Di Canio: Let’s Pretend Society Doesn’t Exist

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.

27 thoughts on “Di Canio: Let’s Pretend Society Doesn’t Exist

  1. Paolo will absolutely kick tuchas
    Maybe it would be a good idea for you or the mainstream media to explain to the average punter exactly what Facism is. then everyone has a crystal clear picture of the whole situation.I know what it is but the majority of people that I know haven’t got any real idea


    • I have tried deliberately to avoid turning the debate into a political economy seminar but I should warn you that I have a sociology degree and I’m not afraid to use it!
      The way I see it – never mind the precise definition, look at the behaviour of fascist regimes or specifically, Mussolini’s regime, Di Canio having a tattoo of his symbol. Regimes actively endorse the principle of racial superiority, the superiority of one race compared with another. That’s racist enough.




  2. I tried to explain fascism on one of my Tottenham FB groups and was told “just because someone is a fascist it doesn’t make him racist”. Well as far as I and millions of others are concerned, he is exactly that and doesn’t deserve to earn millions of pounds of other peoples hard earned money. Here is a description from mussolini himself: “The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State—a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values—interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people.” Now if that’s not a racist concept then I don’t know what is.


    • See above. Think it is up to your FB commenter to prove her or his point – the onus is on them not you because racism is an element of any fascist regime or party.

      The above Alan is not me, by the way. The strain of the season’s climax is taking its toll but it has not got so bad as to have me replying to my own commnets.

      Regards, Alan


  3. As my father fought in the war, I’m found this appointment to be highly distasteful. It’s sad to see a proud club like Sunderland plumb the depths in their quest for Premiership survival and their fans shouldn’t have to suffer this man at their club. I have friends who support Sunderland. They’re good decent people.
    Although not a fan of O’Neill, this is a baffling appointment in both aspects, on and off the field. There are plenty of better managers out there irrespective of his politics so why bother selecting someone of his ilk? As you say, it just shows the increasing detachment of Premier League clubs from the fans.
    Given our own history, it’s going to be an uncomfortable afternoon when Sunderland come to WHL.


    • Agree. Not looking forward to the Sunderland game at all. Although since this article was written, Di Canio has issued a statement oozing with PR nuance that he does beleive in fascism. He could handle the rest of the media but once TOMM came into the arena, the pressure was too great…


  4. A really good piece. Better than a lot of the stuff I read in the printed press. I have no gripe with the people of Sunderland but the club should hang its head in shame. I really hope we get to relagate them on the final match of the season.


  5. At the end of the day, money talks.

    The reason this is being discussed is because so many people believe it to be a ridiculous situation a football club has got itself into, and rightly so. However, football is a business and that’s all that matters. Sunderland knew exactly what was coming when they hired him but decided it was their best option, only time will tell whether they were right.

    Next year, the new TV deal comes into effect and the team that finishes 20th will earn more money than Man City did for winning the title last season. As a result of that, there’s been a lot of panic sackings at the bottom of the league and any one of the clubs that does get relegated would take Di Canio and his “baggage” if it meant not losing out on next seasons ridiculous amount of cash.

    Football has now become so money orientated it does what it wants and gets away with it. The football “fan” in this country is no longer important, which means if Sunderland fans aren’t happy the Sunderland board don’t really care because it’s the TV companies around the world that’s important and none of those companies are going to pull out of the premier league TV deals because Di Canio is manager of Sunderland.


    • Agree completely re the money. I think that rather than know what was coming, they completey underestimated the fuss because after all, he had worked at Swindon in the glare of publicity without undue fuss. However, as you rightly say, if he keeps them up there is no such thing as bad publicity. Wonder how many he will add to the gate in the remaining home games too? The end jusitifies the means.

      Regards, Al


  6. Perhaps one day soon, someone will write with balance and with football as the focus. Far too many holier-than-thou ignoramuses jumping on the band-wagon and sticking the boot into Di Canio, based upon half-truths and innuendo spouted by the usual media suspects with their own self-serving agendas. Even the academics cannot agree on a universally acceptable definition of fascism, let alone whatever brand Di Canio allegedly favours. Personally, I find lots of the beliefs held by other people, both political and religious, to be unpalatable, but I have the wit and intelligence to understand that as soon as one tries to supress views and opinions that we do not like, we are truly taking the first steps on the road to mind control and anti-democracy. In any case, Di Canio is about as fascist as the average UKIP member or right-wing Tory. Can we all just move on now please, and HA’WAY THE LADS!!


    • MacM……does the above picture remind you of a Tory MP or UKIP member???

      How “unpalatable” does a football managers beliefs have to be before we put them before “football as the focus”….what if he had come out and said paedophilia is ok?


      • Paedophilia is a criminal offence; allegedly holding political views, however much you disagree with them, is not. He has explained, and if you had bothered to check a few facts you would know, that the salute he is giving to Lazio fans is regarded as the Roman salute (yes, hail Caesar etc). Of course it’s fair to argue that he was not wise to do it because of its WW2 connotations, and I seriously doubt we’ll be seeing at at the SoL!


    • Mac, I would like Sunderland in the Prem, really. Bu the guy says he’s a fascist (at least he did until about half an hour ago), he makes fascist salutes, he has a fascist tattoo. I appreciate the nuance of debate – there is a lot of that in this blog over the years – but that seems clear…

      All the best, Alan


      • He refers to a form of Italian nationalism originating in Rome early 20th century that bore some features of Italian fascism but is nothing like BNP type fascism or Naziism. The salute was used in Rome before the Nazis hijacked it, and the tattoo is ‘DVX’ which is Latin for Leader. I suspect Di Canio has learnt some harsh lessons these last few days, especially about ignorant lynch mobs 😉


  7. Alan, as much as I deplore fascism and all it stands for I really don’t think De Canio will have much influence on the overall politics of the North East, nor the wider part of the country.
    He will stand or fall on the ‘fascism’ of results alone! Because football IS an ugly business at times and is so ‘result driven’ now, it’s almost become ‘fascist like’, or representative of the worst aspects of capitalism at the very least. This football manager is not an active fascist campaigner. If anything, with his strange but hardly dangerous views, he seems a bit deluded ..but he is passionate about football, and it will be interesting to see how the players relate to him (white, black, Asian or otherwise). At least he might bring a bit of excitement to the PL with his passionate ‘football’ rants and outbursts, although whether he succeeds or fails I don’t much care. This is all akin to making a mountain out of a molehill in the greater scheme of things.
    Also, this is not the 1930s or 1940s. Your statement attributed to Mussolini could have described communism, as it then was and remained until the fall of the Berlin Wall, as well as fascism ..because, although in theory these idealogies are poles apart, in practise they are amazingly similar. And would you have described that very statement, if delivered by Lenin or Stalin, to be rascist? Where is it rascist? Both types of government demanded subjugation and unquestioning loyalty from its people (a bit like Billy Nick did with the Spurs players in the 1960s). Hitler and his cronies were National Socialists, a different sort of fascism to that of Franco in Spain or Mussolini in Italy, and although the latter (especially) followed Hitler he was not interested in the overt racism of the Nazis. We must not take all this out of context. If De Canio was an old style communist it wouldn’t even crop up, and if he starts to act like an old style fascist dictator at Sunderland, then his bosses can slap him down. We are too multi-cultural in our society, as well as in football, for anything nasty to take hold now ..otherwise the Nat Front, BNP and others would have made bigger inroads than they have, with all their activity, planning and organisation. Let’s worry more about the deeper malaise in our society ..the greed, crime, terrorism, ignorance, poverty, underclass problems, a press which hypocritically creates and nurtures the very things it professes to defend us from, big business selfishness and incompetence, and the more personal me, me, me attitude, the advent of customer care (that’s a good one) which drives ordinary people to distraction, the worship of false gods (celebrity culture and yes, footballers on £100,000 pw), the brain dead distractions, the denigration of neighbourliness and the inability to connect as human beings unless it’s through a mobile or computer. Those are our real problems. So a little Italian, who comes from a country littered with extreme political groups, and who simply wants to be a manager of a football club here because he loves our country, should not incur our wrath or horror, whether we’re in Sunderland, Swindon (not much fuss made about fascism when he was there), London or Plymouth.
    OK ..I admit to the worshipping of false gods. The Glory that is Tottenham Hotspur! ..but then that’s my heart. My mind tells me that the division now between fans and clubs/players is far too great. That people in deprived areas, who feel they have nothing left to cheer them up in society, have to spend huge chunks of their limited income watching their heroes, many of whom are on unfathomable wages and are at the opposite end of the ‘privilege’ scale to them. There’s the thing ..forget fascism, communism and religion. Football (the opium of the masses) mostly occupy their dreams ..and Di Canio, if he produces, could grow a Hitler moustache and the sons of miners will love him.


    • Hi Chris, its the other Alan here now. The, as you described it “statement attributed to mussolini” is not at all just attributed to him, he wrote that statement in one of his party political brochures before WW2. And he hated socialism and communism because those political systems in their purest forms gave power to the people. And that is exactly what he did not want. Fascist leaders always want the power for themselves and anyone else who tries to take it from them doesn’t live very long.


      • Stalin, Lenin, Mao Tse Tung (and subsequent Chinese leaders), Pol Pot, the loonies in N. Korea – all communists who gave power to their people eh? Don’t be daft! All extremists are zealots who are blind to the real needs of their followers, religious or political. Your attempt to paint communism as some sort of benevolent dogma is plain wrong.


        • I wrote “in their purest forms” not in the corrupted form which despots and dictators used/use for their own means and which appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century.


  8. And that’s the point, Alan. Communism as a theory, and expounded by Marx and Engels in the hope that it would be taken up by the proletariat of industrialised 19th Century Britain, not the peasants of Russia, is an idealogy of pure selflessness and working for the common good of all. But men can’t keep that up for long and, like I said, in practise it’s similar to fascism because the leaders of both systems cannot help but become power crazed paranoid dictators.


    • You wouldn’t get this on other blogs, I hope you all realise this.

      Of course Marx posited that the state would wither away, so the debate about rulers would not be valid because there would be none. The regimes we know as communist justified their oppression as necessary as a transitional stage. Which indeed made them little different from fascist regimes.

      ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.’ That’s Marx, right…


  9. Good points about Di Canio Alan.
    What amazes me, very little was said when he was managing Swindon, and playing for West Ham.
    I personally think he is a racist along with a fair number of his beloved Hammers and Latsio fans. I know he was a good footballer, but many do idolise him for his fascist view, just go on you tube and see. I for one will join in when we boo him at WHL.


  10. Meanwhile, and as far as the more important issues are concerned, Spurs need a fit and in-form Bale until the end of this nailbiting (top four) season. A couple of good buys in the summer ..striker and playmaker. And Di Canio to inspire Sunderland to a result against Chelsea this weekend!


  11. Pingback: Mandatory Di Canio, Sunderland And Fascism Post | Dispatches From A Football Sofa

Comments welcome, thanks for dropping in

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s