This is my response to the article ‘Political Hot Potato’ that was published yesterday on The Mag.
It has become popular to say there is no room in football for politics.
The post “Sky” movement of football is now about the entertainment. Football is sold as a “good day out”. Many people state “I go to the football to see my mates and have a drink, not talk politics!”
As someone with a social sciences background, I think that it’s impossible to untangle football and politics. It’s a game that has seen political bias since the day it was created.
The birth of Association Football came after the Factories Act, which saw labourers given increased time off from work. With this new found freedom, football flourished.
Increased crowds of working class people supported growing clubs in cities up and down the UK and the game, even though it was still semi-professional, became a way for young men to escape from the pits, the shipyards and the mills.
Fast forward over a century and we still see working class fans in stadia up and down the country. Football has always had fans across the political spectrum, from anti-fascists on the left, to groups associated with right wing ideals. It’s ludicrous to imagine that getting a group of 30,000+ in one space isn’t going to include a broad spectrum of thought.
However, in modern times we, as fans, have come together for political movements.
After Hillsborough, and the death of 96 fans, football supporters were demonised by the Tory party. Dehumanised, scandalised and patronised. Top league grounds became all seater due to law, and today there is a movement who are asking the government to consider safe standing. Many supporters back this cause.
Had it not been for the “Justice for the 96” campaigners, we as a society would have been no clearer on the atrocities that happened to the Liverpool fans. It’s taken over 20 years but the power of supporters, from all clubs in the land not just Liverpool, has made the government have a new inquest and we may finally get the truth about this tragedy.
It could have been any of us that day. Newcastle United had experienced similar crushes at White Hart Lane shortly before that tragedy and only last year there was a crush and panic outside White Hart Lane, which saw supporters unable to enter the ground for up to 20 mins after kick off.
I was there, I and others wrote to MPs, football clubs and the Football Supporters Federation to tell them what had happened and it was discussed with both clubs.
The Football Supporters Federation is currently running its own #twentysplenty campaign to reduce the cost of away tickets. It’s campaigning to football clubs and the Sports Minister to cap football prices.
In the current economic climate it is not surprising to see fans of clubs across the football leagues joining in with demonstrations. Austerity has had an impact on all of us.
Meanwhile on the pitch “Show racism the red card” has made massive leaps in killing off the deeply unpleasant scenes that some of us remember from the 70s and 80s.
We no longer see bananas thrown at black players, the shouting of racist chants is no longer socially acceptable, we have matches each year where the cause is highlighted specifically. Without this political movement we would be seeing scenes that still go on in Eastern Europe, where black players are threatened and attacked by supporters.
We have been struck by tragedy caused by politics. John Alder and Liam Sweeney were tragically taken from us going to watch football. They didn’t ask to be a part of the political battle. They were just lads going to support the magpies.
When we stood in their memory we were sticking two fingers up to the world, showing we were united in grief and rejecting the battle going on in the Ukraine which so tragically took our Geordie brothers, and this is reflected in the song released in their memory.
Finally, no matter what you think politically, we have a player at our club who was a refugee. Gael Bigirimana escaped the war zone of Burundi as a child. He was spotted by Coventry after he asked if he could play.
This young lad spent his early years trying to escape his own country, and here at Newcastle United he is living the dream and he’s not a one-off. Many young African players have travelled to safe havens to flee from crisis in their lands.
I’m going to West Ham on Monday. I’ll be taking that banner (pictured above) with me.
I believe that the platform that Sky and Premier League football presents gives all of us an opportunity to send a message to the government and to the world at large that Newcastle fans are a tolerant and humanitarian lot.
I promise I won’t spoil your entertainment.
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