The beautiful Pelé


Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman goes in search of what the game has lost


At Pelé's funeral this week it was noticeable how few of his surviving team-mates from the 1970 World Cup squad were present, only a few of those who followed him to Brazilian global superstardom, in particular Ronaldo and Ronaldinho both absent, and not many of Brazil's current stars either, Neymar the most high-profile absentee. What was it about Pelé they had failed to notice the game had lost and needed marking? 

World Cup Final 1970, just round the corner my childhood friend Grant Ashworth's family had recently acquired a colour TV, the first in the neighbourhood. Grant invited all his friends round for a Sunday afternoon, the game on the TV, his mum had baked a delicious cake. I don't have any distinct memories of the game but I do remember the fun we had, the excitement of watching, in colour, this extraordinarily gifted team, the players' joy at winning Brazil's third World Cup, which meant they got to keep it, oh, and that cake. Afterwards we all piled out into the sunshine. Brazil fans, for life, well after England, obviously.

This was Pelé's fourth World Cup but it is the one that frames almost all our memories of him and what he came to mean. Sweden 1958, his debut tournament as a 17 year old was unarguably his greatest tournament as an individual player, and after the ignominy of Brazil losing their 1950 home final to Uruguay the country's first World Cup win too. This was also the first, and to date only, World Cup all four home nations qualified for, Wales the most successful. Until the teenage Pelé famously 'broke Welsh hearts' after holding out, if anything looking like the likely winners, until Pelé scores the only goal of the match. A game few if any back home would have watched on the TV, let alone in colour, grainy after-the-event newsreel footage down the local cinema, at best. 1962 Chile, Pelé was injured in the Group stage and played no further part in the tournament, Brazil's second successive World Cup win. A promising England team made it through to the Quarters, this time it was England's turn to have their hearts broken, by a Pelé-less, Brazil. And so 1966, three-on-the-bounce with Pelé in his prime? Pre-tournament favourites, in both senses of the word, for many.  But brutal, clearly targeted and unpunished tackling of Pelé by opposition players put him, and Brazil ,out of the tournament at the group stage. A long forgotten footnote to England's triumph. 

The Brazil 1970 victory was something else, a team, not just Pelé but Gerson, Jairzinho, Rivelino too, for once they even had a decent goalkeeper, Felix, and the finest World Cup Final goal, of all time scored, not by Pelé, but Carlos Alberto.  This was the beginning of the era of televised football, for the lucky few in colour, but the access to watch at home pretty much universal, by the seventies in the UK 93% of homes had a TV. The stage for Pelé's triumph, global television. 

No other team sport comes remotely close to football's global appeal, as an individual sport boxing, well until the bastardisation of what constitutes a World Heavyweight Championship, the only sport that comes close in terms of global popular reach. It is no accident that when citing the biggest icons of twentieth century sport Pelé would often be coupled with Muhammad Ali. They both meant, and mean, so much for many countless billions. It is futile to juggle an argument of the two who was the 'greatest' of them all, they are equals but different.

I sometimes pose the question to students, name eleven past or present Brazilian footballers. Easy-peasy. Now name the current Brazilian President, blank faces. OK Lula has his well-deserved appeal, Bolsinaro his well-deserved notoriety, but both are names instantly familiar only to a select group outside of their own country and continent. Brazil's status around the world almost entirely reduced to its football. Of course this isn't right, since 2001 Brazil has been grouped with Russia, India and China, the four fastest growing economies, with South Africa added in 2010 to become 'BRICS'.  The survival of the Amazon rain forest, which is estimated to absorb a quarter of the world's C02  is central to our global climate's future prospects. The Brazilian city Porto Alegre pioneered participatory budgeting, for a while a hugely influential, idea on how to build economics,and politics, from the 'bottom up'.  And that, for a non-Brazil expert, is my just for starters. 

So why does Pelé matter? If I was to choose the world's three most popular figures of the latter part of the twentieth century my choice would be Bob Marley, Nelson Mandela and Pelé. OK we can argue over the particularities of my threesome but few would dispute each had a worldwide popularity of considerable magnitude.  Three black men, from the global south. Politics, music and football, but each had so much more than 'just' this to scale that appeal. 1970 Mexico,  Brazil v England, Group stage. Tournament favourites vs reigning world champions. In typically English style, a game we lost yet celebrate for the miraculous Gordon Banks of Stoke City save of what was otherwise a certain goal from then the world's most famous player, Pelé. A game that ended with the iconic picture of Bobby Moore and Pelé, stripped to their white and black chests, swapping shirts. Today we might think nothing of it, but it meant the world back then. Rivals, very different individuals, neither campaigners in the mould of two years previously, also in Mexico, Tommie Smith, John Carlos and their Olympic podium black power salutes. Yet in another way a sight, a picture, every bit as, arguably more so, significant. What can be an ugly game, part and parcel of an ugly society, made beautiful, the hope of a more beautiful society too. Pelé, Obrigado.  


 Further reading       

Alex Bellos Futebol: The Brazilian  Way of Life

David Goldblatt  Futebol Nation : A Football history of Brazil  

Tony Mason Passion of the People?  Football in South America


Limited edition Philosophy Football Pelé memorial shirt and print available from  here  





Mark Perryman is a Research Fellow in sport and leisure culture at the University of Brighton and co-founder oPhilosophy Football  





2023 A Year of Reading Dangerously


 Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman has found the books to give 2023 some sparks


2022 a year of politics living dangerously?  With three different Prime Ministers - one lasting all of 44 days the Conservative Party has written the book on it. But what reads in 2023 might help us to understand how a mix of ideas, culture and football can turn the dangerous into the hopeful? 











For a very original reminder of the 18 years 1979-1997 The Fascist GrooveThing : A History of Thatcher's Britain in 21 Mixtapes (for those put off by the title, don't be, Heaven 17!) if Sunak wins in 2024 he'll conceivably beat by a year, 19 years. Or, as seems more likely Labour wins Lisa Nandy would be one of the key figures in any 2024 Labour government, All In serves as her personal manifesto for office, and doesn't disappoint with the scale of radical ambition. Nathan Yeowell's edited collection of essays Rethinking Labour's Past  which while heavily loaded to a Blairite / old Labour right narrative does allow for a pluralism Keir and his henchpersons have done their worst to stamp out in Labour. The urgent necessity for pluralism is proved by Maurice Glasman's  Blue Labour: The Politics of the Common Good no need to sign up to the entire 'Blue Labour' manifesto of faith, family and patriotism to recognise there might be something in this worth engaging with. The Death of the Left : Why We Must Begin from The Beginning Again co-authored by Simon Winlow and Steve Hall doesn't make any such engagement easy. The 'Broad Church' anybody?   

One version of a radical left thriving within a broad progressive party is found in the US Democrats. Symbolised by Bernie Sanders or for a new generation Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The Rise of a New Left : How Young Radicals are Shaping the Future of American Politics from Raina Lipsitz serves to illustrate the scale of loss when radicalism is extinguished. Luke Savage's The Dead Center declares being better than Trump isn't enough, true, but isn't even a marginal gain better than none at all, or worse? 









Chantal Mouffe's latest book Towards a Green Democratic Revolution: Left Populism and the Power of Affects   showcases the ability of the best radical thinking to renew and reinvent  without losing the core of what made them radical in the first place.  A similar claim can be made of the anarcho-intellectual John Holloway who continues his treatise on horizontalism with Hope in Hopeless Times.  The collection Between Catastrophe and Revolution: Essays in Honor of Mike Davis sadly now serves as a radical obituary to a great thinker and writer we lost in 2022. Read to celebrate, or discover, Mike's truly unique expanse of thinking and insight. Eco-socialism has ambitions to fuse both these key elements with a pre-existing anti- capitalism. Allan Todd's Ecosocialism not Extinction goes in search of such a fusion.  Social Ecology and the Rojava Revolution   is an edited collection from The Internationalist Community of Rojava. An extraordinary effort to be resist and rebuild a practical ecology whilst being besieged by Jihadists, Assad and Erdo?an. David Camfield maps out a quasi-manifesto in Future on Fire:  Capitalism and the Politics of Change.










In the face of the scale of danger the Climate Emergency poses it would be easy to forget the divisions that criss-cross society every bit as dangerous. Sociologists Laura Harvey and Sarah Leaney's inspired collaboration with illustrator Danny Noble has produced Class : A Graphic Guide.  Kojo Koram's  Uncommon Wealth: Britain and the Aftermath of Empire absolutely locates race and racism within the framework  of the colonial and imperial legacies  which continue to shape modern (sic) Britain. 











What might an alternative framework of ideas to live dangerously by look like? The new edition of Mark Fisher's classic short book Capitalism Realism : Is There No Alternative? with the addition of a brilliant introduction by Alex Niven, short enough to be read in one sitting, the ideas big enough to make 2023 truly dangerous. China Miéville makes the case for The Communist Manifesto in his stirring commentary on the original text  A Spectre, Haunting.  Noam Chomsky has been a towering figure of radical thought for decades, pairing him with Scottish novelist James Kelman has produced Between Thought and Expression Lies a Lifetime: Why Ideas Matter









How to connect radical ideas with transforming institutions? David Renton's  Against The Law: Why Justice Requires Fewer Laws and a Smaller State is a book that manages to both provide the means to transform our not-fit-for-purpose legal system and appeal to the non-specialist reader. The BBC : A People's History by David Hendy  is a magnificent biography of one hundred years of the 'Beeb' an institution that more than any other serves to shape British politics, society  and culture. Arguably Palestine , and as a result Israel's treatment of, is the single institution that defines, and divides, what it means to be radical today. For an admirably humanist account wrapped in the personal, Raja Shehadeh's We Could Have Been Friends  My Father and I : A Palestinian Memoir










Two books from leading figures in the brilliant Hope not Hate campaign reveal the extent and dangers of the threat of the Far Right. Tommy : Politics.Drugs.Sex.Money  by Nick Lowles exposes 'Tommy Robinson'  the man behind the English Defence League for the fraudster and much worse besides he is. The Walk In : Fascists, Spies & Lies is Matthew Collins' true story behind the TV series The Walk In starring Stephen Graham as Matthew, featuring infiltration, conviction and the very real threat of Far Right terrorism. Jonathan Freedland's The Escape Artist tells the story of Rudolf Vrba who escaped from Auschwitz to expose the scale of the extermination underway there. Rudolf's story, Jonathan's skilful telling of, will inspire readers to not only remember, but to prevent, such a tale ever having to be told again. 











Comrades Come Rally by Michael Crowley reveals the scale of the potential of the 1930's and 1940s Popular Front against fascism via the story of one English city, Manchester and the Communist Party there. The first half of  Organize, Fight, Win edited by  Charisse Burden-Stelly and Jodie Dean covers the same period, this time in the USA, and specifically Black Communist Party women organising against both fascism and racism. With the second half continuing the account into the early days of what was to become the Civil Rights Movement.  For those interested in Communist history a subscription to the journal Twentieth Century Communism would be a fitting New Year treat. The latest edition's biographical essay on the life of Scottish Miners Leader Mick McGahey by Ewan Gibbs will more than suffice to convince, so good it really should be turned into a book, yes please Ewan.  With I Could Be So Good For You : A Portrait of the North London Working Class  John Medhurst takes a very different approach, a portrait of fifty years, 1950s-2000s, and how one community was remade via race, music and politics.  Or for another approach, the graphic novel for history-telling, my top 2022 picks from this genre Polyp's Tom Paine biography Paine and No Surrender  a history of the Suffragettes from two of the best in this field the Rickard sisters.   










The Guardian  described Qatar 2022 as 'a World Cup like no other'  a read of Blood on the Crossbar: The Dictatorship's World Cup by Rhys Richards is more than enough to convince that actually Qatar was a World Cup like most of the rest since 1930, absolutely framed by the political. Few journalists covering the tournament came close to providing the kind of insights into the host country as John McManus achieves with Inside Qatar : Hidden Stories from One of the Richest Nations on Earth a book that combines empathy and  critique. Two academic books further deepen our understanding of what was exceptional about Qatar 2022, and what wasn't.  Paul Michael Brannagan and Danyel Reiche's Qatar and the 2022 World Cup is both  informative on Qatar as a World Cup host nation and analytical of Qatar's 'soft power' ambitions for the tournament. Simon Chadwick is by some distance the best academic writer on sports marketing, his new book edited with others The Business of the World Cup the perfect introduction to the all-pervasive marketisation of this most global of tournaments. When Friday Comes  is a great title for James Montague's book, the single best read to understand Qatar as a distinctly Arabic World Cup, what it meant to the region, its people, in particular Palestine and Morocco.  And after that final, to look forward to the gargantuan monster of 2026, co-hosts Canada, Mexico, USA, 48 teams, 47 of which will go home disappointed, well it has to be How to Win the World Cup by Chris Evans. 


Meantime, league football is back, for fans of lower division and non-league clubs, it never went away.  Ned Boulting is so obviously a fan he feels like 'one of us ', and unusually for a  sports presenter a great sports writer too. Ned's latest book Square Peg, Round Ball revisits his time as a TV football presenter. Gary Neville'The People's Game is 300 pages worth of his most opinionated punditry and doesn't disappoint. For a moving, highly personal, tribute to what football means in the wake of when we almost lost it, the Covid pandemic read Daniel Gray'The Silence of the Stands . From Carlos Viñas  Football in the Land of the Soviets details the revolutionary role of football in the wake of the 1917 Russian Revolution, a tale of inspiration squandered first by the Stalin, today by the murderous Putin.  But perhaps we don't need words to mix football, inspiration and change, the book Football Murals by Andy Brassell provides a worldwide gallery of the game's emerging street art.  But what about the women? England Women's Euro 2022 win has come too soon to spark a wave of publishers investing in books on the women's game, next year's Women's World Cup certainly should. In the meantime we can enjoy two that set the standard, high, A Woman's Game by Suzy Wrack  and from Jean Williams The History of Women's Football  

Away from the football, and politics in search of a novel to brighten up 2023's dark winter evenings or to pack for a summer beach read? Chris Brookmyre never disappoints with his plot-ridden, Scotland-centred thrillers The Cliff House his 2022 latest.

And what to look forward to from the kitchen? Prue Leith provides simple recipes to taste-up the most basic meal, of all, with Bliss on Toast or on a grander scale but still geared towards the easy-to-cook  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Good Comfort.  

How to organise fitting all this reading in? A diary of course, the hippest in style, the most acute politically The Verso Radical Diary and Weekly Planner.  









And my number one pick for dangerous reading in '23? As I have on my Philosopohy Football bookshelf a book with the most curious title I've ever come across Fan Culture in European Football and the Influence of  Left Wing Ideology well, how could I possibly resist  Stewart McGill and Vincent Raison's The Roaring Red Front  and I wasn't disappointed. The most unusual football tourism book readers are ever likely to come across, and all the better for it, exclusively visiting what they describe as 'the world's top left-wing football clubs'. To keep hopes aflame over the next twelve months, a second volume please!  Meanwhile enjoy, explode. 



    Signed by author The BBC : A People's History from Philosophy Football here



Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football



Why Terry Hall was so Special


Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman recalls The Specials front man    








4 May '79, the morning after Thatcher's General Election victory. In an effort to cheer myself up I pop down to the independent record store tucked away beside one of the platforms at Hull railway station to pick up a debut single on the day it was released. In the pre-digital era of my late teens at Hull University rumours of a new band to listen out for would come via the New Musical Express weekly paper and John Peel's radio show. Both had been plugging The Specials for weeks. Gangsters, I wasn't disappointed.  

The first time I caught The Specials live was at London's Hammersmith Palais. A benefit gig for The National Council for One Parent Families. Back home from Hull, I'd travelled up from North Surrey into what at the time was for me a very different world: multicultural, rebellious, fashion-conscious big city youth culuure. Fellow 2 Tone artists The Selecter were on the bill too, the dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and all-girl band The Mo-dettes. Ska and reggae,  punked-up feminism, music we could dance to, songs we could sing our hearts out for, and at the centre of it all this almost motionless young man, not a lot older than me but infinitely more cool, Terry Hall, conducting musical proceedings with vocals that bordered on the spoken word.   

Back at university in the autumn the first 2 Tone Tour was announced and a bunch of us organised a minibus over to Sheffield to see The Specials with Madness and The Selecter. The Top Rank was packed out when we arrived, every bit as angry as punk but dressing, and dancing, in an entirely different manner, or as The Madness tour T-shirts put it ' Fuck Art, Let's Dance'.  However the South Yorkshire Police contingent present saw not a crowd out for a good time, but a mob, same as ten years  later they did at Hillsbrough, with tragic consequences. And so their commander marched on to the stage to announce they were cancelling the gig and instructed us all to leave immediately. Terry Hall's response? Ignoring the senior police officer's instructions Terry takes the stage too, encourages us all in a sit-down dancefloor protest and then leads the entire audience in chorus after chorus of ' Harry Roberts is our friend, he kills coppers!'  A tad impolite, and a half, the police beat a retreat, the gig goes on and don't we just dance, dance and then some more.  

The original Specials line-up only lasted two short years. Effectively led not by Terry but by Jerry Dammers who re-established the band as The Special AKA. Terry, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple left to form The Funboy Three. Some good tunes but in all honesty the split revealed the sheer musical genius of Jerry Dammers they'd left behind, showcased in The Special AKA's sole album In the Studio. Jerry and Terry would never work together again, musical differences have a lot to answer for.   

Before those differences finally erupted a last record all together it would be hard for any other break-up to top, Ghost Town. Uncannily released as inner-city England erupted in riots from Brixton to Toxteth and most places in-between and beyond the lyrics, the music and accompanying video captured the desolation and destruction early Thatcherism heaped upon us, a legacy we're still living with today.  The Specials' final gig was destined to be the big Leeds Rock against Racism Carnival. Still in Hull, I'd finished my degree a few weeks earlier, the plan was to travel over by means of a party before graduating. Then, an unforgettable telephone call, the news my mother had died. I was just 21 years old, I'd grown up with her Multiple Sclerosis since I was seven years old. One of our joys every Thursday night having supper watching Top of the Pops together, something my father, couldn't stand. So, no final gig, instead a long mournful journey home, but no regrets, on this occasion I knew where I needed to be. 

Years later I bumped into Terry Hall. Tottenham High Road, Spurs home to Man Utd. Terry had always been a red, hardcore, a travelling fan. And I was living in Tottenham back then, a Spurs fan back then too.  No, I didn't expect to meet Terry on the way to the game, but there he was all splayed out on the pavement, looking the very worst for drinking wear.  Shocked and surprised, I asked if he was alright, he slurred back something incoherent and clearly didn't welcome the intrusion. I moved on, it was all a bit sad, and even sadder now. 

Then 1993, I caught The Specials comeback tour at Brixton Academy.  As good as they ever were, all the memories of that 1979-81 moment came flooding back, dancing shoes on for the ska'd-up skanking, and never mind the expanding waistline, the receding hairline,  

Terry Hall most of us hardly knew you, but it felt like we did, you'll be missed just the same as anyone we were once close to would be, for the times and laughs we shared, what those moments still mean to us. And irreplaceable? For the sake of this generation and generations to come, the Ghost Towns that continue to blight our lives, lets hope not. 




 The Philosophy Football 2 Tone T-shirt selection is available here





Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football  





Alternative SPOTY 


Philosophy Football Mark Perryman's Sports Politics of the Year selection


There's not a lot I nowadays agree with Julie Burchill on. Her, and partner in late 1970s punk verbal vitriol Tony Parsons', decline and fall to reactionary bugbears is deservedly notorious. However when Julie in her customary barbed style declared ' Sport. Personality. Now there's an interesting idea.' Well I had to laugh, and agree. 

Wednesday night's prime time slot for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year is, and always has been, a platform for the celebritification of sport. To entrench the entirely false division between sport and the social, the cultural, the political that frames it. To deny the existence of a sporing economy that is a key factor in success, and failure.  To ignore how all sports are socially constructed. OK p'raps its not Gary Lineker and Clare Balding's job to tackle any of this on Wednesday but the enduring resistance to doing so by too much of the sporting establishment, including most of the sports media, elevates sport as almost entirely lacking context. Or as CLR James in his 1963 book Beyond a Boundary famously put it :

 "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know."  

An idea further developed by Garry Whannel, who's 1983 book Blowing the Whistle : The Politics of Sport sought to establish a socio-cultural understanding of the games we watch, and play :

“Sport is marked down as a natural, taken-for-granted activity. You don’t need to talk or write about it. You just do it.” 

It was Garry's book that more than any influence started me thinking about the sport I just 'did', at the time road running, and within a year I'd had my first piece published, on the London Marathon as a participatory-spectacle, in the magazine Marxism Today

So almost 60 years on from Beyond a Boundary, almost 40 years on from Blowing The Whistle  how about if we rearrange S-P-O-T-Y to spell ' Sports Politics of the Year' and think about what 2022 might look like thru' such a lens? 

I'd start with the Women's Euros, and not just 'cos England won it, well, actually yes, beating Germany to boot! There's nothing that boosts sport like domestic success. In England women's football case via two particular dimensions., Both of which deserve to be neither overestimated nor underestimated. 

First, a very different way for fans to parade our Englishness, free of, as the rather well-worn phrase puts it, 'toxic masculinity'. As someone who has followed England to four World Cups  I'd argue that this 'soft Englishness' has always existed and been majoritarian in England fan culture but when a coked up lad stuffs a flaming flare up his arse the afternoon England men are in a Euros final the media framing would convince most we're all like that. The absence of such enabled England women's fans to establish a different framing, but a gut patriotism lacking such softening still exists, it won't be entirely reversed by England women winning the Euros alone. This is a version of Englishness embedded in a martial, imperial tradition mixed up with a 'fuck-you' anti- social behaviour strand, all of which 'toxic masculinity' alone isn't enough to account for. 

Second, the impact on women's participation playing football. Attendance levels for England women, the October game versus USA at Wembley sold out, the April game versus Brazil will likely do the same. The top Women's clubs, Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd, Arsenal can fill Stamford Bridge, the Etihad and Emirates, Old Trafford with tens of thousands of fans.  Good, but this is spectating, not sport. The key to a healthier society, in every sense of the word is doing sport not just watching it. Elite success boosts the latter, it has next to no lasting effect on the former. Transforming school sport to enable all girls (and boys) to play football from the earliest possible age is key, with crucially such opportunities to be vastly expanded for post-school years, don't bet your house on any of this happening on the scale required.  

Next up the men's Football World Cup in Qatar. A groundbreaking recognition that 'sport isn't political' is oxymronic?  No, not quite. The approach of the Guardian, liberal opinion and the wider sports media more widely, was frankly embarrassing.  The Guardian declared this was ' a World Cup like no other' an entirely ahistorical approach ignoring the host of the 1934 tournament, one Benito Mussolini, the brutal Argentinian Dictatorship hosting 1978 or Vladimir Putin in 2018 just fouy years after his invarion of Ukraine's Crimea region, and that's just for starters.  Once the games kicked off the Guardian's grandly titled coverage 'Qatar: Beyond the Football'  became a mere footnote to the match reports, as it was always destined to be. Meanwhile the England team's protest amounted to wearing an armband, until it was decided in the face of FIFA opposition even this was too much.  Far more significant than any of this damp squibness was the widespread popularisation of the Palestine flag, and cause by fans, in particular Morroco's, and players too on this the biggest global sporting stage of all. Perhaps now European FAs, commentators, pundits and football journalists might question why the Israeli team competed in the European World Cup and Euro's qualifying groups their clubs compete in UEFA European competitions, but Palestine where they belong in the Asian confederation contests. Because Israel was expelled due to their militarised mistreatment of Palestinians. Will the aforementioned ever mention this salient fact? I'm not holding my breath.    

Across October to December uniquely England were competing in four World Cups. Men's football World Cup England exited at the Quarter Final stage, statistically top eight is our ranking in this tournament. The men's rugby league, semi-final, exit. The England Women's Rugby team came oh so close to lifting their World Cup trophy but ended up losing finalists. Only the men's T20 triumphed to be crowned World Cup winners. Those of us who share the Jamesian philosophy however would ask, apart from football, are any of these others truly World Cups?  Sure, aping football they have the title but the contenders are absolutely restricted to ex British Empire states with assorted hangers-on not much more than making up the numbers for the group stages. Two factors account for this. One, football was spread worldwide by trade, unlike cricket and rugby by empire. Two, football requires next to no facilities, simple rules, all body shapes can excel, and there's a global path to a professional career. Or in other words, all sports are socially constructed. 

Ireland's test series triumph over the All Blacks absolutely deserves to be ranked as one of the greatest team sport achievements of all time, never mind 2022. But Irish rugby is a bt of a curiosity. Unlike football and the Olympics, a United Ireland team. The all-Ireland Irish Rugby Football Union predates 1916 and depite partition was never dissolved, This most English, and most certainly not Gaelic, of sports with its heartlands in Leinster and Munster never cast out, nor those who stick with the Union and in every other regard rejecting any notion of a United Ireland. And just like the football with Jack Charlton, the team's greatest success under an English manager, Andy Farrell. Given the centrality of Republicanism vs Unionism to politics north of the border, and a resurgent Sinn Fein south of tthe border while it doesn't do to overstate the significance of a team that unites both sides, but nor does it help to almost entirely ignore this most unexpected symbol of what a united Ireland could look like, not give it a mention, either.  

So there we have it, a first stab at an alternative SPOTY. Not to ruin our enjoyment of sport, watching or doing, but to enjoy, enrich and empower. I'm sure Beth Mead, Messi or Mbappé, Ben Stokes, Andy Farrell will enjoy the 'other' SPOTY night out and if they win them, their gongs entirely deserved.  But sport, and politics, is all the poorer when it is treated as anything but each indivisible from the other.  

Further Reading 

CLR James Beyond a Boundary 

Garry Whannel Original 1983 edition Blowing the Whistle : The Politics of Sport  Updated edition Culture, Politics and Sport : Blowing the Whistle Revisited 


  Philosophy Football's 'Alternative SPOTY' T-shirt selection is available here 



Mark Perryman is a Research Fellow in Sport and Leisure Culture at the University of Brighton and co-founder of Philosophy Football










How Steve Bell's visual dissent targets the entire establishment


Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman details the politics of Penguinism


Politics can be an ugly business. There is a nasty habit of refusing to listen to those we disagree with, a failure to recognise that through difference we can learn from each other. Such inbuilt attitudes are common across left, right, in-between and green. Nor are sections of social movements immune either. So where lies the political cartoonist's right to offend?

Steve Bell is without much doubt the pre-eminent political cartoonist of his generation, or in other words from Thatcher to Sunak. He mercilessly caricatures the lot of them, not a physical, or political feature is spared. This is The Political Establishment, they deserve everything they get, however Steve's work is never hateful, sharply critical certainly, yet  almost warmly appreciative of the make-believe characters he crafts out of their reality.

This year marked the fortieth anniversary of the 1982 Falklands War. With Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Out Out! Out! plumbing the depths of unpopularity the Argentine invasion of these faraway and half-forgotten islands with considerably more sheep than human occupants provided Thatcher the opportunity to wrap herself in what Stuart Hall described as :

" A rampant and virulent 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."    

Steve draws in outright opposition to such ideas but with a humour almost entirely lacking in conventional so-called activism. His militancy best represented by his penguins, reducing Thatcher's militarism to the sheer stupidity of the idea that the Empire was back, the 'Great' put back into Great Britain and you can stuff that up yer Argies. 

The necessity for such dissent couldn't have been more obvious at the time with Labour led by  Michael Foot, once a key figure in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, now in hot pursuit of the Tories' march to war. Stuart Hall, again:  

" More scandalous than the sight of Mrs Thatcher's best hopes going out with the navy has been the demeaning spectacle of the Labour front-bench leadership rowing its dinghy as rapidly as it can in hot pursuit. Only of course - here the voice of moderation - 'Not so far! Slow down! Not so fast!' "   

Penguins, John Major with his underpants on the outside, Tony Blair as the manic moderniser, a condom-headed David Cameron accompanied by an S&M clad George Osborne, Bumface Boris Johnson and most recently Sir Cardboard Starmer. This is the political, establishment but not as we're used to knowing it. 

And then there's the British monarchy. Sainted, any critique beyond the pale. What better target for Steve's visual dissent? But why should the Monarchist majority have all the fun of the royal family merch and tat? Philosophy Football first worked with Steve on the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, his Damian Hirst-inspired 'Diamond Liz' mug perfect for raising a disloyal toast. Since then with Strve's help we've 'celebrated' a Royal Wedding, Royal birth, another Royal Jubilee, and of course next year for many the first Royal Coronation of our lifetime. With each and every subvertised Royal Crest he creates for these occasions as always with Steve the opposition is sharply obvious, the human warmth of his caricature conjuring humour out of dissent.When the Guardian made the ludicrous decision to axe Steve's If... cartoon strip he marked his final week with those much-loved Penguins. Anti-establishment to the last, a quiet rebellion in the face of all that's wrong in politics, an exposure of the limits of a common-sense discourse that is anything but commonsensical, by Penguins! Nothing could represent Steve Bell's artistic genius of visual dissent better, and whatever 2023 holds, King Chuck the Third with the crown on his head, Sir Cardboard Starmer knocking on the door of Number Ten, we'll need plenty more of that. Penguins ahoy!



Steve Bell's King Charles III Coronation Mug is available from Philosophy Football here                       



Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football   







In defence of the Guardian-reading Tofu-eating wokerati


Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman speaks up for a much-maligned minority



OK I can think of a fair few minorities in more urgent need to mount the barricades for. And yes, it's easy to mock, or if the intellectual fancy takes us critique too.  But when Suella Braverman, of the planeful of refugees and asylum seekers jetting off towards deportation to Rwanda dream, uttered these words her politically malicious intent was obvious to all, or at least it should have been.  

Guardian readers, lower-case liberals and for the most part middle class too. At a recent Labour Party event in Lewes where I live which Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland spoke at the audience was asked how many read the paper. Almost the entire room of 200 hands went up in the air. We all had a good laugh at our own expense, but then this is a town which boasts not a single Tory councillor and hasn't had one in years. The Labour Party, currently enjoying a surge in membership, has a longstanding problem of a narrowing social base of those who join. This certainly needs addressing, but if it is done as some would seem to advocate from the workerist  left as an act of class conscious  self-harm, another Guardian reader, no thanks, what precisely does this achieve? 

Suella knew exactly what she was doing when she conjured up her trilogy of targets. This was a nakedly right-wing populism to seek to pin liberal values, environmentalism, anti-racism on a middle-class sock puppet and give it a good bashing. But all three have an actuality of support  which is cross-class, politically plural and of a magnitude which is her worst nightmare. Hence her, and others, ambition to stereotype and in the process marginalise the opposition.  

Britain has changed hugely from the days of Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher and other purveyors of this kind of right-wing populism. Nigel Farage did his worst to resurrect it via UKIP and Brexit. But the true success of this campaign belongs to the brilliant manoeuvre of Dominic Cummings to pitch the referendum vote as 'Take Back Control ' v s 'Remain, keep everything as it is'. In the process exposing a Guardian-reading liberal shortcoming, an inability to engage with the reasons why others might disagree with our particular world view in order to construct a populist progressive bloc. that includes those who retain their misgivings. Remain? Leave it as it is, an institution with next to no popular support, let alone popular identification with, across British society, was a campaign doomed to failure from the start. A self-referential liberalism at its worst.  

But there is another way. I religiously read the Guardian from the sports pages backwards. Every day whatever is on the front pages I turn to the match reports, sporting commentary, news and opinion first. Here I read, Jonathan Liew in particular, writers who by exploring the indivisibility of sport from the political help to construct in my mind and political practice the basis of a radical-popular politics. Carrying out  Stuart Hall's maxim so vital for any such project  It is through culture that processes of social change make themselves most dramatically visible." The most Europeanised institution in English society? A Premier League football club, increasingly Championship and lower divisions too.  Manager and coaching staff, players, sponsors and advertisers, fan-base, 'getting into Europe' the ultimate competitive ambition for clubs and fans, the Euros second only to the World Cup the ambition for England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. Tap into this and Leave would have lost, the failure to do so and posing the alternative as the uncritical, status quo, wrapped in an EU flag hitherto only seen in public worn by the European Ryder Cup team - yes, another popular dimension missed - Remain doomed to defeat.

Race, national identity and Englishness, the break-up of the Union, globalisation, petro-dollar funded soft power, in Stuart Hall's words through sport made 'dramatically visible'. Debating the complexities of transgender women's rights vs all women's rights minus the overheated polarisation which only serves to obscure and obstruct. Or to get a tad philosophical as the Qatar World Cup fills the Guardian sports pages, page after page, be I ever so humble a rather good article situating  the tournament both historically and betwixt universalism vs cultural relativism. All of this informed by what should be the foundation of a radical politics, the cultural and social indivisible from the political and economic.  The Guardian as a newspaper does this better than most, getting up the nose of both reactionaries and class reductionists.   

A bit woke? Yes can be, the self-referential does no cause any political favours. But at its best, connects the popular to the political to help us understand, and act. Give me that over either  Suella's hateful stereotyping  or an overdose of liberal guilt every time. So no Suella I'll stick with the Guardian-reading wokerati if you don't mind. But there is one item on her list I'm in agreement with. Vegetarian yes, but I really can't stand tofu.


Further Reading

Anthony Barnett The Lure of Greatness: England's Brexit and America's Trump  

Stuart Hall  Selected Political Writings


The Philosophy Football Guardian-reading Tofu-eating Wokerati T-shirt range is available from here


Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football







Love Football not FIFA


Mark Perrymanof Philosophy Football argues to understand Qatar 2022 start with how the World Cup is always political 


Today, Sunday, the Qatar World Cup kick off.  As part of the week preceding  'Stadiums of Shame' screamed the Guardian back page sports headline on Tuesday, while inside two pages of facts and figures featuring the plight of migrant workers, former German international Philipp Lahm saying he won't be going because the World Cup doesn't belong in Qatar, plus the launch of a new online resource  beyond the football.        

All of this is being framed by the editorial self-justification 'This is a World Cup like no other.' Meanwhile yesterday, as with every Saturday preceding a World Cup for as long as I can  remember there wwas free with the Guardian their 56-page guide to the tournament full of 'inimitable team--by-team guides' followed on today's with the Observer a free World Cup 'brilliant wallchart'. Confused? We might well be.    

Mmm, or as the terrace chant goes ' If you know your history...'  because the idea Qatar is 'like no other' is the product of a deep-seated ahistoricism. Qatar is simply the latest World Cup to be used as a political platform. In this key regard we cut through both the cultural relativism and the liberal platitudes. To recognise there is nothing remotely 'like no other' about this World Cup, rather it suits the well-worn norm, would be a start. 

To begin at the beginning, 1930, the first World Cup, hosted by Uruguay, the tournament invented by a Frenchman, Jules Rimet, organised by FIFA, founded by another Frenchman, Robert Guérin. The FA, never knowingly described as the English FA, because after all we invented the game, promptly announce they would be boycotting it. Nothing to do with human rights or the like in Uruguay, rather the very idea these Johnny Foreigners might think they can run our game. The next one England boycotted as well 1934, 1938 too before finally entering the 1950 World Cup.  A squad of England legends, including Billy Wright, Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney, promptly knocked out at the group stage. England having been beaten by the USA, at the time a team of amateurs. No, football didn't come back home (sic) back then either, and we've had to live with the ideological legacy ever since. 

The 1934 World Cup, host Mussolini's Italy, his Blackshirts explicitly used the Italian national team to build support for fascism, winning their home tournament, and France 1938 too, the first team to win an away World Cup.  Or Prime Minister Harold Wilson turning England 's 1966 win into a reason to vote Labour ' Have you noticed we only win the Word Cup under a Labour government'. An old Labour pledge that has stood the test of time, in this case more's the pity. World Cup 1970, Israel qualify via the Asian Football Federation (AFC), which its a member of. One World Cup later Israel is forced to leave the AFC because most member countries refuse to play a nation that mistreats Palestine in the way Israel does. UEFA on the other hand welcomes Israel with open arms, the only non-European country it has allowed to join. World Cup 1974 the USSR team are expelled from the tournament for refusing to play Chile following Pinochet's coup, Chile take part in their place. Or the last World Cup, 2018, Putin's World Cup, just four years after his annexation, aka invasion, of Crimea, this time round 2022, all Russian participation banned. Qatar, a World Cup 'like no other', no, in a myriad of ways like all the others, framed by politics, most of it bad.

For this World Cup the England team flew out to Qatar in a plane renamed for the trip 'Rainbow.' A powerful and very public statement of LGBT support in the face of widespread laws in Qatar outlawing both LGBT relationships and a variety of women's rights we take for granted.  Support amplified by widespread coverage of the issue in the sports media too. Good. Though on that plane there wasn't a single out gay male player, nor do any of the squad play alongside any out gay men, none managed by an out gay man. To be gay and out in England isn't illegal, yet to play professional football it might as well be. Perhaps a degree of self-reflection wouldn't go amiss.       

Qatar using, abusing, the World Cup for political ends, it was ever thus. This is the downside of football as the one truly global sport. Yes Rugby (both versions) and cricket (all versions) have their World Cups but they're not truly global are they? These are sports fundamentally framed by the British empire with the odd other international hangers-on who can score upsets but never get remotely close to the latter stages of the tournament. The winners of football's World Cup are a likewise select few from Europe and South America, but in contrast to the cricket and rugby World Cups semi-finalists, quarter-finalists come from every continent, every corner of the world. This is the upside, including Qatar, a World Cup as a festival of popular internationalism. 

I'm lucky enough to have travelled as an England fan to four World Cups including Asia's first, Japan and Korea 2002, Africa's first, South Africa 2010. Never mind, well actually I do mind, a lot, England didn't come close to lifting the trophy, the experience was utterly unforgettable. Yes, it's a holiday of privilege but being there is also hopelessly mixed up with, despite the unfamiliar and difference, what we shared as visitors with our hosts, the love of football, not as tourists, but as fans, united. That's what Qatar should be about. The first Middle Eastern World Cup, good. The first in a majority Muslim country, good. The first that recognises not the entire world follows the European (not even all of Europe) league season calendar, August-May, good. But of course, we all know it won't, and that is a huge loss, barely recognised.  

There are certainly plenty of good reasons to give this World Cup a miss, the mistreatment and appalling deaths of migrant workers who bult the magnificent stadiums teams are so much looking forward to playing in near the top. The corrupt way in which the bid was secured too. Though England were part of that round of bidding too and played an international in Trinidad and Tobago with the sole intention of getting that country's vote.  England won, lost the vote, moral high ground abandoned. 

To boycott or not to boycott?  In the 1970s protests and disruption stopped overseas tours from Apartheid South Africa and led directly to South Africa being banned from international football sport by FIFA, as well as the Olympics. Result. But let's be brutally honest for Qatar it's a non-question. Despite all the coverage, all the exposure of a media determined to expose Qatar as an unsuitable host and give the tournament every bit of coverage they will provide absolutely per usual, there is no mass, popular movement. Because the contradiction is shared by all those looking forward to the games but not having much time, across a wide variety of reasons, not all good, for the country where they're being played, and next to no time for the organisation that chose that country as the host. Best chance of a boycott? England exit in ignominy at the Group stage and the boycott will be unstoppable.  Prospects for solidarity? Wales march on triumphantly to the knock-out stages and there's a tidal wave of Welsh solidarity, with their team. Because when it comes down to it the for next four weeks any moral gymnastics can be reduced to four words. Love football not FIFA.

Further Reading Mark Perryman Ingerland : Travels with a Football Nation  

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football

   The Philosophy Football World Cup 2022 Love Football not FIFA badge and T-shirt  range is available from here



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