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.


A much-maligned minority: In defence of the Guardian-reading tofu-eating wokerati
Monday, 05 December 2022 10:11

A much-maligned minority: In defence of the Guardian-reading tofu-eating wokerati

OK I can think of a fair few minorities in more urgent need to mount the barricades for. And yes, it's easy to mock, or if the intellectual fancy takes us critique too. But when Suella Braverman, of the planeful of refugees and asylum seekers jetting off towards deportation to Rwanda dream, uttered these words her politically malicious intent was obvious to all, or at least it should have been. 

Guardian readers, lower-case liberals and for the most part middle-class too. At a recent Labour Party event in Lewes that Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland spoke at, the audience was asked how many read the paper. Almost the entire room of 200 hands went up in the air. We all had a good laugh at our own expense, but then this is a town which boasts not a single Tory councillor and hasn't had one in years. The Labour Party, currently enjoying a surge in membership, has a longstanding problem of a narrowing social base of those who join. This certainly needs addressing, but if it is done as some would seem to advocate from the workerist  left as an act of class conscious  self-harm – another Guardian reader, no thanks! – what precisely does this achieve?

Suella knew exactly what she was doing when she conjured up her trilogy of targets. This was a nakedly right-wing populism to seek to pin liberal values, environmentalism, anti-racism on a middle-class sock puppet and give it a good bashing. But all three actually have support  which is cross-class, politically plural and of a magnitude which is her worst nightmare. Hence her, and others, ambition to stereotype and in the process marginalise the opposition. 

Britain has changed hugely from the days of Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher and other purveyors of this kind of right-wing populism. Nigel Farage did his worst to resurrect it via UKIP and Brexit. But the true success of this campaign belongs to the brilliant manoeuvre of Dominic Cummings to pitch the referendum vote as 'Take Back Control ' vs. 'Remain, keep everything as it is'. In the process exposing a Guardian-reading liberal shortcoming, an inability to engage with the reasons why others might disagree with our particular world view in order to construct a populist progressive bloc that includes those who retain their misgivings. Remain? Leave it as it is, an institution with next to no popular support or sense of identification, across British society, was a campaign doomed to failure from the start. A self-referential liberalism at its worst. 

But there is another way. I religiously read the Guardian from the sports pages backwards. Every day whatever is on the front pages I turn to the match reports, sporting commentary, news and opinion first. Here I read writers, Jonathan Liew in particular, who by exploring the indivisibility of sport from the political help to construct in my mind and political practice the basis of a radical-popular politics. Carrying out  Stuart Hall's maxim so vital for any such project:  “It is through culture that processes of social change make themselves most dramatically visible.”

The most Europeanised institution in English society? A Premier League football club, increasingly Championship and lower divisions too.  Manager and coaching staff, players, sponsors and advertisers, fan-base, 'getting into Europe' the ultimate competitive ambition for clubs and fans, the Euros second only to the World Cup the ambition for England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. Tap into this and Leave would have lost, the failure to do so and posing the alternative as the uncritical, status quo, wrapped in an EU flag hitherto only seen in public worn by the European Ryder Cup team - yes, another popular dimension missed – Remain doomed to defeat.

Race, national identity and Englishness, the break-up of the Union, globalisation, petro-dollar funded soft power, in Stuart Hall's words through sport made 'dramatically visible'. Debating the complexities of transgender women's rights vs all women's rights minus the overheated polarisation which only serves to obscure and obstruct. Or to get a tad philosophical as the Qatar World Cup fills the Guardian sports pages, page after page, be I ever so humble a rather good article situating  the tournament both historically and betwixt universalism vs cultural relativism. All of this informed by what should be the foundation of a radical politics, the cultural and social indivisible from the political and economic.  The Guardian as a newspaper does this better than most, getting up the nose of both reactionaries and class reductionists.  

A bit woke? Yes can be, the self-referential does no cause any political favours. But at its best, connects the popular to the political to help us understand, and act. Give me that over either  Suella's hateful stereotyping  or an overdose of liberal guilt every time. So no Suella I'll stick with the Guardian-reading wokerati if you don't mind.

But there is one item on her list I'm in agreement with. Vegetarian yes, but I really can't stand tofu.

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The Philosophy Football Guardian-reading Tofu-eating Wokerati T-shirt range is available from here.

Love Football not FIFA
Thursday, 17 November 2022 11:54

Love Football not FIFA

Published in Sport

Mark Perryman argues that to understand the politics of Qatar, we need to start with how the World Cup has always been political

Sunday's Qatar World Cup kick-off approaches. 'Stadiums of Shame' screamed the Guardian back page sports headline on Tuesday, while inside there were two pages of facts and figures featuring the plight of migrant workers, former German international Philipp Lahm saying he won't be going because the World Cup doesn't belong in Qatar, and the launch of a new online resource beyond the football.        

All of this is being framed by the editorial self-justification that 'This is a World Cup like no other.' Meanwhile on Saturday – as with every Saturday preceding a World Cup for as long as I can remember – there will be free with the Guardian a 56-page guide to the tournament, full of 'inimitable team-by-team guides' And on Sunday in the Observer there’s a free World Cup 'brilliant wallchart'. Confused? We might well be.   

Mmmm....or as the terrace chant goes 'If you know your history...' because the idea that Qatar is 'like no other' is wrong, the product of a deep-seated ahistoricism. Qatar is simply the latest World Cup to be used as a political platform, and we can cut through both the cultural relativism and the liberal platitudes to recognise there is nothing remotely 'like no other' about this World Cup. It simply follows the well-worn norm, of mixing politics with sport.

To begin at the beginning, in 1930. It was the first World Cup, hosted by Uruguay. The tournament was invented by a Frenchman, Jules Rimet, and organised by FIFA, which was founded by another Frenchman, Robert Guérin. The Football Association, which never called itself the English FA – because after all we invented the game – promptly announced they would be boycotting it. Nothing to do with human rights in Uruguay or anything like that, rather it was the very idea that these Johnny Foreigners might think they can run our game.

England also boycotted the next two tournaments, in 1934 and 1938, before finally entering the 1950 World Cup. A squad of England legends, including Billy Wright, Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney, were promptly knocked out at the group stage, including a loss to the USA, at the time a team of amateurs. No, football didn't come back home (sic) back then either, and we've had to live with the ideological legacy ever since.

The 1934 World Cup was hosted by Mussolini's Italy and his Blackshirts explicitly used the Italian national team to build support for fascism. Italy won their home tournament, and the 1938 tournament in France too, becoming the first team to win an away World Cup. In 1966, Prime Minister Harold Wilson turned England 's win into a reason to vote Labour: 'Have you noticed we only win the Word Cup under a Labour government'. One old Labour pledge that has stood the test of time, more's the pity.

In 1970, Israel qualified for the World Cup via its membership of the Asian Football Federation (AFC). One World Cup later, Israel is forced to leave the AFC because most member countries refuse to play a nation that mistreats Palestine in the way Israel does. UEFA on the other hand welcomed Israel with open arms, the only non-European country that has been allowed to join UEFA.

In the 1974 World Cup, the USSR team were expelled from the tournament for refusing to play Chile following Pinochet's coup – and Chile promptly take their place.

The last World Cup in 2018 was Putin's World Cup, just four years after his annexation, aka invasion, of Crimea; this time round, all Russian participation has been banned. Qatar, a World Cup 'like no other'? No it isn’t, it’s just like all the others, framed by politics, and most of it is bad politics.

For this World Cup, the England team flew out to Qatar in a plane which has been renamed ‘Rainbow’. A powerful and very public statement of LGBT solidarity, in the face of widespread laws in Qatar outlawing both LGBT relationships and a variety of women's rights that we take for granted. The solidarity on show has been amplified by widespread coverage of the issue in the sports media too – good! However, there wasn't a single out gay male player on that plane, nor do any of the squad play alongside any out gay men, and none are managed by an out gay man. To be gay and out in England isn't illegal, yet to play professional football it might as well be. Perhaps a degree of self-reflection wouldn't go amiss?      

Qatar are using and abusing the World Cup, and it was ever thus. This is the downside of football as the one truly global sport. Yes Rugby (both versions) and cricket (all versions) have their World Cups but they're not truly global, are they? They are sports fundamentally framed by the British Empire with a few other international hangers-on who can score upsets but never get remotely close to the latter stages of the tournament. The winners of football's World Cup are likewise a select few from Europe and South America, but in contrast to the cricket and rugby World Cups semi-finalists and quarter-finalists come from every continent and from every corner of the world.

A festival of popular internationalism

This is the upside of every World Cup, including the one in Qatar – it’s a festival of popular internationalism. I've travelled as an England fan to four World Cups including Asia's first, Japan and in Korea 2002, and Africa's first, South Africa in 2010. Never mind – well actually I do mind a lot – that England didn't come close to lifting the trophy, the experience was utterly unforgettable. Yes it's a holiday of privilege, but being there was despite all the differences also  mixed with what we shared as visitors with our hosts – the love of football. Not as tourists, but as fans, united.

That's what Qatar should be about. The first Middle Eastern World Cup – good! The first in a majority Muslim country – good! The first that recognises not the entire world follows the European (in fact not even all of Europe) league season calendar from August to May – good! But of course, we all know it won't be about those things, and that is a huge loss, barely recognised by the media.

There are certainly plenty of good reasons to give this World Cup a miss. There is the mistreatment and appalling deaths of migrant workers who bult the magnificent stadiums that teams are so much looking forward to playing in. There is the corrupt way in which the bid was secured, too, though England were part of that round of bidding and played an international in Trinidad and Tobago with the sole intention of getting that country's vote. England won the game, lost the vote, and the moral high ground was abandoned.

To boycott or not to boycott?  In the 1970s protests and disruption stopped overseas tours from apartheid South Africa and led directly to South Africa being banned from international football sport by FIFA, as well as the Olympics. Good result! But let's be honest, for Qatar it's a non-question. Despite all the coverage from a media determined to expose Qatar as an unsuitable host and at the same time give the tournament huge amounts of coverage, there is no mass, popular movement for boycott. Why? Because this contradiction is shared by all those looking forward to the games but not having much time for a wide variety of reasons – not all good – for the country where they're being played, and next to no time for the organisation that chose that country as the host.

So – what’s the best chance of a boycott? England exit in ignominy at the Group stage and the boycott will be unstoppable. Prospects for solidarity? Wales march on triumphantly to the knockout stages and there's a tidal wave of solidarity for their team. Basically, for the next four weeks any moral gymnastics can be reduced to four words – love football not FIFA!

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football. The Philosophy Football World Cup 2022 Love Football not FIFA badge and T-shirt range is available from here.


The Poppy and the Politics: Remembering the First World War
Friday, 11 November 2022 10:19

The Poppy and the Politics: Remembering the First World War

Published in Cultural Commentary

Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football tries to untangle the poppy from the political undergrowth 

This weekend, Premier League footballers will be sporting a poppy embroidered into their kits, as they have for several years now. Up and down the divisions, clubs will precede kick off with a scrupulously well-observed minute's silence, if they haven't done so already.

But what precisely is being remembered here? Unlike the Second World War, the First World War's causes and effects have largely been lost in the mists of history. Even the most diligent regime of revision by those preparing for their GCSE History might struggle to come up with a reasonable explanation. The Blackadder version of class division in the trenches together with a mix of superhuman courage and senseless sacrifice fits awkwardly with official versions that cannot bear to admit the latter half of the origins of the poppy myth. 

When Philosophy Football commissioned the renowned illustrator Dan Murrell to come up with an image to combine these varied contradictions, Dan didn't disappoint. He drew a silhouette of those countless hundreds of thousands who in death became a single unknown soldier, with place and date unspecified. The poppy represents not today's far-off commemorations but the bloody carnage to come in a matter of days, if nor hours, and the football in his hands symbolises what he'd rather be doing, away from brutal war at the front.

On Christmas Day 1914 soldiers from both sides did just that – the 'football truce' was a brief but hugely symbolic episode of rank-and-file resistance on both sides to the juggernaut of war which left 22 million dead. He'd rather be playing football but all his mates who would play in his team will soon be dead at Loos, Vimy Ridge, the Somme, Passchendaele – and for what?

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British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during the unofficial truce. (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector). Copyright © Harold Robson/IWM (Q 50719). 

The Christmas Truce game took place on the Western Front, at Pont Rouge. On Christmas Eve 1914, German troops had decorated their frontline with Christmas trees and candles. They sang Stille Nacht, a carol that most of the British troops knew too, as Silent Night. Astonished, they applauded and then joined in with songs of their own. Christmas Day, dawned, the guns are silent. A German NCO advances across No Man's Land carrying a Christmas tree towards the British lines. A British soldier goes to meet him, soon others join him, gifts are exchanged. A football is produced. Caps and helmets for goals. The match ends 3-2 to the Germans.

By lunchtime on Christmas Day the guns had fallen silent on two-thirds of the British sector. More games were played before hostilities recommenced. The fact that football was the means of connection amidst such conflict is the perfect illustration of its centrality to working-class life in Britain, and to a lesser extent mainland Europe, by the early 20th century.

Two and a half years later a very different expression of football's centrality to early twentieth century class culture was at the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, when Captain Nevill of the East Surreys offered a prize for the first platoon to kick a football up to the enemy trenches:

On through the hail of slaughter,
Where gallant comrades fall,
Where blood is poured like water,
They drive the trickling ball.
The fear of death before them,
Is but an empty name;
True to the land that bore them,
The Surreys played the game.

This was the way a poet writing under the pseudonym 'Touchstone' described for the Daily Mail the 420,000 losses the British Army suffered. A game? Even the most committed militarist might struggle to comprehend this particular emotional response. But such was the iron will at the time of those who backed the war, no questions were asked and no answers were given.

All of this sits rather awkwardly with the twenty-first century status of the poppy. A remembrance that provides little space for why such a war was fought, to what ends. The words of the war poets, most famously Wilfred Owen, almost entirely absent from institutionalised memorializing: 

Sit on the bed. I’m blind, and three parts shell.
Be careful; can’t shake hands now; never shall.
Both arms have mutinied against me,-brutes.
My fingers fidget like ten idle brats.

This was written while Owen served on the frontline with The Manchester Regiment and published posthumously following him being killed in action in November 1918. Of course, remembrance is tinged with the mournful. The minute's silence is an incredibly powerful statement of this, whether observed in silent unison in a crowd of thousands before a football match, or in the quietness of solitary observation of the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, the eleventh month.

Those who pour scorn on such emotions do themselves no favours. But neither do those who embrace the moment to divorce themselves from all critical faculties. The Christmas truce, the verses versus the war, the dashed hopes of those who returned home to look forward to a society fit for heroes and found anything but – if we cannot provide the space for such faultlines in our collective memory then what precisely is the good of that poppy we're wearing?

Further Reading Douglas Newton The Darkest Days : The Truth Behind Britain's Rush to War 1914

The Philosophy Football 1914-18 Remembrance collection is available here.

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Culture is ordinary: One hundred years of the Beeb
Monday, 17 October 2022 10:45

Culture is ordinary: One hundred years of the Beeb

From Daleks to Strictly, Mark Perryman explores the meaning of the BBC at 100

For decades those of us of a certain age have been able to measure our lives out with episodes from the BBC. Playschool for early years (remember them?) with Brian Cant and Floella Benjamin looking after our every need – so long as the TV was on.  Not forgetting the best maths teacher we never had, Johnny Ball.  The fact Johnny 's daughter Zoe came to be the media face of 1990s ladettes via her stint on BBC Radio One, before graduating in the 2010s to presenting on Radio 2, only adds to this sense of us as listeners and viewers growing up and old with this great British institution.

Characters from the original Magic Roundabout

Primary school years coincided with the Magic Roundabout, a five-minute dose of the magical just before tea time. An extraordinary, and total, reinvention of the original French animation to give Dougal, Zebedee, Brian and more, an entirely new, and much-loved, meaning.  'Time for bed?' Yes please, leave all the nasty news for the grown-ups to endure!


Blue Peter was more didactic, though in a kindly way. From the 'Get down Shep!' of John Noakes via that elephant dropping an almighty poo on the studio floor, to creating all kind of d-i-y artefacts with 'sticky-back plastic' when all of us trying it at home knew it was Sellotape! Achieving a Blue Peter badge became the not-so-secret ambition of the aspirational child.


Teendom dawned along with the Thursday night post-supper treat of Top of the Pops. This was Glastonbury, The Brixton Academy, and looking good, before most of The Arctic Monkeys were born, not on the dance floor but in our living rooms. Dictated by whatever was topping, rising, bubbling under the week's charts as broadcast live by Radio One the preceding Sunday evening, TOTP was broad enough to be the first introduction for many to Bowie, reggae, punk, Two Tone and a lot more. 

But the real insight into all that music had to offer beyond the charts was provided for punky-indie adolescents by the incomparable John Peel broadcasting on Radio One from 10pm, a strictly under-the-bedclothes night-time pleasure for those still of school age.

The BBC had a knack of conjuring up shows which were perfect for growing up with. Doctor Who has changed an awful lot from the era of William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee. Via regeneration, after regeneration, David Tennant, Jodie Whittaker and Ncuti Gatwa are not the same as their Whovian forebears. Yet so many continuities exist to provide reassurance. Daleks, exterminate! Where would we be without them? Modernisation, as we've learned from politics, has its limits.

bbc Monty Python rev

Not only that, change can also serve to disappoint. Monty Python existed on the outer edges of English surrealism. It was a miracle the show was ever broadcast – there had never been anything quite like it before, nor anything like it since either. The dead parrot, the four Yorkshiremen, the People's Front of Judaea not the Judaean People's Front achieving a crossover on the big screen to the popular that few of a surrealist disposition achieve, or more likely even seek. John Cleese, Minister of Python's Silly Walks, with Fawlty Towers moved this Pythonesque caricature of Englishness to an even bigger and broader audience. The fact John has now himself become a caricature of Basil, his most famous character, is for many a grave disappointment. Or is it perhaps rather the most surreal, ridiculous consequence imaginable? 

1968 was a year of revolt. The Mai events in Paris, the Prague Spring, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, with communist revolutionaries reaching the very edge of the Saigon US Embassy compound. Meanwhile in good old Blighty something is stirring on the seafront of Walmington-on-Sea. Yes, '68 really did mark the first broadcast of Dad's Army, a defiantly and most particular English version of anti-fascism. The bank manager, his assistant manager and junior clerk were united across class and status divisions with the local butcher, funeral director, seaside retiree, local spiv and more, against Hitler and what his stormtroopers would do to their beloved town.

OK so it wasn’t exactly the Anti-Nazi League but for a comedic version of the breadth and reach of the wartime popular front against fascism, none will ever match Mainwaring, Wilson, Pike, Frazer, Godfrey, Walker but most of all Lance Corporal Jones. As Jones endlessly reminded us about fascists, 'they don't like it up 'em'!


Does any of this really matter? For some the BBC is a century-old voice of the Establishment. For others it’s a cabal of the woke. But as Raymond Williams sought to teach us, 'culture is ordinary'. For most people, it is in the nooks and crannies of children's TV, soaps, celebrity-led reality TV, and comedy that ideas are formed, dismantled, remade, rather than simply via the news. Stuart Hall (no, not the disgraced former BBC It's a Knockout Presenter, the other one, the cultural theorist) applied Williams's premise to an entirely new way of 'doing' politics:

It is through culture that processes of social change make themselves most dramatically visible. Culture is a constitutive dimension of society.

Hall believed that popular culture was the site where everyday struggles between dominant and subordinate groups are fought, won, and lost. Culture thus has to be thought of as an active, key part of society.  In the process politics becomes inseparable from popular culture, and traditional class alliances are eroded and new ones formed by the mass media. From Daleks to Strictly, this is why the BBC not only informs and entertains, but matters to us all. Happy hundredth, BBC!

Note: Philosophy Football has a BBC Centenary T-shirt range, including a half-price offer on David Hendy's The BBC: A People's History from here.

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Commonsense socialism: Liverpool, Shankly and solidarity
Saturday, 24 September 2022 08:14

Commonsense socialism: Liverpool, Shankly and solidarity

Published in Sport

The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That's how I see football, that's how I see life. 

- Bill Shankly.

In 1995 the newly elected Labour leader Tony Blair persuaded the party to drop 'common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange' from Clause Four of Labour's aims and values. The left intellectual, and huge Liverpool fan, Doreen Massey found Shankly's 'socialism' quote and urged us to produce it as one of our T-shirts in response. The fact that during his playing career Shankly wore Number 4 on his back at Preston North End – well how could we resist?

Shortly after its release the legendary DJ, and another huge Liverpool fan, John Peel, phoned me. Would I drop one round to his BBC studio, he was off to Glastonbury the next day to front the station's TV coverage of the festival. This was product placement from heaven! The following week our postbag, pre-internet, was bulging to overflowing with orders. One was from the other reds and deadly Liverpool rivals, Manchester United first teamer and legend Brian McLair. Shankly's socialism appeal is universal.              

Another left intellectual, Stuart Hall had been there when Doreen hunted out the Shankly quote from her bookshelves (this shirt had the most extraordinary of gestations). Almost a decade later in an essay co-written with Alan O'Shea, Stuart set out a view of common sense that in many ways explains both the Shankly version of socialism's appeal and its radical potential:

" The battle over what constitutes common sense is a key area of political contestation. Far from being a naturally evolved set of ideas, it is a terrain that is always being fought over."

Shankly's description is of a socialism located in a core value for any successful team, individuals working together as a collective, teamwork. And any rewards for the success that this delivers – it helps of course that Shankly led Liverpool to a lot of success – should be shared out equally too. Brilliantly he then connects these values he instilled in the Liverpool boot room, training ground, and on the pitch at Anfield, to life beyond the touchline too.

Commonsense socialism

This is a mix of common sense with a distinct politics. Unless the two are combined, however accessible the language is, it becomes devoid of any meaning in the thwarted ambition of seeking to appeal to all. This week's Labour conference meets under the platform slogan ' Fairer, greener, future'. What does that even mean? Is there anything in those three words anybody could possibly object to? In what sense does this amount to political contestation of the sheer scale of the crisis the Tories are plunging this country into? And for those who suggest none of this can be achieved by a single slogan, in their very different ways Margaret Thatcher 'There Is No Alternative' and Tony Blair 'Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime' achieved precisely that, mapping out a distinct, easy to understand political position.

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By Hillsborough Justice campaign

As a footballing city Liverpool provides a single tragic moment to reveal the horrific consequences when common sense isn't contested.  On the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster Andrew Hussey wrote a New Statesman essay 'A city in mourning, a game in ruins' which made precisely this link: 

A crowd being killed live on television in front of your eyes. A crowd little different from the working-class Liverpudlians of the 1960s who had inspired Bill Shankly’s greatest teams with their passion and collective sense of belief. The scenes of singing and scarf-waving on the Kop had been shown in black and white newsreels across the world.

What did those pictures portray? Andrew's description of their impact is suitably evocative:

This was the mob, the crowd, the working class in a group and in action, but it was nothing to be feared. The humour and dignity of this crowd were iconic. These images announced to the world the cultural vibrancy of ordinary people and their pleasures. To this extent, Liverpool fans were as crucial a component of 1960s pop culture as the Beatles.

But within two decades an unsuccessfully contested commonsense Thatcherism had entirely transformed this sympathetic representation:

By the end of the Thatcherite 1980s this same crowd had become the object of scorn and derision. To be working-class, to be a football fan, to be unemployed and northern was to be scum.

And on 15th April 1989, for 97 who went to a football match, dead. The decades-long fight for justice for those 97, which still hasn't ended, has been as much as about contesting this lethal 'commonsense' meaning of the crowd that day, as exposing the ways they were appallingly treated, and killed. The two are inextricably linked.

And Shankly's socialism in practice? From the campaign for Hillsborough justice to Steve  McManaman and Robbie Fowler in '97 stripping off their Liverpool shirts to reveal underneath  T-shirts supporting the Liverpool dockers' strike – here's hoping the current squad do the same for the 2022 strike. The matchday collections outside Anfield and Goodison, uniquely uniting Liverpool and Everton fans as ' Fans Supporting Foodbanks' which Ian Byrne, now a Labour MP, helped found. Or the public campaigning work on issues including homophobia and Brexit, by Everton legends Neville Southall and Peter Reid. And Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson organising all his fellow, and rival, Premier League club captains to raise huge sums in support of NHS key workers throughout the pandemic.

The 2022 version of the Shankly Way, a commonsense socialism, contestation and solidarity, not a bad three to have at the back. But will Keir Starmer's Labour even allow that threesome on the conference pitch?

Further reading: David Peace's novelisation of Bill Shankly's life, career and politics Red or Dead.

The Philosophy Football Shankly 'socialism' T-shirt is available from here.

Right Red Reads for Labour Party Conference 2022
Thursday, 22 September 2022 10:12

Right Red Reads for Labour Party Conference 2022

Published in Cultural Commentary

The Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci described his ambition for a political party as the party itself becoming an 'organic intellectual.'  This was no elitist project, I have my own home-made Gramscian maxim: 'not all intellectuals are academics, not all academics are intellectuals.' Ouch!

Could Labour or Labourism ever fulfil Gramsci's ambition? Mmm. This requires both a party culture that is bottom-up, drawing on ideas and experiences every bit as much from below as from above – the world of special advisers and thinktanks. But it also requires critical thinking, a willingness to question the status quo. A willingness which is notably absent from any Labour discourse in the last ten days of ‘national mourning’ – period to be topped off by Labour opening conference not belting out the words of The Red Flag, The Internationale or Jerusalem but 'long to reign over us, happy and glorious’.

Two lines that express English (I use the term advisedly) subjecthood and are accepted uncritically by Labourism. So is all hope lost? On the fringes of conference The World Transformed Festival and the launch of the Compass Win as One campaign suggests there are at least some signs that Gramsci's concept of the party as an 'organic intellectual' isn't entirely dead.

To help nourish this hope, a heap of books are published every September, or thereabouts. They are mostly of a broadly Labour orientation, looking forward to the Labour version of 'what is to be done' (with apologies to Lenin) rather than as in previous years’ themes of 'what did we do wrong'. Agree or disagree with the conclusions, these are books designed to set readers thinking.

a murray

A kind of companion volume to his last book The Fall and Rise of  the British Left (published for the 2019 Labour Conference, after which 'rise' most definitely changed to 'fall') Andrew Murray's Is Socialism Possible in Britain? Reflections on the Corbyn Years is a critical read. Murray loses patience with Corbyn's indecision and caution, most of all on Brexit. He sees the backing of a second referendum as central to the 2019 defeat.

Murray was one of a triumvirate of key advisers to Corbyn, alongside Seumas Milne and Steve Howell, with a political background connected to traditions like the Communist Party, and his wide-ranging critique displays a thoughtfulness and openness to alternative views that this tradition wasn't exactly renowned for. However, since the overwhelming majority of Labour members were and are anti-Brexit, and in 2019 backed the second referendum option, this suggests that a 'politics from below' still has some way to go. As for answering the question 'Is socialism possible in Britain' most readers will surely answer, for good or ill, that's one 'ism' which is unlikely to be promised in the next Labour manifesto.

The Starmer Project: A Journey to the Right by Oliver Eagleton attempts to explain the meaning for the shift from Corbynism to Starmerism via a potted political biography of Sir Keir. The book is certainly rich in well-researched detail, much of it previously unpublished and with the kind of details that Sir Keir would probably prefer remained unpublished. But the narrative is framed by a politics that borders on the conspiracist - there's this bloke called Starmer, he's not what he seems, he's fooled a lot of people and this needs to be exposed. Such a narrative writes off the reasons he won the leadership election, why so many who'd backed Jeremy - 60% is one reliable estimate - switched to Keir. The relative acquiescence by Labour to the shift to the right cannot be explained by a conspiracy. And Labour's prospects at the next General Election can't be accounted either simply by a yearning for the return of Corbynism.

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With Our Bloc: How We Win James Schneider attempts, via an extended polemic, something different. Citing Gramsci, Stuart Hall and Chantal Mouffe on hegemony and populism is a good start. However, the link between theory and practice tends to get lost in establishing the correctness of James' argument. A 'bloc' that extends beyond, but doesn't reject parliamentary socialism is absolutely correct. But I lost count of the number of times James said X, Y, Z  could do this, or that, for such a bloc to materialise but not much about either 'how'  or 'why' in the past initiatives such as Enough is Enough haven't become the kind of bloc of James describes. Perhaps this time it will be different? 

c chessum

Though the points of disagreement may be marginal to all but those most immersed in the marginalia of the left, Michael Chessum comes to the subject of the Labour Party with a different approach to Andrew Murray, Oliver Eagleton and James Schneider, who broadly share the same perspective on the Corbyn-Starmer shift. This is Only The Beginning: The Making of a New Left, From Anti-Austerity to The Fall of Corbyn is Michael's hugely impressive testament to the point of this disagreement. 

In the first half of his argument, he locates the core of Corbynism's support generationally in the anti-tuition fees movement of 2010-11 and after, the period when Paul Mason famously declared Whyit’s all kicking off everywhere. In the second half Michael connects this ferment to both the rise, and fall, of Corbynism. Shorn of conspiracism, full of depth and an understanding why the fact Labour members, including the 'kicking off' generation, are overwhelmingly anti-Brexit but not Remain dupes either, this is a must-read. What a shame then that it’s not a mass-market cheap paperback, and instead an expensive £20 hardback: a massive missed opportunity by the publisher.

d phipps

Don't Stop Thinking about Tomorrow: The Labour Party after Jeremy Corbyn  by Mike Phipps can almost be read as a companion, 'oldie version' to This is Only the Beginning. Mike's book deals in greater depth with the 'what happens next' which is the shortest section in Michael's, and all the better for it. No wild-eyed party romantic, Mike is in it for the long haul, with a powerful indictment of the flunking-out position. This is the politics that Murray, Eagleton and Schneider reject, personified by John McDonnell. Whether the space remains for such a left is an open question but Mike Phipps gives us the grounds for its possibility. And as an added bonus, the publisher chose a cheap(ish) paperback price of £13.   

Two books take a very different, and most compelling, approach to exploring the current state of Labour, both written by Labour candidates in the 2019 General Election (spoiler alert: neither won. Ali Milani The Unlikely Candidate: What Losing an Election Taught Me about How to Change Politics is Ali's account of his campaign to unseat  Boris Johnson in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip. Targeted by Momentum as a winnable seat, the campaign was both high profile and enjoyed considerable activist support. Winnable? If only! Defeated but unbowed, Ali weaves his experience into a portrayal of what the transformation of Labour into a community based, practical activism-led Labour Party would look like.

e durose

If Uxbridge might have seemed winnable Brentwood and Ongar was off the scale, a safe and solid Tory seat. Oly Durose came a very distant, second for Labour in 2019 but it spurred him to write a fascinatingly original book, Suburban Socialism (or Barbarism). 'Blue Wall' seats are where Labour and the Liberal Democrats, despite losing, did proportionately better than elsewhere. Oly has unearthed a new battle ground – suburbia. Too late for his own campaign, yet much informed by it, he mixes national identity, economic unrealities, Mark Fisher's 'capitalist realism' and more to summon 'suburban socialism' into existence. 

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Both books draw on the Bernie Sanders campaign for inspiration. To win Democrat primaries against all odds house by house, street by street, block by block, neighbourhood by neighbourhood all the way up to the Democrat Presidential nomination, almost. Power Concedes Nothing: How Grassroots Organizing Wins Elections edited by Linda Burnham, Max Elbaum and Maria Poblet examines this model of highly localised organising with hugely radical purpose that has a rootedness in the US left which is mostly absent over here. 

Disruption and transformation

But to effect change, from the local to the global, means Labour needs policies that disrupt and transform the current consensus, which has been constructed by policing the boundaries of possibility. The growing plight of 'Generation Rent' exists outside of that consensus. Vicky Spratt's Tenants puts that right.

h hassan

The current basis of the British state, the Union, is an absolute pillar of consensus politics. Yet independence is a huge issue in Scotland, and to a lesser extent in Wales too. But in England, by far the most populous of the three nations on this island, it scarcely figures except as a 'coalition of chaos' scare story. Labour, outside of parts of the Welsh party, supports the consensus, often through the politics of wilful omission. Thus, when Labour chooses to 'wrap itself in the flag' it is the Union Jack – England's St George, the Scottish Saltire, and the Welsh Dragon remain unwrapped, and the party doesn’t care what impact this has in Scotland, Wales and indeed England. To help correct Labour Unionism, Scotland Rising: The Case for Independence from the Scottish political commentator Gerry Hassan should be required reading for every Labour conference delegate and a major session at The World Transformed – but we all know it won't be, as a result Unionist Labour in Scotland trundles on towards self-destruction.

Debate at conference is as carefully stage-managed as the leadership can get away with. Meanwhile the fringe strictly divides itself into the right and the left, dialogue next to non-existent, with pluralism a dirty word for both sides. It’s an unhealthy political culture. Renewal: A Journal of Social Democracy provides a portent of what a Labour Party rooted in dialogue and pluralism might look and feel like. Despite being under-resourced and with a bog-standard design, Renewal is full of heterodox and original writing on Labour's identity. This year alone the politics of coalition and the Conservatives' political economy were treated with a depth and rigour unheard of in the rest of Labour's left media. It’s published quarterly, with much of it free to download too and supplemented by a blog. Subscribe here.  

Bit by bit an alternative to Starmerism is emerging, and any optimism lies with this coming almost entirely from a new generation of the left. The Labour Right have the numbers – and don't they know it – but for ideas all eyes swing leftwards.

i buller

Two very different books absolutely prove my point. Owning The Future: Power and Property in an Age of Crisis, co-authored by Adrienne Buller and Matthew Lawrence (respectively Director of Research and Director at the Common Wealth thinktank) could pretty much be the basis for the next Labour manifesto of our dreams. Beveridge, Keynes and Cripps are rewritten, updated, and transformed, with a bit of 21st century Bevan thrown in. Vital, because without Labour addressing the role of the state and public ownership in reversing four and a half decades worth of neoliberalism triumphant, what would a Labour victory amount to in 2024? A very welcome defeat of the Tories on the basis of the lowest expectations imaginable?

j gilbert

If Adrienne and Matthew raise our expectations to the policies of the possible, Jeremy Gilbert and Alex Williams' Hegemony Now: How Big Tech and Wall Street Won the World (and How We Win It Back) do the same with the politics of the possible. Power and agency, a strategy towards effecting radical change via the broadest coalition of support imaginable, the breadth of support being an organic part of that process – this is what Jeremy and Alex describe.  

I started with Gramsci and so it seems fitting to finish with Gramsci too. It was in the 1980s, via Stuart Hall and the magazine Marxism Today in particular, that Gramsci’s ideas about the war of position and hegemony achieved a purchase on parts of the Left. It is the measure of Jeremy and Alex's achievement that they have managed to reinvent this most creative of left intellectual legacies for an entirely new generation, scarred by the consequences of the failure of these ideas to become a majoritarian left tendency the last time. Better luck next time?

Whether in Liverpool for Labour Conference or observing with interest, Owning the Future and Hegemony Now provide the signposts for a Left equipped to help shift despair to hope, and in the process prepare ourselves for the two years until the 2024 General Election.

Note No links in this review are to Amazon. Please avoid buying from corporate tax dodgersMark Perryman is an events organiser for Lewes CLP. Their next event, with Adrienne Buller and Gerry Hassan, is Building Blocs: A Day of Ideas to Dismantle the Blue Wall. Details and tickets here.

'The future is unwritten' - The Clash, 40 years on
Thursday, 15 September 2022 16:00

'The future is unwritten' - The Clash, 40 years on

Published in Music

Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman remembers the day Joe, Mick, Paul and Topper broke up

1982, the year of the Falklands War, Gotcha! And when the ships returned to Blighty, the troops greeted us with the banner 'Call Off the Rail Strike or We'll Call In An Airstrike'. A Thatcherite version of patriotism triumphant, complete with Michael Foot's Labour Party in tow, backing the war.

Grim times, and for those of a certain musical-political disposition, the soundtrack that gave us hope, The Clash, split up. The 17 September '82 release of their single Should I Stay or Should I Go marked the end of the band's classic line up: Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon. Various versions struggled on for a while, and both Mick with Big Audio Dynamite and Joe with The Mescaleros went on to produce some great material. But for The Clash as we knew them, it was The End.

Four decades have passed but nothing will ever replace the sounds and the culture we associate with what seems now a remarkably short time that The Clash were together, 1976-82.

Bad ideas can be displaced

In the aftermath of the Falklands War the leading left intellectual of the time, Stuart Hall described the mood and the political consequences:

We are up against the wall of a rampant and virulent gut 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.

But Stuart was not a determinist, and he also outlined why it didn't have to be this way:

The traces of ancient, stone-age ideas cannot be expunged. But neither is their influence and infection permanent and immutable. The culture of an old empire is an imperial culture; but that is not all it is, and these are not necessarily the only ideas in which to invent a future for British people. Imperialism lives on – but is not printed in an English gene. In the struggle for ideas, the battle for hearts and minds which the Right has been conducting with such considerable effect, bad ideas can only be displaced by better, more appropriate ones.

The Clash did that 'displacing' in a manner we could sing along with, dance to, and wear as a badge with pride. Mixing Notting Hill and Brixton with Rocking against Racism and Working for the Clampdown this was a band that stood defiantly for a very different version of Englishness to Thatcherism. Robin Hood, the Levellers, Cable Street all wrapped up in black leather jackets, bandanas and Doctor Martens. English Civil War The Clash belted out English Civil War, but not for even a fleeting moment petty-minded nationalism, instead theirs' was the popular internationalism of the triple album Sandinista! A rebel music, home and abroad too, quite different to the more than occasionally twee so-called 'World Music' that emerged at the time.

To what extent was this a model for that long-awaited mix of radical politics with popular culture? For a brief moment punk was both counter-cultural and filling venues, storming the charts while Burchill and Parsons provide weekly bulletins from the front line of this heady mix in the pages of a radicalised NME.

When Rock against Racism folded in '81 there wasn't much in the way to replace the kind of platform, audience and political context it provided for The Clash, and those who followed in their wake – most notably The Ruts. The 1984-85 Miners’ Strike was a time of huge benefit concerts, something Enough is Enough would do well to replicate. The Redskins, for many a band who came closest to what The Clash meant were a big part of this. And perhaps most surprisingly of all Labour launched 'Red Wedge'. Without really knowing what they were doing, it was the most ambitious effort at popular cultural politics in the party's history. But it was closed down after the '87 defeats, because Labour wrongly thought that there weren't enough votes in it.                      

But despite this huge gap ever since The Clash ended in '82, for a certain generation they will always be the best band of all time – they might not have changed the world but they certainly changed us. They started off as a 'garage band' as proudly proclaimed on their 1977 debut album track Garageland (decades later brilliantly rewritten by punk poet Attila the Stockbroker as Farageland).

The future is unwritten

Attila is one of those who keeps the diy rebellious spirit of The Clash alive, like Joe Solo, Jess Silk, Captain Ska, The Commoners Choir, and the grassroots and local musical and poetic solidarity of We Shall Overcome and Poetry on the Picketline – and for a precious moment in 2017, Grime4Corbyn too. But none of them have achieved the scale of breakthrough The Clash once managed with a musical-political legacy that four decades on remains every bit as potent today.

In the space of six years, they graduated from playing in the garage to selling out Shea Stadium, with U2 as support. What if The Clash were still with us, like The Rolling Stones, The Who and U2? We'll never know, but for as long as their legacy remains, one thing is certain: in the words of Joe Strummer 'the future is unwritten'. And so Joe, Mick, Paul and Topper, for that we'll always be grateful. 

Further reading

Colin Coulter (Ed) -Working for the Clampdown: The Clash, The Dawn of Neoliberalism and the Political Promise of Punk

Daniel Rachel - Walls Come Tumbling Down: The Music and Politics of  Rock against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge

Gregor Gall - The Punk Rock Politics of Joe Strummer 

Philosophy Football's The Clash 1976-82 range is available from here  

Clash zip 2022.600

Sun, sea and socialism: beach reads for August 2022
Monday, 01 August 2022 18:47

Sun, sea and socialism: beach reads for August 2022

Published in Cultural Commentary

Mark Perryman makes a personal selection of ten books (and a T-shirt!) to add some bright sunny thinking to any holiday

It’s August and England is basking in Euro-winning glory. At Wembley, where England last won a major tournament, the 1966 World Cup. 56 years of hurt ended by England women. How cool is that? 

August, traditionally the height of the British holiday season.  And with the climate now in full emergency mode, bright sunshine and hot weather is pretty much guaranteed. That's how most of the front pages treat this deadly prospect. Rising summer death rates amongst the old and vulnerable, bush fires and drought are pretty much a footnote. Beaches along the Kent and Sussex transformed from holiday favourites to the frontline in arguments and actions over asylum, migration and race. 

For staycations north of the border how long before passport checks and currency exchange are required? Yes really this is the kind of level of debate the Unionist Left proffers. Meanwhile any length of Scottish break will convince this is another country and deserves to be recognise as so.  

Holidays, a time of nostalgia – what it was like when we were kids, teenagers, students and twenty somethings. For those of a pensionable age now and of a certain musical and political disposition, the summers of the late seventies will always be the era of rocking against racism with TRB, X-Ray Spex, Steel, Pulse but most of all The Clash. 

Packing some holiday reading? Despite all manner of digital media the written word remains a hugely influential space for ideas. How we read forms our ideas, what is read forms the ideas of other. With the rush towards vision-free Starmerism, a politics of critique, which for many begins with questioning what we read, see and hear, becomes more necessary than ever. 

A new generation of  left intellectuals are developing the kind of ideas that serve to highlight  the absolute lack of any kind of vision from Keir Starmer's Labour. In the 1980s a similar role was performed by writers in and around the magazine Marxism Today. It isn't simply nostalgia to observe how much this kind of thinking is needed today. Revisit, review, rewrite......and here are ten top reads for starters....  

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


On the beach. England European Champions. A blissful summertime mix. And to add depth, context and brilliant ideas to the feelgood factor there's none better than one of the pioneers of the new (women's) football writing, Suzy Wrack, in her debut and most timely book.

2. Adrienne Buller The Value of a Whale: On The Illusions of Green Capitalism


Adrienne Buller is part of a new wave of economists producing  radical ideas, in stark contrast to Keir Starmer's mantra of 'Labour's mission in government will be economic growth'. With the climate emergency already upon us The Value of a Whale expertly explains why 'growth' isn't nearly enough.

3. Chris Armstrong A Blue New Deal: Why We Need a New Politics for the Ocean


For the lucky ones there's no better place to spend August hols than on a beach in the sunshine. Thoughts of what rising sea levels will do to devastate coastal communities and rising summer heat as a threat to our health and environment may not be the nicest, if necessary, way to break up the sunbathing and swimming. A Blue Deal is the antidote, an incredible read on how by reversing climate change coastal communities could be regenerated.

4. Tariq Ali Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes          


'We shall fight on the beaches' was amongst many great Churchill lines a million miles away from the sound bites of  modern politics. But there's Churchillian myth-making too on an industrial scale: Tariq Ali provides a demolition job that some will disagree with but none should entirely ignore.

5. Vron Ware Return of a Native: Learning from the Land


For those who prefer a rural spot away from the sand and the sea Return of a Native is an insightful read of how the particularities of the English countryside have become key to constructing Englishness. Combining the ecological and the political, this is a book to provoke rethinking well beyond a holiday read.

6.  Gerry Hassan and Simon Barrow, Eds. A Better Nation: The Challenges of Scottish Independence   


The near-perfect summertime city break is surely the Edinburgh Festival. Edinburgh is also where the re-established Scottish Parliament is located. Since it was the momentum towards independence has been in fits and starts but it will come. Gerry Hassan and Simon Barrow's edited collection of essays is the best possible survey of a shift, a tad more important than fretting over whether future festival visitors from the rest of the UK (sic) will need to pack their passports. 

7. Owen Hatherley Artificial Islands: Adventures in the Dominions


Owen Hatherley is a key figure amongst the new generation of  left intellectuals. Mixing architectural critique, travelogue and cultural commentary, his writing is unique and never disappoints. His subject matter is rewardingly unpredictable, unearthing a long forgotten history of Britain and the white Dominions. Artificial Islands will spice up any holiday thoughts on the future of the Union.    

8. Gregor Gall The Punk Rock Politics of Joe Strummer


As summer draws to a close September 2022 will mark the 40th anniversary of the break-up of Joe, Mick, Paul and Topper, aka The Clash. For those of a certain age and inclination it was this foursome who provided the soundtrack to our lives – and still do. Gregor Gall brilliantly locates the music Joe Strummer provided for the band in what he calls 'punk rock politics' a mix  of radicalism, resistance and rebellion, and good to dance to as well.

9. Terry Eagleton Critical Revolutionaries: Five Critics Who Changed the Way We Read


Terry Eagleton is both a pioneer of literary criticism and an unashamed Marxist. A politics of critique remains as essential as ever, especially in an era when the party of opposition is running scared of any ideas that are remotely oppositional. If literary criticism, let alone Marxism, doesn’t sound like a natural choice for a beach read, then this highly readable introduction to Eliot, Leavis, Williams and others will surprise, intrigue and inspire.

10. Doreen Massey Selected Political Writings; with Stuart Hall  Selected Political Writings; and Robin Murray Selected Political Writings


If room in the suitcase or rucksack is at a premium these are the books to pack. Publishers Lawrence and Wishart have produced the perfect reads to take us away from the next-to-no-ideas Keir Starmer Labour Party to an ideological place where ideas are positively overflowing. Here are posthumous collections of three writers central to the magazine Marxism Today in the 1980s. Doreen Massey, Stuart Hall and Robin Murray's political writings – there is no better preparation for the change that must follow after a summer of discontent.

…..and a T-shirt!


On the beach and ever after, wear the incredible memories of an unforgettable July 2022. Philosophy Football's unique T-shirt with England's victories with full match details: Austria, Norway, Northern Ireland, Spain, Sweden. And then after 120 minutes England 2 Germany 1 added and the 'Lionesses' became the CHAMPIONS. From here 

NB No links in this review are to Amazon. If buying books from corporate tax dodgers can be avoided, please do. Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction aka Philosophy Football      

Read, relate, revolt! Books to brighten up a summer of sport
Wednesday, 29 June 2022 11:13

Read, relate, revolt! Books to brighten up a summer of sport

Published in Sport

Mark Perryman finds a heap of sports books to provide a summer's worth of sporting hope, healthy goodness, and reasons to rebel

For all the rising tide of industrial militancy having the making of a long, hot summer, July and August for many will be about Wimbledon, the British Grand Prix, a home women's Euros  and Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, World Athletics Championships, Test March cricket plus T20 and the  second summer of the 'hundred' abomination – and by the first week of August, the start of a new football season.

Is being as much motivated by any or all of these sporting treats as action on the picket line a cardinal sin of false consciousness? No, not really. Because if we recognise that ideas are formed in the  context of popular cultural activities like sport, these events may not be every bit as important as the strikes but without any  kind of sense of how these ideas are  both formed  and can be transformed,  nothing very much will change.

One book that influenced me in this kind of thinking was Michael Calvin's extraordinary one season biography of the Millwall FC first team Family: Life, Death and Football. Not since Pete Davies' peerless All Played Out account of the sporting summer of Italia 90 England squad had a writer revealed in such exciting emotional detail the making of a football team. After Family Michael has become the pre-eminent chronicler of the state of mod£rn (sic) football, in many ways his latest Whose Game is It Anyway? Football, Life, Love & Loss, written at the height of the Covid-19 crisis, is the culmination of this chronicle.

Ryan Baldi's The Dream Factory: Inside the Make-or-Break World of Football's Academies is a tightly focussed piece of work. Almost all successful Premier League clubs depend on the success of their academy system, developing the most talented local recruits from the age of nine years. Yet what separates the tiny percentage who make it into the first team from the overwhelming majority who don't? This book not only gives the reasons why but suggests alternative models for turning raw talent into finished 'product'.

The fantasy of 'I could have been a contender if only…..' fuels the fandom of many men as they swap the youth football of their teenage years for a life of watching the game from sofa, barstool or – for the lucky few who can afford it – the stands. In the 2020's that same teenage fantasy is increasingly shared by teenage girls too, with pathways to playing more open in the women's game because it’s more centred on playing rather than simply watching, like the men's game. Perfect to accompany a generation of girls being inspired by the Women's Euro 2022, Paul Sheppard expertly turns the kind of excitement this is sure to generate into a superb young adult novel Bea on the Ball, set in and around the very real experience and achievements of Lewes Women's FC. Unashamedly inspirational, and a right fine read because of it. 


The wider world of women's football is superbly covered by the collection Football She Wrote ranging from the historical and club-specific to the playing side, fandom and the cultural impact of the fast-growing popularity of the women's game. More of this writing please! There is so much to learn from it whichever 'half' of football we follow. Testament to this is The History of Women's Football by the women’s game's pre-eminent historian, Jean Williams. With England as hosts and pre-tournament favourites, Euro 2022 could be just the spur for an avalanche of new writing on the women's game.    

For the men's game it will be a short summer, before the November Qatar World Cup. It's a time to reflect on how football remains most definitely a sport of the oxymoronically two unequal halves, gender one part of the scales of inequality that rule the game, women's football vs men's is another.


Another issue is league vs non-league, to which my answer is simply there's nothing 'non' about non-league. Aaron Moore's Fields of Dreams and Broken Fences: Delving into the Mystery World of Non-League Football provides hope that here more than anywhere another football remains possible. 

A really bad choice for a title, "I Hope You Die Of Cancer": Life in Non-League Football, shouldn't obscure the brilliance of the latest in 'The Secret...' genre, first made famous of course by  The Secret Footballer. Co-writer Marvin Close enables the anonymous player to delve deep into the realities of the part-time players with a full-time commitment to their sport. He spotlights the harsh reality of being outside the league with hope for rising through the tiers in equal measure, which  makes for a read quite unlike most players’ so-called tell-it-alls.

Park Life: Four seasons of Rhondda football by Peter Roberts tells-it-all across an entire Welsh valley's Sunday League footballers. The Rhondda in the 1920s and 1930s was the heartland of a very distinctive Welsh communism, an educated working class militancy that persisted right through to the Miners' Strike of 1984-85. Today the valley is a crucible of post-Thatcherite  deindustrialisation, yet still a 'red wall' with a splash of Welsh civic nationalism. It’s a place where the grassroots game survives if not thrives – most of all, as Peter Roberts expertly recounts, as a part of, not apart from, the community where the game is played. 

A very different tale is told by Martin Calladine and James Cave in their exposé of a book Fit and Proper People: The Lies  and Fall of OwnaFCIt’s a book that reads more like a thriller than  an account of club ownership gone wrong. To own a club is close to being every fan’s dream, to put the world of football to rights. 'OwnaFC' was set up to feed that dream, but it proved to be an unscrupulous means to first exploit the fantasy, and then kill it off. All in the cause of making a quick buck at other people’s expense. 

Is another football possible? It sometimes seems not – the end of season parade of the 'big clubs' into the cartel the Champions and Rich Runners-Up League resembles has pretty much put paid to that dream. But that doesn't mean it’s impossible, and for the most convincing read the all-time classic on the subject is Jim Keoghan's Punk Football: The Rise of Fan Ownership in English Football.  

Read, relate, revolt!

Scattered examples of fan ownership remain a vital and practical inspiration but remain very much the exception. How to venture towards full-scale dismantlement of the business(sic) of sport, specifically football? Joe Kennedy's Games Without Frontiers, now in a new and expanded edition, mixes the doing, pick-up games of surprising seriousness of intent, the watching, with one notable exception, lower division but mainly non-league, and the thinking , in Joe's hands of a quite sublime level of enquiry and explanation. Bordering on the unique this is a book of revelation and in the right hands, or should that be the wrong hands, could be the revolution that every sport needs. Read, relate, revolt!

Any kind of serious understanding of why sport is such a source of both unbridled joy and unscrupulous exploitation begins with a recognition that all sports are socially constructed. Or to put it another way, to stand in opposition to the mantra 'Just Do It' because sport is never 'just' done. Once cricket would seamlessly take over from football and rugby as the pre-eminent summer team sport. Is that still true? Duncan Stone's magnificent Different Class: The Untold Story of English Cricket stands in the tradition of CLR James and Mike Marquesee, writers who place the social construction at the centre of understanding this most socially constructed of sports. Duncan achieves this by viewing cricket as recreational, and beyond the idiom of the 'village green' too, rather than the professional county and cricket game. It’s an original and much needed reassertion of the sport's roots in the era of the Indian Premier League and the 'Hundred'.


Bradley Wiggins' first British winning of Le Tour helped elevate this most Francophile of events into a major part of the British sporting summer. Yet British cycling remains the whitest of sports. Desire, Discrimination, Determination: Black Champions in Cycling by Marlon Lee Moncrieffe is a beautifully designed book, full of angry purpose. An admirable publishing venture too, published by the go-to producer of the most fashionable cycling kit imaginable, Rapha. Mixing history, analysis, and cycling culture, this is an incredibly innovative and important book.

Post Wiggo there has been a cycling boom, mirroring in some ways the early 1980s running boom. With running, there has been elite success, but crucially in a sport which is socially constructed to maximise mass participation, being mainly recreational and non-competitive, with no rules to speak of, no expensive facilities required, and the kit is not too pricey either.

All, more or less, to the good. Shane Benzie argues however there's a bit more of the 'less' than we might assume. His book The Lost Art of Running travels the world to rediscover the most basic exercise on earth, putting one foot in front of the other at ever increasing speed over ever-lengthening distances. A book to inspire, and for the ambitious to seek to follow in the footsteps provided as well. Bright summer mornings, light evenings, sunshine and a cool breeze, what excuse can there be found not to exercise? For the vast majority, too many to mention.

There are many causes of this, in part an explanation lies in how sport's history shapes its present. Definitive proof of this can be found in Sasha Abramsky's revelatory read, Little Wonder or to give the book's full title 'the extraordinary story of Lottie Dod, the world's first female sports superstar'. Extraordinary and a half, Olympics Archery gold medallist Lottie also won both Wimbledon and the British women's amateur golf championship, and played hockey for England.

So why have precious few heard of Lottie? She’s been 'hidden from history' as generations of feminist historians have taught us. Lottie's era was the early twentieth century, whereas Let's Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World by Danielle Friedman is focussed on the 1960s, the era of second-wave feminism. Although the link between exercise and liberation may not be immediately obvious, Danielle ensures they become so while never surrendering to the self-absorption which a politics founded on our bodies can on occasion pander to.


Sue Anstiss is never going to make that mistake. As a campaigner and podcaster, Sue helped found both the Women's Sport Trust and Women's Sport Collective and is now heading up a new outfit, Fearless Women, to drive the changes women's sport still needs. Game on: The Unstoppable Rise of Women's Sport gives us Sue's vast experience of how sport (mis)treats women and overflows with ideas to both reverse this and to the benefit of all, women and men.

To suggest it isn't 'just' women who suffer from how sport has been constructed to the benefit of some but not all isn't to sideline other exclusions – it’s to seek an overarching understanding that takes each and every exclusion equally seriously. There are few better starting points towards this than Sweat: A History of Exercise by Bill Hayes, a social history of the entire philosophy, culture and practice of exercise.

No good society should be without the ambition to make exercise as freely, widely and pleasurably available as possible, the absence of which across the UK is startlingly obvious every summer. Bill helps us to understand why societies fail to fulfil such a modest but necessary ambition and produce instead obesity and physical inactivity in abundance, a 'summer of sport' as something to watch from the sofa or wear as a fashion accessory rather than as the advertising slogan (irony alert) would suggest 'Just Do It'.


Since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the commercial monster that the Games has become has sought to use the twin Olympian myths of legacy and role model to disguise the commercialism. Few writers have done more to  dismantle these delusions than Jules Boykoff. As the tenth anniversary of London 2012 approaches this July, and every claim made of what those Games would achieve has been proved to be an  absolute fiction, Jules' latest book NOlympians : Inside the Fight against Capitalist Mega-Sports in Los Angeles, Tokyo and Beyond  should be required reading for every politician, sports administrator, and media commentator who cheer leaded for what 2012 would achieve in the forlorn hope they won't be fooled again.

Except they will, so my advice is to approach any legacy claims made for Birmingham's Commonwealth Games by politicians and media with extreme caution. If we are ever to overcome these self-defeating sports mythologies the question we should really be asking is 'What is sport for?'

So what is sport for?

Two academic books which are hugely helpful in finding some answers are Transforming Sport, edited by  Thomas F. Carter, Daniel Burdsey and Mark Doidge, and Adam Kadlac's The Ethics of Sports Fandom. Both books take a multi-sport approach. The first unpicks the power relations that serve to structure and mostly limit the otherwise joyful potential of sport for human liberation. This unfulfilled potential is defined, quite rightly in my view, by most of the book's contributors as the ability, or inability to 'do' sport. Adam Kadlac's book focuses instead on the fan, the spectator, for whom joyful potential is all about what is being watched, a potential Adam locates not simply in the joy of our team winning rather than losing but the broader views of society shaped by being a fan. There is no doubt this exists though the extent to which such consciousness is subject to commodification – the obvious example being a 'corporate anti-racism' in and around football, which means sadly that by and large another potential of sport, Adam's consciousness-shaping, remains unfulfilled.

In facing down the failings of modern sport to engage the 'doing' part – ever-decreasing levels of participation continue despite ever-increasing TV ratings for major sporting events – there is a tendency towards an undiluted instrumentalism to encourage those yet to 'Just Do It.' This is understandable but if it was as simple as Get Fit = Get Healthy, those low participation levels would never have sunk so low in the first place.

Juliet McGrattan's Run Well: Essential Health Questions and Answers for Runners is an admirably comprehensive read for the keen runner and helps readers avoid many unexpected pitfalls. There remains a mythology of running and health. Knees are the obvious ones, but more generally increased mileage almost inevitably reduces resistance to viral infections.  Running is about a lot more than health, and for most competition too, it’s about freedom, time we can call our own, the sheer pointlessness of the exercise.

Perhaps a more appealing connection to be made is with the pleasures of eating. This may seem counter-intuitive but most who do sport aren't wafer-thin. In fact it’s another instrumental myth of exercise, it makes us hungry, we compensate with over-eating in the knowledge we've exercised. There are infinitely more efficient ways to lose weight than exercise.

Instead of ignoring this there's a very welcome emergence of books that fuse the joys of exercise with a celebration of what to eat, and I stress recipes to enjoy rather than glorified calorie counts. Ultra-runner and chef Billy White's Eat, Run, Enjoy gets that mix right in the title and like any good runner doesn't look back. Instead, via extraordinary photography, runners and recipes, those runners recount how much they enjoy their food, and great meals to cook from breakfast to bedtime snacks. For those who prefer to exercise on two wheels, Alan Murchison provides the meals to accompany in The Cycling Chef: Recipes for Performance and Pleasure. The mix, rewarding both body and taste buds, is the perfect antidote, everything from breakfasts and broths to smoothies and suppers, not four words usually associated with 'Just Doing It', more's the pity. 

Taking the knee

There are precious few sportswriters in the UK media like Dave Zirin. On occasion Jonathan Liew comes closest, or in that hinterland of academia-media David Goldblatt. Dave combines being an unapologetic fan, broadcaster and writer with an unashamedly political, left wing inclination.  Older readers might well at this point recall, and sorely miss, the late Mike Marqusee who would effortlessly tick all those boxes too. Dave Zirin's latest The Kaepernick Effect: Taking a Knee, Changing the World (available from September in paperback) applies all this to unarguably the biggest social movement in sport of the early twenty-first century, 'taking the knee'. What Dave does is situate Colin Kaepernick's original action where it belongs – as an act of rebellion. It was widely reviled and resisted by both sporting and political officialdom at the time, yet at a popular, black athlete-led level it was a popular resource of rebellion that connected with a global audience outside of sport to symbolise anger and change sparked by the police murder of George Floyd.


It is of course a good thing that this in turn moved the superstars and rulers of sport to action too, but what Zirin teaches us is that without the roots in Kaepernick's rebellion the ever-present danger is sanitisation, incorporation and in the end inaction. My book of what may or may not be a long hot summer weather wise, but to heat up the dull sobriety of both politics and sport there's no better weapon in our hands to read.

Mark Perryman is a Research Fellow in Sport and Leisure Culture at The University of Brighton and co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction' aka Philosophy Football.

Building a popular, progressive sporting culture
Friday, 02 April 2021 16:01

Building a popular, progressive sporting culture

Published in Sport

Mark Perryman has been reading up on the sport we’ve lost, and what sport might become, as what seems like a never-ending lockdown gradually eases

Way back when, during the first lockdown, March ’20, Jonathan Liew wrote a brilliant column on small sport vs big sport. What Jonathan meant by ‘big sport’ was what we watch, for the lucky few as fans in person, for most on the TV. And ‘small sport’? What we do, a jog, a bike ride, a workout session via Youtube, an open water dip. Can be done on our own, non-competitive, little or no kit required, cheap, and in theory open to just about all. It is ‘small sport’ that has persisted through the pandemic while ‘big sport’ has been cancelled, postponed, threatened with financial oblivion, struggled on in a much-reduced version.   

1 The age of fitness

As a handbook for these curious conditions and whatever might follow few will better Jürgen Martschukat’s timely The Age of Fitness.  His pioneering argument is that the obsession with individual performance via such ‘small’ sport is emblematic of, a product of, neoliberalism. Competition, individualism and commodification certainly all play their part.  But does the potential exist for a sporting counterculture?  I would argue it absolutely does – but first we have to understand sport that cannot be reduced to a simple binary opposition, big bad sport vs small good sport. This book brilliantly provides the framework for just that necessary insight.

The 2021 Tokyo Olympics are pencilled in to mark big sport’s return with a  vengeance this summer. Postponed from 2020, the sensible move would have been to keep to the quadrennial Olympic cycle and defer instead to 2024. But commercial interests and lucrative broadcasting rights outweigh any such good sense in the hands of conservative sports administrators. ‘The Games Must Go On’ becomes the mantra, and the latest edition of Understanding the Olympics by  John Horne and Garry Whannel is the best possible explanation of where this unwelcome alliance of commerce, broadcasters and conservative officialdom with big sport has come from.  

That isn’t to say there isn’t much to enjoy about the Olympics, or as I put it in the title of my own book for London 2012 ‘Why the Olympics  Aren’t Good For Us, and How They Can Be’, countervailing tendencies exist. Gender is one such way in which what the Olympics represents is challenged, and Jean Williams’ pioneering Britain’s Olympic Women is of the ‘hidden from history’ feminist tradition of uncovering those whom otherwise would be forgotten.

From the first games of the twentieth century via the early postwar and Cold War games to the 1980s and the impact of professionalism Jean Williams tells the story, including  athlete Audrey Brown at the Nazi Olympics of ’36, swimmer Margaret Wellington at the ’48 austerity games, equestrian Pat Smythe and the 1952 Cold War games, and so many more to leave readers questioning why we hadn’t we heard her story before? Uncovering such a story and many others of women Olympians is, eventually, a happy ending.

Bullying, abuse and drugs

The big fear is that the modern pressure to succeed at the highest level has no such positive conclusion, instead bullying, abuse and drugs in the chase for gold. Where might this end? The Medal Factory by Kenny Pryde achieves the difficult task of reminding readers of the collective joy and national pride as Team GB’s cyclist swept the medals board while not ducking the dark side of the coaching and competitive culture that lay behind all that success.  A revealing read.        

Pandemic sport, either watching it on the TV or doing it ourselves, has offered many a relief from the horrific daily updates on ever-rising death rates. A snatched moment of normality, win, lose, or draw, the chance to dream. Ian Ridley’s The Breath of Sadness was written before Covid yet its incredibly emotional trail around country cricket as a journey through the loss and grief of losing his relatively young wife at the age of 56 to a lethal cancer is sadly very much a book of the current moment. 

2 Where Theres a will

Where There’s a Will by Emily Chappell shares a similar theme, sport versus grief, in Emily’s case the distraction of endurance sport, ultra distance cycle racing.  But also the inspiration sport can provide to help untangle the tangled emotions of death for the living – why them, why not me?  

Paul Fournel’s Need for the Bike approaches this emotional role of sport from a different angle , an instant classic when originally published in France , now translated into English, this is a story of the bike as companion, purveyor of agony and ecstasy, the perfect vehicle for a two-wheeled two fingers to everything the pandemic has thrown at us.

Meanwhile in ’20 what ‘big sport’ lost was the sense of being there, in the stands,  down the pub, watching with mates, and for the lucky victorious crowd, celebrating too. Few missed the latter more than Liverpool fans, a first domestic league championship since the old First Division title of 89-90. Anthony Quinn’s Klopp is testament to all that Liverpool achieved in this most unusual of seasons and the manager arguably uniquely well-placed to make this long-awaited achievement possible. 

Liverpool’s era of nearly-but-not-quite coincided with a failure to find a successful managerial culture to follow the immensely successful ‘bootroom’ era of  Shankly and Paisley era, and to a lesser extent Evans and Dalglish too. Man Utd found the same in the wake of both Busby and Ferguson, and now at Arsenal too, after the Wenger years. While Arsène’s autobiography My Life in Red and White isn’t exactly a ‘kiss and tell’ – few football autobiographies are that revealing – there is more than sufficient insight to reveal what Wenger brought to Arsenal and the scale of the problem in coming anywhere close to replacing his contribution. 

For that missing element in a decent football book, the confessional, Rob Steen has this down to his customary fine writer’s art with The Mavericks. Originally published in 1994, now reissued and updated, Rob’s book goes behind the changing room door to reveal the backstory of a generation of 1970s flair players whose ability to entertain on, and off the pitch, was much more about their lawlessness and free spirit than sticking to the plan and playing for the team.

Harry Pearson’s Far Corner, subtitled ‘a mazy dribble through North-East football’ was also first published in 1994. Rather unexpectedly, almost three decades later, Harry’s written a follow-up called The Farther Corner, this time subtitled ‘a sentimental return to North-East football.’ Of course sentimentalism in and of itself is not enough, although any book that takes in the clubs Newcastle Benfield, Pontefract Collieries, Seaham Red Star  and plenty more where they came from will help convince that it is an emotion not to be lightly dismissed in a time of such chronic uncertainty.  

Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters

For an appreciation of all that we have missed for the past year, and a reminder of both from where our football clubs came from and mod£rn football’s insatiable desire to consume the traditions they helped generate, the books of Daniel Gray are an essential pleasure. Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters, telling the story of what Daniel dubbed ‘England’s football provinces’ – or in other words life outside the big city clubs – was the first of what has become a quartet.

The latest Extra Time adds a further 50 (50!) ‘eternal’ delights of  mod£rn football  to the 50 he’d uncovered previously in Saturday 3pm which just goes to show putting the £ into ‘modern’  cannot destroy everything we hold dear – well not yet.  In between producing these two finely optimistic books Daniel also managed to find ‘50 lost wonders of the beautiful game’ neatly summed up in the book’s title Black Boots and Football Pinks. Sadly there will be ample scope post-pandemic for a second volume of these losses too.

A visual memento of what a year not going to games has robbed us of us is superbly provided by British Football’s Greatest Grounds compiled by Mike Bayly. I have shelfloads of football photography books, all much treasured, but I was beginning to think the genre might be exhausted by now. Mike’s book confounds that assumption, with photos that give an all-round sense of the stadium located in its surroundings, and sharply observed essays to accompany the photos. As for ordering the must-see 100 grounds with my club Lewes FC’s Dripping Pan at number one, I couldn’t possibly comment! But the ‘100’ will have readers  arguing over the selection and  ranking for years to come, and that’s what I call a formula for a great book!  

In his book Because It’s Saturday Gavin Bell defiantly describes lower league football as the game’s ‘heartlands’ though even here the march of Mod£rn Football isn’t entirely absent. In which version of Orwellian Newspeak was the fourth division reinvented as ‘League Two’? For an insight into the commodification of the ability to stop, make and score goals, Daniel Geey’s Done Deal is both unrivalled and deeply unsettling.

7 Projecvt restart

When Coronavirus struck there were those in the game, as the saying goes, unwilling ‘to let a good crisis go to waste.’ The most extreme version of this became known as Project Restart, to entrench the wealth and power of the ‘big’ clubs at the expense of the rest of the Premiership. Jon Berry ingeniously subverts the phrase for the title of his book Project Restart  to describe the impact of twelve months’ worth of virus and lockdown on a sport that stretches from Sunday league to Premier league, and all points in between. And Berry concludes with the interesting question – when it’s all over, can football be part of making the post-pandemic world a better place? Let’s hope so.

Fan ownership

Long before the current crisis Jim Keoghan established himself as a chronicler of  how to turn such hope into reality. First came Punk Football, Jim’s spirited account of the rise of fan ownership, a hugely significant movement vital to a better football. Although as recent reversals at Swansea, Portsmouth and Wrexham  illustrate, the commitment even amongst fans to such a model, when a rich investor comes calling promising success on a plate,  remains fragile. 

The continuing need nevertheless for fan ownership is made via the title of Jim’s new book How to Run a Football Club – well it would be with the simple insertion of the word ‘not’. The argument made in this finest of reads is that whatever level football is enjoyed the ‘simple love of the sport’ should be paramount, but isn’t.  Fan ownership would inevitably mean scaling back the huge operating budgets of the behemoth clubs, and would that be such a bad thing? What precisely would we miss, and what would we gain?

Unlike the supporter ownership movement Football’s response to #BlackLivesMatter, however laudable, was characterised by a corporate version of social responsibility, in this case anti-racism almost entirely divorced from any kind of initiative that could be described as fan-led. When ‘taking a knee’ becomes an obligatory pre-match ritual rather than how it originated as an act of rebellion, it is increasingly doubtful this is a player-led response either.

3 Pitch resized

Two recent books explore an entirely different situation where sporting officialdom, players and many fans too pitched themselves against anti-racism. Geoff Brown and Christian Høgsberg’s short book Apartheid is Not a Game revisits the notorious 1969 South African Springboks’ rugby tour and South Africa’s 1970 cricket tour of Britain, and the successful efforts by mass protests, disruption and sabotage to stop them. Pitch Battles by Peter Hain, one of the key organisers of those protests and his co-author, South African scholar and activist André Odendaal, connects sport’s boycotts and protests vital role in the anti-apartheid movement to a wider struggle for an anti-racist sporting culture, bringing the story up to date with both present-day South Africa, lockdown and #BlackLivesMatter. A superb read for resistance and change in ’21. 

Racism and English Football by Daniel Burdsey points to all the complex, but very necessary, challenges in developing such a response. Until these are faced a truly anti-racist football will remain as far away as it was before last year’s explosion of black resistance.  A fine and vital book – but academic publishers and authors who produce such invaluable books, why no cheap paperback edition?

8 St Pauli

What might a fans’ resistance movement look like, on race and the extreme  commodifying this most fabled of ‘people’s games’ look like? Three recent books provide an inkling. St Pauli: Another Football is Possible by Charles Viñas and Natxo Parra connects the history and development of this club as icon of resistance to a wider social movement of change rooted in fandom but not restricted by it.  

Football from below

In Ultras Mark Doidge, Radoslaw Kossakowski and Svenja Mintert describe a very particular fan culture that is in turns passionate, orchestrated and performative, global in appeal though to date English fandom has remained largely unaffected, unimpressed even. Digital Football Cultures  edited by Stefan Lawrence and Garry Crawford points to an experience of supporters which today is more genuinely international, following the game online, building fan communities, expressing a cultural ownership of club, team, and players, in a manner not always welcome. A football from below?  Possibly. 

Finding the answer to these questions isn’t easy, but to treat football with the seriousness it deserves means we have to at least try, and the conventions of both the game and politics barely equip us with the ideas and tools the task requires. As the co-founder of Philosophy Football, Stephen Mumford’s book Football: The Philosophy Behind the Game quite naturally appealed  to me. It didn’t disappoint with its stimulating mix of the game’s attractions, including beauty, chance, victory and the ideas we observe, but sometimes miss, in the course of ninety minutes. 

For those of a particular inclination David Goldblatt is the Eric Hobsbawm of football writing – just like the greatest of historians tracing of our society’s past to explain the presen,t David has done the same with football. His latest The Age of Football surveys a sport in the grip of neo-colonial power, the crisis of an institutionalised Europeanism, corruption and shifting power politics. In David’s hands context is all and makes for the very best of footballing reads.    

The unprecedented support for #BlackLivesMatter across the sporting establishment couldn’t be more different to how sport responded, if at all, to Colin Kaepernick’s original act, which was absolutely of anti-racist resistance.  And Colin wasn’t alone, as fellow pro American footballer and Superbowl winner Michael Bennett details in his sharply titled book Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.

This is a movement of protest, against injustice, opposition to racism and the way black communities are policed . How neatly all of this can co-exist with the most powerful forces in sport seeking to co-opt it remains to be seen.  A book that provides the kind of framework to help us not only anticipate such outcomes but shape them too is The Game is not a Game by Robert Scoop Jackson, who like Bennett and the peerless Dave Zirin all hail from the USA, and all three authors are published by the leftist book publisher Haymarket Books.  So here’s a question – why doesn’t a sports-obsessed culture like Britain’s produce very much committed leftist sports writing of this sort, published and produced by left-leaning British publishers in cheap, accessible and attractive formats? 

Tennis from below?

There are three examples of what is possible in this respect from three different British independent publishers, and on a sport we might not expect for such an endeavour. First off, from Pluto Press we have David Berry’s A People’s History of Tennis in which he traces the making of a sport beyond the Pimms, strawberries-and-cream set, constructed instead out of feminism, socialism and migration. ‘Tennis from below’, who’d have thought it? 

5 Racquet

Next up, from Repeater, same sport but a very different  approach. Racquet is a celebration of the sheer diversity  of tennis, edited by David Shaftel and Caitlin Thompson,and  consisting of articles from the magazine of  the same name. The downturn of the late twentieth century boom of tennis as a popular recreational sport, the roots of elitism in tennis versus race, gender and class on and off the court, the sexualising of Maria Sharapova – here is a range of politicised sports writing to enthuse and inspire others, whatever our sport.

My third example pushes at the boundaries of possibility. Self Made Hero has published Czech author Jan Novák’s graphic novel Zátopek, a pioneering combination of words by Jan with the comic-strip art of Jaromír 99 which creates a mix that both engages the modern reader and informs us of the achievements of one of the true athletic greats. It’s also about the kind of postwar East European  communism that framed his achievements on the track. Form and content are combined to produce a truly memorable read.

6 The Miracle

And my book of the Spring? The Miracle Pill by Peter Walker would be the ideal book any year as we emerge from Winter, spring into Spring and look forward to Summer. Combine this with the pressing desire by many to reassess their lifestyle choices after the best part of twelve months under one lockdown restriction or another, and Peter’s book is spot-on perfect. What makes this read really special is the argument that the sedentary position isn’t an individual choice but the product of social imperatives that diminish, ignore and do little to encourage an active life. The consequences are severe and costly but the alternatives are cheap and beneficial. It’s a progressive, popular, commonsense vision of building a better sporting culture. A miracle? I’m told they can happen.

Mark Perryman is co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football.

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