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.


What's there to get hot under England's collar about?
Monday, 01 April 2024 13:40

What's there to get hot under England's collar about?

Published in Sport

Mark Perryman gets to grips with Nike v St. George, with image above by Hugh Tisdall

"This virtue signalling, namby-pamby, pearl-clutching, woke nonsense must stop now. Any more and I'll be on the first flight to Rwanda."

- Lee Anderson

Wembley Stadium, Saturday morning – with a bunch of friends I spent four hours laying out 7000 cards that just before kick-off for the friendly England v Brazil were held up by fans to form a huge St. George Cross.

I've been doing the same for the past 26 years. So do I have a view on 'shirt-gate'? Yes, just a bit.

'Raise the Flag' started in 1998 after I went to Rome for Italy v England, a vital World Cup qualifier. A night of mayhem, Italian fans chucking everything they had at us, the Italian riot police wading in to England's end with their batons flying, not caring who they hit, and after the game (the best 0-0 I've ever seen, England had qualified for World Cup '98) we're all kept back for 2 hours with the lights off.

However just before kick-off the Italian fans had held up cards to form the Italian flag. It was a magnificent sight. Which left me thinking why don't we do something like that for England? It took six months to persuade the FA but for the last home friendly before France '98, with Philosophy Football co-founder Hugh Tisdale adapting the ingenious Italian's 'mosaic' method to Wembley and thousands of England fans holding up red and white cards to form a huge St George Cross Flag, we finally did it. And ever since!

For me and Hugh 'Raise the Flag' has become a small business organising stadium crowd effects, mainly for football, some rugby, London 2012, the late Queen, Take That and Bruce Springsteen. But for England games we do the effect on a not-for-profit basis because it all began with us being England fans. 

And for all those countless fans' St. George Cross flags we've created not once have we seen the need to add a line of navy blue, indigo, purple, scarlet or brown. It's our flag, so why mess with it?

But then no flag has ever been created by a fashion company. 

Long ago Nike gave up being an outfit producing kit for serious sportsmen and sportswomen. That's an historic side-line, for Nike their big business today is as a fashion brand. Whether its trainers or England shirts what they're selling is fashion not something to actually play sport in. And with a football shirt design for entirely commercial reasons only lasting a maximum of two years this necessitates a new look to make a basic kit colour, a white shirt in England's case, different. Hence the multicoloured flag, and nothing to get too hot under the collar about (sic).

Rather more irksome is why change the kit every two years at all? To make money of course, and at an almighty £125 for the match replica version, £85 to be worn in the stands. That's for something that is basically a bri-nylon T-shirt, with a sell-by date of two years hence. And unless England win the World Cup wearing it, 58 years and counting, never likely to be worn again.

So of course a touch of colour to the flag to make the 2024 edition of this vastly overpriced short life item is what is required to make it a tad different because this kind of thing is what the entire replica shirt business is based on.

Me? I prefer the sheer simplicity of the flag. The ways fans make it our own. Nobody forces us to hold up those cards to 'Raise the Flag' we do it because we want to, it means something to us. But best of all how fans 'deface' the flag, adding our club name and badge, pub, family and mates' names to make it truly ours.

A bri-nylon, overpriced and short shelf life England shirt? Despite following England to four World Cups, four Euros and countless away trips I've never seen the need to purchase one. Preferring (obligatory product placement) a tournament T-shirt instead from Philosophy Football, of course.   

And as for those manufacturing all this confected rage. Nigel Farage, Barbour jacket and corduroy trousers, never, ever, seen him in an England shirt, have you?

Rent-a-gob Lee Anderson, the man who boycotted England's first time since 1966 in a Tournament Final, Euro 2021, because they're now a team of the 'woke' aka they take the knee as an act of solidarity with all, including team mates, who face racist abuse or worse.

Keir Starmer, so eager to please he tells the Sun he's against the St. George Cross being tampered with. This from a leader who cares so much about the St. George flag that he authorised Labour Party membership cards in Scotland with the Scottish Saltire on them, fine; in Wales with the Welsh Flag on them, good; but in England no St. George Cross on Labour membership cards. Opportunism and hypocrisy doesn't even begin to describe this Sir Keir.

It's our flag. It's not a fashion icon. It's not a battleground for politicians' soundbites.

We're perfectly capable of making what we will with it ourselves. No thankyou very much.


Philosophy Football's Lee Anderson St. George Cross T-shirt is available from here

'Don't Tell Him, Pike!'
Thursday, 08 February 2024 20:36

'Don't Tell Him, Pike!'

Mark Perryman argues that Dad's Army was the most popular front of them all

U-Boat Captain Your name will go on the list! Vot is it?  

Mainwaring Don't tell him, Pike!

It's nigh on impossible to read those words and not summon up a smile. A smile of remembrance too, as this week the last surviving member of the Dad's Army cast, Ian Lavender, aka Private Pike, passed away.   

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

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

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

The middle-class, and very English, pomposity of Captain Mainwaring of 1940 is too easily confused with the nasty populism of Farage and his like – but this is to seriously misunderstand and misrepresent what Walmington-on-Sea’s finest were all about. 

These were ordinary men (women, apart from Mrs Pike and Mrs Fox, are almost entirely absent) doing extraordinary things, and in the course of this reinventing what Britain could become. The selfless sacrifice of Mainwaring’s volunteers in the face of a Nazi Blitzkrieg that to date had laid waste to all resistance in its path is remarkable. In 1941 Hitler would launch Operation Barbarossa and do the same to any resistance in his way on the Eastern Front, until Stalingrad started the turning of the tide of course.

The sacrifice is obvious in every episode, the heroism perhaps less so, although when a washed-up U-boat commander tries to take over their seaside town, Mainwaring’s epic instruction when the Nazi demand his young private’s name ‘Don’t tell him, Pike’ creates perhaps the show’s funniest moment of all. Never mind, the fierce and heroic resistance is obvious in Mainwaring’s voice and puffed-up chest, no fascist was going to push old Blighty around. 

Of course, class divisions remain within the platoon, as they did right across the war effort, although it is the public-school educated Sergeant Wilson who invariably loses out in the battle of will and leadership with the grammar-school educated Captain Mainwaring. It is however on the ideological front that in the fictionalised Walmington-on-Sea and the real Britain of 1939-45 that a battle was being fought, and won.

A popular mood of co-operation, the common anti-fascist cause and a wide recognition that a society led by and benefitting solely those most used to being in charge was no way to win either the war, or the peace. All of this created the basis for Labour’s 1945 landslide including the election of two Communist Party MPs, and the electoral defeat of Churchill’s Tory Party. We’ll never know whether the Walmington-on-Sea constituency went Labour, countless similar seats certainly did, but we can be sure that for at least a time the town wasn’t the place it was pre-1939. 

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

But a near-constant harking back to World War Two has created a peculiar version of English patriotism. The politics of anti-fascism are airbrushed out. The Labour victory in ’45, despite Churchill’s wartime leadership, scarcely mentioned. The Battle of Britain reduced to a football chant – ‘Ten German Bombers and the RAF from England shot them down’ – what kind of tribute borne out of ignorance is that? The RAF was never 'from England' and in this most heroic of its battles alongside Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish, there were pilots and aircrew from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Australia, Canada, South Africa and more. 

World War Two memorialising has become translated into a petty anti-Europeanism framed by a resentment at France or most particularly Germany, and not Britain being the dominant forces in European politics. Dad’s Army gives us an alternative model. Unlike Allo Allo, that other long-running BBC comedy set in World War Two, the Germans rarely make an appearance and thus their hateful fascism is never trivialised or turned into a misjudged excuse for a laugh.

Mainwaring’s platoon are hopelessly funny but never a joke. The opening credits spelt out what was at stake in 1940, Britain versus the swastika making its mark across Europe.  This was an anti-Nazi war, not England vs Germany of ’66 vintage and since. 

Dad’s Army was broadcast for 9 years, 1968-1977. Its ending pre-dates the rise and triumph of Thatcherism. It was under Thatcher that Europhobia, or more accurately Germanophobia, came to define the Tory Right and would eventually create the basis for UKIP’s growth too.

Given Farage's heartland support lies in England’s left behind coastal towns – he's considering standing in Clacton apparently – it is too easy to rewrite Walmington-on-Sea’s Mainwaring as Thatcher, or Farage, incarnate. But no, rather this was a platoon of community, common cause and, if called upon, no little courage. 'Don't tell him, Pike' is hilariously funny but they are also words of resistance against the Nazis. You have been watching? The people vs fascism.


Philosophy Football's Don't Tell Him Pike, T-shirt, designed by Hugh Tisdale, is available from here


Whatever the circumstances, change is possible: books for the 12 days of Christmas
Monday, 18 December 2023 21:06

Whatever the circumstances, change is possible: books for the 12 days of Christmas

Published in Cultural Commentary

Mark Perryman provides an inspiring diet of books on politics and culture for Christmas and the New Year

Christmas – a time of giving, receiving, and treating ourselves. For those of us who like nothing more than to curl up with a good book to provoke thoughts and actions around how to change the world, what better opportunity to find the time for such a read? That's if all the eating hasn't sapped our will to do much changing of anything. Never mind, there's always the New Year for that. 

Here's my top twelve days’ worth of good reads to get us agitated and inspired over the Christmas period. 


1. Andrew Simms and Leo Murray Badvertising: Polluting our Minds and Fuelling Climate Chaos

With his previous book Tescopoly Andrew Simms helped establish a connection between the hours, often involuntarily, we spend each week shopping and a politics that is both rooted in the everyday and transformational. With the ever-increasing imperative of the climate emergency Andrew's new book, co-authored with Leo Murray, extends that connection to the daily bombardment we all have to endure from advertisers promoting the goods that contribute towards this emergency: in particular fossil fuels, cars, budget airlines, and meat.  As we struggle under the strain of Christmastime consumerism, it’s an inspirational read of resistance.  

Available from Pluto books here


2. Benjamin Kunkel and Lola Seaton (Eds) Who Will Build the Ark? Debates on Climate Strategy from New Left Review 

In 1956 the Communist Left was reeling from the fallout from the Soviet invasion to crush the Hungarian democratic revolution. Communist families, former comrades, over Christmas dinner hammers and sickles drawn. In those days the Communist Party of Great Britain could count on some 40,000 members. Repulsed by the sight of Red Army tanks on the streets of Budapest, over 10,000 resigned, and many of them became the basis  of the New Left. The 'new' has taken a variety of forms since, with today a new generation carrying forward the tradition. This latest New Left Review collection is testament to both its legacy and currency, most especially Lola Seaton's superb essay 'Green Questions'.

Available from Verso Books here


3. Marios Mantzos The Social One: Why Jürgen Klopp was a Perfect Fit for Liverpool

Who will be top of the Premiership once the seasonal squeeze of games from Boxing Day to New Year's Day have been completed? With Chelsea struggling, Man Utd not doing much better while Spurs and Newcastle flirt with inconsistency, the field of serious contenders is already narrowing. Villa are this season's surprise package; City are losing points that previously they'd almost taken for granted; and Arsenal are repeating last season's excellent form. All three will surely be in the mix come the final whistle on 1st January. But for most neutrals, well apart from any with residual Evertonian sympathies obviously, if it can't be our own club, we'll favour Liverpool to be top. Not since Bill Shankly has there been a Liverpool – or indeed any – manager to attract such near universal approval and affection. The inspired title The Social One says it all, and the case that author Mariso Mantzos makes more than backs it up. 

Available from Pitch Publishing here


4.  Jack Monroe Thrifty Kitchen

Christmas is a time of over-indulgence at the dining-room table. For a tasty antidote look no further than Jack Monroe, former firefighter, author of best-selling recipe books, and campaigner against food poverty. It’s a near unique combination, in the overcrowded world of 'celebrity chefs'. Meals that save us money, delicious into the bargain, with a constant reminder that food poverty is a phenomenon that is entirely man-made and should have no place in any society that dares to call itself 'civilised'. At 120 recipes, a bumper collection to feed both body and mind. 

Available from Pan Macmillan here


5. Gary Younge Dispatches from the Diaspora: From Nelson Mandela to Black Lives Matter

25th December – no newspapers, for news and opinion junkies of a pre-digital disposition it’s an absolute nightmare. But for many Guardian readers, our daily paper is not the daily must-read that it once was. Steve Bell was excluded earlier this year, and Gary Younge left as the 2020s began. For many their combined sharpness of comment and acuteness of opinion is a big absence. Steve's cartoons live on in Philosophy Football mugs, tea towels, tees and prints; Gary's writing still pops up on occasion but a real feast of it is provided by this collection, ranging far and wide, to remind ourselves of how much we miss his weekly column.

Available from Faber & Faber here


6. Lynne Segal Lean on Me: A Politics of Radical Care

Twelve days – for those with young children, elderly relatives, or both, they are days of care. Yet the crisis of care is writ large across our entire society, all year round, from cradle to an early grave. Lynne Segal, co-author of the classic text Beyond the Fragments: Feminism and the Making of Socialism makes the case for a society that sees care and caring as a foundational value. This requires both institutions we can rely upon but also affects the way in which we live our lives. The personal as the complement of, not the alternative to, the political. 

Available from Verso books here


7. Daniel Rachel Too Much Too Young: The 2 Tone Records Story

The Specials can count two number ones, Too Much Too Young and Ghost Town, but neither topped the charts to grab that much cherished title 'Christmas Number One.'  Fellow ska band Madness came closest in Christmas 1981, when It Must Be Love reached number five. Number One? The Human League's Don't You Want Me. Author Daniel Rachel has become highly skilled at compiling popular oral histories of musical moments and movements. Previously with Walls Come Tumbling Down he brilliantly chronicled what was for me a formative period of  music and politics – Rock against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge. And now he brilliantly revisits the middle part of that trilogy, 2 Tone in glorious detail. Read, remember, enjoy, then stick some ska on the Christmas household soundtrack.   

Available from White Rabbit here


8. Henry Bell & Joey Simons (Eds) Now's The Day, Now's The Hour: Poems for John Maclean  

For those north of the border, Christmas is simply a staging post before getting down to the serious partying of Hogmanay closely followed by Burns Night. Anyone not yet convinced Scotland and England are two independent nations – the long overdue recognition of which is required so we can get on with co-existing as neighbours on one small island – a visit to Scotland on 31st December or 25th January will be more than suffice to persuade. John Maclean remains a towering figure of the Scottish Left, deeply committed to both the internationalism of the 1917 Revolution and Scotland's own particular road to revolution. To mark the centenary of his death, or more accurately his murder by the British state, this collection of poems will lift Scottish and English spirits high. 

Available from Tapsalteerie here   

And for those unfamiliar with John Maclean, check out co-editor Henry Bell's John Maclean biography too. From Pluto Books here


9. Nic Watts and Sakina Karimjee Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History

Christmas is supposed to be a time of 'peace and goodwill'. Not much evidence of the former in Israel and Palestine, nor the latter for those trapped by the cost-of-living crisis. There's always hope – however even that's not enough without the ideas, principles and movements to turn that into change. Christmas 1823 – who would have ever imagined back then that the scourge of empire and slavery would ever come to an end? But it largely has. Nic Watts and Sakina Karimjee's brilliant graphic novelisation of CLR James’ own stage adaptation of his book The Black Jacobins will both inspire and convince that, whatever the circumstances, change is possible.

Available from Verso Books here


10. Naomi Klein Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World 

Ghosts of Christmas, past, present and future. A classic Christmas tale, but for materialists who scoff at the supernatural, nothing to do with the real world, surely? When Naomi Klein found herself ghosted by a real-life 'doppelganger' with the same first name, she assumed Naomi Wolf had similar politics, and as a fellow campaigning feminist at first she thought nothing of it. Prominent political women are quite used to being confused with other women. But then the 'other Naomi descends into conspiracism, and threatens to drag Naomi Klein, via association, down with her. Not quite the book we might expect from the author of No Logo and Shock Doctrine, yet the surprise is richly rewarded with a narrative that is part-thriller and part-investigation – a combination in Naomi (Klein's!) hands that doesn't disappoint. 

Available from Penguin here


11. David Horspool More than a Game: A History of How Sport Made Britain

Next Christmas it will be 30 years since the very first Philosophy Football T-shirt. Name and number on the back, quote on the front, 'All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football'. Albert Camus, first obligatory product placement, is still proudly available. With that as our founding philosophy how could we possibly resist David Horspool's More than a Game? A thoughtfully constructed narrative combines chapter-by-chapter accounts of individual sports and the broader theme each serve to highlight. 

Available from John Murray here


12. Verso 2024 Radical Diary & Weekly Planner

And then before we know it the twelfth day cometh and 2024 proper begins.  A year of almost certainly a general election, and equally almost certainly the end of 14 years of Tory governments (second obligatory product placement, yes in anticipation - no refunds available - we have the Steve Bell mug to mark 14 years of Tory 'progress' here). Though whether Labour can deliver the change on the scale required remains depressingly unclear. The year also begins with two centenaries, 100 years since the death of Lenin and the descent into Stalinism, 100 years since the first Labour Government and the descent into Ramsay Macdonald's 'National Labour' and a Lab-Con pact. There's the 40th anniversary of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike too and of Orwell's fateful '1984'. While the sport to look forward to includes Euro 2024 and the Paris Olympics.

So what else do we need for the start of the New Year? A diary of course! For those not entirely digitalised, Verso's Radical Diary is an annual must have of effortlessly stylish design, packed with monthly and weekly reminders of struggles past with plenty of space to write in the daily details of struggles present, nearest and dearests' birthdays, home and away fixtures, meetings, General Election canvassing days, whatever and whenever 2024 holds. 

Available from Verso Books here

Note: No links in this review are to tax-dodging websites owned by multi-billionaires. Best to buy from a local, independent bookshop.

The Ever-Changing Picture of Going to the Match
Friday, 01 December 2023 10:45

The Ever-Changing Picture of Going to the Match

Published in Sport

70 years on, Mark Perryman and Guardian football cartoonist David Squires (see image above) revisit LS Lowry's greatest painting 

Reputedly a Man City fan LS Lowry's 1953 masterpiece Going to the Match depicted not Maine Road but Bolton Wanderers' then ground, Burnden Park. A ground that no longer exists, long replaced by an out-of-town stadium named after a building products company who paid a decent sum for the right to have Bolton's home named The Toughsheet Community Stadium, having previously been known since 1997 as The Reebok, Macron and University of Bolton Stadium. What price the durability of history versus naming rights deals and their expiry dates? Guardian football cartoonist David Squires' 70th anniversary recreation of Lowry's original artistically catalogues seven decades' worth of this and many other changes.    

Lowry's 1953 version of Going to the Match is of course most famous for his matchstick men Bolton fans, identically dressed, as far as we can tell all male, all white, the 1950s industrial working class writ large. The manufacturing economy represented by factories hemming in Burnden Park, from where these men exited the belching smoke for ninety minutes of unadulterated bliss. The factories have long since closed down, and working practices, class uniformity and what theorists term 'Fordism' – an entire way of life and social organisation – has gone with them.

Writing a couple of decades earlier JB Priestley put into words what LS Lowry had portrayed in his painting: 

"It turned you into a partisan, holding your breath when the ball came sailing into your own goalmouth, ecstatic when your forwards raced away towards the opposite goal, elated, downcast, bitter, triumphant by turns at the fortunes of your side, watching a ball shaped Iliads and Odysseys for you; and what is more, it turned you into a member of a new community, all brothers together for an hour and a half." 

Football remained relatively unchanged until the 1970s. The Manchester United players who lost their lives in the 1958 Munich Air Disaster weren't 'the subject of 'tragedy chants'; instead Liverpool FC lent players  to their bitterest rivals so United could complete their season. When England won the World Cup in 1966 it didn't elevate the players into multi-millionaire celebrities. Ten years after Munich, Man Utd won the European Cup at Wembley, lining up for their opponents Benfica Eusebio and Coluna immigrants from the Portuguese imperial outpost Mozambique, that rarity in those days, black players in a football shirt.  

Globalisation of line-ups

For United their European Cup-winning foreign contingent consisted of a Scot, a Northern Irishman, two Irishmen and a Scottish manager. The United 1999 team that won it for them the next time? A starting line-up consisting of one Dane, one Norwegian, one Dutchman, one Swede, one Trinidadian and Tobagonian, one Irishman, one Welshman, alongside their four English players and a Scottish manager – bloody hell! 

But it wasn't simply the globalisation of the line-ups that had changed in those intervening year, it was the monetisation of their playing skills too. In Rome 1977, Liverpool won the first of six consecutive European Cups by English clubs. John Williams, author of a social history of Liverpool FC, The Red Men, describes the scenes in Rome after their victory and what has changed since:      

“The extraordinary party in Rome after the 1977 final involved Reds supporters and the players together. These groups were still broadly drawn from the same stock, drank (and got drunk) in the same pubs, had pretty much similar lifestyles and diets, and footballers had not yet moved into the sort of wage brackets that later had them sealed off behind tinted-windowed cars the size of small, armoured trucks.”

Globalisation of team line-ups, player wage rises that outstrip inflation a millionfold and more, funded by no longer free-to-air broadcasting deals of a scale unimaginable prior to the 1992 creation of the Premier League and the Champions’ League, both serving to attract foreign investors to take over clubs and fund such largesse on a previously unimaginable scale. 

In 1980 sociologist Stuart Weir described the state of the relationship in English football between clubs and their supporters as:

"The clubs are under the control of local business elites who restrict the participation of their followers to separate supporters' clubs."  

There's only one word that needs to be changed in that sentence four and a bit decades on – local becomes global. In the era of Lowry through to the early twenty-first century, clubs were owned by the local butcher, baker, candlestick-maker. In Man Utd's case quite literally, the Edwards family were butchers.

Now such owners are almost entirely replaced by Russian oligarchs (until the Ukraine war forced their sanctioning), European, Chinese and US investor conglomerates, and Middle Eastern petrodollar states. Many favouring the multi-club model which is the money men's antithesis of what it means to be a fan. 'A multi-club fan' oxymoronic, and then some.

Football disasters

None of this however should allow an over-romanticisation of football's past. Lowry's Burnden Park in 1946 had been the scene of a stadium disaster, 33 fans died and hundreds more injured because of a human crush caused by poor crowd management. It happened again with the Ibrox Stadium disaster of 1971. By the 1980s such horrors should have been confined to the history books, but they weren't. 

Last game of the 1984-85 season, Bradford City at home, they've already won the Third Division championship, a party atmosphere. In the 85th minute a fire starts in the wooden main stand. Season after season a pile of litter had built up in the space below the tier where fans were sat. A cigarette started a fire which within minutes engulfed the entire stand. 56 fans lost their lives, simply because they'd gone to a football match.

The next day this is how the Sunday Times reported on football's part in the tragedy at Bradford City:

 “A slum sport played in slum stadiums increasingly watched by slum people, who deter decent folk from turning up."

It is scarcely credible such words were used back then, the day after 56 deaths, but it is also scarcely credible such words would be used today to describe football, the stadiums games are played in and the fans in the stands. 

But before that would happen yet another stadium disaster, in 1989 at Hillsborough. Here’s John Williams, again:

" The disaster was attributable to a planned general deterioration of public facilities in Britain, a development that had also brought a range of recent disasters on public transport, as Tory policies had prioritised the private sector and devastated areas such as Merseyside. It was difficult to avoid the conclusion that the deaths were also connected to deep-seated problems in terrace culture and poor relations between some football fans and the police. The English game had gone down a fatal route and was routinely treating all its customers (sic) as potential threats.” 

The 1980s saw Hillsborough; over 800 England fans arrested and deported from Euro 88; the team knocked out at the Group Stage; and all English club sides banned from European competition following crowd trouble at the 1985 European Cup Final. Different causes, different consequences, but overall, the game looked irrecoverable.

An evening with Gary Lineker

And then Italia 90, with England the least welcome guest at the World Cup party, and the draw fixed so all their group games were to be played on the island of Sicily, 60 miles off the Italian mainland. In England's group were Holland, Egypt, one of Africa's strongest teams, and the Republic of Ireland, who'd beaten England at Euro '88. Home before the postcards reach England? That was the widely held expectation, and for our Italian hosts, hope. 

The morning of the semi-final every English newspaper led their front pages with dire expectations of win or lose, England fans would be rioting. But then instead an entire nation spent 'an evening with Gary Lineker' – and everything changed.   

Pete Davies wrote a runaway Italia 90 best seller All Played Out and coined the brilliant term 'planet football'. Nick Hornby wrote Fever Pitch about what it means to be an Arsenal fan, and in his wake just about every club has had a book published about what it means to be their fan too. Pre-digital media, club fanzines are written, published, flogged outside the ground, creating another alternative narrative of our fandom. 

A fanzine style football magazine When Saturday Comes is on the shelves of WH Smith. The Football Supporters Association emerged as an effective and respected fans' campaign, with the group's founder Rogan Taylor a hugely impressive TV and radio studio guest. 

Product placement alert!

Fantasy Football League starts, is adopted by every national newspaper, goes from being a cult radio show to peak time TV. And – obligatory product placement alert – Hugh Tisdale and Mark Perryman, a pair of self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction' co-founded Philosophy Football.

All to the good, especially the T-shirts! But before the tournament had even begun one critic, Stan Hey, was already predicting what a successful Italia '90 on the pitch might produce beyond the touchline: 

" The global success of football has almost certainly sown the seeds for the game’s corruption. There is now a momentum which seems to be beyond control. Those of us who have retained an optimism for football’s capacity for survival and ability to re-invent itself are already checking our watches. It’s starting to feel like we’re in injury time."

Injury time? Within two years of Italia 90 we were already well past that. In 1992 the English first division is reinvented as 'The Premier League' with the sinister Orwellian consequence that the old second division becomes the Championship, and to take the Orwellian parallel to a ludicrous extremity the third and fourth divisions became League One and League Two. A pedant writes? No, as Orwell taught us, language matters because it is indicative of powerful forces at work behind the bastardisation of language.

And the European Cup, the finest cup competition in world football, bar none, in 1992 was reinvented as a Champions’ and Rich Runners’-up League. Purely to serve the interests of the mega clubs, and the element of risk that they might not make the competition's latter stages and win it was almost entirely removed.

Is there any hope that the commodification, the foreign investors, the corporate sponsors, and the media moguls won't have it all their own way? 

Yes! Because in the 2021 summer of lockdown, fans of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man United, City and Spurs protested and defeated a proposal that entirely served their own self-interest. It was for a so-called 'European Super League' with their clubs not having to compete for qualification but guaranteed entry not via points on the board but the marketing men's co-efficients.

No, those fans didn't look very much like Lowry's 1953 stick men going to the match, but they did stand up to be counted, and saved at least for now and however much already compromised, a part of football's heritage – competition. Even if it meant sacrificing a guaranteed place in Europe, where they all wanted their clubs to be. Win, lose, draw, the final score, league position, European qualification never a dead cert. Whatever the cost, something every bit as valuable to those fans at Lowry's painting, which was sold at auction in 2022 for a cool £7.8 million.

And David Squires' version of Lowry's original? The commodification and regulation of our fandom, sponsors' logos ruining a classic kit, the scourge of ever-present betting, football on the phone, never mind the match in front of us, VAR, kick off times dictated by broadcasters at maximum inconvenience for away fans, our stadiums named after airlines and the like.

Going to the match has changed a lot in seven decades, yet still we go. Thank you LS Lowry and David Squires for reminding us then, and now, why. 

David Squires redrawing Going to the Match 2023 is exclusively available as a Philosophy Football framed print and tea towel here      

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

Bobby, Frannie and what we have lost

Published in Sport

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

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

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

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

Toxic masculinity and fan culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing is constant but change

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

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

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

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


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

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

England, Scotland, independence and internationalism

Published in Sport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  MP Picture3    MP Picture4

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

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

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

Published in Cultural Commentary

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

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

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


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

Available from Bloomsbury Continuum here

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


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

Available from Pitch publishing here 

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


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

Available from Lawrence Wishart here      

4. Lynne Segal: Making Trouble:  Life and Politics


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

Available from Verso Books here  

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


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

Available from Pitch Publishing here 

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


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

Available from Picador here  

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


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

Available from Profile Books here

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


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

Available from Merlin Press here

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


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

Available from Pluto Books here

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


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

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

Available from Cambridge University Press here

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


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

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

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

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

Published in Films

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

Published in Cultural Commentary

Mark Perryman makes his annual selection of holiday page-turners

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

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

1. Leon Rosselson: Where Are the Elephants?      


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

Available from PM Press here.

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

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

Available from Faber & Faber here.

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

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

Available from Bloomsbury Sport here.

4. Raymond Williams: Resources of Hope

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

Available from Verso here.

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

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

Available from Verso here.

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

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

Available from Repeater here.

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

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

Available from Atlantic books here.

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

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

Available from Lawrence Wishart here 

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

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

Available from Spokesman here.

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

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

Available from Verso here.

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

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

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

Published in Sport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accelerated mod£rnisation

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

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

The social construction of sport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, are we going to win?

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

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

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


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

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