Remembrance yes, but what are we remembering?


Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman untangles the poppy from the political undergrowth


Premier League footballers this weekend, as they have for several years now, will be sporting a poppy embroidered into their kits. Up and down the divisions, if they haven't done so already, clubs will precede kick off with a scrupulously well-observed minute's silence.  

But what precisely is being remembered here? Unlike the Second World War, the First World War's causes and effects have largely been lost in the mists of history. Even the most diligent regime of revision by those preparing for their GCSE History might struggle to come up with a reasonable explanation. The Blackadder version of class division in the trenches coupled with an awkward mix of the extremes of superhuman courage and senseless sacrifice fits awkwardly with official versions that cannot bear to admit the latter half of the origins of the poppy myth.  

When Philosophy Football commissioned the renowned illustrator Dan Murrell to come up with an image to combine these varied contradictions Dan didn't disappoint. The silhouette of those countless hundreds of thousands who in death became a single unknown soldier, place and date unspecified. The football in his hands to symbolise what he'd rather be doing away from the front. The poppy represents not today's far off commemorations but the bloody carnage to come in a matter of days, if nor hours. And of course, famously on Christmas Day 1914 soldiers from both sides did just that, the 'football truce' a brief but hugely symbolic episode of rank-and-file resistance to the juggernaut of war which left 22 million dead. He'd rather be playing football but all his mates who would play in his team will soon be dead at Loos, Vimy Ridge, the Somme, Passchendaele, and for what?

The Christmas Truce game took place on the Western Front, Pont Rouge. Christmas Eve 1914  German troops had decorated their frontline with Christmas trees and candles. They sang Stille Nacht a tune and carol most of the British troops knew too, as Silent Night. Astonished, they applauded and then joined in with songs of their own. Christmas Day, dawned, the guns are silent. A German NCO advances across No Man's Land carrying a Christmas Tree towards the British lines. A British soldier goes to meet him, soon others join him, gifts are exchanged. A football is produced. Caps and helmets for goals. The match ends 3-2 to the Germans. 

By lunchtime on Christmas Day the guns had fallen silent on two-thirds of the British sector. More games were played before hostilities recommenced. The fact that football was the means of connection amidst such conflict is the perfect illustration of its centrality to working-class life in Britain, and to a lesser extent mainland Europe, by the early 20th century. 

Two and a half years later a very different expression of football's centrality to early twentieth century class culture was at the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, when Captain Nevill of the East Surreys offered a prize for the first platoon to kick a football up to the enemy trenches. 

"On through the hail of slaughter,

Where gallant comrades fall,

Where blood is poured like water,

They drive the trickling ball.

The fear of death before them,

Is but an empty name;

True to the land that bore them,

The Surreys played the game."

This was the way at the time a poet writing under the pseudonym 'Touchstone' described for the Daily Mail the 420,000 losses the British Army suffered. A game? Even the most committed militarist might struggle to comprehend this particular emotional response. But such  was the iron will at the time of those who backed the war, no questions asked, no answers given. 

All of this sits rather awkwardly with the twenty-first century status of the poppy. A remembrance that provides little space for why such a war was fought, to what ends. The words of the war poets, most famously Wilfred Owen, almost entirely absent from institutionalised memorialising.  

" Sit on the bed. I'm blind and three parts shell.

   Be careful; I can't shake hands now; never shall.

   Both arms have mutinied against me, - brutes.

   My fingers fidget like ten idle brats." 

Written while Owen served on the frontline with The Manchester Regiment, published posthumously following him being killed in action November 1918.

Of course, remembrance is tinged with the mournful. The minute’s silence an incredibly powerful statement of this, whether as a crowd of thousands in silent unison before a football match, or the quietness of solitary observation of the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. Those who pour scorn on such emotions do themselves no favours. But neither do those who embrace the moment to divorce themselves from all critical faculties.  The Christmas Truce,  the verses versus the war, the dashed hopes of those who returned home to look forward toi a society fit for heroes and fond anything but. If we cannot provide the space for such faultlines in memories past then what precisely is the good of that poppy we’re wearing?


Further Reading Douglas Newton The Darkest Days : The Truth Behind Britain’s Rush to War 1914


The Philosophy Football 1914-18 Remembrance Collection from here 



Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football 

One Hundred Years of the Beeb


 On the BBC centenary Philosophy Football's  Mark Perryman from Playschool to Python revisits and reinterprets growing up with the Beeb   


For decades those of us of a certain age have been able to measure our lives out in the episodic content of the BBC. Playschool for early years (remember them?)  with Brian Cant and Floella Benjamin looking after our every need so long as the TV was on. Not forgetting the best maths teacher we never had, Johnny Ball. The fact Johnny's daughter Zoe came to be the media face of 1990s ladettes via her stint on BBC Radio One before graduating in the 2010s to presenting on Radio 2 only adds to this sense of us as listeners and viewers growing up and old with this great British institution.

Primary school coincided with the Magic Roundabout, a five minute dose of the magical just before tea time. An extraordinary, and total, reinvention of the original, French animation to give Dougal, Zebedee, Brian and more, an entirely new, and much-loved, meaning. 'Time for bed?' Yes please, leave all the nasty news for the grown-ups to endure.

Blue Peter was more of a didactic, if in a kindly way, bent. From the 'Get down Shep' of John Noakes via that elephant dropping an almighty poo on the studio floor to creating all kind of d-i-y artefacts with 'sticky back plastic' when all of us trying it at home knew it was Sellotape! Achieving a Blue Peter badge the not-so-secret ambition of the aspirational child.

And as teendom dawned, the Thursday night post-supper treat of Top of the Pops. This was Glastonbury, The Brixton Academy, looking good, before most of The Arctic Monkeys were born, not on the dance floor, but in our living rooms. Dictated by whatever was topping, rising, bubbling under the week's charts broadcast live by Radio One the preceding Sunday evening, TOTP was broad enough to be the first introduction for many to Bowie, Reggae, Punk, Two Tone and more.  

But the real insight into all that music had to offer beyond the charts was provided for punky-indie adolescents by the incomparable John Peel broadcasting on Radio One from 10pm, a strictly under the bed clothes night time pleasure for those still of school age. 

The BBC, at its very best, has a knack of conjuring up shows near perfect for growing up with. Doctor Who has changed an awful lot from the era of William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee. Via regeneration, after regeneration, David Tennant, Jodie Whittaker and Ncuti Gatwa are not in the least the same as their Whovian forebears. Yet so many, just like for us mere humans growing up only to get old, continuities exist to provide reassurance. Daleks, exterminate! Where would we be without them?  The drive for non-stop modernisation has its limits, or at least it should.

Not only that, change can also serve to disappoint. Monty Python existed on the outer edges of English surrealism. It was a near miracle the show was ever broadcast. For fans there had never been anything quite like it before, nor anything like it since either. The dead parrot, the four Yorkshiremen, on the big screen the People's Front of Judea not the Judean People's Front, achieving a crossover to the popular few of a surrealist disposition achieve, or more likely even seek. John Cleese, Minister of Python's Silly Walks, with Fawlty Towers moved this Pythonesque caricature of Englishness to an even bigger and broader audience. The fact John has now himself become a caricature of Basil, his most famous character, for many a grave disappointment or perhaps rather the most surreal consequence imaginable?  

1968, a year of revolt. The Mai events in Paris, the Prague Spring, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam reaching the very edge of the Saigon US Embassy compound. Meanwhile in good old blighty something is stirring on the Walmington-on-Sea seafront. Yes really, '68 marked the first broadcast of Dad's Army, a defiantly and most particular English version of anti-fascism. The Bank Manager, his Assistant Manager and junior clerk, united, together with the local butcher, funeral director, seaside retiree, local spiv, and more, against Hitler and what his stormtroopers would do to their beloved town. OK not exactly the Anti-Nazi League, but for a comedic version of the breadth and reach of the wartime popular front, none will ever match Mainwaring, Wilson, Pike, Frazer, Godfrey, Walker but most of all Lance Corporal Jones. As Jones endlessly reminded us, fascists 'they don't like it up 'em'. 

Does any of this really matter? For some the BBC is a century old voice of the establishment. For others a cabal of the woke. But as Raymond Williams sought to teach us 'culture is ordinary'. Thus for most rather than simply via the news it is in the nooks and crannies of children's TV, soaps and celebrity-led reality TV, comedy that ideas are formed, dismantled, remade. Stuart Hall (no, not the disgraced former BBC Its a Knockout Presenter, the other one, the cultural theorist) applied Williams's premise to an entirely new way of 'doing' politics: 

"It is through culture that processes of social change make themselves most dramatically visible. Culture is a constitutive dimension of society."

Stuart believed popular culture was the site where everyday struggles between dominant and subordinate groups are fought, won and lost. Culture thus is understood as an active part, an absolutely key, of society. And in the process of this understanding, politics becomes inseparable, or at least it should, from popular culture. On a mass (media) scale in turn serving to erode traditional class alliances. From Daleks to Strictly, this is why the BBC not only informs and entertains, but matters too. Happy hundredth birthday, 18 October 2022.


Further Reading 

David Hendy  The BBC : A People's History

Stuart Hall  Writings on Media : A History of the Present 

Note Philosophy Football BBC Centenary T-shirt range, including half-price offer on The BBC : A People's History from here


Mark Perryman is co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction' aka  Philosophy Football



Liverpool, Shankly, Socialism


As Labour conference opens in Liverpool Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman revisits Shankly's Clause Four 


'The socialism I believe in....' Bill Shankly. In 1995 newly elected Labour leader Tony Blair persuades the party to drop ' common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange' from Clause Four of Labour's aims and values. The left intellectual, and huge Liverpool fan, Doreen Massey found for us, Philosophy Football, Shankly's 'socialism' quote and urged us to produce it as one of our T-shirts in response, the fact that during his playing career Shankly wore Number 4 on his back at Preston North End, well how could we resist.

An immediate hit, shortly after its release the legendary DJ, and another huge Liverpool fan, John Peel, phoned me. Would I drop one round to his BBC studio, he was off to Glastonbury  the next day to front the station's TV coverage of the festival. This was product placement from heaven! The following week our post bag, pre-internet, was bulging to overflowing with orders. One was from the other reds and deadly Liverpool rivals, Manchester United first teamer and legend Brian McLair, Shankly's socialism appeal, universal.              

Another left intellectual, Stuart Hall had been there when Doreen hunted out the Shankly quote from her bookshelves (this shirt had the most extraordinary of gestations). Almost a decade later in an essay, co-written with Alan O'Shea, Stuart set out a view of common sense that in many ways explains both the Shankly version of socialism's appeal and its radical potential: 

" The battle over what constitutes common sense is a key area of political contestation. Far from being a naturally evolved set of ideas, it is a terrain that is always being fought over."

Shankly's description is of a socialism located in a core value for any successful team, individuals working together as a collective, teamwork. And any rewards for the success that this delivers, it helps of course that Shankly led Liverpool, to a lot of success, should be shared out equally too. Brilliantly he then connects these values he instilled in the Liverpool boot room, training ground, on the pitch at Anfield, to life beyond the touchline too.

What this amounts to is the mix of common sense with a distinct politics. Unless the two are combined however accessible the language it becomes devoid of any meaning in the thwarted ambition of seeking to appeal to all. This week's Labour conference meets under the platform slogan ' Fairer, greener, future'. What does that even mean? Is there anything in those three words anybody could possibly object to? In what sense does this amount to political contestation of the sheer scale of the crisis the Tories, including the climate emergency, are plunging this country into? And for those who suggest none of this can be achieved by a single slogan, in their very different ways Margaret Thatcher 'There is no alternative' and Tony Blair  'Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime' achieved precisely that, mapping out a distinct, easy to understand position from which to contest, politically.

As a footballing city Liverpool provides a single tragic moment to reveal the horrific consequences when common sense isn't contested. On the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster Andrew Hussey write a New Statesman essay, ' A city in mourning, a game in ruins' which made  precisely this link:  

" A crowd being killed live on television in front of your eyes. A crowd little different from the working class Liverpudlians of the 1960s who had inspired Bill Shankly's greatest teams with their passion and collective sense of belief. The scenes of singing and scard-waving on the Kop had been shown in black and white newsreels across the world." 

What did those pictures project? Andrew's description of their impact is suitably evocative:

" 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 wre as crucial a component of 1960s pop culture as the Beatles."

But within two decades an unsuccesfully contested common sense Thatcherism had entirey transformed this sympathetic representation, for the worse: 

" 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 on 15th April 1989 for 97 who went to a football match, dead. The decades long fight for justice for those 97, which still hasn't ended, has been as much about contesting this lethal 'common sense' meaning of the crowd that day as exposing the ways they were appalligly treated, and killed. The two inextricably linked.

Shankly's socialsm in practice? From the campaign for Hillsborough justice to Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler stripping off their Liverpool shirts to reveal underneath T-shirts supporting the Liverpool dockers' strike (here's hoping the current squad do the same for the 2022 strike). The matchday collections outside Anfield and Goodison, uniquely uniting Everton and Liverpool fans as 'Fans Supporting Foodbanks' which Ian Byrne, now a Labour MP, helped found. Or the public campaigning work of Everton legends Neville Southall and Peter Reid on issues ranging from homophobia and Brexit.  And Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson organising all his fellow, and rival, Premier League club captains to raise huge sums in support of NHS key workers during the pandemic.         

The 2022 version of the Shankly Way, a common sense socialism, contestation and solidarity, not a bad three to have at the back. But will Keir Starmer's Labour even allow that threesome on the conference pitch?


Further Reading The David Peace novelisation of Shankly's life, career and politics Red or Dead


   Note Our Philosophy Football Shankly 'Socialism is...' T-shirt is available    from  here 




Mark Perryman is co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction' aka  Philosophy Football

Right Red Reads for Labour Conference '22


Coinciding with Labour conference a wave of books Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman chooses the ones that make us think                                         








For years, decades, the annual Labour Party Conference hasn't been much more than a glorified rally. It's easy to blame this descent into media spectacle on Peter Mandelson, but then Jeremy Corbyn did little or nothing to change this with conference delegates indulging in endless choruses of Oh Jeremy Corbyn.  Not a lot of any particular note takes place but in and around the fringe , particular The World Transformed Festival and this year the launch of the Compass Win as One campaign there are at least some signs that Gramsci's concept of the party as an 'organic intellectual'  isn't entirely dead as a proverbial. 

To help serve this survival of hope a heap of books are published every September, or thereabouts. of a broadly Labour orientation. This year isn't any different, if anything more than usual and for the most part looking forward to the Labour version of 'what is to be done' (with apologies to VI Lenin) rather than as in previous years 'what did we do wrong'.  Agree or disagree with the conclusions, these are books designed to set readers thinking, they succeed or fail to the extent they succeed in this objective. 








A kind of companion volume to his last book The Fall and Rise of  the British Left (published for a previous Labour Conference, 2019 when shortly after 'rise' most definitely changed to 'fall') Andrew Murray's Is Socialism Possible in Britain? Reflections on the Corbyn Years is a, perhaps surprisingly, critical read. Murray loses patience with Corbyn's indecision and caution but most of all on Brexit. The backing of a second referendum he sees as central to the 2019 defeat. Murray was one of a triumvirate of key advisers to Corbyn, Seumas Milne and Steve Howell the other two, with a political background connected to the hardline tradition of the Communist Party, his wide-ranging critique displays a thoughtfulness and openness to alternative views that this tradition, particularly on the USSR, wasn't exactly renowned for. However having little time for the awkward fact the overwhelming majority of Labour members were, and remain (sic) anti-Brexit, and in 2019 backed the second referendum option, suggests a 'politics from below' still has some way to go. As for answering the question ' Is socialism possible in Britain' most readers, me included, will surely answer, for good or ill, that's one -ism unlikely to be promised in the next Labour manifesto, is it?  








The Starmer Project : A Journey to the Right by Oliver Eagleton attempts to explain the meaning for the shift from Corbynism to Starmerism via a potted political biography of Sir Keir. The book is certainly rich in well-researched detail, much of it previously unpublished and the kind of details that Sir Keir would probably prefer remained unpublished. But the narrative is framed by a politics that borders on the conspiracist. There's this bloke called Starmer, he's not what he seems, he's fooled a lot of people and this needs exposing.  What such a narrative amounts to is entirely writing off the reasons he won the leadership election, why so many who'd backed Jeremy, 60% is one reliable estimate, switched to Keir. The relative acquiescence by Labour to the shift he then executed to the right cannot be explained by a conspiracy. And Labour's prospects at the next General Election can't be accounted either simply by a yearning for the return of Corbynism. 








With Our Bloc : How We Win James Schneider attempts, via an extended polemic, something different. Citing Gramsci, Stuart Hall and Chantal Mouffe on hegemony and populism is a good start, however while wide-ranging for such a short book the link between theory and practice tends to get lost in establishing the correctness of James' argument.  A 'bloc' that extends beyond, but doesn't reject Parliamentary Socialism, Ralph Miliband and Raymond Williams are both also cited, is absolutely correct. But I lost count the number of times James said X, Y, Z  could do this, or that,  for such a bloc to materialise but not much about either 'how'  or 'why' in the past initiatives such as Enough is Enough  haven't become the kind of bloc of James describes. Perhaps this time it will be different?  








Though the points of disagreement may be marginal to all but those most immersed in the marginalia of the left Michael Chessum comes to the subject of the Labour Party from a different politics to Andrew Murray, Oliver Eagleton and James Schneider who broadly share the same perspective on the Corbyn-Starmer shift.  This is Only The Beginning: The Making of a New Left, From Anti-Austerity to The Fall of Corbyn is Michael's hugely impressive testament to the point of this disagreement.  His argument has an interesting and quite original format, of the proverbial two halves. First half, he locates the core of Corbynism's support generationally in the anti-tuition fees movement of 2010-11 and afters.  The period when Paul Mason famously declared Why its all kicking off everywhere.  In the second half Michael connects this ferment to both the rise, and fall, of Corbynism. Shorn of conspiracism, full of depth and an understanding why the fact Labour members, including the 'kicking off' generation, are overwhelmingly anti-Brexit but no remain dupes either, this is a read the left needs right now. What a shame then not a mass market cheap paperback and instead an expensive £20 hardback, sorry, a massive missed opportunity by the publisher. 








From a different generation to Michael, and wading through the left marginalia, not of quite the same politics either, nevertheless Don't Stop Thinking about Tomorrow: The Labour Party after Jeremy Corbyn  by Mike Phipps can almost be read as a companion, 'oldie version' to This is Only the Beginning.  Mike's book deals in greater depth with the 'what happens next' which is the shortest section in Michael's, and all the better for it. No wild-eyed party romantic, Mike is in it for the long haul, with a powerful indictment of the flunking out position. This is the politics that Murray, Eagleton and Schneider reject personified, this trio prefer to demonise, by John McDonnell. Whether the space remains for such a left is an open question but Mike Phipps gives us the grounds for, just, maybe. And as an added bonus, the publisher chose a cheap(ish) paperback price £13.      


Two books take a very different, and most compelling, approach to exploring the current state of Labour, both written by Labour candidates in the 2019 General Election (spoiler alert: neither won). Ali Milani The Unlikely Candidate : What Losing an Election Taught Me about How to Change Politics is Ali's account of his campaign to unseat  Boris Johnson in Johnson's Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency. Targeted by Momentum as a winnable seat the campaign was both high profile and enjoyed considerable activist support. Winnable? If only! Defeated but unbowed Ali weaves his experience into a portrayal of what the transformation of Labour into a community based, practical activism led Labour Party would look like. Something very different to the more mainstream version currently acing as the very limit of the party's ambition.  If Uxbridge might have seemed winnable Brentwood and Ongar was off the scale, a safe and solid Tory seat.  Oly Durose came a distant, very distant, second for Labour in 2019 but it spurred him to write a fascinatingly original book  Suburban Socialism (or Barbarism) . 'Blue Wall' seats are where Labour and the Liberal Democrats, despite losing, did proportionately better than elsewhere. Oly has unearthed a new battle ground, suburbia. Too late for his own campaign, yet much informed by it, he mixes national identity, economic unrealities, Mark Fisher's 'capitalist realism' and more to summon 'suburban socialism' into existence.  








Both books draw on the Bernie Sanders campaign for inspiration. To win Democrat primaries against all odds house by house, street by street, block by block, neighbourhood by neighbourhood all the way up to the Democrat Presidential nomination, almost. Power Concedes Nothing: How Grassroots Organizing  Wins Elections edited by Linda Burnham, Max Elbaum and Maria Poblet examines this model of highly localised organising with hugely radical purpose that has a rootedness in the US left  mostly absent over here.  My advice, read and learn.  


But to effect change, from the local to the global, means Labour needs policies that disrupt and transform the current consensus. A consensus constructed mostly by policing the boundaries of possibility. The growing plight of 'Generation Rent' exists outside of that consensus, both plight and solutions. Vicky Spratt's Tenants puts that right, and then some, a politics centred on the same would both re-order mainstream politics' priorities and connect with those excluded by those self-same priorities as they currently exist. The current basis of the British state, the Union, is an absolute pillar of consensus politics. Yet independence is of course a huge issue in Scotland, and to a lesser extent in Wales too. But in England, by far the most populous of the three nations on this island it scarcely figures except as a 'coalition of chaos' scare story. Labour, outside of parts of the Welsh party, supports the consensus though a big part of this is the politics of wilful omission. Thus, when Labour chooses to 'wrap itself in the flag' it is the Union Jack; England's St George, the Scottish Saltire, the Welsh Dragon remain unwrapped. The party entirely uncaring of any impact this has in Scotland, Wales and indeed England. To help correct Labour Unionism Scotland Rising : The Case for Independence from the Scottish political commentator Gerry Hassan should be required reading for every Labour conference delegate and a major session at The World Transformed but we all know it won't be, as a result Unionist Labour in Scotland trundles on towards self-destruction








Debate at conference is as carefully staged managed as the leadership can get away with. Meanwhile the fringe strictly divides itself into the right and the left, dialogue in-between next to non-existent, pluralism, for both sides, a dirty word. All together a most unhealthy political culture.  Renewal: A Journal of Social Democracy provides a portent of what a Labour Party rooted in dialogue and pluralism might look and feel like. Despite being under resourced and a bog-standard design Renewal is full of heterodox and original writing on Labour's identity, this year alone the politics of coalition, The Conservatives' political economy all treated with a depth and rigour unheard of in the rest of Labour's left media. Published quarterly, much of it free to download too and supplemented by a blog too, my advice? Subscribe, here.   

Bit by bit an alternative to Starmerism, ideas-wise is emerging, and any optimism lies with this coming almost entirely from a new generation left. The Labour Right have the numbers, and don't they know it, but for ideas all eyes leftwards. Two, very different books absolutely prove my point. 









Owning The Future : Power and Property in an Age of Crisis co-authored by Adrienne Buller and Matthew Lawrence (respectively Director of Research and Director at the Common Wealth thinktank) could pretty much be the basis for the next Labour manifesto, of our dreams. Beveridge, Keynes and Cripps rewritten, updated, transformed with a bit of 21st century Bevan thrown in for very good measure. Vital, because without Labour addressing the role of the state and public ownership in reversing four and a half decades worth of neoliberalism triumphant what would a Labour victory amount to in 2024?  A very welcome Tory defeat on the basis of the lowest expectations imaginable. 








If Adrienne and Matthew raise our expectations to the policies of the possible, Jeremy Gilbert and Alex Williams'  Hegemony Now : How Big Tech and Wall Street Won the World (and How We Win It Back) do the same with the politicsof the possible. Power and agency, a strategy towards effecting radical change via the broadest coalition of support imaginable, the breadth of support an organic part of that process, this is what Jeremy and Alex describe. It was in the 1980s via Stuart Hall and the magazine Marxism Today in particular that Gramsci, the war of position, hegemony achieved a purchase on parts of the Left. It is the measure of Jeremy and Alex's achievement that they have managed to reinvent this most creative of left intellectual legacies for an entirely new generation scarred by the consequences of the failure of these ideas to become a majoritarian left tendency the last time. Better luck this time? 

Whether in Liverpool for Labour Conference or observing with interest, despair, hope from afar Owning the Future and Hegemony Now more than most provide the signposts for a Left equipped to help shift despair to hope. And in the process prepare ourselves for the two years until the 2024 General Election as active participants in proving that low expectations don't have to be all we can look forward to. 

Note No links in this review are to Amazon. If it can be avoided buying from corporate tax dodgers, please do so 



 Shankly on socialism With Labour Conference taking place in Liverpool,well we couldn't resist, available from  here

The day The Clash asked should they stay, or go?


Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman remembers the day Joe, Mick, Paul and Topper broke up                                               


1982, the year of the Falklands War, Gotcha! And when the ships returned to blighty laden with troops greeted with the banner 'Call off the Rail Strike or we'll call in an Airstrike'. A Thatcherite version of patriotism triumphant complete with Michael Foot's Labour Party in tow backing the war. 

Grim times, and for those of a certain musical-political disposition, the soundtrack that gave us hope, The Clash, split up. The 17 September '82 release of their single Should I Stay or Should I Go marked the end of the band's classic line up; Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon. Various versions struggled on for a while, and both Mick with Big Audio Dynamite and Joe with The Mescaleros went on to produce some great material. But for The Clash as we knew them. The end. 

For those of a certain age four decades have passed but nothing will ever replace the sounds and the culture we associate with what seems now that remarkably short time The Clash were together, 1976-82.

In the aftermath of the Falklands War the leading left intellectual of the time, Stuart Hall, described the mood and the political consequences:

" We are up against the wall of a rampant and virulent gut patriotism. Once unleashed, it is an apparently unstoppable, populist mobiliser - in part because it feeds off the disappointed hopes of the present and the deep and unrequited traces of the past, imperial splendour penetrated into the bone and marrow of the national culture. "

But no determinist Stuart also outlined why it didn't have to be this way:

" The traces of ancient, stone-age ideas cannot be expunged. But neither is their influence and infection permanent and immutable. The culture of an old empire is an imperial culture; but that is not all it is, and these are not necessarily the only ideas in which to invent a future for British people. Imperialism lives on - but is not printed in an English gene. In the struggle for ideas, the battle for hearts and minds which the Right has been conducting with such considerable effect, bad ideas can only be displaced by better, more appropriate ones."    

The Clash did that 'displacing' in a manner we could sing along with, dance to, wear as a badge with pride. Mixing Notting Hill and Brixton with Rocking against Racism and Working for the Clampdown this was a band that stood defiantly for a very different version of Englishness to Thatcherism. Robin Hood, the Levellers, Cable Street all wrapped up in black leather jackets, bandanas and Doctor Martens. English Civil War The Clash belted out but not for even a fleeting moment petty-minded nationalism, instead theirs' was the popular internationalism of the triple album Sandinista! A rebel music, home and abroad too, quite different to the more than occasionally twee so-called 'World Music' that emerged at the time.

For a generation The Clash were, and will always be the best band of all time, they might not have changed the world but they certainly changed us. They started off as a 'garage band' as proudly proclaimed on their 1977 debut album track Garageland  (decades later brilliantly rewritten by punk poet Attila the Stockbroker as Farageland). Attila one of those who keeps the d-i-y rebellion spirt of the Clash alive alongside others includung Joe Solo, Robb Johnson, Jess Silk, Captain Ska, The Commoners Choir, the grassroots and local musical and poetic solidarity of the networks We Shall Overcome and Poetry on the Picketline.Billy Bragg epitomises everything Clash, for the briefest of times The Redskins had the tunes and ideas to be the next Clash but then disappeated, literally. And for a precious moment in 2017 Grime4Corbyn took Clash ideals to a new generation. But none, despite best efforts, have achieved the scale of breakthrough The Clash once managed with a musical-political legacy that four decades hence remains every bit as potent today. Back then in the the space of six years they graduated from the garage to selling out Shea Stadium, with U2 as support. Who knows what if like The Rolling Stones, The Who and U2 decades later The Clash were still with us? We'll never know, but for as long as they were with us, for as long as their legacy remains, one thing is certain, in the words of Joe Strummer ' the future is unwritten'. And for that Joe, Mick, Paul and Topper we'll always be grateful.  

Further reading 

Colin Coulter (ed) Working for the Clampdown: The Clash, The Dawn of  Neoliberalism and the Political Promise of Punk

Gregor Gall The Punk Rock Politics of Joe Strummer  




 Philosophy Football's The Clash 1976-82 range is available from here  

Sun, sea and socialism beach reads 2022



Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football makes a personal selection of ten books (and a T-shirt) to add bright thinking to any holiday 


August, England basking in Euro-winning glory. At Wembley where England last won a tournament, the 1966 World Cup. 56 years of hurt ended by England women, How cool is that?  


August, traditionally the height of the British holiday season.  And with the climate now in full emergency mode bright sunshine and hot weather pretty much guaranteed. That's how most of the front pages treat his deadly prospect. Rising summer death rates amongst the old and vulnerable, bush fires, drought pretty much a footnote. 


Beaches along the Kent and Sussex transformed from holiday favourites to the frontline in arguments and actions over asylum, migration and race.  


Staycations increasingly popular, first because of  Covid, now because of a mix of the chaos leaving the country  and a cost of living crisis. But as Unionist Britain breaks up what kind of England, Scotland and Wales remains? 


Holidays, a time of nostalgia, what it was like when we were kids, teenagers, students and twenty somethings. For those now pensionable and of a certain musical, and political disposition the late seventies summers will always be the era of rocking against racism with TRB, X-Ray Spex, Steel, Pulse but most of all The Clash.   


1978 was a generational moment of hope. 2022 is currently looking like quite the opposite.  If Boris Johnson was bad enough should Liz Truss win the Tory leadership election and  implement even half of her leadership election pledges bad could be about to turn into whole lot worse. A summer of discontent threatens to ruin those worst laid plans but decades' worth of experience should have taught us the Tories don't give up that easily, oh no.


Stand and fight, yes, enough to win, no. A new generation of  left intellectuals are developing the kind of ideas that serve to highlight  the absolute lack of any kind of vision from Keir Starmer's Labour. In the 1980s a similar role was performed by writers in and around the magazine Marxism Today. It isn't simply nostalgia to observe how much this kind of thinking is needed today. Revisit, review, rewrite.










1. Suzy Wrack A Woman's Game: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Women's Football  

On the beach. England European Champions. A blissful summertime mix. And to add depth, context and brilliant ideas to the feel-good factor there's none better than one of the pioneers of the new (women's) football writing, Suzy Wrack, in her debut and most timely book.










2. Adrienne Buller The Value of a Whale: On The Illusions of Green Capitalism

Adrienne Buller is part of a new wave of economists producing  radical ideas in stark contrast to Keir Starmer's mantra ' Labour's mission in government will be economic growth'. With the climate emergency already upon us The Value of a Whale expertly explains why 'growth' isn't enough, not nearly.










3. Chris Armstrong A Blue New Deal: Why We Need a New Politics for the Ocean

For the lucky ones there's no better place to spend August hols than on a beach in the sunshine. Thoughts of what rising sea levels will do to devastate coastal communities and rising summer heat as a threat to our health and environment not the nicest, if necessary, way to break up the sunbathing and swimming. A Blue Deal is the antidote, an incredible read on how by reversing climate change coastal communities could be regenerated.










4. Tariq Ali Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes  

'We shall fight on the beaches' was amongst many great Churchill lines a million miles away from the sound bitery of  modern politics.But there's Churchillian myth-making too on an industrial scale, Tariq Ali provides a demolition job that some will disagree with but none should entirely ignore. 










5. Vron Ware Return of a Native: Learning from the Land

For those who prefer a rural spot away from the sand and the sea Return of a Native is an insightful read of how the particularities of the English countryside have become key to constructing Englishness. Combining the ecological and the political this is a book to provoke rethinking well beyond a holiday read. 









6.  Gerry Hassan and Simon Barrow, Eds A Better Nation : The Challenges of Scottish Independence   

The near-perfect summertime city break is surely the Edinburgh Festival.  Edinburgh is also where the re-established Scottish Parliament is located. Since it was the momentum towards independence has been in fits and starts but it will come. Gerry Hassan and Simon Barrow's edited collection of essays is the best possible survey of a shift a tad more important than fretting over whether future festival visitors from the rest of the UK (sic) will need to pack their passports.  










7. Darren Chetty, Grug Muse, Hanan Issa, Iestyn Tyne, Eds  Welsh (Plural) : Essays on the Future of Wales

Across coastal Britain's holiday hotspots 'holiday cottages', second homes, serve to exclude local populations from much needed housing. In Wales, uniquely, resistance to this is combined with a nationalist dimension. Hateful ethno-nationalism? Welsh (Plural) helps us to understand why it is anything but, a nation rediscovering and reinventing itself as 'not British'. 









8. Gregor Gall The Punk Rock Politics of Joe Strummer

As summer draws to a close September 2022 will mark the 40th anniversary of the break-up of Joe, Mick, Paul and Topper AKA The Clash. For those of a certain age and inclination it was this foursome who provided, and still do, the soundtrack to our lives. Gregor Gall brilliantly locates the music Joe Strummer provided for the band in what he calls 'punk rock politics' a mix  of radicalism, resistance and rebellion, and to dance too.









9. Simon Kuper Chums : How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK  

Simon Kuper's first book Football Against the Enemy came out in 1994, part of the surge in 'new football writing' it stood apart mixing travel and politics with action on the pitch.  A very fine read as has all of Simon's writing been since. Chums is a bit of a departure, no football. Yet it not for one moment disappoints, rather the best ever written dissection of the formation for what passes as the modern Tory Party's leadership. 










10. Doreen Massey Selected Political Writings with Stuart Hall  Selected Political Writings and Robin Murray  Selected Political Writings

If room in the suitcase or rucksack is at a premium this is the book to pack, or if possible three books. Publishers Lawrence and Wishart have produced the perfect reads to take us away from the next-to-no-ideas Keir Starmer Labour Party to an ideological place where ideas are positively overflowing.  Posthumous collections of a triumivrate of key writers from the magazine Marxism Today. Doreen Massey, Stuart Hall and Robin Murray's political writings, no better preparation for after a summer of discontent the change that must follow.







And a T-shirt

On the beach and ever after wear the incredible memories of an unforgettable July 2022. Philosophy Football's unique T-shirt with match details of England's victories versus Austria, Norwaty, Northern Ireland, Spain and Sweden. Then after 120 minutes England 2 Germany 1, 'Lionesses' swapped for CHAMPIONS. From here 



Note No links in this review are to Amazon. If buying books from corporate tax dodgers can be avoided, please do.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction aka Philosophy Football

A game of two halves


Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football describes how Euro 2022 is threatening to be a tournament where masculinity is on the losing side.   











England? Ingerland! I've written a book (well several actually, articles, interviews, TV and radio broadcasts) on what that one additional syllable symbolises. I thought I knew as much as there was to know, until last Wednesday, England 2 Spain 1, Euro 2022 quarter-final.  

My knowledge, such as it is, is partly fandom. From Euro 96 to Euro 2012 I went to just about every England game, home and away, every tournament. That last game, England's exit on penalties to Italy is ten years ago now but the incredible experiences as a travelling England fan have never left me.

Partly activism too. When I first started out England fans' reputation was fearsome. We were the least welcome guests at every Euro or World Cup. Every effort to change this failed, including for Euro 2000 a campaign I helped dream up' Football Yes, Violence No' that failed spectacularly. Why? Because by starting out with a negative aimed at our own fans it threatened to turn into a self-fulfilling negative, and across Holland and Belgium before England went out at the Group Stage, did. 


But I learnt a lesson too, to find the elusive positive majority of travelling England fans start with what we all enjoy most, almost as much as the football, the travel. I helped set up LondonEnglandFans travel forums, which grew into a loose network of similar groups across the country. And on trips we'd organise fan-friendly activities, often backed by the British Council, supported by the FA but entirely fan-led. `Do-gooders? Nope. But we weren't sorry to be doing some good. With everything from fans matches against the opposition fans via visits to a local brewery to running a football quiz for schoolkids we reached well beyond England fans' close-to-non-existent constituency of do-gooders to a broad cross selection who just fancied adding an experience bordering on the unique to their trip. And in the process boosting the reputation of an England we were all immensely proud of.  A pride that comes with the England fan territory.


And partly intellectual, too. The only books written about England fans were what the late Steve Redhead brilliantly called 'hit 'n tell' including the Brimson brothers string of best sellers  and bizarrely written by - tho' a very good book - Granta Editor Bill Buford's Among the Thugs.  Meanwhile a growing literature on all things Englishness studiously ignored football. After every tournament from France '98 onwards I'd put together a collection of essays from our fans, opposition fans, our hosts telling an entirely different story to the 'hit 'n tell' brigade or the ghosted players and managers' tournament diaries. And uniquely making the connection between the bi-annual summer of England festooned in St George with the breaking up of Britain.


In 2012 I went to my first women's international. I'd been working on the football tournament at the London Olympics and scored tickets to the women's Wembley Gold Medal match USA vs Japan. It was a kind of football I'd never seen before, fastmoving and skilful yet without much of the brute physicality of the men's game. But most interestingly the crowd which as Mark Steel put it after the women's France v Japan Semi 'the fans were so gleeful they'd be evicted from the ground at an England men's match for being too amicable.' It was the sane at the Final, and then some. Does this mean the first embryonic mass support for international women's football here in England was out for a good time?  Well yes, and hurrah to that. But not at the expense of their footballing values. When the loathsome, corrupt, autocratic, and that's putting it nicely, FIFA President Sepp Blatter marched on to the pitch to award USA their Gold Medals he was roundly, universally booed from the stands. Take that for your decades of platitudes about a game of equality Blatter.


Back in Lewes where I live I would occasionally go to watch Lewes Womens FC which under the extraordinary leadership of Karen Dobres has become 'Equality FC'.  Much as I valued the iintent I'll admit I didn't entirely get it. Until Lewes, drum roll please, played the newly formed Manchester United Women's team.  The crowd was big, full of passion, the result meaning everything but the fact it was Lewes up against  United's women rather than their infinitely better known men, frankly irrelevant in the heads of fans of both teams there. Mmm.


Most unlike me I was a tad disorganised getting tickets to the Women's Euros.  Since stopping travelling summer tournaments just haven't had the same thrill, being there, over there, nothing else comes close. But when early Saturday morning an email from UEFA, I must have registered for Euro 2022 tickets years ago, offering late availability for England's Quarter-Final vs Spain ust down the road at Brighton's ground, well I couldn't resist.


The week previous, England's game against Norway I'd noticed something interesting of those gathering to head out of Lewes on the ten minute train journey to the game. Unsurprisingly lots of family groups, mums and dads, with their daughters and a fair few sons too.  But also young lads, not of the overly laddish variety, but in their England shirts, an England tournament game too good to miss. It's women's football? What the hell. OK ten minutes on the train, cheap tickets, £20, decent seats too, and not, as I was to discover, so difficult to get hold of either.  But despite all this it's not that long ago, the Women's Euro 2005 in England to be precise, this would have been unimaginable.


And more changes dawned on me at the Quarter Final too. The air of menace around England home and away can be exaggerated. But here as we crowded into the train and disembarked on to the platform at Falmer it was entirely absent. A football crowd with if anything women and girls in the slight, though not overwhelming, majority quite unlike any other football experience,. Not just at the ground, but in the pubs, workplace and other conversations, lets be honest everything about football as we know it is decidedly masculine. From boomers to zoomers, Generation X to Generation Z this has hardly changed, not one bit. 


In so many ways at England v Spain it had. This isn't just about demographics, the politics of representation, this is about cultural change. Big brawny blokes wearing England's training strip combo of pink and bright pastels. The black female house DJ playing dance numbers and women fans all over the stands getting up and dancing. The feminised singalong to Oasis classic Wonderwall, turning a lads anthem back into what it was written as, a love song. The England men's band tub-thumping doing their best to rouse the crowds but a fairly obvious sigh of collective relief when they shut up and there was something else to sing, and dance, along too. This was a crowd here for an England win and enjoy themselves in the process. The so-called 'National Anthem', it isn't, observed but hardly sung with the usual martial gusto.  No chants about World War Two, the IRA, the Falklands or Al Qaeda. The last time England met Spain in a Euro Quarter Final, 1996, the Piers Morgan edited Daily Mirror dragged up Francis Drake's  sinking of the Spanish Armada to beat up the opposition. And best of all  no endless singing of It's Coming Home once England went 2-1 up.


But no Mexican Waves, all too common at Wembley for England men's games. either. This was a crowd who knew how to party, but knew this meant inventing our own traditions, not importing, or having imposed upon us, other's. Sometimes the commodification of fandom did grate. Cards saying 'GOAL" to hold up when England score, where did those come from? Is it really necessary to spell it out E-N-G-L-A-N-D  H-A-V-E  S-C-O-R-E-D.  And the corporate equality-washing smells of a desperation to cover their selling message. From Volkswagen, 'Not Women's Football - Women Play Football'. Really?


Football for all, getting there but not, as it's been observed during the tournament, not yet. English women's football is overwhelmingly white. But this is less about a numbers game than the social construction of sport, any sport.  Women's football in England is nowhere near as diverse as the men's game - tho' this is distinctly partial too, how many black and minority ethnic managers in the Premiership and Football League anyone?  The women' s game has only recently become professionalised, even more recently paying the kind of wages and providing the kind of platform to become aspirational. The playing side of men's football has never been gentrified unlike every other part of the game, with few exceptions it remains resolutely working class, including the Black and mixed race working class, but not other ethnic minorities. Interestingly a different process of scholarships, and since 1995, professionalism has created a much more multicultural England rugby team than hitherto. Diversity is a product of such structural changes not, even if England win the Euros, the myth of so-called 'role models.'       


But on Wednesday night such thoughts s could be put on one side, for now. A change was underway, shaped most importantly of all by the performance on the pitch, both teams. This was as thrilling and nerve-wracking as the knockout stages in a Euro or World Cup gets. Out of this world fitness, astronomical levels of commitment, sky-high skill on the ball. Hard fought, that was obvious even from my position in the stands, but not dirty, likely to cause injury. Yellow cards not quite non-existent but certainly less frequent, and little dissent when issued, compared to the men's game.  No medical aid required on the pitch until the 80th minute or so testament to a different kind of physical contest, more about being fitter, faster, more concerned with what can be done with the ball than simply stopping the other lot, dead. 


Anyone watching the game via a squint and perhaps oblivious to the England team's preponderance of blonde pony tails would have had no idea this was England women rather than men down on the pitch providing the most exciting 120 minutes of football imaginable. Seated in the stands surrounded by a passion that was both highly visible and loudly audible yet free of any boorishness, triumphalism and hatred of the other lot we might think this is an England we want to be part of, I certainly did, The crowd less toxic? Yes. Down to masculinity? Almost certainly.  The kind of male anti-social behaviour that has to be endured every Saturday night city and town centres come closing time yet never makes the news given a platform when occurs at football.  The vocabulary of 'hooliganism' serves to obscure this salient, and ugly. fact.  Has the support for England women this summer meant all these aspects of masculinity have not been as central to the game as it usually is?  Yes. Perhaps rather than rearranging pronouns there's something more profound at work here.  Wednesday night was a remarkable achievement in so many ways. Just imagine if they now go on and win it.  But win or lose to effect change the processes underway have to be recognised and understood.  England vs Sweden, tonight 8pm C'mon Ingerland .



  Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction' aka Philosophy Football. Our Euro 2022 Lionesses T-shirt is available from here      











Books to Brighten up a Summer of Sport


Seasons come, seasons go Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman finds a heap of sports books to provide a summer's worth of sporting hope and healthy goodness


I first came across Michael Calvin via his extraordinary one season biography of the Millwall FC first team Family: Life, Death and Football. Not since Pete Davies' peerless All Played Out account of the sporting summer of Italia 90 England squad had a writer revealed in such exciting emotional detail the making of a football team. After Family Michael has become the pre-eminent chronicler of the state of mod£rn (sic) football, in many ways his latest Whose Game is It Anyway? Football, Life, Love & Loss written at the height of the Covid-19 crisis, is the culmination of this chronicle. For readers of fine critical football writing lets hope not.      

Ryan Baldi's The Dream Factory: Inside the Make-or-Break World of Football's Academies is a tightly focused piece of work, and that's no criticism.  Almost all successful Premier League clubs depend on the success of their academy system, developing the most talented local recruits from the age of nine years. Yet what separates the tiny percentage who make it into the first team from the overwhelming majority who don't?  This book not only seeks to find the reasons why but provides a showcase for alternative models; internationally, lower divisions and non-league towards turning raw talent into finished 'product'. 










The fantasy of 'I could have been a contender if only...' fuels the fandom of many male fans as they swap the youth football of their teenage years for a life of watching the game from sofa, barstool or the lucky few, the stands. In the 2020's that same teenage fantasy is increasingly shared by teenage girls too, with pathways to playing more open the women's game is centred on playing rather than the simply watching of the men's game. Perfect to accompany a generation of girls being inspired by the Women's Euro 2022  Paul Sheppard expertly turns the kind of excitement this is sure to generate into a superb young adult novel Bea on the Ball in and around the very real experience and achievements of Lewes Women's FC. Unashamedly inspirational, and a right fine read because of it.  


The wider world of women's football is superbly covered by the collection Football She Wrote ranging from the historical and club-specific to the playing side, fandom and the cultural impact of the fast-growing popularity of the women's game. More of this writing please, there is so much to learn from it whichever 'half' of football we follow. Testament to this is The History of Women's Football by unarguably this half of the game's pre-eminent historian, Jean Williams. With England as hosts and pre-tournament favourites Euro 2022 could be just the spur for an avalanche of new writing on the women's game.  Yes please.     


For the men's game it will be a short summer off ahead of the November Qatar World Cup. A time to reflect on how football remains most definitely a sport of the oxymoronically two unequal halves, gender one part of the scales of inequality that rule the game, women's football vs men's one binary. Another is league vs non-league, to which my answer is simply there's nothing 'non' about non-league.  Aaron Moore's Fields of Dreams and Broken Fences : Delving into the Mystery World of Non-League Football provides hope that here more than anywhere another football remains possible.  


A really bad choice for a title  " I Hope You Die Of Cancer" : Life in Non-League Football shouldn't obscure the brilliance of the latest in 'The Secret...' genre, first made famous of course by  The Secret Footballer.  Co-writer Marvin Close enables the anonymous player to delve deep into the realities of the part-time players with a full time commitment to their sport, the harsh reality of being outside the league with hope for rising thru' the tiers in equal measure makes for a read quite unlike most player not-exactly tell-it-alls. 


Park Life : Four seasons of Rhondda football by Peter Roberts tells-it-all across an entire valley's Sunday League footballers. The Rhondda, in the 1920s and 1930s the heartland of a very distinctive Welsh communism, an educated working class militancy that persisted right through to the miners' strike of 1984-85. Today the valley is a crucible of post-Thatcherite  deindustrialisation, yet still a 'red wall' with a splash of Welsh civic nationalism. A place where the grassroots game survives if not thrives, most of all, as Peter Roberts expertly recounts, it is a part of, not apart from, the community where the game is played.  


A very different tale is told by Martin Calladine and James Cave in their exposé of a book Fit and Proper People : The Lies  and Fall of OwnaFC a book that reads more like a thriller, for avoidance of doubt this is meant as a compliment, than an account of club ownership gone wrong. It is close to being every fans' dream, to own a club, to put the world of football to rights. 'OwnaFC' was set up to feed that dream, but as the exposure details it proved to be an unscrupulous means to first exploit the fantasy, and then kill it off. All in the cause of making a quick buck at others' expense.  Is another football possible? It sometimes seems not, the end of season parade of the 'big clubs' into the cartel the Champions and Rich Runners Up League resembles has pretty much put paid to that dream. But that doesn't means its impossible, and for any convincing read the all-time classic on the subject, Jim Keoghan's Punk Football: The Rise of Fan Ownership in English Football.   


Scattered examples of fan ownership remain a vital and practical inspiration  but remain very much the exception. How to venture towards full-scale dismantlement of the business(sic) of sport, specifically the outlier in this process, football?  Joe Kennedy's Games Without Frontiers, now in a new and expanded edition, mixes the doing, pick-up games of surprising seriousness of intent, the watching, with one notable exception, lower division but mainly non-league, and the thinking, Joe mixzes it al upl to provide a quite sublime mix of enquiry and explanation. Bordering on the unique this is a book of revelation and in the right hands, or should that be the wrong hands, the revolution that every sport needs. Read, relate, revolt.  









Any kind of serious understanding of why sport is such a source of both unbridled joy and unscrupulous exploitation begins with a recognition that all sports are socially constructed. Or to put it another way, to stand in opposition to the mantra 'Just do it' because sport is never 'just' done.  Once cricket would seamlessly take over from football and rugby as the pre-eminent summer team sport. Is that still true?  Duncan Stone's magnificent Different Class: The Untold Story of English Cricket  stands in the tradition of CLR James and Mike Marqusee, writers who place the social construction at the centre of understanding this most socially constructed of sports. Duncan achieves this via cricket as recreational, far beyond the idiom of the 'village green' too, rather than the professional county and test cricket game. An original and much needed reassertion of the sport's roots in the era of the Indian Premier League and the 'Hundred'. 









Bradley Wiggins' first British winning of Le Tour helped elevate this most Francophile of events into a major part of the British sporting summer. Yet British cycling remains the whitest of sports. Desire, Discrimination, Determination : Black Champions in Cycling   by Marlon Lee Moncrieffe is a beautifully designed book full of angry purpose towards understanding why? An admirable publishing venture too, published by the go-to producer of the most fashionable cycling kit imaginable, Rapha. Mixing history, analysis, and cycling culture this is an incredibly innovative and important book. 


Post Wiggo, a cycling boom, mirroring in lots of ways the early 1980s running boom. Elite success but crucially in sports socially constructed to maximise mass, mainly recreational and non-competitive with no rules to speak of, no expensive facilities requited, kit not too pricey either. All, more or less to the good. Shane Benzie argues however there's a bit more of the 'less' than we might assume. His book The Lost  Art of Running travels the world to rediscover the most basic exercise on earth, putting one foot in front of the other at ever increasing speed over ever-lengthening distances. A book to inspire, and for the ambitious to seek to follow in the footsteps provided as well. Bright summer mornings, light long into the evening, sunshine and a cool breeze, what excuse can there be found not to exercise? For the vast majority, too many to mention. 










There are many causes of this, in part an explanation lies in how sport's history shapes its present. Definitive proof of this can be found in Sasha Abramsky's revelatory read, Little Wonder or to give the book's full title 'the extraordinary story of Lottie Dod, the world's first female sports superstar'. Extraordinary and a half, Olympics Archery gold medallist Lottie also won both Wimbledon and the British women's amateur golf championship, and played hockey for England. So why have precious few heard of Lottie?  'Hidden from history' as generations of feminist historians have taught us. Lottie's era was the early twentieth century Let's Get Physical : How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World by Danielle Friedman is focussed on the 1960s, the era of second wave feminism. The link between exercise and liberation may not be immediately obvious, Danielle ensures they become so while never surrendering to the self-absorption a politics founded on our bodies, ourselves can on occasion pander to.  Sue Anstiss is never going to make that mistake, campaigner, podcaster, Sue helped found both the Women's Sport Trust and Women's Sport Collective and is now heading up a new outfit, Fearless Women, to drive the changes women's sport still needs. Game on : The Unstoppable Rise of Women's Sport brings together Sue's vast experience of how sport (mis)treats women and overflows with ideas to both reverse this and to the benefit of all, women, and men.


To suggest it isn't 'just' women who suffer from how sport has been constructed to the benefit of some but not all isn't to sideline other exclusions but to seek an overarching understanding that takes each and every exclusion seriously, equally. There's few better starting points towards this than Sweat : A History of Exercise by Bill Hayes, a social history of the entire philosophy, culture and practice of exercise. No good society should be without the ambition to make exercise as freely, widely and pleasurably available as possible, the absence of which across the UK is startlingly obvious every summer. Bill helps us to understand why societies fail to fulfil such a modest but necessary ambition and produce instead obesity and physical inactivity in abundance, a 'summer of sport' as something to watch from the sofa or wear as a fashion accessory rather than as the advertising slogan (irony alert) would suggest ' just do it'.  










Since the 1984 Los Angeles Games the commercial monster that the Olympics became has sought to solve such societal failings via the twin Olympian myths of legacy and role model. Few writers have done more to  dismantle these delusions than Jules Boykoff, as the tenth anniversary of London 2012 approaches this July and every claim made of what those Games would achieve has been proved to be an  absolute fiction Jules' latest book  NOlympians : Inside the Fight against Capitalist Mega-Sports in Los Angeles, Tokyo and Beyond  should be required reading for every politician, sports administrator, media commentator who cheerleaded for what 2012 would achieve in the, probably forlorn, hope they won't be fooled again. Except they will, my advice is to approach any legacy claims made by Birmingham's Commonwealth Games via attendant politicians and media with extreme caution. If we are ever to overcome these self-defeating sports mythologies the question we should really be asking is 'What is Sport for?'










Two academic books which prove hugely helpful towards finding some answers are Transforming Sport edited by  Thomas F. Carter, Daniel Burdsey and Mark Doidge, and Adam Kadlac's The Ethics of Sports Fandom.  Both books take a multi-sport approach.Transforming Sport unpicks the power relations that serve to structure, in most cases limit too, the otherwise joyful potential of sport as a means to human liberation. This unfulfilled potential is defined, quite rightly in my view, by most of the book's contributors as the ability, or inability to 'do' sport.  Adam Kadlac focusses instead on the fan, the spectator, for whom joyful potential is all about what is being watched, a potential Adam locates not simply in the joy of our team winning rather than losing but the broader views of society shaped via being a fan. There is no doubt this exists though the extent to which such consciousness is subject to commodification, the obvious example being a 'corporate anti-racism' in and around football, which means sadly that by and large another potential of sport, Adam's consciousness-shaping, remains unfulfilled. 









In facing down the failings of modern sport to engage the 'doing' part, ever-decreasing levels of participation continue despite ever -increasing TV ratings for major sporting events, there is a tendency towards an undiluted instrumentalism to encourage those yet to 'just do it.'  This is understandable but if it was as simple as get fit = get healthy those low participation levels would never have sunk so low in the first place. Juliet McGrattan's Run Well : Essential Health Questions and Answers for Runners  is  an admirably comprehensive read for the keen runner and helps readers avoid many, including unexpected, pitfalls. As a runner myself I certainly learnt a lot but there remains a mythology of running and health. Knees are the obvious ones, but more generally increased mileage almost inevitably reduces resistance to viral infections.  Running is about a lot more than health, and for most competition too, its about freedom, time we can call our own, the sheer pointlessness of it. Perhaps a more appealing connection to be made is with the pleasures of eating. This may seem counter-intuitive but most who do sport aren't wafer-thin. In fact its another instrumental myth of exercise, it makes us hungry, we compensate with over-eating in the knowledge we've exercised. There are infinitely more efficient ways to lose weight than exercise. Instead of ignoring this there's a very welcome emergence of books that fuse the joys of exercise with a celebration of what to eat afters, before too, and I stress recipes to enjoy rather than glorified calorie counts. Ultra runner and chef Billy White's Eat, Run, Enjoy gets that mix right in the title and like any good runner doesn't look back, via extraordinary photography, runners and recipes, those runners recounting how much they enjoy their food,  plus great meals to cook from breakfast to bedtime snacks. For those who prefer to exercise on two wheels Alan Murchison provides the meals to accompany in The Cycling Chef : Recipes for Performance and Pleasure. The mix, rewarding both body and taste buds, is the perfect antidote, everything from breakfasts and broths to smoothies and suppers, not four words usually associated with 'just doing it', more's the pity.  










There are precious few sportswriters in the UK media like Dave Zirin, on occasion Jonathan Liew comes closest, or in that hinterland of academia-media David Goldblatt . Dave Zirin combines being an unapologetic fan, broadcaster and writer, and unashamedly political, specifically of a  leftwing inclination.  Older readers might well at this point recall, and sorely miss, the late Mike Marqusee who would effortlessly tick all those boxes too. Dave Zirin's latest  The Kaepernick Effect : Taking a Knee, Changing the World (available from September in paperback) applies all  this to unarguably the biggest social movement in sport of the early twenty-first century, 'taking the knee'.  What Dave does is situate Colin Kaepernick's original action where it belongs, as an act of rebellion, widely reviled and resisted by both sporting and political officialdom at the time. Yet at a popular, black athlete-led, level a popular resource of rebellion  that connected with a global audience outside of sport to symbolise anger and change sparked by the police murder of George Floyd.  Of course it is a good thing that this in turn  moved the superstars and rulers of sport to action too but what Zirin teaches us is that withoutthe roots in Kaepernick's rebellion the ever-present danger is sanitisation, incorporation and in the end inaction. My top choice of a book of what may or may not be a long hot summer weather wise, but to heat up the dull sobriety of both politics and sport I'm certain there's no better weapon in our hands to read. 



Mark Perryman is a research fellow in Sport and Leisure Culture at the University of Brighton and co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction' aka Philosophy Football     





Memories of Mariupol


Philosophy Football co-founder  Mark Perryman remembers Mariupol in happier times, Euro 2012 


A decade ago, early 2012, me and a bunch of 50 or so England fan friends were looking for where to base ourselves, and our coach driven by our mate Dave Beverley all the way from Scunthorpe, for that year's Euros in Ukraine

The trick with a Euros or World Cup is not to stay in the host cities where costs sky-rocket but within 50-60 miles, hence Dave's coach to get us around. 

We happened upon Mariupol, to be honest none of us had ever heard of it but Ukrainian contacts highly recommended it. 

50 miles south of Donestk where two of England's group games would be, cheap hotel, beach with a bar, sunshine. Touristy things too like an hisriric church we visited. Perfect, and so it proved.

2022 Mariupol is front page news, bombed back, including that church, into the Middle Ages. I'm a solid internationalist. I boycotted South African goods for years, I was on the big 2003 anti-Iraq war protest, through Philosophy Football we've raised funds for a material aid convoy,  one of the lorries driven by Hugh Tisdale co-founder of Philosophy Football, to break the siege of Gaza. But I'll be honest its Ukraine that has moved me like nothing else.

I grew up politically thru' the second cold war. US Cruise Missiles vs USSR SS-20s. Then Gorbachev offered the promise of something different, a dream that's ended with the nightmare of Putin and oligarch power.  This feels like not so much the Cold War revisited, but a hot war.  

And this is Europe, never mind the EU, this is my continent. Thru' following England I've been to not just Russia and Ukraine but Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Moldova, Finland, Belarus, all those countries most embroiled and threatened by this deadly conflict. This feels like home. 

And for three weeks Mariupol was our home. When I see the pictures of this city reduced to rubble, it makes me think of my parents, father, RAF, and mother Royal Navy, returning from the war in '45 to Wallington in yhe south of London suburbs and roads of houses, schools, hospitals, workplaces bombed too, and hundreds of thousands made homell the same experience across much of urban  and suburban Br,itain. And now seven decades later Mariupol the same, Kharkiv where we stayed on route to Kyiv, Kyiv itself, if anything worse.  Lviv too where after the , in those days inevitable, knockout on penalties in the quarters,  the 50 of us in our coach passed thru' the border checkpoint to Poland that today tens of thousands of Ukrainian refuges are queuing up to leave through, forced against their will by the Russian invasion to leave their country.  

I may never be able to visit Mariupol again, but I will never ever forget or forgive what Putin and his oligarchs have done to the city.   

Stop the War? Stop bloody Putin!


Philosophy Football is raising funds for Ukraine aid and solidarity via T-shirts and badges here 




Twelve Books for Twelve Days of Christmas


For the season of goodwill Philosophy Football's  Mark Perryman selects books to tide us over into the New Year, and beyond

Apart from bah humbug miserabilists those of all faiths and none manage to find Christmas a time to give, and to receive. With this in mind twelve books for the twelve days of Christmas, however to get them all read by the time Twelfth Night is out will most likely leave the reader intellectually exhausted so a slower pace towards an early Spring is advised for all but the most committed readers.









1 Falling Down : The Conservative Party and the Decline of Modern Britain Phil Burton-Cartledge   

In the 1980s it sometimes seemed all the Left ever talked about, debated, for the most part argued over was ‘Thatcherism’, especially the analysis of such pioneered by Stuart Hall and others in the pages of Marxism Today. Thatcher’s three consecutive victories had a habit of focusing defeated Labour minds, Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Out! Out! Out!  Clearly wasn’t enough. A generation on and Cameron, May and Johnson have managed between them to chalk another foursome at Labour’s expense yet never sparked the kind of understanding and rethinking their more illustrious  predecessor did. Phil Burton-Cartledge offers a powerful ideological response to this omission, though whether the decline of ‘Tory Britain’ translates into the Tories’ defeat at the polls who knows? 2022 will provide a route map toward the likelihood of that possibility.










2. Veteranhood : Rage and Hope in British Ex-Military Life Joe Glenton 

More than I care to remember the highpoint of Thatcherism was framed by her 1982 Falklands misadventure. No doubt next year Johnson will come out all guns blazing to misuse the 20th anniversary for any electoral gains he can muster. Likewise it was Iraq that framed Blair’s decline to the extraordinary point of being re-elected Prime Minister in ’05 on the lowest share of the vote, 35.2%, of any British government.  Both episodes quite rightly generated huge popular goodwill towards the veterans of these wars. Yet this goodwill, often mobilised in the cause of all manner of politics, scarcely understands what author, and former soldier, Joe Glenton calls ‘veteranhood’. In turns angry and informed this is a book that seeks a settlement entirely different from  the mawkish ‘help for heroes’ variety.  










3. The Forty-Year War in Afghanistan: A Chronicle Foretold Tariq Ali  

The undignified retreat of US, British and other forces from Afghanistan was undoubtedly one of the global news stories of the year.  The crushing defeat of a client state at the hands of an insurgency which whether we like it or not clearly enjoyed popular support has left a human mess the occupying powers had nothing resembling the will to clear up with anything much more than pitifully piecemeal efforts. Tariq Ali’s mix of the polemical and the analytical on this most wasteful of  conflicts are collected together in one handy volume to provide a much-needed wake up call for those who reminisce for the era of militarised  liberal interventionism without accounting for the ever-worsening bloody mess it contributed to.   










4. This Can’t be Happening George Monbiot 

If the horrors of 9/11and their aftermath dominated most of the 2000’s, and this year’s helpless retreat of the occupying powers as its client state collapsed in Afghanistan represents some kind of undignified endpoint, what’s next?  George Monbiot offers a brief, and to the point, case for the Climate Emergency. Few would argue with George’s choice but what makes his writing both urgently necessary and sharply astute is his combination of the factually investigative with the politically speculative.  George not only catalogues the sheer size of the environmental disaster awaiting the next generation’s coming of age but crucially the potential for constructing the kind of alternative to moderate, if not eliminate, this cataclysmic threat.  










5.  Woke Capitalism : How Corporate Morality is Sabotaging Democracy  Carl Rhodes

Such is the size of this fast-approaching environmental disaster that apart from the 21stcentury version of flat earthers there is no serious effort to deny it.  Yet incorporation of opposition and obfuscation of the facts on an industrial scale can be nearly as bad. ‘Greenwashing’ or as Carl Rhodes rather brilliantly puts it ‘ woke capitalism’ and his book provides just the kind of rigorous exposure of such antics corporations employ entire PR departments to avoid and never mind the costs. 










6. Work Without the Worker : Labour in the Age of Platform Capitalism Phil Jones

The ‘dignity of Labour’ vs ‘post-work’ debate can at times be vexatious with a strongly generational, inflection. That’s as ideological maybe, but doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having the argument.  The clue to why this is important is in the name, y’know the Labour party.  Readers don’t need to endorse each and every one of author Phil Jones’s conclusions to appreciate his five chapter themes in this admirably short n’ punchy book as the perfect jumping-off point for making such an argument productive (sic). 










7. Free : Coming of Age at the End of History Lea Ypi  

The accusation of ‘idealism’ at the expense of ‘practical politics’ is of course a familiar one. The necessity for both is effortlessly chronicled in Lee Ypi’s autobiographical account of growing up in first staunchly Communist, then post-Communist, Albania.  Her tale is both deeply and affectively personal and at the same time unapologetically political. It is a combination that makes Lea’s book a wonderfully essential read. 









8. Daring to Hope : My Life in the 1970s Sheila Rowbotham   

If there is one author and activist identified more than any other with the principle ‘the personal is political’ it is Sheila Rowbotham. Sheila’s follow up to her memoir of the 1960s, Promise of a Dream  carries her personal, and political story forward to 1970s second wave feminism, the uneasy relationship of the women's liberation movement with socialism and the enduring radical, potential, of building from the grassroots up.  Informative and inspirational, so much so it is liable to make the reader impatient to read what happens next, the Thatcherite 1980s. 









9. The Art of Activism  Steve Duncombe and Steve Lambert   

Steve Duncombe is the author of one of my favourite books on the very necessary fusion of politics and culture Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy. First published in 2007, and recently republished in a most welcome new and updated edition.  This new book, co-authored with Steve Lambert  is a how-to guide to practicing what they describe as ‘artistic activism’. Lavishly illustrated the text mixes ideas on how to ‘do’ politics with creative application to change the ‘look’ of politics too. Neither have the imprint of a corporate makeover, this is a process from below. Please, please, please would the US-based authors come to the UK  to run a training event?








10. Mixed Forms of Visual Culture Mary Anne Francis  

Mixed forms, the everyday in the hands of the artist transformed to achieve, project, provoke an entirely different response to the one utility had intended.  This apparently complex concept made sense to me as I think of my co-founder Hugh Tisdale's beautifully crafted Philosophy Football designs not as T-shirts, but as using the T-shirt as a platform for ideas. None of this is to suggest reviving the dire cultural reductionism of prolecult, rather art as transformative by means and purpose. These apparently complex yet applicable ideas for a political culture often lacking in an imaginative and engaging visual culture  are ready made for a next generation left for whom culture is a key terrain over which ideologies are contested. The book is beautifully packaged too, but priced out of anyone’s bracket for the lucrative library market. And so a different plea on behalf of this truly revelatory book. No criticism of the publisher, that’s their business, but a popular, competitively priced edition is surely deserved, there’s a readership for this, much-needed influence.










11. Renewal : A Journal of Social Democracy  

The best kept secret of Labour’s plural left is the quarterly journal Renewal.  Under-promoted, with too much of the look of an academic journal sure to put off all but the most inquisitive. Yet providing an exchange, and quality, of ideas nobody else in and around Labour provides.  The latest, Winter 2021, edition includes long form writing on nationhood, Labour’s absent future, the politics of emotion,  and much more.  Looking for a New Year’s resolution? Subscribe.









12. 2022 Verso Radical Diary and Weekly Planner  

Once it was the Big Red Diary from Pluto Press which was pretty much a must-have for a certain part of the 1980s’s outside left. In recent years Verso have produced a ready made 21st century version and this year’s, now with accompanying and very stylish notebook, most certainly doesn’t disappoint.  Illustrations and historical timeline spice up each week’s entries with short essays opening each month too. Rush to the keyboard and order one before 2022 is upon us.  


Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction aka Philosophy Football

NoteNo links in  this review are to Amazon, if buying books from corporate tax dodgers can be avoided, please do