Mark Perryman

Mark Perryman

Mark Perryman is co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football. His latest book is Corbynism From Below.

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. 

summer1

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.

summer2

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'.

summer3

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.

summer4

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'.

 summer5

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.

summer6

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.

London is drowning – but keep the faith
Friday, 13 December 2019 20:09

London is drowning – but keep the faith

Published in Music

Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman recalls the Clash's epic album of 40 years ago. Image designed by Hugh Tisdall for Philosophy Football

14th December 1979 – the year of Thatcher’s election was seen out with the release of London Calling, widely regarded as the finest of all Clash albums.  Forty years later, 14th December 2019, another Tory nightmare begins and London's drowning. So it seems timely to look back, in hope.

The Clash had burst onto the fast-emerging punk scene in ’77 with their debut album. The band’s second long-player Give ‘Em Enough Rope was released to mixed reviews. It was over-produced, so the raw energy edge of its tracks was somewhat blunted. All this was to change however, with London Calling.

From double album length, weighing in at an astonishing nineteen tracks across four sides, to the stunning cover pic of Paul Simonon doing some serious damage to his bass guitar, this was to become an instant classic.  The rich mix of sounds showcased the foursome’s ever-expanding musical influences – jazz, reggae and dub, the blues, rockabilly, ska. This by and large wasn’t what was expected of 1970s English punk bands. Despite that, both fans and critics loved it.   

On their debut album Joe Strummer had belted out the anthemic ‘We’re so bored with the USA’ yet two years later The Clash appeared to have fallen hopelessly in love with the place.  The influences were obvious, from Montgomery Clift to Cadillacs – a wholesome embrace of Americana minus the shrill anti-Americanism of the band’s more obvious politics.

The band were emerging as fulsome internationalists too. Every bit at home belting out their tribute to inner-city resistance The Guns of Brixton as their very particular account in Spanish Bombs of the battle against Franco’s fascists. For many listeners these tracks would be their first introduction to either subject. The Clash were a genuinely educational, as well as innovative, outfit, a key influence shaping a generation whose politics were framed by being anti-Thatcher on the home front and soon enough against Reagan on the global front too.  Sounds familiar?        

Two tracks in particular stand out. Not only as unforgettable when first heard but uncannily prescient four decades on too. 

What are we gonna do now?
Taking off his turban, they said, 'is this man a Jew?'
'Cause they're working for the clampdown
They put up a poster saying: 'We earn more than you'
We're working for the clampdown
We will teach our twisted speech
To the young believers
We will train our blue-eyed men
To be young believers

This ‘clampdown’ mixed authoritarianism, race hatred and economic power. What The Clash railed against in 1979 remains the shape of Johnson and Trump’s right-wing, racist populism today.

And then of course the album’s title track, London Calling:

London calling to the faraway towns
Now war is declared and battle come down

This was the era of the Winter of Discontent, the Special Patrol Group, war in Ireland (and soon enough in the South Atlantic too), the Nazi National Front on the march, Brixton and Toxteth ablaze, civil disobedience against Reagan and Thatcher’s nuclear arms race, and then the year-long Miners’ Strike.  ‘War is declared’ – they weren’t far wrong.

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growin' thin
Engines stop running, but I have no fear
'Cause London is drowning, and I, I live by the river

The meteorology might be a tad skewift but a frightening vision of the future has become the vivid reality of the present-day climate emergency. A melting polar ice cap, record-breaking heatwaves, agricultural growing seasons in crisis, and rising seal levels.

We can rest assured that The Clash of yesteryear would have been playing Extinction Rebellion benefit gigs today.  It’s Revolution Rock, ’79 vintage – play it loud in 2019, and keep the faith.

Philosophy Football’s 40th anniversary London Calling T-shirt is available from here.

What do they know of cricket, that only cricket know?
Wednesday, 17 July 2019 13:44

What do they know of cricket, that only cricket know?

Published in Sport

 Mark Perryman criticises the exclusive way some sports are managed, and suggests some progressive policies to bring out all the benefits of sport – for the many, not the few.

Cricket’s version of the ‘years of hurt’ – 44 in this case – came to a spectacular end early last Sunday evening. Thrilling, eventful, and glorious – no wonder the front pages the following morning were full of it. The sub-editor who came up with the headline ‘Champagne Super Over’ is surely in line for a hefty bonus.

For a certain version of a miserabilist leftism, all this amounts to is a concocted, nationalistic, distraction from more important matters at hand. For others, it’s hip-hip-hooray! The world has changed at the flick of a super over and superior number of wickets taken! The nation will take up bat and ball! Obesity crisis, what crisis! The truth lies somewhere in between, or as CLR James famously put it ‘What do they know of cricket, who only cricket know?’

The hoo-hah over the tournament’s TV broadcasting rights sold off to the highest bidder, a Sky TV subscription channel, illustrates this perfectly. The England and Scotland women’s World Cup campaigns attracted record-breaking viewing figures, with over 12 million for England’s semi-final. But until the final was after much pressure shared with Channel 4, the cricket World Cup scraped by on a few hundred thousand viewers.

The contrast couldn’t be more obvious. Ever since the birth of satellite TV, hyped-up claims have been made about the virtue of its ‘generous purchase’ of TV rights. Yet in every single case numbers following the sport on TV have plummeted, popular interest has been squandered, and participation levels have declined.

It’s been a disaster. Why on earth would any host nation allow the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of a domestic World Cup to be be squandered in this way? Yet this summer we have had not one but two examples, in cricket and netball.

MP 2

Netball in particular has wasted the biggest chance it has ever had to grow the sport. Most women in this country have played the game during their schooldays, but the overwhelming majority promptly gave it up when they left school, never to return to the court. There’s been a modest reversal of this depressing trend following England’s gold medal in the Commonwealth Games, but nothing like the kind of platform a World Cup offers.

These sports’ governing bodies, and there are plenty of other examples, clearly cannot be trusted with the wider interests they are charged with. Of course most are hard-pressed for funds, but when participation is sacrificed for the short-term injection of cash, and to boost profits of privately-owned media companies, then something is clearly amiss. Some – though not enough – of the broadcasting rights to sporting events are regulated. They are not available to the satellite channels, and have to be broadcast on terrestrial TV. As a first step, an incoming Labour government should significantly extend that list, to include any domestic World Cup or World Championship for starters, and the Ashes too.

Nanny state? No! It’s standing up for the nation’s sporting interests. Those interests are centred on two roles sport performs like no other cultural activity – encouraging participation and framing a common-sense nationhood.

Sport is socially constructed

On the same weekend as that epic cricket World Cup final, terrestrial TV also treated us to the Wimbledon finals and the British Grand Prix. Both attracted huge audiences, yet neither will lead to many viewers taking up driving round Silverstone as a hobby, or picking up a tennis racquet for the first time.

That is because participation isn’t just about what we can watch on TV from the comfort of our own sofa, it is about providing the means to get us off that sofa too. Sport is socially constructed. A local go-kart track for the child inspired by Lewis Hamilton’s 100mph derring-do might do for starters, but the numbers who can afford to enter this hugely expensive sport at a competitive level are minuscule.

And tennis? The annual platform Wimbledon provides tennis frames it as an intensely upper middle-class pursuit, from the Royal Box guest list to strawberries and cream followed by a glass of Pimms. A revolutionary reinvention of tennis would reframe it as an urban, inner-city sport. A network of concrete tennis courts would not only be vandal-proof, they would require virtually zero maintenance. Add on an army of local authority coaches providing the much-needed structure to encourage those who pick up racquet and ball, and the whole sport could become about mass participation

It could become a sport for the many, not the few – ring any bells? And the few who made it up the ranks to play at Wimbledon would be a pleasant surprise and a welcome side effect, not the sum of our ambition. Having regulated the broadcasting rights, an incoming Labour Government should run an audit of every sport’s governing body’s finances. Those that failed to meet tougher objectives around mass participation would be deprived of the generous state support they receive, from taxpayers and Lottery players. Totalitarian? Not at all, it’s just common sense – these sports have lost the right to be trusted with the organisation and management of cultural activities which are so important to people’s health, happiness and well-being.  

Participation in physical activity is key to the nation’s health. But sport can deliver even more than that. A World Cup, in any sport, reaches the parts of a sporting nation like nothing else. When Liverpool won the Champions’ League the blue half of Merseyside looked away with studied indifference, while they were hardly dancing in the streets of Manchester, North London and elsewhere either.

A World Cup win is of a different scale. The casual observer is mobilised to become hardened fan for a month at least. In Eric Hobsbawm’s brilliant phrase ‘An imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people.’

But of course that ‘imagined community’ is hugely contested, never more so than in this era of the Brexit impasse. Jacob Rees-Mogg clearly hadn’t spent very long on the playing fields of Eton if he could in all seriousness tweet after England’s World Cup victory, ‘We clearly don't need Europe to win.’

MP3

Yet this was an England team with an Irish-born captain, an opening batsman born in South Africa, a man of the match born in New Zealand, and wicket-takers born in Barbados and the grandson of a Pakistani immigrant. It was diverse, multicultural, and all the better for it. Of course this isn’t enough to roll back a resurgent popular racism – but it’s a start, an unrivalled platform for a very different imagined nation to the one of Rees-Mogg’s elitist and xenophobic imagination. Nothing reveals faux-populism like a politician’s ignorance of sport.

What do they know of cricket who only cricket knows? Not enough! The failure to understand the social impact and construction of sport leaves the political left incapable of contributing to the kind of national conversation that Sunday’s World Cup win has ignited.

Fortunately, what CLR James also taught us is that sport matters for its own sake too. For many millions of people, sport is not a distraction from the real world, but an invaluable and central part of that world. Let’s join them, savouring without apologies the victories of England and Wales – and along the way, hopefully learning lessons for the next Labour government’s more progressive policies around the ownership, control and regulation of sport.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football. Their World Champions T-shirt, celebrating the diverse and multicultural England team is available here. Illustration is by Hugh Tisdale/Philosophy Football.

Liberté, Egalité, Velocité: the Bicyclists' Road to Socialism
Thursday, 04 July 2019 09:37

Liberté, Egalité, Velocité: the Bicyclists' Road to Socialism

Published in Sport

As Le Tour begins, Mark Perryman offers up a 5-point transitional programme for a cycling revolution

It's July – the month when since 2012 first Wiggins, then Froome, and last year Thomas, turn Le Maillot Jaune into Le Maillot Britannique. Or in Thomas’ case Le Maillot Gallois. And on the back of this comes a surge in riding our bicycles, rather than simply watching the excellent television coverage.

Or not! According to the latest figures from the Department for Transport, only 6% of the UK population cycle at least once a month, just 1% of primary school children cycle to school, and a mere 3% of secondary school children. Compared to Europe we remain the third lowest of daily cyclists, at 4%. Only Cyprus (2%) and Malta (1%) get on their bikes less than the Brits.

Once again the myth that elite success, Le Tour, Team GB’s hatful of gold medals in the Olympic Velodrome, the cycling world championships coming to Yorkshire in the autumn, is proved to have next to no impact on increasing participation.

Yet cycling not only helps generate a healthier population by getting us out of our cars – the same data revealed that the average length of a car journey is 8.5 miles – we can help alleviate urban air pollution, reduce reliance on fossil fuels and decarbonise the economy.

Le Maillot Jaune won’t achieve any of this, but La Révolution might. It was Trotsky who once offered up a ‘transitional programme’ from capitalism to socialism: mine is a tad more modest – from four wheels, to two. After all, we have nothing to lose but our chains......

MP We have nothing to loose but our chains1

Socialist cycling club, 1939. Available as a postcard from Leeds Postcards

1. No VAT on Bikes

A signature move would be to remove VAT on bicycles. A 20% reduction across the board on the price of a bike, anything from £200 upwards, isn’t to be sniffed at. It uses tax gathering as a tool to actively shape lifestyles, something that will be required more and more by any government seriously committed to a sustainable economic strategy.

2. Socially Useful Bicycle Production

In the past few years there has been a spate of car factory closures. This is unlikely to slow down, as consumer habits are changing. Sadly, it’s not that car-drivers are driving less, it’s that they’re driving existing models for longer. The urgent need to upgrade every couple of years is coming to an end, and electricity is coming to replace the petrol in the tank.
Good, but where does the electricity come from? If not renewables while pollution may be reduced, the impact on climate change much less so – and the same applies to E-bikes.

Those factories could be taken over by the state, and used to churn out cheap but well-made bikes. Forget about front-wheel suspension, which is entirely unnecessary for the vast majority of journeys – lightweight steel is what improves the quality of any ride. Focus on this for a new line of nationalised, not-for profit children’s and adults’ bikes. Traditional centres of car manufacture are unlikely ever to recover, certainly not on the scale they once had – but what if they became centres of bike manufacture?

3. Bicycles on trains

Eight and a half miles isn’t a bad standard to aim at. Of course many car journeys are considerably less, so there’s no need to aspire to Le Tour standards straightaway. Most of us, depending on any hills getting in the way, could do those 8.5 miles in well under an hour. In big cities that will be quicker than by bus, and no wait for the next train either.

For some, however, the journey to work is considerably longer. Why then does commuting by train actively discriminate against those who’d take a bike to complete the journey? The only ones permitted are those who can afford the expensive ‘2nd bike’ option, the fold-away. And at the weekends it’s no better, a ride in the country for city-dwellers is made difficult because the train ride to get there has next to no space for bikes.

None of this applies on the continent where it is not uncommon to find entire carriages given over to cyclists and their bikes. What new train design in the UK has even begun to address this? There is ever-decreasing provision for carrying bikes, which is sheer madness – both commercially, and for the environment.

4. A bike shed for every workplace

OK, 8.5 miles is going to leave some of us a tad sweaty. If you’re into all-weather cycling, quite possibly soaking wet and caked in mud as well. No way to start the working day! So every workplace needs to be kitted out with a bike shed, changing room and showers. Central and local government should set the example in their offices, but tokenism isn’t enough. It needs to be in planning regulations for new workplace builds, with interest-free loans for all existing workplaces to add this provision.

5. The cyclists’ road to socialism

In the early years of socialism ‘Clarion Clubs’ of socialist cyclists would take body, soul and the message for change from city to countryside. A late 1980s version was the annual Oxford to London Nicaragua Solidarity bike ride, that thousands would take part in every year.

MP bigredpicnic

Clarion House’s annual Big Red Picnic, which is a Morning Star fundraiser Photo: Joan Heath

Despite the supposed frailty of Jeremy Corbyn being challenged by pictures of his regular Islington to Westminster – 4.5 miles according to my road map – cycle-commuting is a culture largely absent from the Left nowadays.

A left cycling culture could help generate instead what the writer Lynne Segal has described as moments of ‘collective joy’ – a day out yes, but with a world, not just a wheel, to change too.

I could add, of course, safer cycleways and paths. These are certainly needed, because fear remains a major impediment to the revolutionary growth in cycling for our individual and collective benefit I am advocating. Yet the overwhelming emphasis on this, to little or no substantial change, serves only to produce a self-fulfilling prophecy. If it’s that dangerous, which it isn’t, and nothing is being done about it, which it hasn’t, why bother?

Like any decent manifesto for a revolution mine is the advocacy therefore of hope, not despair.

Liberté? Yes. Egalité? Of course. Velocité? Why not? Driven not by profit or an economic system driving our planet to destruction, but by ourselves. A Révolution in anybody’s language.

Tour de France 2019 s s final

Out just in time for Le Tour: Philosophy Football’s Liberté, Egalité, Velocité T-shirt is available from Philosophy Football.

 

The Making of a Two Tone Nation
Thursday, 07 March 2019 14:46

The Making of a Two Tone Nation

Published in Music

40 years on, Mark Perryman celebrates the release of the debut single from The Specials 

On the 3rd May 1979, Margaret Thatcher leads the Tories to a crushing General Election defeat of Labour. The next morning I pop into the small independent record shop tucked away by the platforms at Hull railway station to pick up the eagerly awaited debut single by The Specials, a double A-side with label mates The Selecter on the reverse. What an antidote!

Specials Gangsters label visual 2

For the preceding couple of years the National Front had threatened both a street-fighting and electoral breakthrough. The Anti-Nazi League (ANL) mobilised in opposition everywhere and appeared to challenge the fascists’ ability to organise. The investigative magazine Searchlight exposed via fearless intelligence-gathering the Neo-Nazi origins of the NF’s leadership and key organisers. And most imaginatively of all, Rock against Racism, via a mix of huge carnivals and local gigs, had spread the message that the NF stood for ‘No Fun, No Freedom, No Future’, in order to drive a wedge between the nihilistic appeal of punk, and the NF. Punk’s flirtation with the faux-shock value of the swastika and Nazi chic had until this kind of intervention the potential to provide a useful base of support for the NF.

A fortnight before polling day the ANL had organised a massive protest outside an NF election rally which was provocatively sited in multicultural Southall, and was to be addressed by their wannabe Führer-in-Waiting, John Tyndall. The counter-demo was brutally policed by the notorious Special Patrol Group, so brutal that their actions resulted in the death of one demonstrator, Blair Peach. The late 1970s were dangerous times.

When the ’79 General Election votes were counted, the NF had been humiliated at the ballot box. Despite standing in seats from Accrington to York and most places in between, they barely topped 1% of the vote in these contests nationwide. Their best single result still only a measly 7.6% for Tyndall in Hackney South and Shoreditch. But the NF’s setback, however welcome, was less due to the defeat of their racism than its embrace by the more mainstream Tories.

In January 1978 Thatcher had said during a World in Action TV interview of immigration:

By the end of the century there would be four million people of the new Commonwealth or Pakistan here. Now, that is an awful lot and I think it means that people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture and, you know, the British character has done so much for democracy, for law and done so much throughout the world that if there is any fear that it might be swamped people are going to react and be rather hostile to those coming in.

Despite her qualifying these remarks elsewhere in the televised conversation, the message was perfectly clear – vote Conservative, stop the ‘swamping’ of ‘our’ culture, you don’t need to vote NF because the Tories will do their job.

Specials Union Jack A4 visual 2

The Specials stood for an entirely different version of ‘this country’ to Thatcher’s. A 2 Tone nation celebrated their music via riotous gigs and frantic dancing, mixing up the anarchic energy of post-punk with the original sound of Jamaica’s Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker, Harry J. Allstars and others. Dressed up to the nines in tonic suits, loafers, button-down collar shirts, it was a musical movement rooted in the hugely contradictory sub-culture of skinheads. Rocking against racism was no longer just a prescription, more the natural consequence of the sounds we loved. Ska was being reinvented in the multicultural spaces of Birmingham, Coventry and North London, by the bands we followed up and down the motorways, north, south, east and west.

Hull was as affected by all this as anywhere else. The SWP had a bookshop on Spring Bank that had become pretty much the hub for a thriving local Rock Against Racism scene. The Wellington Club, affectionately known as ‘The Welly’ to all who frequented it, was a hotbed of punk, indy and post-punk. Both helped pull together a mainly young crowd, who would fill coaches to stop the NF and British Movement wherever they threatened to march. One memorable excursion of this sort to protest against the Far Right’s favourite racist landlord, Robert Relf, then languishing in Winchester prison, left Hull past midnight so the music crowd could also see Howard Devoto’s Magazine gig at the local FE College.

There was an uglier side to this mix though. There were pubs to avoid because they were well-known NF hangouts, places where a visit to the toilets was likely to end in a bloody confrontation. They firebombed the SWP bookshop, too. However, ska helped mould the activism and the music into some sort of movement. The coolest kid in these parts was Roland, a diehard Clash fan, mixed-race with a blonde rinse. His nickname, before any of us knew any better, was ‘Guinness’. His mum ran a second-hand clothes shop, if we wanted the sixties ska look on the cheap, that was the place to find a vintage bargain. And when Roland formed a ska band, The Akrilykz, it was the Communist Party who provided the lead guitar and drummer. Now that’s what I call a Popular Front! And Roland was mesmerising on lead vocals, despite his moniker, personifying everything we believed in. His quietly understated voice soared with the breathless melodies that a few years later he, Roland Lee Gift, would bring to the Fine Young Cannibals.

Specials 2 Tone head artwork A4 2

2 Tone and its offshoots rapidly became this kind of movement everywhere. Not in the conventional political sense, nor like the gloriously disorganised effectiveness of RAR’s self-styled Militant Entertainment either. When the first 2 Tone Tour reached Sheffield, I joined it on a minibus from Hull. The dancehall was heaving, on the cusp of some kind of musical rebellion, threatening yet joyful at the same time. The notorious South Yorkshire police however suspected something untoward was afoot and tried to close the gig down. I’ll never forget the response of Terry Hall, the Specials’ lead singer. He bounded on stage, asked us all to sit down on the dance floor and then to the senior police officer’s face led the entire audience in chorus after chorus of the ‘Harry Roberts Song’. Grudgingly, and knowing the alternative was likely to be a seriously wrecked venue, the police didn’t have much choice than allow the gig to proceed. 1-0 to 2 Tone.

Another unforgettable ’79 night was spent at the tiny Dingwalls nightclub in Camden. It was the evening of the first performance of Madness on Top of the Pops, and to reward their loyal fans the band were playing live straight afterwards. I was one of the lucky few crammed in, packed shoulder to shoulder with British Movement skinheads. This was genuinely scary because although my hair was short enough to pass muster, my politics certainly was not.

It was one of the contradictions of 2 Tone, and the original ska numbers too, that a sound imported from Jamaica and reinvented by inner-city England was embraced and danced to by some young people who were avowedly racist. But mostly not, of course. Messy, even violent on occasion, the irresistible beat of 2 Tone belonged mostly to a predominantly working-class fan base who fancied a good time, while having the common sense to leave any racism they might be bringing along to the show at the door.

Specials 2 TONE artwork Mk II 2

In this way music, like most aspects of popular culture, is a staging post towards social change, rather than the vehicle for it. We ignore the politically progressive potential of the former at our peril, but try to enforce it into becoming the latter and we starve the music of its originality and dynamism.

That’s not to say the bands weren’t political. The Specials topped the charts in ’81 with their epic Ghost Town and headlined the Leeds Rock against Racism carnival, which ended up being the last UK live performance of the original line-up. While label mates The Beat’s Stand Down Margaret was the definitive anti-Tory dance number for a generation.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the breakthrough of 2 Tone didn’t exist in a vacuum. Thatcher’s elevation of a racist discourse around ‘swamping’ was followed by the raw nationalist-populism of the Falkands War and an increasingly punitive law and order agenda. The street-fighting fascist Right remained an ever-present threat. The mix was toxic but ska, and The Specials most of all, did at least provide the national anthems for a 2 Tone nation in the making.

In the era of Thatcherism this seemed like another country. But no, it was ours, and despite their worst efforts that other lot could never take it from us.

All illustrations are by graphic designer Hugh Tisdale co-founder of Philosophy Football and available as T-shirts from the company here.

Mark Perryman is the author of The Corbyn Effect , his new book Corbynism from Below is published in September by Lawrence & Wishart.

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

Every revolution needs some smashing plates

Published in Visual Arts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MP Sofranova plate 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

MP Chimneys plate 2017

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

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

MP Red Wedge plate 2017

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

Now that’s what I call politics!

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

 

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

Every revolution needs some smashing plates

Published in 1917 Centenary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MP Sofranova plate 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

MP Chimneys plate 2017

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

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

MP Red Wedge plate 2017

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

Now that’s what I call politics!

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

 

Football from Below
Friday, 08 September 2017 07:46

Football from Below

Published in Sport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MP against modern football

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idealistic? Guilty as charged.

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

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

Celebrating the politics of punk

Published in Music

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

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

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

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

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

MP police 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MP Clash ad for Tweet

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

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

Page 1 of 2