take over their seaside town Mainwaring’s epic instruction when the Nazi demand his young private’s name ‘Don’t tell him Pike!’ creates perhaps the show’s funniest moment of all. But as well as the humour there is fierce and heroic resistance in Mainwaring’s voice and puffed-up chest: no fascist was going to push old Blighty around.

Of course class divisions remain within the platoon, as they did right across the war effort. Although it is the public-school educated Sergeant Wilson who invariably loses out in the battle of will and leadership with the grammar-school educated Captain Mainwaring. It is however on the ideological front that in the fictionalised Walmington-on-Sea and the real Britain of 1939-45 that a battle was being fought, and won. A popular mood of co-operation, the common anti-fascist cause and a wide recognition that a society led by and benefiting solely those most used to being in charge was no way to win either the war, or the peace.

All of this created the basis for Labour’s 1945 landslide including the election of two Communist Party MPs, and the electoral defeat of Churchill’s Tory Party. We’ll never know whether the Walmington-on-Sea constituency went Labour, countless similar seats certainly did, but we can be sure that for at least a time the town wasn’t the place it was pre-1939.

There is a danger in dismissing the cult of nostalgia that Dad’s Army represented both in 1968 and in today’s version that we lose the meaning of that moment. Mainwaring, Wilson, Jones, Frazer, Godfrey, Pike and Walker were in their own way the most popular Popular Front of them all.

Harking back to World War Two has created a peculiar version of English patriotism. The politics of anti-fascism are airbrushed out. The Labour victory in ‘45, despite Churchill’s wartime leadership, is scarcely mentioned. The Battle of Britain reduced to a football chant, ‘Ten German Bombers and the RAF from England shot them down’, what kind of tribute is that?

World War Two memorialising becomes translated into a petty anti-Europeanism framed by a resentment at France or most particularly Germany, being the dominant forces in European politics. Dad’s Army gives us an alternative model. Unlike that other long-running BBC comedy set in World War Two, Allo Allo, the Germans rarely make an appearance and thus their hateful fascism is never trivialised or turned into a misjudged excuse for a laugh. Mainwaring’s platoon are hopelessly funny but never a joke. The opening credits spelt out what was at stake in 1940, Britain versus the swastika making its mark across Europe. This was an anti-nazi war not England vs Germany of ’66 vintage and since.

Dad’s Army was broadcast for 9 years, 1968-1977. Its ending pre-dates the rise and triumph of Thatcherism. It was under Maggie that Europhobia, or more accurately Germanophobia, came to define the Tory Right and would eventually create the basis for Ukip’s growth too. Given Ukip’s heartland support lies in England’s left-behind coastal towns it is too easy to rewrite Walmington-on-Sea’s Mainwaring as Thatcher, or Farage, incarnate. But no, rather this was a platoon of community, common cause and if called-upon no little courage. You have been watching? The people vs. fascism.

This is an amended version of a piece first published in the Morning Star. Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football, www.philosophyfootball.com,  who have produced a range of Dad's Army tee shirts.