Catching up with Portugal


50 years ago England beat Portugal in the ’66 World Cup Final but Mark Perryman argues English decline has left England racing to keep up with their Euro rivals

Thursday night’s pre-Euro England friendly versus Portugal is bound to provoke  a 50th anniversary revisiting of England’s best match of the ’66 World Cup. No, not the much feted Final, rather many would argue it was the semi against Portugal. Eventual Golden Boot winner, awarded to the tournament’s top goal-scorer, Eusébio, was in his superlative pomp with the 82nd minute penalty he scored pushing England all the way. Never mind though, the contribution of Bobby Charlton to England’s campaign has tended to be overshadowed by Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick in the Final but it was Bobby’s brace that saved England in the semi, the team running out eventual 2-1 winners.

Two years later, once more at Wembley, Charlton’s Manchester United, with Bobby scoring twice, again disappointed Eusébio . United were runaway winners thrashing Benfica, 4-1 to become the first English side to lift the European Cup.

The United side of course weren’t all English. Northern Irishman George Best, Scot Paddy Crerand, Irishmen Shay Brennan and Tony Dunne were vital parts of the team. On any other day Scot Denis Law would have been in the starting eleven too but he missed the game through injury.

In club football the Anglo-Celtic mix of ’68 United was replicated by other English clubs to deliver stunning European Cup successes. Between 1976 and 1984 seven out of eight European Cups were won by Liverpool (4 times), Nottingham Forest (twice) and Aston Villa. The sole exception? Hamburg, led by one Kevin Keegan. But this club success served to mask the enduring pattern of the national team’s decline while off the pitch hooliganism became almost indelibly connected with being an England fan abroad. Decline and moral panic proved a potent mix. In the New Society, then the house journal of a public sociology, Stuart Weir was one of the few commentators to identify not only the effects but the causes too:

Football is a popular sport, but it belongs to the world of Mrs Thatcher, Howell (Denis Howell, ex Labour Minister of Sport) and Sir Harold (Sir Harold Thompson, FA Chairman), not to the fans. Though workers formed and ran many of the leading clubs, they and the game’s major institutions - the FA and Football League - are now remote from the fans who keep the game going. The clubs are under the control of local business elites who restrict the participation of their followers to separate supporters’ clubs. The young fans get the worst deal. They are herded about with scarcely any respect. If they travel to away games, they are kept strictly segregated at all times and often end up in a pen at the home ground, with a poor view of the match.

Weir was reporting from Italia ’80 where the volume of tear gas fired into the English end at one game was so huge that play had to be temporarily stopped as the players were badly affected too.

Italia 90, a decade on, for one glorious moment seemed to put an end to the ignominy on the pitch and the lethal consequence of how fans were being mistreated, Hillsborough ’89.  A World Cup semi-final, the first in 24 years after ’66, scraping past reigning European Champions Holland in the Group, thrilling victories over Belgium and Cameroon, and then the manner of the final exit, on penalties against West Germany. Gazza’a unforgettable tears combined with the culture clash of New Order’s World in Motion and Luciano Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma.

A new dawn for the England team seemed to beckon. Instead English decline continued while other countries caught up and then overtook. Portugal? They beat us in the quarters at Euro 2004, and 2 years later at the same stage in World Cup 2006.  Since World Cup ’66 England have failed to beat Portugal every time they’ve met in a competitive fixture.  England’s last semi was twenty years ago at Euro 1996 , a home tournament. As for the rest, not counting the acknowledged European superpowers of World Football, Germany and Italy, the following countries have made it to a World Cup or Euro semi in that time. The Netherlands five times,  Portugal four, France and Spain thrice each,  Turkey twice, Croatia, Greece and the Czech Republic once apiece. England with not one semi-final in twenty years are perennial quarter-finalists at best, not semis or Finals, and even that position is now under threat with exits at the World Cup last 16 stage in 2010 and not getting out of their group in 2014.  Euro 2012 we did at least make it to the quarters and against all expectations too. France this summer will be the big test to see if England can re-establish themselves in the tournament last eight, But compared to others’ records since the last time England made it to a semi this remains a piss-poor ambition.

But of course for the English winning is what most of England expects. Hence decline, in football as much as anything else is remarkably difficult to recognise let alone accept. We don’t expect to have to measure ourselves against the likes of Portugal do we? To be overtaken, left in their wake, borders on the unthinkable. Yet this is the dawning, if uncomfortable, reality. And in this manner in June two discourses, of the Euro Referendum and the Euro Championship are likely to become hopelessly entwined, inseparable in fact. Perhaps a semi and a vote to remain might combine to satisfy a new ambition. To be part of changing, but not to lead, Europe, towards the better for the both of us.  But to get there, football-wise, we’ll need to win a quarter-final for the first time in twenty years. And our most likely opponents at that stage, according to my Euro wallchart ? Portugal. Neat. 

1966 And Not All That


Mark Perryman is the editor of 1966 and Not All That recently published byRepeater Books and available direct fromPhilosophy Football






An Imagined Community of Eleven Named People


Mark Perryman explores what Monday’s announcement of the England Euro 2016 squad tells us about modern Englishness

The backpages will be full of hopeful optimism after the announcement of England’s provisional squad for Euro 2016. A squad full to bursting point with youthful promise it is the England fan’s lot to believe for 50 years it can never be as bad as the last time but never as good as the first and only time either.

I was six at the time of England winning the World Cup in ’66. Despite it remaining somewhat of an obsession of mine – to declare an interest I’ve just edited the collection 1966 and Not All Thatto mark the 50th anniversary – I have no significant memories. Well apart from one, being Daddy’s little helper collecting tickets on the gate at the Tadworth, Walton and Kingswood summer flower show. It rained and nobody came, years later I realised why after checking the date, clashing with the England vs Argentina quarter-final was never going to attract any but the most dedicated of horticulturalists.

Four years later and I was a tad more conscious of the appeal of World Cup  consumption for adolescent boys. This is  how a particular version of masculinity formed. Ahead of Mexico ’70 garage forecourts had become a battleground for collectables, not that we called them that at the time. Fill up with enough petrol and all manner of goodies to complete collections. The Esso offer was ‘The 1970 World Cup Coin Collection’. I’ve still got mine, the greats from ’66, Banks, the Charlton brothers, Moore, Hurst and Peters alongside the thrusting new stars with Leeds United to the fore – Allan Clarke, Terry Cooper and Norman Hunter. Leeds were in their pomp, Division One Champions the previous season 1968-69, runners-up to Everton 1969-70. They lost the FA Cup Final too that year, the first I can properly remember, to Chelsea and an historic Cup Final too because it was the first to be settled by a replay.  The World Cup? My memories are only slightly better, the Final watched live in colour on the TV, a first , round a friend, Grant Ashworth’s, house.

Fragments of childhood memories, a mix of history, family, changes in consumption, technological developments affecting how we enjoyed our leisure time, a sense of some kind of north-south divide played out on a football pitch. Flash Chelsea, most of whose first team seemed to live in the leafy suburbs just like me, versus a Leeds of grainy, hard-faced northern-ness. Then the whole lot of them coming together for the common cause, fighting the heat and the altitude of Mexico in England’s name. The squad made heroically wholesome and real via my much-treasured and, by the time of the tournament, complete coin collection. Monday’s England squad announcement for the Euros  performs more or less the same function. Never mind the case for Kane and Vardy leading the line versus old campaigner but underperforming Rooney Or taking a risk on the injured pair Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshire. There’s the odd surprise Man Utd starlet Marcus Rashford and the well-deserved return of Andros Townsend too. Fabian Delph? Well that’s one got me stumped I must admit, the clamour for Mark Noble was well-deserved making Delph’s inclusion all the more perplexing.  No never mind all that. Rather the squad with name and number on the back all will perform historian Eric Hobsbawm’s much-quoted dictum “ an imagined community of  millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people." 

My 1970s meant secondary school and England’s failure. The dismal World Cup Qualifier ’73 game against Poland the beginnings of my proper football memories, or should that be nightmares? A youngish and incredibly cocksure Brian Clough in the studio with others of this verbally pugnacious sort, Malcolm Allison, Derek Dougan, Paddy Crerand, giving it their all. I seem to remember a year or so later a BBC Play for Today telling the story of watching the game from the point of view of a Pole living in England. The first mutterings, post-Powellism, of a multicultural conversation. Not on the pitch mind, another of my adolescent collectables is ‘The 1973 Esso Top Teams’, the four home nations’ squads united to form one Top 22. Not one of the players from the England, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish line-ups pictured is black.  It would be facile to suggest that the exclusion was anything to do with racism, there simply weren’t the top black players to pick in those days.

However it would be equally facile to pretend that the nostalgia so many of us share for an earlier, pre Premier League big business football isn’t framed also by the racialisation of Englishness. The vocabulary is important here. The Parekh Report The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, published in 2000, attempted to carefully navigate the differences between racism and racialisation:

Britishness, as much as Englishness, has systematic, largely unspoken, racial connotations. Whiteness nowhere features as an explicit condition of being British, but it is widely understood that Englishness, and therefore by extension Britishness, is racially coded… Race is deeply entwined with political culture and with the idea of nation, and underpinned by a distinctively British kind of reticence – to take race and racism seriously, or even to talk about them at all, is bad form, something not done in polite company.  This disavowal… has proved a lethal combination. Unless these deep-rooted antagonisms to racial and cultural difference can be defeated in practice, as well as symbolically written out of the national story, the idea of a multicultural post-nation remains an empty promise.”

Ramsey chose an all-white 1966 World Cup-winning squad not because he was racist but because these were the best players at his disposal.  And the same was true of most club sides well into the 1970s. Likewise when Roy Hodgson announces his squad selectionhe is hardly indulging in the proverbial ‘political correctness  gone mad’ when a majority of his players are Afro-Caribbean and mixed race. The fans? In almost all cases couldn’t give a damn, a winning performance is all that matters. 

The issues perhaps get a tad more complex, not to mention fraught, when as a result of globalisation and migration players increasingly are qualified to play for more than one national team. The loudest booing of a Black player I’ve ever witnessed at Wembley? When England played Ghana and Danny Welbeck, now injured so won’t be making it to Euro 2016, whose parentage meant he could have played for either team, came on as an England substitute. The moment he crossed that touchline in a senior international the chance of him ever representing Ghana was gone and the away fans let him know the depth of their disappointment.

Satnam Virdee describes the essence of a very particular version of English racism, Powellism as:

 “ A powerful re-imagining of the English nation after empire, reminding his audience it was a nation for whites only. In that historical moment the confident racism that had accompanied the high imperial moment mutated into a defensive racism, a racism of the vanquished who no longer wanted to dominate but to physically expel the racialised other from the shared space they occupied, and thereby erase them and the Empire from its collective memory.”

It is to football’s credit that the England team has been such a powerfully symbolic barrier to these inclinations towards exclusion and expulsion. Of course racism persists, football can only achieve so much, contradictions and contestations remain in and out of the game, but to dismiss the achievement only nurtures the pessimism about the human condition that allows racist attitudes to flourish and grow.

To this extent England’s ‘years of hurt’ could legitimately be reconstructed instead as decades of healing. Not enough to shape a winning football team out of a rapidly changing  society mind.  Though with the greatest respect to Wales, given a relatively easy Euro’s draw and a squad of youthful promise, not to mention the goal-scoring sensation this season Jamie Vardy has become, well let’s just say an England fan’s hope springs eternal. And given the scale of these changes the multicultural team remains scarcely representative. There remains no players from an Asian background within sight of selection, Danny Welbeck would have been one of the few players of an African heritage selected , if Jack Grealish hadn’t had such a dismal season at Aston Villa and made it into the team he would have been  the lone representative of one of England largest migrant communities, the Irish (though many others obviously choose to represent Ireland perhaps the question should be asked why) another significant migrant community, the Chinese remains unrepresented as do the Turkish and apart from Phil Jagielka  who failed to squeeze in to the squad there are no obvuious contenders with Polish or other former East European nations’ family connections either. And unlike the ’66 squad, which included full back George Cohen, no players of the Jewish faith either. 

None of this is to advocate that much misunderstood practice, positive discrimination. But it does reveal the narrowness of the particular version of multiculturalism the England team has come to symbolise.  And at an elite level the narrowness of the communities from which football recruits, a weakness that Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski in their essay Why England Lose contrast with the much wider recruitment base of modern German football, not that they’re anything to worry about mind, what have the losing side in ’66 ever won? Answers on a big postcard please.

1966 and not all that


Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football and the editor of the new book 1966 and Not All That available from here




Football’s Greatest Hurt of All


Mark Perryman argues Hillsborough needs to be understood not just as a human tragedy but as a consequence of how football was changing whilst the golden moment of 1966 faded in the popular memory of the late 1980s. 

One year after Hillsborough was Italia ’90. Fondly remembered today for Gazza’s tears, an evening, or three with Gary Lineker and the culture clash of Pavarotti’s Nessum Dorum vs New Order’s World in Motion.

But the actuality of the time was that up to the semi-final against you know who as a tournamen Italia '90 was dominated by what had become known as ‘The English Disease’. For  the preceding five years all English club sides had been banned from European competition, an unprecedented punishment following crowd trouble involving Liverpool fans at the Heysel European Cup Final resulting in the death of 39 Juventus fans. This was an era when going to football required an unavoidable clash with trouble.  Mass arrests, games dominated by what FA Chairman Sir Andrew Stephen described in 1972 as “the madness that takes place on the terraces”.  Pitch invasions, games halted and abandoned. Riots accompanying European away trips, in 1974 Spurs Manager Bill Nicholson after one famously pleaded with his supporters “This is a football game –not a war.” Not for some it wasn’t. Mounted police deployed on the pitch to keep some semblance of order. In 1977 Man Utd were forced to play a ‘home’ European tie at Plymouth Argyle’s ground, the furthest away possible from Old Trafford but still in England, punishment for their rioting fans. The FA fined because of the riotous misbehaviour of England fans at tournaments.  Players knocked unconscious by missiles thrown from the terraces. Games forced to be played behind closed doors. Fatalities.  In 1985 the Bradford stadium fire, 56 deaths. On the same day a teenager dies at St Andrews when fighting breaks out between Leeds and Birmingham City fans.

Not nice, but hardly a surprise, The Sunday Times after the Bradford fire described football as “a slum sport played in slum stadiums increasingly watched by slum people, who deter decent folk from turning up.” It had taken less than two decades for English football’s 1966 golden moment to lose almost all its shine. Following the failures to qualify for the 1974 and 1978 World Cups England on the pitch finally made it to the 1980 European Championships hosted by Italy. The team were more or less back to the pre-1966 standard, finishing third in their Group and thus failing to make it to the semi-final played between the two Group winners and runners-up. It was off the pitch that the huge change in what England had become since ’66 was most evident. Other countries had a domestic hooligan problem, however this era England was virtually unique in exporting it to make trouble at Euros and World Cups. It was an unwelcome side show that would more or less persist through to Euro 2000 twenty years later until a seismic change in England fan culture occurred faraway amongst the 10,000 England fans who travelled out to Japan 2002 and England abroad has never been the same old, bad old, ever since.

One of the architects of the successful organisation of World Cup 1966, now Shadow Minster of Sport, Denis Howell found himself describing England fan trouble at Euro ’80 as a “National Disaster”. He wasn’t alone, when asked to comment on his team’s fans England Manager Ron Greenwood described them as “Bastards.”  Suggesting “I hope they put them in a big boat and drop them in the ocean half-way back.” FA Chairman Harold Thompson added his own description of England supporters “ Sewer-rats.” This was the dominant discourse around what it mean to follow England for the fifty years’ of hurt middle two decades 1980-2000. For a long time few would challenge it as Stuart Weir bravely did writing for the then sociology house journal New Society reporting from the England away end at Italy ‘80.

“ The Italian police were slow to react, but made up for that by the extreme nature of their reaction. First, squads of police ran out of one of the tunnels and waded into any English fan within reach, regardless of whether they were involved in the affray or not. Shortly afterwards, riot police lined up on the other side of the moat and fired tear gas canisters into the great mass of English supporters in red, white and blue, who were nowhere near the original fracas.”

Weir accurately locates the skewering of the discourse in terms of the class relations already underpinning modern football twelve years before the abomination the Premier League would become.

“ Football is a popular sport, but it belongs to the world of Mrs Thatcher, Howell and Sir Harold, not to the fans. Though workers formed and ran many of the leading clubs, they and the game’s major institutions - the FA and Football League - are now remote from the fans who keep the game going. The clubs are under the control of local business elites who restrict the participation of their followers to separate supporters’ clubs. The young fans get the worst deal. They are herded about with scarcely any respect. If they travel to away games, they are kept strictly segregated at all times and often end up in a pen at the home ground, with a poor view of the match.”

James Erskine’s superb documentary film of Italia 90 One Night in Turin, heavily based on the peerless Pete Davies book of the same tournament All Played Out,memorably opens with a long sequence of violent crowd trouble.Except this wasn’t anything to do with football it was the Trafalgar Square Poll Tax riot of earlier that summer. I can still remember this Saturday afternoon. Shamefully as someone who prides himself on his leftwing principles I can’t claim to have been marching and demonstrating myself. Instead I was in a West End cinema and when the closing credits rolled a concerned box office manager appeared on stage to announce it was unsafe for anyone to leave. The West End was in flames with every plate glass window in the vicinity smashed to smithereens. Later that night on the tube home I listened in to conversations of groups of lads who’d also been held up, this time from leaving home games across the capital and regretting they’d missed out on all the violent fun.

The football violence of the 1980s cannot be entirely divorced from a period not just of increasing social division but mass mobilisation and more than occasional public disorder.  Huge CND marches and associated direct action, 1981 inner-city riots at Brixton and Toxteth but elsewhere too, Derek Hatton in Liverpool, Ken Livingstone at the GLC, David Blunkett’s Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire, the 1984-85 Miners strike, followed by the weekly night-time siege of the new Rupert Murdoch HQ at Wapping. There was an ongoing mainland IRA campaign with the Brighton Grand Hotel Bombing in 1986 arguably its most breathtaking operation of all. In 2009 the New Statesmanpublished a special edition to mark the 30th anniversary of 1989 which it dubbed ‘The Year of the Crowd.’ It ranged over the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the frenzy in Tehran amongst the huge numbers turning out for the Ayatollah’s funeral.

England? Hillsborough, just another Liverpool FA Cup semi-final but a day that ended with fans dying simply because they wanted to watch their team.  Andrew Hussey contributed the Hillsborough essay in which he makes the following key point to describe the images and memories of Liverpool’s Kop and the fans who stood and sang their hearts out for their team:

“This was the mob, the crowd, the working class in a group and in action, but it was nothing to be feared. The humour and dignity of this crowd were iconic. These images announced to the world the cultural vibrancy of ordinary people and their pleasures. To this extent, Liverpool fans were as crucial a component of 1960s pop culture as the Beatles.”

Of course as everyone knows the Beatles were bigger than God. But that depth of warm appreciation had been hollowed out by the harsher climate of the 1980s as Hussey succinctly explains :   

“ By the end of the Thatcherite 1980s this same crowd had become the object of scorn and derision. To be working class, to be a football fan, to be unemployed and northern was to be scum.”

And 96 died.

During the 1980s fans’ behaviour was met with legislative and media mood swings between the uselessness of platitudes and inertia to moral panic and the clamour for the punitive.  Those who were in a position to do something ended up doing nothing. The worsening conditions at grounds just got worse, the policing not much better, crowd safety measures close to non-existent, the rising tide of racism looked away from in the hope that it might go away, or not even caring if it did or didn’t. To go to football at least for some was to know something was seriously wrong.

1966 And not all that


This is an edited extract from Mark Perryman’s new book 1966 and Not All That, published by Repeater Books in mid-May available pre-publication from here.





England Always Dreaming


Author of a new book on ’66 Mark Perryman explores for St George’s Day the connections between English football’s golden moment and national identity

In CLR James’ magnificent book on Caribbean cricket Beyond a Boundary he criticises both liberal and socialist historians of 19th century England who can write books on the period entirely missing out any mention of the most famous Englishman of the era, cricketer WG Grace. Recently I was reminded of this by a spate of articles seeking to remind the Left that it ignores at its peril The English Question.

David Marquand manages to write a New Statesman essay on the subject without mentioning the most salient and obvious expression of Englishness at all, not once. Timothy Garton-Ash writes a similar piece for the Guardian choosing to ignore this most obvious of expression of Englishness too, though to be fair he does give rugby a passing mention. I am of course referring to football, a subject the political class wears as a badge of faux-authenticity without actually having the merest grasp of its meaning for a debate they now hold so dear.  

My home town is Lewes in East Sussex. Home of Tom Paine, the Bloomsbury Group and Bonfire, you don’t get much more traditionally English than this. Yet despite a spot of Saturday morning Morris Dancing outside The Volunteer St George’s Day will pass by scarcely noticed (it’s today in case you haven’t).

This St George’s Day is a tad special for those of a literary persuasion as it also marks Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary. I’m not one for cultural relativism, I’ve as much time for the Bard as most but the most influential piece of writing in the English language isn’t Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet or Midsummer Night’s Dream. Instead it’s a book written by committee in a room above a pub, The Freemason’s Arms in Covent Garden. On 26th October 1863 the thirteen laws of football  were codified in a single rulebook and adopted at the meeting that founded the world’s first Football Association.

No, this isn’t some misguided claim to England being the ‘home of football’, those days are long gone. Rather it is a means to understand how football frames both a brutish form of nationalism and the most popular version of internationalism.  Sometimes at one and the same time. Football is the most global of sports because of its simplicity, its suitability to be played on almost any surface, with next to no equipment – ‘jumpers for goalposts’ will do – by bodies of any shape or size, and for the very few it is a route out of poverty from wherever they come. Football is both a global actor and a global subject. Football is played all over the world more or less according to those thirteen rules adopted more than 150 years. While our ‘English’ game couldn’t be more globalised , the players, the managers, the owners, the shirts sponsors, the fans, the TV audience.

The two processes exist side-by-side, globalisation and localisation, occasionally in conflict but mostly not. What the commentariat fail to account for is how that co-existence and conflict become a lived experience, a subject of popular discourse. Take a traditional symbol of national identity, national dress. What might we imagine England’s to be? A busby and red tunic? A Morris Dancer?  A crusader complete with chainmail? Not bloody likely, ours has only one contender, a bri-nylon England football shirt with the Three Lions and that frankly embarrassing solitary gold star positioned over the left tit. An easy-looking group on paper to top at this summer’s Euros and the St George Cross will be everywhere it isn’t today. Saturday 25th June is pencilled in for a Group 16 game before the country goes expectation overboard ahead of the near-inevitable, but plucky, exit at the quarter-final stage Friday 1st July.  

Five decades on from England’s ’66 golden moment and just the two semi-finals, don’t mention either the score, how we lost, or to whom, on both occasions, please. But there’s been one achievement of perhaps more significance than all this heaped up failure. The one and only World Cup England has hosted and the FA manage to get the effing flag wrong. That’s right, check out 1966’s World Cup Willie, the first-ever tournament mascot, and he’s wearing a Union Jack waistcoat. Same flag all over the rest of the tournament publicity too. There’s not a St George Cross, an English flag, to be seen anywhere. Today it is entirely different, this summer St George in England will be universal. Historian Eric Hobsbawm put it rather neatly to explain why; “An imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of named people”.  As a team England has failed ever since to come anywhere close to ’66 but as a means of making England a nation for as long as our stay in a tournament football has no serious rival. 

This gets us somewhere close to the core of the mythology of ’66. England’s singular footballing golden moment and the ensuing 50 ‘years of hurt’ are too often treated in isolation from the broader actuality of national decline. A political class seduced by the apparent spoils neoliberalism while turning its back on a very English version of social-democracy, the post-war settlement of ’45. A nation that looks back in anger to the era of great white hopes unsure of how this fits with the multicultural team and country we have become.

The commentariat, sparked by both the rampant success of the SNP and the forthcoming Euro-referendum pleads for an awakening of the English question. But where is their national narrative, what does would they start it with? 1966 was a year and a moment of English bliss that explains all that came after. A popular history of England that begins with sublime victory, ruling the world, team and crowd founded on deference followed by a seemingly irreversible period of decline and the ‘hurt’ this causes. Sounds familiar?  Despite all those St George Cross flags bedecking England this summer to date none of the dots of between the popular and the political have even begun to be joined up. In a society so rooted in the anti-political this is hardly any surprise. A language and politics to cross this great divide will need to find an entirely different language and means of conversation.  Never mind 1066 and All That, 1966, what a great place to start the chat.

1966 And Not All That

Mark Perryman is the editor of the new collecton 1966 and Not All That contributors include David Goldblatt, Amy Lawrence and Simon Kuper to be published in May by Repeater Books and available now pre-publication from here.




TISDALE & MURRELL Selected Prints, 9-30 April 2016, Swan House Gallery, Harwich


Sanjiv Sachdev reviews an exhibitiion of prints by Philosophy Football designer Hugh Tisdale and Illustrator Dan Murrell

Philosophy Football Cards and PrintsIn ‘Waiting for the Great Leap Forward’ Billy Bragg famously sings that “The revolution is just a T-shirt away”. The phrase now, of course, adorns a Bragg-approved Philosophy Football T-shirt, and captures the subject matter of Hugh Tisdale and Dan Murrell’s exhibition of prints; an interest in music, progressive politics and pop culture in its broadest sense. A small slice of a huge, wide-ranging catalogue is present here, starting in 2000 and ending in 2016, of 20 prints produced in silkscreen, digital and hand-stencilled media.

The T-shirts of Philosophy Football led where many have since followed: sleek, stylish, punchy design married to political and social comment with a sparkle of wit. They use a democratic format of which William Morris would have approved - being both beautiful and useful - but one which is also, unlike that of Morris, affordable. At around £20 each they are within the budgets of most. Well made and well-designed, with double stitching and using heavy cotton, they are not flimsy products, but are built to last. Some designs commemorate and celebrate, others mock and indict. Most but not all of these prints were originally T-shirt designs.

Like a Banksy graffiti, a T-shirt or a magazine cover needs to make an immediate, instant impact to attract attention. They also need visual wit and panache to earn a second, longer look. Most of these prints reflect these aims – they are often visceral and kinetic, with a guitar about to be smashed to pieces or a badger brandishing a smoking gun, Daleks with guns blazing and in demented war-cry, a fighter-plane in full flow or a Mickey Mouse with the menacing grin of a blood-hungry Dracula or the surging, game winning run of a rugby player. Others are idea-led; thus the American Dream and Martin Luther King’s Dream fuse to give a whole new resonance to the stars and stripes; a barcode and the words ‘don’t think, consume’, seemingly redolent of Klein’s ‘No Logo’ arguments, indict empty consumption; the Clash’s scornful rejection of vacuous celebrity worship is caught in DIY punk style, pallette, and typewriter font. Hugh Tisdale says ‘simplicity is my favourite word’ and these pictures are, deceptively, simple with their straight, clear, clean, uncluttered lines.  

On closer inspection much thought and care are evident. Influences of art, photography and pop culture abound, be it British, with Constable’s Haywain, via Peter Kennard, and in the wrecked car there are echoes of the car husk from the First Iraq War, now in the Imperial War Museum, the 1940 ‘Few’, Peter Cook, Tommy Cooper, Dr Who, hints of James Bond, the Jam, the Clash, Red Wedge; the US with Laurel and Hardy, Mickey Mouse, Warhol/Coca Cola, Lichtenstein, Martin Luther King, and Jasper Johns; Russian Constructivists, especially El Lissitzky, or Castro in the manner of poster-boy Che. Flags, for the US (which the art critic Robert Hughes claimed to be ‘the most recognised abstraction in the world’) and Palestine, are imbued with the spirit of protest with words using Tisdale’s favoured sans-serif ‘Shire’ fonts.

The printing process often entails the use of a few carefully-chosen colours – three of the pictures use just black and shades of white, another adds a small, eye-catching, daub of poppy-red. Most use three or four. Reproducability is key. A spotlight-like circle is often used to frame a figure – be it a Gatling Gun-totting badger, a Bond-imitating, snarling Malcolm Tucker (whose belligerent pointing finger has the lethal presence of a Walther PPK) or a speeding Hawker Hurricane, where the circle deftly doubles as a propeller in motion – my particular favourite – capturing movement with stillness, using so little.  

Given the long and continuing association of football with the work of Tisdale and Murrell, it is a slight surprise that, aside from a World War I football, none representing the beautiful game are in the show. Sport’s sole contribution is a powerful picture of All-Black Jonah Lomu, framed by an exquisite, circular Maori symbol. 

The show deserves a wider audience. It reflects and has partly shaped an aesthetic of comment and protest. I hope this is the first of many.

Philosophy Football cards and prints‘Tisdale & Murrell’ is at the Swan House Gallery, 14 Kings Head Street, Harwich CO12 3EE. Open Tues-Sat 10.00am-5.00pm, Sun 10.00am-4.00pm until 3rd May

Philosophy Football limited editiion prints by Tisdale & Murrell are available for purchase from here 


Where have all the flowers gone?


Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football reviews the new wave of rebel music

It has become almost a mantra, there’s no protest music any more, discuss. In the mainstream maybe, though Beyoncé for one by following up her embrace of feminism with the message that the Black Panthers matter seems to confound even that. The trouble for musos of a certain age is that the rebel rock of yesteryear, from Guthrie to the Clash, existed in a popular culture almost entirely different to the one any musical rebellion of today has to navigate its way round. So how to make the connections to the past whilst remaining meaningful , not to mention musical, in 2016? 

The Hurriers - From Acorns Mighty OaksTake The Hurriers who seem to be single-handedly turning their home town Barnsely into a citadel of soulful socialism. Absolutely shaped by the enduring legacy of the miners’ strike this is band whose sound is straight out of the mid-eighties Redskins songbook , that’s a compliment not a criticism incidentally. Debut album From Little Acorns Mighty Oaks absolutely confirms this, music to shout along to rather than sing along to, full of commitment mixed up with rousing tunes.  Or Thee Faction, kind of the southern cousins of the aforementioned, though my all-time favourite description of them remains ‘Comrade Feelgood’. Whereas The Hurriers remind older listeners of The Redskins this lot have Wilko written all over them, again a compliment not a critique. Their latest masterpiece Reading, Writing, Revolutioncontinues where previous albums left off combining music to dance to with a richly acute ear for socialist history. Dialectics for the dancefloor, just what The Corbyn Effect demands.  

Badass Lady Power PicnicReminding me of early Belle and Sebastian vocals-wise the debut album from The Wimmins Institute comes with a title nobody is going to forget in a hurry Badass Lady Power Picnic. The combination of wit and a lightness of music touch seves to prove showing our anger doesn’t always mean playing angry music, nice.  The rising prominence of women musicians in protest music is splendidly reported in a new, and free e-zine, with the brilliant title Loud Women. Promoters of political gigs have a read, there is absolutely no excuse for not having 50:50 in your line-ups. 

Robb Johnson - A reasonable history of impossible demandsA key role of protest music through the ages from has always been to provide a chronicle of the times we live, the histories from where we carve the present out of and futures we might dream about.  Leon Rosselson is without much doubt the most important singer of this tradition in Britain. His new album Where are the Barricades? marks his retirement at the age of 81 after some six decades of songwriting and singing.  Full of anger, wit and imagination that Leon has always provided across over all those years.  Robb Johnson comes from a slightly later era to Leon, though his beautifully packaged 5-CD box set A Reasonable History of Impossible Demands still manages to account for almost three decades of protest singing, 1986-2013. This is the era of Thatcher, the miners, Hillsborough, Stop the War and a whole lot more, the news via song and guitar. Yes it sounds old-fashioned but as a means to provide a collective response to all that is thrown our way, a sense of identity and belonging, and knowledge too Robb and Leon’s trade in verse and tunes has few rivals.  Joe Solo is one of many now adding something new to this tradition. A musician-activist Joe’s  new CD Never Be Defeated is what might once have been called by other artists a ‘concept album’. The difference lies in the kind of concepts Joe is interested in.  Solidarity, community and resistance in the coalfields of South Yorkshire ’84-85.

Goodnight Heard and Unheard Hope not Hate FavouritesOut of the despair of the Tories 2015 General Election victory and the delight of Jeremy Corbyn’s entirely unexpected landslide win in the Labour Leadership vote a wave of protest music , old and new, erupted. Goodnight Heard and Unheard Hope not Hate Favourites  is a double CD compilation of anti-fascist tunes, some of the classic variety – Billy Bragg’s The Battle of Barking – but for the most part pleasantly unpredictable, both artist and content. Plenty of old favourites too, Inspiral Carpets, Attila the Stockbroker, Wonder Stuff and Chumbawamba,, alongside the latest of the new wave including Siobhan Mazzei, Blossoms, Tracey Curtis, Steve White and the Protest Family.  A rich variety yet still journos ask ‘ Whatever happened to political music?’ Doh.

Orgreave Justice is another double CD also featuring Billy Bragg alongside Louise Distras, Sleaford Mods, Paul Heaton with less well-known names Quiet Loner, The Black Lamps, Matt Abbott and more. The common theme here is truth and justice framed by that epic moment in the 84-85 Miners’ Strike, Orgreave. The specificity of the theme gives the disparate tunes and voices a collective sense of purpose producing an album of record as well as resistance. The spoken word and folk interludes sit well alongside the more obviously rousing tracks to create a really impressive compilation, in fact a textbook version for others to follow.

Land of Hope and FuryBased in my hometown Lewes, East Sussex Union Music Store is an extraordinary factory of good music – live music, record shop, recording studio and their own record label too.  Every town should have one, sadly most don’t.  Testament to their ambition and impact is the CD they rush-released within a few weeks of the nightmare Tory victory (on just 24% of the popular vote it should always be remembered) last May. Land of Hope and Fury also benefits from the specificity of its content, this time in terms of musical styles, mainly of Americana, Country and Folk which is what Union unashamedly favour. Lucy Ward, Mark Chadwick of the Levellers, Moulettes, O’Hooley and Tidow, with for me Grace Petrie’s If There’s A Fire in your Heart providing the absolute stand out track of a very splendid lot.

Somehow we ment - the Meow MeowsA music of change needs a music we can dance to as well. A mix of conscious lyrics and rhythms to move body and soul. It’s no accident that the 1980s Two-tone music was one of the first to provide this mix and with an unrivalled multicultural line-up too. A ska revival has been a long time coming but there is a hint of it with Captain SKA and South Coast favourites The Meow Meows.  Both are absolute showstoppers live. The Meow Meows are promising to release a third album soonish, meantime treat yourself to some uneasy listening off their second album Somehow We Met.

A rebel music that knows its history, diverse in styles, mashing up gender, race and sexuality, conscious lyricism with enough tunes for those out to look good on the dancefloor. Not the same as it’s ever been, but paying dues to those who went before.  Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come . Not just a classic tune, but a shared musical and political ambition too, now  and back then too. 

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football. On Saturday 1st October at Rich Mix London 2016 Philosophy Football in association with the RMT and Thompsons Solicitors, supported by The International Brigade Memorial Trust will be marking the 80th Anniversary of Cable Street and the formation of the International Brigades with a night showcasing protest music 2016 introduced byMark Thomas and featuringThe Hurriers, Louise Distras, The Wakes, Potent Whisper, Will Kaufman and Lánre. Ticket details to follow but reserve the date for a night not to be missed.


In a stink about a pink St George Cross


Professional controversialist Toby Young has got himself all upset about a pink St George Cross at England vs Netherlands

Pink St George cross at England matchOh dear. Toby Young is all in a lather, a victim once more of the ‘PC brigade’.

Writing in the Daily Mail,he describes the scene he seems to have witnessed at Tuesday night’s England international versus the Netherlands. “It was fitting that Tuesday's England match was awash with pink shirts, pink ribbons and pink flags. After all, football — along with rugby, cricket and every other traditionally male sport — has been forced to undergo what you might call, to borrow a fashionable phrase, gender re-assignment surgery in the past few years. An area of life that used to be associated with men has been colonised by women determined to prove a point about gender equality, regardless of whether they have any genuine interest in the sports in question.”

Oh dear, the thinking-bloke’s Jeremy Clarkson really has his boxer shorts in a twist hasn’t he? I have a confession to make to Toby. I’d spent most of Tuesday afternoon laying out thousands of cards across the England home end in the stadium. It’s a fan-led initiative called ‘Raise the Flag’, and when God Save the Queenstrikes up they’re held up to form a huge St George Cross flag, mosaic-style.  Except this time, when the anthem came to an end, the red cross was flipped to form a pink one, honouring the victims and survivors of this most deadly of diseases, breast cancer.  I’m not sure where Toby was sitting in the stands but where I was there wasn’t one murmur of discontent but, rather, a ‘wow moment’ and widespread approval. Then the game kicked off; what Toby fails entirely to mention was what happened at the 14th minute, the entire crowd – English and Dutch – standing to honour the memory of Johan Cruyff.  The cancer that killed Johan attacked his lungs, not his breasts, same disease, different body parts.

Toby sees political correctness almost everywhere, a phantom stalking this most illiberal of lands. Now, in his view, its got a grip on sport, or more particularly, Toby’s very particular version of a masculinity epitomised by football . When I lay out a St George Cross before each and every England game, be it red, pink or any other colour under the rainbow I don’t see a symbol of nationalism or politics, correct or otherwise. Rather I see a flag made up of thousands of individual fans holding up  a huge vision of human solidarity. A fans’ flag, it belongs to all of us, not Toby, not me, all of us. I’m not sure if Toby was at Wembley last November, I certainly don’t remember him writing about the huge flag we held up that night. Not St George, but the French Tricolour, solidarity once more, this time with the victims of the terror attack on Paris , including the Stade de France, a few days earlier.  Was that ‘political correctness gone mad’ Toby? Or was it simply a symbol of borders not meaning very much when as fans we are all united against the bloody terrorism of ISIS and their off-shoots?

HIs main point seems to be what has breast cancer got to do with football? A game increasingly played by women, and one in which the England women’s team beat Germany a year ago not in a meaningless friendly but in a World Cup, seems to have gone unnoticed by Toby. Nor does he seem much bothered that many of us blokes will have mums, grannies, aunties, sisters, nieces, girlfriends, daughters, neighbours, friends and workmates who suffer from this most gendered of diseases. It’s called caring about others, Toby. Isn’t that something we should all stand, cheer, have some pride in, whatever our team?

Football is never going to change the world. That’s not its place, an England team that can stick it out at the Euros to the quarters or beyond is about as much as most of us can hope for. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a space, on the pitch and in the stands, where ideas aren’t offered and contested.  Toby would prefer a world of football unchanged from that golden 1966 summer 50 years ago, where men were men and women knew their place. I prefer instead a football that at least tries to keep up with, if not always change with, the times.  An England for all, whatever our colour, faith or none, whatever the country we or our parents originally came from. This –  the single biggest change in what an England team looks like, is supported by Tuesday night’s team on the pitch: once more – Sturridge, Alli, Rose, Smalling, Clyne and more. Gender diversity on the pitch is is perhaps a bit further off. But male fans standing up to show they care about breast cancer –  that’s the kind of England crowd I want to be part of, thank you very much, even if Toby doesn’t. 

1966 and not all that


Mark Perryman is the co-founder ofPhilosophy Football and author of the new book 1966 And Not All That to be published by Repeater Books in mid-May.  





They Took the words right out of our mouths


Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football applauds Dortmund fans’ vision of another Europe

When the Borussia Dortmund fans held up their brilliant banner at White Hart Lane on Thursday night  ‘UEFA Super League? Shut the Fuck Up’ for many fans in England too the response would be ‘you took the words right out of our mouth’. Theirs’ is a vision of another Europe which they passionately believe is possible.  A passion barely present in the establisghment in/out Europe campaigns miured in their competing versions of status quo politics.

Good Europe or bad Europe? Instead of taking boring old Westminster or Brussels bubble politics as a starting point how about football? The old European Cup was the best cup competition in the world, sorry FA Cup sponsored by wotsit, bar none.  A simple idea made good, only the league champion of each European nation in an unseeded knockout competition. Home and away legs gave the bigger clubs some advantage but built into the campaign those European glory nights for stay-at-home and travelling fans alike. What was there possibly not to like?

Well the football authorities and rival continental club sides didn’t like the near total domination by English club sides in the mid 1970s to mid 1980s . For an incredible run of 8 years 1976-84 Liverpool (4 times) Nottingham Forest (twice), Aston Villa won the trophy.The only break in the sequence being Hamburg in ’83, and the player at the core of their trophy-winning side? One Kevin Keegan.

The ’85 Heysel Final outrage involving fighting Liverpool, Juve fans and a decrepit stadium resulted in an ensuing indefinite ban on English club sides entering European competition. Following the lifting of the ban after Italia ’90 the English dominance has never been the same again.

Of course shifts in dominance in team sports are natural and to be welcomed, Real Madrid in the 1950s, Ajax in the early 1970s were two other periods dominated by a single club let alone one country.  What is entirely unnatural in sport is to seek to reduce the risk of competitive unpredictability by fixing the format. This is precisely what happened in ’92 when the European Cup became the Champions and Rich Runners-Up League. The combination of a group stage and seeding almost overnight eliminated the risk of so-called ‘big’ clubs going out early, a giant-killing which provides the magic of cup competitions was got rid off in favour of risk-aversion.

And to make matters still worse for exactly the same reasons, reducing competiveness in favour of maximising profit, in 2004 the knockout UEFA Cup was replaced also by a group stage competition to become The Europa League for no obviously good reason. Perhaps worst of all previously in 1999 the perfectly good Cup-Winners Cup was simply abolished.

Choice and modernisation are the ready-made watchwords of contemporary politics. They are weasel words, devoid of any meaning. In European football they have come to mean the rich clubs getting richer at the expense of competition. A European Superleague according to well-founded rumours remains a serious proposition. Those rich runner-ups who can’t even make third or fourth in their domestic league but because they top the brand value and disposable income will be guaranteed entry as of inalienable right.

It was fit and proper that the banner of resistance was raised at White Hart Lane. Spurs are a club who won the league and cup double in ’61 and went on to become the first English club to win a European trophy, the Cup-Winners Cup in ’63. Despite all that the club described finishing 4th in the league 2009-10 and thus qualify for the Champions League as the club’s ‘greatest ever achievement’. Fourth? Fourth! How does the song go? ‘If you know your history…’

The lesson of history of course should be that as with all things tubo-capitalist be careful what you wish for. Steeled in cup competitions that in those days actually meant something those British club sides that grabbed one European trophy after another in the 1970s and 80’s were superbly well-equipped for the knockout format.  Pre the ’85 ban the 19080s looked like this UEFA Cup won in 1980-81 by Ipswich Town, 83-84 by Spurs. The Cup Winners Cup, won 82-832 by Aberdeen, 84-85 Everton. Compare to this since 1990 just the two Europa League wins, Liverpool in 2001 and Chelsea 2013. 

Celtic’s Lisbon Lions triumph in ’67 to lift the European Cup followed the next year by Man United winning the same competition was more of a one off. But nevertheless had a cultural currency that a Champions League victory, and most definitely a Europa League victory, seems to lack. Capital never learns, money, thankfully, isn’t everything.

The big squeeze of on the one hand a laborious group stage and on the other an over-arching importance domestically to secure a Champions League place has reduced British dominance. And at the same time regardless of the huge wages on offer in the ‘best league in the world’ (sic) Europe’s best players are by and large playing elsewhere. Messi, Neymar, Suarez, Ronaldo and Bale in Spain. Pogba in Italy. Lewandowski, Hummel, Müller in Germany, Ibrahimovic in France. And plenty more of that kind of quality that lot came from few in the better-paid Premier League can match. Once more, money isn’t everything.

The Dortmund fans know their football, they know what it means to be fans not consumers. A club that hasn’t sold its soul along with lock, stock and barrel to the highest bidder. They have one of the biggest standing terraces in European football, where they can drink too.

What’s all this got to do with the Euro referendum? Plenty. If in, out or shake it all about is to mean anything it means the so-called island race understanding that Europe is where as nation state(s) we came from . To engage with and embrace the continental as so many of us do in every sphere of life, including football, bar the body politic.  Not to smudge the differences but to appreciate the commonalities and hold on to only those differences that truly matter.

‘UEFA Super League Shut The Fuck Up’ that will do nicely. Testament to a popular internationalism. For the fainthearted perhaps the Dortmund fans should mind their language but make no mistake not a single word, or sentiment, was lost in translation.  Danke!

1966 and not all that

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of  Philosophy Football his new book 1966 and Not All That is published in mid-May.



Ireland Always Rising


For St Patrick’s Day Mark Perryman outlines the meaning of the forthcoming Easter Rising Centenary for models of Britishness

Easter Rising - 1916St Patrick’s Day. Down the local, one of the best night outs of the year, a non-stop party drenched in all things Irish. A celebration of Ireland’s freedom, which can never be entirely separated from history either.

For decades it was Ireland that defined first the British Right, the Conservative and Unionist party remember, and then latterly the street-fighting Far Right too with their links  loyalist paramilitaries and hatred of all things otherwise from Ireland.  Today such connections are broken, the last remnants the unofficial insertion of ‘No Surrender’ into the National Anthem (sic) by a section of the football crowd at England internationals. No surrender? To what exactly.

But the framing of Britishness via its relationship to Ireland has to be accounted for by a range of factors beyond the narrowly political. St Patrick’s Day is emblematic of the complexity and contradictions. Britishness is far more accommodating and porous than it is often credited for. Beyond the body politic take music, popular literature, film and sport where a particular version of Irishness has been embraced. From punk icons Stiff Little Fingers to the Pogues, Sinead O’Connor  and The Corrs via Hothouse Flowers and Sawdoctors to the mega-success of U2 this is a cultural insurgency that cannot be lightly discounted.  Not so long ago North London’s Finsbury Park would be packed out for the two-day Fleadh festival with an extraordinary range of artists parading their Irish heritage. Glasgow’s Celtic Connections celebration today does something similar.

Roddy Doyle, particularly with his Barrytown trilogy of novels transformed for a generation what Irish identity might look like. Full of humour  yet never losing sight of where they’d come from and what Ireland had been though to get there.  In his recent work a more obviously political author Doyle has never though once lost his popular edge.

This summer, in the year of the 1916 Easter Rising Centenary, Northern Ireland and the Republic will both compete, together and independently of one another, in a major football tournament for the first time.  At Euro 2016 there will be two ‘Green and White Armies.’ There’s some history here, not apart from the politics but affected by it, and shaping the political in return too.   Northern Ireland made it to World Cup ’82 in Spain, with Martin O’Neill a star of the team who now manages the Republic. They were there in Mexico four years later too for World Cup’86. Then the Republic kind of took over, Euro ’88, Italia 90, World Cup ’94 , managed by Englishman Jack Charlton, one of the heroes of the England ’66 World Cup-winning team.  Big Jack built an Irish team around finding players in the English and Scottish leagues who qualified for Ireland via parentage but previously had never thought of playing for the Republic. But notwithstanding the bending of who can and can’t ‘represent’ Ireland something more important was perhaps underway. As the troubles in Northern Ireland edged their way towards an unfolding peace process on the pitch and in the stands what it meant to be Irish and what Ireland might become was being transformed.

But there remain those who would prefer to rewrite their own history. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell were on Labour’s back benches when the IRA’s military campaign was in full and lethal swing. They were amongst the few who at the time argued that what was needed was a political solution and this must include both a dialogue with those behind the bombing and the ending of injustices dished out.They were demonised as ‘terrorist sympathisers’ then.  A Tory Party that seems to have forgotten John Major’s role in initiating the peace process  is clearly gearing up to use those self-same smears now against a Labour Leader and his Shadow Chancellor some thirty years later.   

In Irish politics meanwhile we have seen the emergence of the civic nationalism of Sinn Fein, first mostly in the North but increasingly in the South too, of course it goes without saying that Sinn Fein like all those committed to a United Ireland recognise no such border. An anti-austerity party that sits in the European Parliament with the European United Left alongside socialist and communist parties is a very different proposition to what might have been imagined was possible at the height of the Provos campaign in the 1980s.  And in the 2016 Irish General Election alongside the election of  Sinn Fein TDs  anti-austerity TDs were also elected, while the Irish Labour Party continued its woeful decline, or Pasokification. Sinn Fein and the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit alliance are not the same but what they do have in common is a militancy they claim as a shared inheritance from Easter 1916.   

A centenary is an excuse, of course, for looking back and that search for meaning is always contested, or at least it should be.  We should be able to account for the  cultural shifts in how Irish national identity is shaped, the politics of Sinn Fein and others’ civic nationalism understood while the factors that created the conditions for a political solution in place of a military strategy perhaps in these troubled times demand the most careful revisiting of all.

This year’s St Patrick’s Day for many will be the prelude to the Easter Rising Centenary celebrations just a week and a bit later. The connections between the popular culture of a night out and a political legacy will never have been more obvious. Dublin today is a serious competitor to Barcelona and Prague as amongst budget airline travellers’ favourite European destinations for a city break, another instance of the connections between the cultural and the political. Many will visit O’Connell Street to take a snap of the iconic Dublin General Post Office. But of course this isn’t simply  a splendid example of late Georgian architecture nor merely a handy place to post a postcard home. It was the HQ in 1916 for the men and women who fought in the Easter Rising. This is a rebel city, a rebel culture, a rebel country that was to break the Union. Ahead of the rising across the front of Dublin’s Liberty Hall, home of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, a banner was hung ‘We serve neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland.’ This was the nature of that break, the cause of self-determination and independence. Yet as Fintan O’Toole has pointed out some quarter of a million Irishmen fought in the First World war on the British side and during the course of the Rising 570 Irish soldiers lost their lives on the Western Front following a particularly lethal German gas attack. So that breakage is complicated, it was partial and while some defined their nationalism as ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ whatever their motives and intentions, others didn’t. And Irish Nationalism had its internationalist side too, the Irish volunteers who fought with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War famously called themselves The Connolly Column, their Irishness fusing with the cause of land and freedom. While others defined the cause of Ireland in terms of the purity of a particular version of Catholicism to side with Franco against the Spanish republic. 

Today a faith-based politics is of decreasing importance in the modern Ireland as evidenced by the referendum vote in favour of equality in marriage for Lesbians and Gay men. It was James Connolly’s vision that ‘the Irish people will not be free until they own everything from the plough to the stars.’   It is this vision that more than anything should frame how we celebrate Easter 1916. As a very Irish moment when the human potential of freedom and equality was most evident and could never be extinguished whatever the scale and might of the forces ranged against it. To that all of us, Irish or not, should gladly raise a glass on Thursday night. Happy St Patrick’s Day!  


1916 Plough and StarsPhilosophy Football’s Easter 1916 T-shirt range, 20% off until St Patrick’s Day quote coupon code Easter 2016 at checkout. The T- shirts are  available from here


What is the point of the European Union?


Sanjiv Sachdev of Philosophy Football reports on the launch ofGood Europe initiative 

Good EuropeCold, winter Sunday evenings are not the most auspicious times to hold political seminars, yet this one was had a packed (and sleekly designed, Emirates funded) lecture hall of 400 people, with many more on the waiting list.  In part, this was due to a panel featuring  Yanis Varoufakis, the flamboyant and charismatic former Syriza finance minister of Greece– with the Guardian columnist, Zoe Williams and the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas.

The event was organised by the think tank Compass.  The chair of Compass, Neal Lawson, opened the event with an eloquent summary of the ‘Brexit’ stakes – much higher than petty personal political ambitions of Boris Johnson and the spurious last minute deals of Cameron.  Beyond the urgent need for European cooperation to tackle climate change, the spectre of global financial meltdown and pressing issues of migration and xenophobia, Neal contended that the referendum, like the Scottish one before it, offered an opportunity to re-imagine the kind of Europe we want.  To this end Compass is seeking to build a network of activists, campaigners and politicians against Brexit and for a ‘Good Europe’ on June 23rd.

Caroline Lucas, who has an ability to articulate complex, sometimes dry, issues in a clear, vivid style, urged the widening of horizons – to examine what kind of people we are and what we want for our children, denouncing the narrow, dismal, dreary transactional view of the EU proposed by Cameron and instead arguing for an EU with sustainability and social justice at its heart.  The latter could be the EU’s new ‘big idea’, as the former binding ideas of peace on the continent lose their potency and appeal.  This would include an EU that was a global leader on renewable energy, that tackled wealth inequalities and fuel poverty – closing the gap between rich and poor (she noted that the Structural funds, if used imaginatively, provide the basis of such a redistributive mechanism).  Caroline was well aware of the EU’s flaws but also recognised its positive potential – thus while corporations do wield far too much influence, the EU also led the world in the Paris climate change talks.  She noted that the much criticised TTIP, would not be any better in a Cameron-led government bilateral negotiation – many of its more pernicious provisions were ones that his government either instigated or supported – leaving the EU would not improve trade policy.  However, the need for greater accountability and transparency continued to be pressing.  The EU needs reform but the main challenges we face today – from climate change, refugees, financial regulation and terrorism – continue to be cross border ones.

Zoe Williams also sought to shift our focus to what Europe could be rather than what it looks like now. She wanted us to imagine what a ‘good Europe’ would look like (citing Adorno’s maxim that we should discover not the past, but the dreams of the past) – seeing nascent signs of hope in the growing bonds between refugee charities and green groups.  Zoe contended that the ‘Leave’ campaign had alienated broader discussion by its arcane focus on tedious intricacies and toxic untruths.  She noted that ‘big dreams’ underpinned the EU – that of trade bonds displacing those of war.  Moreover, the benign impact of the EU on matters like the environment and workers rights are tangible gains that need to recognised and celebrated – they would not have come from a UK government.  The EU Commission’s proposals for refugees were far more humane than that of national governments, especially governments like that of Britain’s.   

Academic Mary Kaldor warned of the return of fascism and war if the EU did disintegrate.  Moreover, the EU role and capacity of taming globalisation in a globalised world will be neglected in the Brexit debate. Cross national entities are needed to deal with cross border problems – otherwise you have an unfettered globalised world.

Yanis Varoufakis entered the debate with a combative flourish.  He contended that the EU was in an advanced state of disintegration – developing into a post-modern version of the 1930s, with borders being resurrected and the Euro fragmenting the EU economy.  He drew parallels between the debt-fuelled crash of 1929 and its 2008 successor and the ‘clueless’ responses to both by European governments, as well as the past and current rise of the Far Right – strikingly evident now in Hungry, Poland, Greece and France but elsewhere in Europe too.  Yanis called for an alliance of the Left, Liberals and Greens to fight this rising rightward tide – what the 1930s generation failed to do.  The Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM 25) launched earlier this month by Yanis seeks to reinvigorate the idea of Europe as a union of people ruled by democratic consent rather than by technocratic edict.  This would seek to meet the challenges of the refugee crisis, climate change, the dearth of investment on a European basis, not a national one – the ‘cocoon’ of the nation state would be insufficient. But DiEM also sought to answer a question posed by the Right on the issue of sovereignty and legitimacy with greater democracy – the former model of economic integration leading to political union was no longer sufficient to this end. 

In the subsequent discussion Caroline said that the Left should not be defensive in the Brexit debate; it was intriguing that the Right had no objection to pooling sovereignty when it came to NATO, TTIP or the WTO (World Trade Organisation) but raised hackles with the EU – and that we are going to be stronger if we work together.  She noted that Sovereignty was a hollow thing if you have no power – to have influence you need to pool power for the common good.  Yanis Varoufakis denounced Cameron as a politician of ‘no substance’ with his recent EU deal being characterised as ‘the mother of all Euro-fudges’; he characterised the Leave campaign as a ‘Burkean frenzy’ that wants to be part of the single market and engage in free trade – yet the former (as Norway and Switzerland know) requires adherence to common standards (environmental, labour etc) – ultimately a single market needs a single sovereignty.  For him, the disintegration of the EU will accelerate unless greater democracy is injected into its workings.  To this end DiEM would seeking to convene a constituent assembly from across Europe.  Zoe was scathing as to the coarseness of the EU debate – in part due to an irresponsible right-wing media – with its demonology of faceless bureaucrats and hyper-fertile, lazy migrants.  She addressed the issue of creating a common European identity as a counter to the inward turn of many national parliaments; the EU was the ‘only bastion of partial defence’ in a globalised world.  Lucas ended with an elegiac, adapted quote from Arundhati Roy for a pan-European movement: ‘Another Europe is not only possible, but she is in her on her way, and on a quiet day I can hear her breathing’.

Good Europe T-shirtPhilosophy Football’s Good Europe campaign T-shirt is available from here