Another in my occasional series of posts about football. Spurs not even mentioned once.
Careless of Sunderland to miss that fascist thing during the interview process for their new manager. Guess Di Canio omitted it from his C.V. The club seem genuinely surprised that it’s cropped up and unprepared for the almighty stench it’s caused.
Yesterday on twitter, the consensus among journalists after the press conference was that their media/PR people had managed it poorly, therefore it would not now go away. I’m not entirely sure about this: how exactly can fascism be airbrushed out of existence? Public relations seems an odd world at the best of times but even a sceptic such as myself would take my hat off to any PR rep who could convince me that there is an alternative, anodyne interpretation of this photo. An audition for the next Right Guard campaign just won’t cut it. A fan behaving in this way would be banned and rightly so. I could not conceive of any defence in mitigation.
Di Canio’s appointment is part of a wider and disturbing trend where football clubs actively insulate themselves from what’s going on around them in society. They do so at their peril.
Like any complex individual, Di Canio has many sides to his personality. An intelligent, driven man, his passion for the game in general and for English football is particular is wholly authentic. Alongside this are his fascist convictions. You can’t have one without the other. Yet the chairmen of first Swindon Town and now Sunderland wish to indulge in a personality pick ‘n mix. In order to justify their dubious employment policies, they are attempting to redefine the political frame of reference with a new creation, the fascist who is not a racist. There is no evidence of Di Canio discriminating against individual black people, for example, why, some are even team-mates and friends. Therefore we have the likeable, friendly and personable fascist. He works hard, he is an effective leader, he treats all the players on their merits. Forget the salutes, the Mussolini tattoo, his own words describing himself as a fascist which he has failed to retract or qualify despite being given ample opportunity to do so. Good old Paolo, the nicest fascist you could ever wish to meet.
In passing, the same things were said about Mussolini, Hitler and Franco, where many in their respective countries said that while they did not agree with the extreme politics, their leaders had the interests of the people at heart. It’s what fascist leaders do.
However, it’s expedient for Sunderland to take one part of Di Canio without the other. It suits them to ignore abhorrent political beliefs because they need a guy who can kick tuchas. Staying in the Premier League is all that matters.
There are other examples of this trend, the most notable being Chelsea’s apparent inability to confront allegations of racism against their captain John Terry, condoned by Roy Hodgson’s willingness to just get on with football irrespective of other considerations. Part of the game’s enduring appeal is its escapism. For ninety minutes, the game is our world with its own rules and customs. We shout, sometimes abuse, we sing, we’re tribal and are uplifted by the experience, only to scuttle away at the final whistle to the humdrum ordinariness of our lives. But that’s no excuse for going too far, for fans or for clubs.
Football mirrors society however much it wishes it could escape. Like society, the game is grappling with racism on and off the pitch. In my view, in Britain we have moved forward significantly in my lifetime but there is much still to do and absolutely no room for complacency. Sunderland, Swindon and Chelsea are holding us back. Kick It Out except when we need the points and profits.
At this point, I should add that I have no axe to grind against Sunderland. Because this is on a blog about another football team, that’s what many people will believe but it is not true. On the contrary, I admire their loyalty and envy the passion of their fans in a one club city, unlike me as a wandering Londoner. They don’t deserve this.
Clubs are becoming increasingly alienated from their fans, especially in the Premier League. We are worried about where the money goes in the recession, they put the prices up when their income from TV is at stratospheric levels. We devote our time and energy to the team, they treat us as if we are extras to provide context and atmosphere. The board do not appear to have consulted anyone about the implications of this appointment, least of all their supporters. The apparent bewilderment and unpreparedness of the Sunderland hierarchy is another instance of how distant they are, their response shows that to them, this distance simply does not matter and in that respect they are no different from most Premier League clubs.
Like I say, football is part of society. For us, the ordinary, the employed, we transgress and there are consequences. I am a really nice person but if I mentioned at work that I was a fascist, or indeed bullied and assaulted a staff member as that nice Mr Di Canio did at Swindon, I would be out on my ear with little chance of another job in my profession. However, it seems that these days others face fewer consequences. Politicians are disgraced, lie low for a bit and back they come. Post Leveson, Brooks leaves the NOTW with a pay-off rumoured to be £7m, although of course she has not been found guilty of any criminal offence. Morgan sacked at the Mirror, now a celebrity interviewer. There’s a worrying trend that for some there are no consequences. Perhaps after all football understands that it is part of society all too well.