Wednesday, June 14, 2006


When I wrote a throw-away post about the soccer world cup I didn't realise that there was a debate raging on English Socialist blogs about the political implications of supporting England. They seem to be arguing as if there was a correct dialectic materialist analysis of what team to support.

Some people think that the correct line is to support the English team:

The gist of our argument was that football is followed by millions of people, who follow the players in the premiership, and want to follow those same players at the highest international level. It should also be remembered that interest in the World Cup is also huge even when England don’t qualify.

The English national team (in 1990 as today) is multi-racial, with talented black players, and the team celebrates the multi-cultural nature of England today. In 1998 when France won the World Cup, the face of North African Arab, Zinadine Zidane was projected onto the Arc d’Triumphe, and the racist FN who had denounced the national team as mongrels had ash in their mouths.
Others disagree:
Personally, I think every English socialist who supports England when they play teams like Trinidad - former colonies of Britain - or say Iran - which we are gearing up to attack - deserves ridicule if not utter contempt. The position of 'Anyone But England' is only 'laughable' if one thinks that the English ruling class are somehow too 'backward' or 'ill-educated' to make a socialist revolution here. In fact it is the only principled position one can have - the colour of the socialist flag is red - or, for the next month or so, perhaps red and black
I have to say that I find this whole debate a little odd. I don't think there's anything wrong with supporting a team for political reasons - as I said I supported Senegal for beating France, and Ireland because one of the guys did back-flips, but I don't think it's mandatory. There are many reasons for people on the New Zealand left to hate the All Blacks, and that's certainly my view. But if someone I knew loved rugby and wanted the All Blacks to win whenever they're playing, then I don't think that's a problem with their politics.

Not supporting a particular sports team for political reasons seems a little like boycotting a particular petrol station, without even the possibility of economic effects of a boycott (in case you can't tell from my sarcastic voice, I think boycotting a particular brand of petrol is a spectacular waste of time). It's exactly the sorts of individualistic, ineffective, faux-political action that I ususally join with Marxists in mocking.

But that's not even my main problem. I've never been a sports fan, I've never followed a team. I've always done what middle class white-girls are supposed to do instead, and got those kicks from television (I think everything I say about the power of serial storytelling is true of sports teams - even though there's no actual story involved). But I can see the appeal, I can see it wouldn't take much for me to follow a sports team obsessively.

I can see why sports teams could give people joy. I can see how following England could give people joy, even English Marxists, and I think people should take that joy when it's available.

I have found joy in the strangest places, and I'm going to confess one of them tonight, to explain I think English Marxists should support whoever they damn well want to in the soccer world cup.

I imagine most left-wing activists can remember what they were doing in early 2003. For those of us who were against the war in Iraq it was a combination of meetings and protests and banner paintings, and more meetings, and more protests, and discussions on e-mail lists (I was also trying to finish my thesis).

We had our meetings on Monday nights and they were huge long affairs, when they were done I'd walk home up the hill, turn on the television, and watch the episode of American Idol that I'd missed because I was at the meeting. America was about to invade another country and I got great pleasure from watching one of the worst and most nationalistic American reality TV shows.

I'm glad I watched American Idol, I'm glad it gave me some joy (god knows I needed some back then). I'd accept every criticism people made of it, and I made a fair few myself, but I still enjoyed watching it.

Everything produced under capitalism is corrupted, sports, music, films, television, literature, art - it's all got a role to play in maintaining our economic system, and it's all created as part of our economic system.

But there has to be room for us to love these things, because loving media, loving stories, loving suspence, even caring for people we don't know, that's all part of humanity. When we have won in the past it's because we manage to harness the part of us that loves, with the part of us that thinks, and fight together. I think mocking people for getting joy from a sports team denies a part of us that we're going to need.


  1. Agreed. You know, I've heard some people propose that we shouldn't support American TV programmes because of the war in Iraq, and I find that absurd. I remember exactly what I was doing in early 2003 - I was living in Texas, and spending every minute of my spare time in anti-war protest activities -- alongside thousands and thousands of Americans. And Texas is hardly a hotbed of liberalism, so just imagine what it was like in, say, California or New York at that time. I mean, do folks in this country seriously think all Americans support the Iraq war? Or that sportspeople who live in horrible dictatorships are pro-dictatorship? I don't really get it.

    I have to confess to hating the All Blacks, though. (Don't tell Auntie Helen - I could get stripped of my citizenship.) It's about their having a player who's granted name suppression for being a misogynist arsehole. That pisses me off unbelievably.

  2. You know, I've gotten shit from other whities for supporting the Korean team. They argued that I was somehow pretending to be korean in wearing their colors and cheering with the locals for their first game on Tuesday.

    Sporting nationalism can at times be classified as it's own special form of stupidity (my principal congratulated me for Australia's win over Japan), but at the same time can also bring out the best in people too. The locals were so happy to see a half a dozen whities in a sea of koreans enjoying the atmosphere we got free beer. Gotta love that!