A Poppy for Our Thoughts


Ahead of  the England vs Scotland game Mark Perryman responds to FIFA’s Poppies ban

The last time England played Scotland in a competitive match at Hampden Park was also in November, 1999, it was preceded by none of the manufactured row about whether the teams should have poppies embroidered on their shirts.  The tabloids were more interested in a good old-fashioned football rivalry instead. The Sun greeting the fixture with the headline ‘Jocks Away’ while north of the border the Daily Recordsought to put  England manager Kevin Keegan’ over-confidence in its place ‘Boastbusters’ with the unforgettable tagline ‘ Scots v The Auld Enemy : See Pages 2,3,4,5,6.7,62,63,64,65,66, 67 & 68.’ This was pre Salmond and Sturgeon, the irresistible rise of the SNP and the near wipeout of Scottish Labour MPs. And it was before UKip’s forward march too,. Culminating in #Torybrexit , a populist version of English nationalism against all things that Europe, and Scotland  seems to represent in terms of broadly social-democratic values versus a neoliberal free-for-all.

None of this entirely explains the row over the players’ wearing poppies but it does provide a context . It is the same with the emergence of a warped English patriotism that reduces the heroism and sacrifice of those who gave their lives to defend this country in World War Two to just another football chant ‘Two World Wars and One World Cup’ . Scarcely present in ’66 when England were beating West Germany in the final, with the Charlton brothers in the side who had vivid memories of growing up during bombing raids on Tyneside while a decent chunk of England’s support in the stands were of an age who’d fought in that war too. Instead the chants emerged after England’s loss to West Germany on penalties at Italia ’90, cranked up again by the same result to the same opponents at Euro ’96. And all this during an era when euroscepticism  led by John Major’s ‘bastards’ opposition on the Tory benches emerged to force a key dividing line in British politics.

This is the context for the current row . An act of remembrance is not of itself political. But who are we rememberjng? What did they fight for ? Where did they come from to join that fight? The clue is in the title of the two conflicts being marked World Wars One and Two.  Britain had a special role as combatants in both but we were not alone. The teams of France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway, or from further field the Commonwealth countries, the USA, USSR are not clamouring to wear a poppy on their shirts this November. When it becomes all about just the home nations while playing internationals the meaning inevitably changes.

FIFA bans all political symbols from adorning any national kits.  The Irish are threatened with being punished for embroidering the Easter Rising centenary on to theirs. Almost every FIFA-affiliated country could make a similar case from South Africa and Israel via Armenia and Palestine to Syria and the Ukraine. The Tuesday after England play Scotland they take on Spain in the 80th anniversary year of British and others countries’ volunteers travelling to Spain to join the defence of the Spanish Republic against Franco’s fascists. Is the FA suggesting the England team wear something to mark this special moment of solidarity between our two countries? No, no such suggestion. Some symbols are OK. Others not, a choice made by politics.   

We cannot escape the fact that sport is political, it is a contest just like the one on the pitch.  Currently in American sport there is a growing movement of athlete-activism . The NFL player Colin Kaepernick kneeling respectfully but defiantly during the playing of the National Anthem because for millions of Americans, despite Trump, #BlackLivesMatter. When USA Women’s Football  International, World Cup winner and Olympic Football Gold medallist Megan Rapinoe did the same whilst representing her country she was doing something unheard of over here.

Or maybe not. Gary Lineker has been hounded by the tabloids for his views on refugees not just because for what he is saying, but for who he is and was. A footballer, with views, with politics ? What right does he have to hold such opinions?  But of course sport is full of opinions, some of which we agree with others we don’t.

I won’t attempt to predict the England v Scotland score but two things I can be certain of. There won’t be a single Union Jack waved by England fans whereas 50 years ago  when England hosted the World Cup the FA managed to get the host country’s flag wrong on all official publicity, the Union Jack not the St George Cross . And there will be plenty of chants inviting the Scots impolitely to stick Nicola Sturgeon somewhere rude. That last time these two teams met in a competitive match, back in '99, I doubt many could have named the SNP  leader let alone be much bothered about him.

My beef isn’t with the poppy nor acts of remembrance. The state-sanctioned patriotism serves to obscure the consequences of carnage from the causes of conflict but that is something to contest not retreat from.  The argument should be bigger than this  annual dust-up over the poppy. It is about breaking down the false division between sport and politics, to recognise that all sport is political, and for those of us with a progressive vision we have a role in shifting those politics on, and off the pitch, from the reactionary to our side, whatever team we support or none.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ akaPhilosophy Football from where the 1914 Poppies Remembrance T-shirt is available.



They Did Not Pass


Eighty years ago, 4th October 1936 and Oswald Mosley was preparing to lead a parade of hate. His British Union of Fascists were to march through London's East End home to the Capital's single largest Jewish community. The Blackshirts intent was clear, to spread fear and terror with their vile and violent ant-semitism. Except they didn't. They coudn't because on that day 100,000 Eastenders turned out, of all faiths and none, to stand with their Jewish neighbours and at Cable Street first they stopped the Fascists and then forced them into humiliating retreat. They did not pass.

For the anniversary Philosophy Football's specially-made short film combines archive images soueced by David Rosenberg author of Rebel Footprints : Uncovering London's Radical HIstory with a Heaven 17 soundtrack of We Don't Need That Fascist Groove Thang. In music and pictures against fascism then,now and forever.


The Philosophy Football 80th anniversary Cable Street T-shirt is available from here 


Our Front is Popular


Mark Perryman revisits 1936 when anti-fascism was the cause home and abroad

‘ Hurrah for the Blackshirts!’ The notorious Daily Mail headline is just one chilling indication of the very real threat Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists posed in the mid 1930s. Inspired by the successful rise to power of Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany Mosley sought to galvanise support via a combination of naked anti-semitism and brute force.  By 1936 he was attracting both well-heeled establishment support and thousands to his rallies where  any protests would be dealt with violently and without scarcely any intervention by the police.

On 4th October 1936 Mosley planned the BUF’s biggest and boldest initiative yet. His uniformed Blackshirts would march through London’s East End, home to one of the country’s largest Jewish communities. The intention was quite clear, to cause fear and stir up hate. On the day more than a hundred thousand East Enders turned out to protect their community, of whatever faith or none. The fascists were forced to retreat. They did not pass. But there was also a realisation that protest alone would not stop the hateful ideas that Mosley sought to encourage as a vicious diversion from the causes of the East End’s very real problems. Phil Piratin, one of the key organisers of the Cable Street protest, argued successfully that the key to the area’s problems was poor housing, slum landlords, steep rent rises and evictions. He helped organise tenants, including those with BUF sympathies, separating the cause of their living conditions from the lies the fascists spread. Piratin was a Communist, in the 1945 General Election just nine years after the Fascists thought they could rule the East End he was elected the Communist MP for Stepney.

Within weeks of Cable Street the Spanish Civil War that had begun in July with Franco’s armed rebellion against the democratically elected Republican Government led to the formation of the International Brigades. Travelling to Spain, mostly with next-to-no military training, British volunteers went there to join the country’s battle for land and freedom against Franco’s fascism.  An internationalism which was criminalised by their own government which backed instead a useless policy of non-intervention while Hitler and Mussolini armed unimpeded their Spanish ally Franco.  Preceding the International Brigades foreign volunteers simply formed units to help defend the Republic, amongst the first was the Tom Mann Centuria made up of Brits living and working in Barcelona.  Once the British Battalion was officially formed it joined the 15th Brigade which was primarily, though not exclusively, English-speaking.  The fighting Spanish forces included Catalan nationalists , anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists and parties such as the POUM which George Orwell famously fought alongside. All were united however, for the most part, in what was known as a ‘Popular Front’ led by socialists and communists.

In 1938 the International Brigades left Spain and within less than a year Franco had completed his victory, a fascist regime installed in Spain. Shortly after Hitler invaded Poland, World War Two began.  On the Brigade’s departure the Communist MP Dolores Ibárruri, known forever as La Pasionaria, spoke, her words remain an inspiration for all those who resist oppression, wherever, whatever, whenever.

“It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees."

The Popular Front which inspired both those who stopped the Blackshirts at Cable Street and those who joined the International Brigades was based on a simple idea. Concentric circles of unity. At its centre was the working-class movement, in the 1930s this was most notably the Communists, around which was formed a broader anti-fascist People’s Front. And by World War Two this became a National-Popular Front in those countries determined to resist Hitler, Mussolini and Imperial Japan, eventually with the USSR’s entry into the war in 1941 this took on the dimension of an International Front too. 

Two of the key objectives of the Popular Front were outlined by the architect of the strategy, Bulgarian Communist Georgi Dimitrov.

“ Find a common language with the broadest masses as well as overcoming the fatal isolation of the working class itself from its natural allies.”

Eighty years on in a much-changed era for a radical politics of opposition they are principles that nevertheless remain as relevant as ever for all those committed to rebuilding a Popular Left.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football. Our range of 1936 Popular Front T-shirts is available from here.


Social-democratic Team GB success vs Freemarket England Football Team Failure


Mark Perryman outlines what Team GB's Olympic success does and does not mean

Team GB’s second place in the Rio medals table is nothing less than staggering. It is only 20 years ago that the squad returned with a solitary Gold from Atlanta ’96 clinging on to 36th in the table..This sporting nation is now ranked alongside the Olympian superpowers of USA and China. If it hadn’t been for the partial IOC ban on their competitors Russia would have been in the mix too but still this remains a remarkable Team GB medal haul.

Unlike the football World Cup the Olympics Medal Table is by and large an indicator of global economic and political power. These superpower natiions, USA, China and Russia, cannot claim a single men’s Football World Cup title between them or have come anywhere but close, mostly. The Olympics is different. So how has Team GB ended up on top of the Olympic pile? 

20 years ago apart from Atlanta '96 there was Euro '96. England's last semi-final appearance at a tournament, Scotland went out at the Group Stage and apart from France '98 have failed to qualify since. Wales and Northern Ireland each had magnificent France 2016 campaigns this summer but apart from that the record has been pretty dismal. For England and a sport which, despite all the evidence, we like to think we rule the world the contrast with Team GB's recovery over those same two decades is startling.

The reasons are not so much in further, faster, higher than a victory of social-democracy vs neoliberalism. Yes that’s right. Via the Lottery all the most successful Team GB Olympic sports are state –subsidised. A huge investment, £350 million over the Olympic Cycle, or around £5.5 million per  Medal won.  But the values of social democracy that pervade this sporting success go further. The funding is subject to regulatory governance, of collective endeavour and accountability. The Olympic Sports entirely control the regime their athletes train and compete under with a relentless pursuit of Olympic success as the pinnacle of all achievement, if necessary at the cost of other competitions and honours.

English football represents the total opposite. Here neoliberalism rules. Far more money is splashed about. £350 million? That wouldn’t be far off just one Premier League club’s transfer and wages budget for a single season. For what? The ‘best league in the world’ (sic) is going backwards in terms of mounting a serious challenge to win the Champions’ League. And as the recent Euro 2016 Final proved the finest players in Europe, and this was also true of the World Cup 2014 Final too, the world as well, by and large play outside of England too. In classic neoliberal fashion the ‘richest league’ in the world has been wilfully mistranslated in to the ‘best league’ in the world. 

But the biggest marker of this failure is the England football team. All the riches in the world and they cannot get past Iceland, or at World Cup 2014 out of their group. The sport’s governing body, the FA, has engineered the total deregulation of their own sport. Every club out for their own end.  Private money chasing individual gain, no collective endeavour, zero accountability, hands-off governance The result is a catalogue of failure.

No Olympic sport would permit such an abdication of responsibility and thus the big result from Rio can’t simply be measured in the mountain of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals but  eam GB’s social democratic values beating the freemarket failure of English football hands down.

However the social-democratisation of Team GB is flawed in one crucial respect. The £350 million bill has given those that enjoy their sport from the sofa a glorious two and a bit weeks. A quadrennial celebration of sport few will forget in a hurry.  But while there will be a spike of interest in doing some of these sports without the infrastructure and funding to meet the largesse splashed out on the elite level this will be short-lived.  This isn’t to decry the Gold Medals. But we need a political conversation – this is about political choices – that makes the connection between a social democratic sports culture for some with one that is for all.  To recognise that while TV viewing figures soar, the front page celebrations of Olympic success become a daily occurrence and the Gold Medal feelgood factor hits the heights none of this is enough to sustain a fundamental change in sport and leisure culture.

Team GB has helped prove what an impact public expenditure combined wity regulation towards a collective end can achieve. And precious few complain, we wallow in the success as much theirs, the athletes', as ours' too. But this race won’t truly be won until those resources are mobilised towards creating a sports and leisure culture that serves sport for all, and not just for some. If public expenditure is good enough to fund winning Gold Medals then isn’t it good enough to fund the return of school playing fields, build public swimming pools, construct jogging and exercise trails too.

Philosophy Football's unique, strictly unofficial, Team GB Rio Medals Table T-shirt  is available from here 

Mark Perryman, co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction, aka Philosophy Football, and author of Why The Olympics Aren’t Good For Us : And How They Can Be.




More of a Marathon than a Sprint


Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football offers his reading selection for a Summer of Sport

Exhaustive? Exhausting more like. The never-ending summer of sport from Euro 2016, the British Grand Prix, English rugby down under, Test Match cricket, Le Tour, Wimbledon fortnight , Rio 2016 and then before you know it the football season has started. It was ever thus, the sport has just got bigger that’s all, if not always better.

To help navigate our way thought the cause and effect of the highs and the lows  there’s no better place to start than John Leonard’s Fair Game an easy-to-read history of the clash between politics and sport. To take a more philosophical approach means engaging with competition vs participation, another one of those big match this versus that binary opposition which serve more to obscure than inform. Losing It by the superlative Simon Barnes teaches us more than we will ever need to know about the joys of not being on the winning side.  But the sharpest divide in sporting culture has nothing to do with winners and losers but gender. Name a single sporting culture which isn’t fundamentally shaped by gender relations. Anna Kessel’s Eat Sweat Play is a popular read on a subject of complexity which reveals the structures that shape this sporting determinism. An absolutely essential read for the future of sport, any sport.

Once every four years the Summer Olympics are so huge that for two and a bit weeks they both block out almost all other sport, and plenty more besides while providing a platform for sports that otherwise hardly ever get a look in.  The latter is arguably one of the few remaining redeeming features of the Olympic ideal.

Dave Zirin’s fully updated Brazil’s Dance with the Devil deals with all these other less redeeming, anything but ideal, features of both the Olympics and football’s World Cup and their impact on Brazil in 2014 and 2016. Of course most of these failings are not new, from Jules Boykoff Power Games is a political history of the Games which explains the scale of the failure both historically and theoretically via the highly original concept of ‘celebration capitalism’.   During Rio this will be our fayourite read between the breathlessly exciting sporting action on the TV.

Ordinarily the combination of a European Championships and the fiftieth anniversary of ’66 would have turned 2016 into a footballing summer. For the English at any after Iceland 2 Poundland 1, no chance.  Peter Chapman’s exercise in nostalgia Out Of Time reminds us of a year when for England, almost anything seemed possible, on and off the pitch, 1966. A perhaps less obvious year to choose to revisit with such English optimistic intent is 1996.  But this was the year of England’s Euro 96, Britpop (actually English pop) and new Labour on the eve of a General Election landslide, including a majority of English seats. When Football Came Home by Michael Gibbons and When We Were Lions from Paul Rees both cover this epic tournament with one eye on the politics and culture of the time too. For thirtysomethings and older a really great read about something England have failed to do this century, make it to a tournament semi-final!  Taking a longer historical view is Colin Shindler’s  Four Lions which imaginatively chronicles English footballing history via the life, career and times of four England captains;  Billy Wright, Bobby Moore, Gary Lineker and David Beckham.  Taking a more conventional approach to all things post ’66 Henry Winter in Fifty Years of Hurt records with the finest of insights all that has gone wrong, and the reasons why, since that singular golden moment five decades ago.  The paperback edition will make even more painful reading mind no doubt with he defeat to Iceland tacked on and the dawning of the age of Big Sam as England supremo. For a variety of studies of the modern game the edited collection by Ellis Cashmore and Kevin Dixon Studying Football provides a richness of academic explanations which are both rich in detail and deep in understanding.  But my top choice to pack for the new season’s away trip reading has to be And The Sun Shines Now by Adrian Tempany.  I first read this superb book a year ago, cover-to-cover a review copy in just a few sittings  but then it was promptly withdrawn because of the Hillsborough Inquest. This is a book you see that begins and ends with Hillsborough and in between deals with the mess modern English football has become. Delayed because of the Inquest and the legal restrictions of the legal proceedings on such a book, twelve months later it is if anything an even more powerful and compelling read. 

Without the Ashes cricket struggles to get much of a look-in even during the summer months, selling off the live TV coverage to Sky has reduced wider public interest still further. Emma John’s Following On is therefore a timely reminder of cricket’s appeal, even when it’s not very good.

Football of course has been dominant for so long now in English sporting culture it is hard to imagine other models for how to consume sport, a five-day Test Match perhaps the most incongruous alternative imaginable.  For me though my favourite other way to consume sport is cycling.  Decentralised, free to watch, pan-European, on terrestrial TV, thousands ride the course to reach their best roadside vantage point, and the Brits always win, well almost. I’m talking of course about Le Tour. The classic account of this most famous of cycling contests, Geoffrey Nicholson’s  The Great Bike Race,  has recently been republished and is as good as it ever was, a superb mix of  cultural history and sporting commentary. And a novel to expand our understanding of what it takes to ride this greatest of all races? From Dutch author Bert Wagendorp now translated into English Ventoux the story of a group of friends who decide to ride to the summit of this most iconic of climbs and the effect the effort has on all of their lives.  The Science of the Tour de France by James Witts takes a more practical approach. In spellbindng detail along with magnificent photography and graphics the author carefully  explains what it takes to ride this most punishing of races spread over almost an entire month of  varied and arduous competition. There is probably no rider better equipped to put that experience into words than David Millar, and he does precisely that in his very fine new book The Racer.

What is special about cycling is the connection between competition and participation, what other sport can you use as a means to get to work, do the shopping, a family day out?  Team Sky rider and Team GB Olympian sketches out precisely those connections in his amusing yet informative book The World of Cycling According to G .

The most basic sporting test however of human endurance remains running. Arguably the one truly universal global sport, requiring no equipment, no facilities, any body shape, and for the lucky few a route out of poverty too.  Richard Askwith has established himself as one of the best writers on the sport, Today We Die A Little is Richard’s biography of one of the greatest long-distance runners of all time, Emil which reveals both what it takes physically to take one’s body beyond the limits of human endurance but also the political context of 1950s Eastern Europe which drove Zátopek to run.  A truly illuminating read.  But there’s one feat Zátopek  failed to achieve, nor any runner after him either. Breaking two hours for the marathon. Ed Casear’s Two Hours combines investigative journalism, sports science and athletic travelogue to find out whether this near-mythical barrier might ever be broken.

And my sports book of the quarter? There is only really one choice. Not content with writing a peerless global history of football, The Ball is Round and a riveting account of all that is wrong with English football  The Game of Our Lives David Glodblatt has now written both the definitive and best history of the Olympics, The Games. What David does so effortlessly well as a sportswriter is combine hard won facts and tales with original opinion and ideas to construct both a story and an alternative. The must have book for those late nights and early mornings  on Olympics TV watch from Rio, and long after too.

Note: No links in this review toAmazon, if you can avoid purchasing from tax dodgers please do so.

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

A Games That Belonged To The People


Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football uncovers the hidden history of Barcelona ‘36

When the Rio Olympics begin tonight beyond the glitz and the glamour of the opening ceremony spectacle there will be popular protests right across the city.  It was the same at London 2012 and the Vancouver Winter Games of 2010.  Throughout the build up to both Sochi 2014 and Beijing 2008  there were global protest to force attention on LGBT discrimination and human rights issues in host countries Russia and China.  But of course once the gold medal rush began the protests and concerns were almost universally marginalised. I suspect it will be more or less the same with Rio.

How do we manage both to enjoy and celebrate sport while maintaining some basic principles of equality and solidarity? Perhaps what we need is a political culture that takes sport seriously – what we do with Philosophy Football mixing sport and culture is one brave and audacious attempt to do precisely that – rather than treating it simply as a suitable add on for photo opportunities and celebrity endorsements of this issue or that.  

For an idea of what might be possible a useful starting point would be to revisit the 1930s. This was of course the era of the rise of Mussolini and Hitler. Mussolini put great emphasis on football as the means of portraying his idealised fascist nation, Italy hosted and won the 1934 World Cup and retained the trophy four years later too at France ’38 on the eve of war. But it is Hitler’s Berlin Olympics of 1936 which are most widely remembered for the clash of political ideology and sporting spectacle. The four gold medals won by black American sprinter and long jumper Jesse Owens of course have come to symbolise the way sport can subvert an intended political message to devastating effect.   But what scarcely gets mentioned is the widespread efforts of both the International Olympic Committee to make a positive case for the Nazi regime to host the Games in order to head off calls to boycott Berlin.Much of this lobbying was done by notorious anti-semite Avery Brundage who went on to become the President of the International Olympic Committee from 1952 to 1972.  This is the history the Olympic movement would prefer remained hidden. 

But the 1930s was also the era of the Popular Front. A political culture that extended way beyond traditional definitions of activism. Inspired by both the example of the 1917 Russian Revolution and the rising threat of fascism the Popular Front embraced literature – the Left Book Club – poetry, art, perhaps most famously Picasso and Miro, music – including Benjamin Britten, the festive and the celebratory as well as the militancy of street protests, notably in 1936,Cable Street. And sport played its part too.

The Spanish Republican government took a political decision to boycott the Berlin Games. They correctly judged that with the Olympic movement barely interested in putting up any opposition Berlin would become a platform for Hitler and Goebbels to sanitise and propagandise for Nazism. Jesse Owens notwithstanding, they were proved absolutely correct. However this was no ordinary boycott. The Spanish government pledged to host a People’s Olympiad in the Republican stronghold of Barcelona with over 6,000 athletes from across the world taking part. Timed to take open just a few weeks before Berlin this would have been a powerful example in practice of a sporting internationalism vs the racialisation of sporting endeavour the Nazis were seeking to promote. Then, on the eve of the opening ceremony, Franco launched his murderous assault on the Spanish Republic, the country was plunged into civil war and the Games cancelled. Most athletes were forced to leave though some chose to stay and join the International Brigades in their fight for Spain’s land and freedom.

The point about Barcelona ’36 is that it didn’t happen in isolation. Other ‘alternative’  Games included Czechoslovakia’s 1924 National Gymnastics Festival organised by the Workers Gymnastics and Sports Association,  the first Workers’ Olympics in Frankfurt 1925,  Moscow’s Spartakiad of 1928, the Vienna Workers’ Olympics of 1931, a second Spartakiad of 1933 organised by the Red Sport International, the third and final Workers’ Olympics, Antwerp 1937. And there were alternative Women’s Olympics too, four in all 1922 Paris, 1926 Gothenburg, 1930 Prague and 1934 London.

It’s almost impossible to imagine anything of this scale of imagination and purpose today. Jules Boykoff in his brilliant new political history of the Olympics, Power Games, has a novel explanation of why such an alternative model of sport is so important rather being being simply, if necessarily, against this and that.  He describes the Olympics, and other global sporting spectacles such as football’s World Cup, as ‘celebration capitalism’ juxtaposing this to Naomi Klein’s theorisation of ‘disaster capitalism’. For the duration of Rio we will be treated over and over again to the Olympian maxims of inspiration, regeneration and participation. Huge public and material investment in infrastructure and Gold Medal-winning performances to celebrate what, and benefit whom?  To state this is to engage with a popular common sense,, not to moan and whinge about what Rio 2016 or London 2012 fail to achieve but to be inspired by Barcelona ’36 to shape a better sporting culture for all.




   Philosophy Football’s Barcelona ’36 T-shirt is available from here


Don't Burn the Books


A scorching hot list of summer political reading selected by Mark Perryman

A year ago as Labour sought to recover from the May General Election defeat halls were starting to fill up for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign rallies. But even as the halls got bigger and the queues round the block longer few would ever imagined that this would result in the Left for once being on the winning side.  The overwhelming majority of Labour MPs never accepted the vote, they bided their time and chose the moment for their coup and in a fashion to cause maximum damage.

Richard Seymour’s Corbyn : The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics is to date both the best, and the definitive, account of what Corbyn’s victory the first time round meant. One year on the essential summer 2016 read.

But as Jeremy Corbyn would be the first to admit his victory will never amount to much unless he can refashion what Labour also means. A Better Politics by Danny Dorling  is a neat combination of catchy ideas and practical policies towards a more equal society that benefits all. Of course the principle barrier to equality remains class. In her new book Respectable Lynsey Hanley provides an explanation of modern class relations that effortlessly mixes the personal and the political.   If this sounds easier written than done then George Monbiot’s epic How Did We Get Into This Mess? serves to remind us of the scale of the economic and environmental crisis we are up against.Labour’s existential crisis is rooted in competing models of party democracy and how this should shape a party as a social movement for change. An exploration of what a left populist mass party might look like and the problems it will encounter is provided in Podemos: In the Name of the People a highly original set of conversations between theorist Chantal Mouffe and Íñigo Errejón political secretary of Podemos, introduced by Owen Jones, what a line-up!

One of the saving graces of Labour’s crisis should be pluralism. To reject those who indulge in the simplistic binary oppositions of Corbynista vs Blairite.  To begin with all engaged in the Labour debate should read the free-to-download book Labour’s Identity Crisis : England and the Politics of Patriotism edited by Tristram Hunt.  There is much here on an issue vital post #Brexit yet scarcely acknowledged as important by most on both ‘sides’ One criticism though, why no contributors from the Left side, Billy Bragg, Gary Younge,  the young black Labour MP Kate Osamor for example? Taking a tour round Britain to portray the state of the nation(s) is fairly familiar territory for writers on Britishness but Island Story by JD Taylor still manages to stand out thanks to a the author’s sense purpose, tenacity of the imagination, and a bicycle. Underneath the surface of any tendency towards a settled national narrative lies a bastardised version of English nationalism combining the isolationist and the racist to produce a toxic mix.  As a shortish polemic  The Ministry of Nostalgia from Owen Hatherley is more of a demolition than a deconstruction  of the rewriting of our history that lies behind this, and all the better for it.

Anglo-populism is mired in the issue of immigration as a mask for its racism.Angry White People by Hsiao-Hung Pai encounters the extremities of this, the Far Right whose politics of hate have a nasty habit of not being as far away as many of us would like.In the USA the brutal institutionalised racism of its police force has sparked a mass movement which is reported with much insight by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s in her From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, an essential read if a similar popular anti-racism is going to emerge on this side of the Atlantic sometime soon. Of course #BlackLivesMatter didn’t emerge in a political vacuum, it connected movements that date back to the 1950s and 1960s, connections which are expertly made by one of the key Black political figures of both then and now Angela Davis in her new book Freedom is a Constant Struggle an absolutely inspiring read. Do the deepening fractures around race spell a new era of uprisings? Quite possibly though their political trajectory and outcomes remain uncertain. Joshua Clover comes down firmly on the side of the optimistic reading in his new book Riot.Strike.Riot while most wouldn’t be so sure. A handy companion volume would be Strike Art by Yates McKee which helpfully explains the protest culture created via the Occupy movement. Where the doubt remains is whether the such moments, direct action or insurrection, can generate a positive impact beyond their own milieu or locality.  

Shooting Hipsters  is a much-needed  up to date account of, and practical guide to, how acts of dissent can breakthrough into and beyond the mainstream media. And for the dark side?  Mara Einstein’s Black Ops Advertising details the many ways in which corporate PR operations have sought to colonise social media.

It is out of history that inspiration for how to carve out a better future from the present is most likely to come. A Full Life by Tom Keough and Paul Buhle uses a comic strip to illustrate the life, times and ideals of Irish rebel James Connolly. Alternatively enjoy the extraordinary range of  writing from the Spanish Civil War compiled by Pete Ayrton in No Pasaran! These were moments in a period of global change. Owen Hatherley’s carefully crafted The Chaplin Machine provides an insight into the aesthetic of revolution that was abroad at the time in the immediate aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution on a scale never seen before, or since. It is a period that is recorded with considerable skill by the twice-yearly journal Twentieth Century Communism the latest edition providing the usual ingenuity of range including Trotsky’s bid to live in 1930s Britain. outline of the basis for a cosmopolitan anti-imperialism. Of course there are plenty who would seek to bury all of this. David Aaronovitch comes to the last rites with his brilliantly written if flawed Party Animals which takes aim with his personal biography at the end of one history. An entirely different perspective is provided by the hugely impressive Jodi Dean and her latest book Crowds and Party an impassioned account of modern protest movements as the enduring case for a mass party of social and political change. Sounds familiar, trite even? Not the way Jodi argues it, mixing an acute sense of history with a visionary future.But the here and now of a super soaraway summer perhaps demands more immediate resources of hope than the promise of a better tomorrow.

My starting point for a today to look forward usually revolves around finding a recipe for a decent supper. Plenty of these to be found in The Good Life Eatery Cookbook with a mix of good-for-you, or more importantly in this instance me, temptingly delicious-looking photography and a philosophy behind it all that reminds me of that good maxim ‘small is beautiful.’ Of course no summer should be complete without a visit to the beach, highly recommended reading for the sun-lounger searching for a dash of a thriller for a mental getaway is Chris Brookmyre’s latest  Black Widow which as always with Brookmyre is dark, twisted and entertaining. And for the children? Pushkin Press do the hard work for parents, tracking down the best in European kids’ books, translating, repackaging and producing such gems as Tow-Truck Pluck from the Netherlands. The perfect holiday read for families needing to be cheered up post-Brexit.

 And my book of the quarter? Food is never far from most of our minds. Summertime picnics for the fortunate, worrying about what we eat and impact it has on our health for some, the spread of Food Banks testament to the failure of austerity politics. Few writers could appeal to both the modern obsession with food as well as to consciences concerned with those who don’t have enough of it to get by never mind baking off. But Josh Sutton does with his pioneering account Food Worth Fighting For. This is social history that packs a punch while written in a style and with a focus to transform readers into fighting foodies. Brilliant, and incredibly original. 

Note : No links in this review to Amazon, if you can avoid purchasing from off shore tax dodgers please do.

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





#More in Common


Mark Perryman explains why in any match of Hope vs Hate Philosophy Football knows which side we are on

The shocking news of MP Jo Cox's murder has affected us all. A terrible crime that begins with hate for a neighbour because of where they came from. A hate that is amplified by politicians and media to serve their own interests and never mind the consequences. A process that ends with this and who knows even worse to come.

Britain isn’t alone in suffering any of this, a tidal wave of hate-politics is sweeping Europe. The Freedom Party in Austria, Front National in France, AfD in Germany, Jobik in Hungary, Golden Dawn in Greece, Liga Nord in Italy and more. A racism that exploits and encourages division. A populism that offers easy answers to close down the space for difficult questions. A culture that promotes exclusion, intimidation and isolation.

‘Our cars are German, our vodka is Russian, our pizzas Italian…’ Who would ever have imagined that coffee would replace tea as Great Britain’s favourite. Or wine overtake beer as the most popular tipple. Fish and chips vs Chicken Tikka Masala. Cheese and cucumber sarnies vs pitta and humous.  Does this mean national identities no longer exist? Of course not. But we co-exist and for the most part are the better off for it.

Immigration doesn’t happen by accident. We live in a world of bloody wars, extremities of inequality and increasingly the catastrophic social impact of climate change. These more than anything else cause rising levels of movement of population from every part of the world.  And on our own continent European youth culture is interconnected in a way unimaginable only a decade or so ago. This is the easyjet generation of  twitter, facebook and instagram. Thus living and working in another country is both possible and practical. Immigration? This is about emigration too. A Europe where another country which was once perhaps a holiday destination today provides a workplace.

Interconnections in a Europe of possibilities isn’t what most politicians talk about. In their absence hate fills the gap. That’s why Philosophy Football has always actively backed the Hope not Hatecampaign. While others have done far more than us we made our own contribution. We coined the slogan 'Hope not Hate', designed the logo, produced and donated banners to decorate the Barking cHQ in the succesful 2010 General Election campaign to defeat Nick Griffin and his BNP, helped raise funds and tramped the streets spreading the message. And so when we read that Jo Cox’s friends and family had chosen Hope not Hate as one of the campaigns to donate to in her memory, we wanted to find a means to contribute. Our 2016 Hope not Hate tee is towards that end, raising funds with a new design featuring a message for the better world she believed in. 

Jo Cox was rare. She both understood why people move from country to country, some for work, others for safety, many for both. But she also had the courage to challenge these lies about immigration that exploit anxieties with reckless abandon. Inspired by her principles and ideals, our shirt features Jo's words from her House of Commons maiden speech 'We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divides us'. A simple idea, we’d like to think while not uniquely British, a British value. Getting on with others, pulling together, sharing adversity for the greater good, bold and brave enough to engage with the other, celebrating our differences but not at the expense of one another. In the big match of hope vs hate knowing which side we’d rather be on thankyou very much.

The murder of Jo Cox didn’t come out of nowhere.  A single lethal act but out of a mood that seeks to justify, legitimise, give respectability to a politics of hate. One singularly tragic consequence but against a background of countless other acts of hate. If politics is about anything it is about standing up for change, to challenge prejudice and misinformation, a vision of a better society for all. This is how we resist the drift towards the hateful.

Our simple act of remembrance has a practical aim. In place of our customary new shirt discount £5 will be donated for each shirt sold to Hope not Hate. If you can purchase at the solidarity price £10 will be donated. Remembrance and solidarity.

Hope not Hate 2016 shirt available from www.philosophyfootball.com

Campaign details from www.hopenothate.org.uk

Battle of Britons


Mark Perryman previews England v Wales as competing versions of nationhood

The traditional ‘Battle of Britain’ match is of course England v Scotland, the very first recognised international football match dating back to 1872 and the most intense of rivalries ever since. The last time two ‘home’ nations met in a major tournament it was again England v Scotland at Euro 96. The spark in so many ways for the break-up-Britain agenda that was to follow the Blair government devolution referendums a year later and latterly transformed into the SNP ‘tartan landslide’. Once derided by Jim Sillars as ‘ninety-minute nationalists’ Scots today are so busy building a nation they can call their own they haven’t much time left over for their under-performing football team, ouch!

Instead it will be the Welsh who will take the field on Thursday against Scotland’s ‘auld enemy’. An encounter inevitably affected by the ugly scenes the weekend before in Marseille. It was the historian Eric Hobsbawm who once observed, “ The individual, even the one who only cheers, becomes a symbol of the nation himself.” This was sadly true of those brutalised encounters in the south of France. Though as my friend Julie Nerney who was there has pointed out the habit of most travelling England fans is to “learn where to go and not to when you travel to games. Avoiding the places where it was obvious there was a chance of things kicking off.  Knowing what the signs of a flashpoint were and extricating yourself from any situation where you might simply end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  And thus in Marseille as Julie reports “Bars in the main square of any town are a magnet for trouble. Many sensible fans give them a wide berth.” This is the hidden story behind the headlines about an episode like Marseille 2016. Meanwhile in another part of town I’d helped organise a fans’ mini tournament England v Russia, another mate, John Lunt, who played describes the experience, “Had fun, we may have lost all our games, but made a few friends when others were doing their best not to.”

Little of this features in how most would think of the Englishness on parade at Euro 2016. Britain is a mix of contradictions, at home right now. Bathing in the collective and transnational experience of being European via the Euros while according to the referendum polls more than half the country couldn’t exit the continent fast enough For the English such contradictions are exacerbated by a very particular identity crisis. When England and Wales line-up for kick off each set of players, and fans will belt out their respective National Anthems. The Welsh, Land of our Fathers, while the English, like the Northern Irish, have to sing somebody else’s. Eh? That’s right us and the Northern Irish don’t have an anthem as every other country does, instead we have to sing an anthem that belongs to somewhere else, Great Britain. Yet the English tenaciously cling to an anthem which isn’t even ours as a source of great comfort. “Long to Reign Over Us, Happy and Glorious ” in those two lines the English contradictions of subjecthood neatly summed up.

American author Franklin Foer in his book  How Soccer Explains the World  points to the range of forces of globalisation which threaten this settled subjecthood founded on an unchanging notion of what it means to be English.  Take a look at the players on any Premier League pitch, in the technical area the managers, coaches and backroom staff, the ownership of the bigger, and some smaller, clubs, the audience in the stands and via TV, the exchange of playing styles and tactics. There is very little left about our football which is precisely English.

Despite these forces of Europeanisation and globalisation however Foer makes a key point about soccer(sic) and culture; “ Of course, soccer isn’t the same as Bach or Buddhism. But it is often more deeply felt than religion, and just as much a part of the community’s fabric, a repository of traditions.” This is why England v Wales is always going to be about more than a football match.

An Englishness subject to imperial and martial tradition helps explain the ugly saliency of immigration as an issue in the Euro referendum non-debate and this reminds me of Satnam Virdee’s description of 1970s Powellism.

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

The make-up of the England team might appear a powerful antidote to these forces of reaction. But unlike the Welsh, and most particularly the Scots, the English barely possess a civic understanding of nationhood, instead it is mired in the racial. A football team may project some kind of alternative sense of being English but in the absence of political forces to make that argument it’s not enough. In June 2016 that couldn’t be more obvious.

None of this will help us predict the score when Bale’s Welshmen take on Rooney’s Englishmen but it certainly helps us understand how such an encounter is framed, consumed and understood. Performance isn’t something restricted just to the pitch y’know.

Mark Perryman is the editor of the new book 1966 and Not All That published by Repeater Books and available from Philosophy Football






Never Stopped us Dreaming


As Euro 2016 begins Mark Perryman offers an 11-point plan finally to end England’s years of hurt.

Five decades on from England’s solitary tournament triumph and as the team prepare yet another effort to end these proverbial 50 years of hurt at Euro 2016 it seems as good a time as any to consider a diagnosis. Given it is the Football Association as the game’s governing body that is responsible for fulfilling the ambition a decent starting point is to ask what the FA is for? Football writer Barney Ronay provides a very reasonable answer:

“ The real problem for the FA is that it has no real power. It is essentially a front , a fluttering ceremonial brocade of a national sporting body. Football may be rich and powerful, but the FA exists at one remove from this, like Prince Charles complaining pointlessly about architecture from the sidelines.”

And he makes the point that the health of a football nation depends on the active co-operation of forces beyond the sport.

“ The FA neither owns nor controls the mechanics of roots football. It has no power to dictate what Premier League clubs do with young players. It isn’t the nation’s PE teacher. It is instead something of a patsy. One of the FA’s significant functions is to act as a kind of political merkin for the wider problem. Which is, simply, access for all: the right to play, a form of shared national wealth that has been downgraded by those in power for decades.”

Absolutely, the state of the country’s playing fields and publicly owned sports facilities portray a football nation that doesn’t know how to look after itself. It wasn’t the FA’s gross negligence that concreted over football pitches, privatised council leisure facilities to turn them into middle class domains, refused to control fast food and sugar-heavy drinks leaving them to spike up obesity levels and turned childhood into a daily fright-zone killing off three-and-in, jumpers for goalposts, pavement kickabouts within a generation of ’66. No, we can put all of that sorry mess to neoliberal governments from Thatcher onwards.

This is the political context of those years of a failing England team Deregulation, of state and sport. After selling off the elite level of their sport, the Premier League – football’s own version of deregulation -  FA as a result has been left with one major responsibility that dwarfs any the others remaining, the national team. To turn that into a responsibility to be proud of and in turn help shift the balance of power and influence from football’s business to sporting interests the ambition has to be to re-establish the England team at the pinnacle of our sport. To do so means challenging sectional and commercial interests for the common good, to ensure the reality of an inclusive England that belongs to all, to celebrate being part of a world game which at its very best is founded on equitability.

To that end I offer an 11-point plan to end the 50 Years of Hurt.

1.Fifty @ 50

Fund 50 grassroots football coaches to provide free coaching support for primary age children, boys and girls. And as a support network approach every player who has represented England from ’66 onwards, every manager, assistant and backroom staff too, offer them a mentoring role for coaches, the kids and their families, with an agreement to provide 50 hours of such support a year. Establish a trust fund to ensure Fifty @50 has the finances to still be around in 2066.

2. The Bobby Moore Centre at Wembley

Right next to Wembley Stadium is one of those facilities providing a number of 5-a-side pitches. It’s privately owned, of no benefit to the FA. What a wasted opportunity. Purchase it outright as the FA’s Bobby Moore Centre, use it as a showpiece to introduce kids, their parents, their club coaches to all that England are trying to achieve at the under 11 level.

3.Take England back on the road

From 2000 to 2007 the old Twin Towers Wembley closed for demolition and reconstruction. Instead England internationals were played not just at Anfield, Old Trafford, Villa Park and St James’ Park but also Ipswich, Leicester, Derby, Southampton, Middlesbrough and Leeds. An England game became a local event and all the more special for that. The support more genuinely national than ever before. The enthusiasm for England up and down the country at World Cup 2002, Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006 surely in part a result.  Reopening Wembley squandered all of this. Take England back on the road every year.

4. Schoolboys and schoolgirls double-header international

When the old Wembley closed the tradition of the annual schoolboy international ended with it. Bring them back but with a couple of twists. Alternate between Wembley and one of the top club grounds in the North, make it adouble-header, boys and girls.


5. Bring back the home nations but more too

Bringing back the home nations as an end-of-season tournament for the Under-21s, when not clashingg with their Euros with the added spice of a guest nation. Germany or Argentina for starters, Poland or Australia would attract large expat support, an African team provide experience of coping with unfamiliar playing styles. Run mens and womens tournaments side by side just like cricket and rugby do, 


6. Football at the Commonwealth Games

Apart from England, and the other GB nations, every other country gets to play in two global football competitions, the World Cup and the Olympic Games, should they qualify of course.  England don’t because Olympic representation is under the banner of ‘Team GB’. There is though another global tournament both England and the home nations could enter to get this crucial extra experience, the Commonwealth Games. Except football unlike rugby sevens isn’t a Commonwealth Games sport. Why on earth not?


7. A squad penalty shoot-out league

Once England have qualified establish a weekly training ground penalty shoot-out competition. Officiated by FA staff, for a dedicated website with a league table of results. And for the final round, the last home friendly before a tournament ends with a penalty shoot-out and fans asked to help by doing everything they can to put our players off.


8. No more Pride, Passion, Belief

 ‘Pride, Passion, Belief’ used to be the big screen message at Wembley immediately before kick-off for England internationals. Thankfully it’s been taken down but the sentiment remains. They’ll get a team to a Quarter-Final but by now we should have learned not enough to win trophies. The foreign influence if anything hasn’t gone far enough. Owning up to our technical ability deficiencies requires a cultural shift that has to come from below.



9. Bid to host age group World Cups and European Championships

Bid for World and European age group championships. Given half a chance we’ve proved across sports and Olympics to be rather good hosts, and for football we already have the facilities in place and all the evidence suggests decent crowds too.


10. A National Anthem we can call our own

God Save the Queen isn’t England’s anthem. If its good enough for Wales to have one of their own why not us?  A song no longer about an institution, but about the nation we’d like to become. It would make the moment when the Anthem is sung a special moment rather than one draped in the otherness of officialdom. Jerusalem, yes please.


11. A 1966 Fiftieth Anniversary FA Congress

An FA Congress bringing together players, coaches, supporters and administrators representing every level of the English game. Football has changed dramatically since ’66, some for the better, some not. But the autocratic way in which it is run has stood absolutely still, if anything it has moved backwards. A Congress to debate in broad terms English football’s future as part of a process towards running the game for all, not just for some.


Does all this add up to England wining the World Cup at some unspecified, or as the current FA Chairman foolishly put it, specified date in the future? Quite possibly not, but the issue here is there is only so much an FA that has given up all its powers to govern the game can do. This plan could be activated by the FA even in their much reduced role. Crucially this would signal a start towards reclaiming the primacy of the national team.

New European and World Champions do emerge, France and Spain have gone from also-rans in ‘66 to finalists and winners. England does manage regularly to reach the quarter-finals, upgrading to becoming regulars in the last four shouldn’t be entirely beyond us. Croatia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Holland and Sweden have all matched that achievement so why with some modest improvements to our situation shouldn’t England?  Because both after ’66 the FA utterly failed to act to build on that success, instead assuming there would be more of the same to come. There wasn’t. And then after coming so close again in  ’90 the FA did act but with results that proved to be of no help to the England team at all. Many would argue these resulted instead in diminishing whatever prospects it might continue to have. As England line-up in Marseille with a youthful squad threatening to spark an enthusiasm that has scarcely existed since the woeful campaigns at World Cup 2010 and 2014 it is high time to look beyond getting out of a Group. Rather what we really need is a fundamental repositioning of the national team in relation to the game. A people’s England we can all be proud of and part of, and you never know march behind on a victory parade. C’mon, we have the right to dream don’t we?

1966 And Not  All ThatMark Perryman is the editor of the new book 1966 and Not All That. Published by Repeater Books and available from here