Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Friday, June 02, 2006

A reader writes...

[My post on the World Cup has drawn many impassioned responses, but 'GOM', one long standing reader of this blog (who incidently I would usually defer to automatically on questions of sport, especially football) was so provoked by my argument that he emailed me his take on the competition. Histomat is a Marxist blog, but Marxists should always try to relate to the best of bourgeois liberal thought and so I am happy to reprint GOM's defence of supporting England in full below. I naturally reserve the write to a rejoinder in response at a later date - Snowball]

'There have been many things I have read on this blog that I have enjoyed, laughed at and agreed with.

There has been one posting that I have disagreed with profoundly. The issue of who to support at the World Cup prompted me to respond at such length that I thought I'd offer it as a posting in its own right.

Pointedly not supporting England at the World Cup is as silly and posturing a point of view as standing outside a Bierkeller with a flag of St George screaming the national anthem at German shopkeepers.

I shall be supporting England because, for better or worse, that is where I am from, I know more about the players than any other country and its fun to support a team in the World Cup. No-one has told me to support England, especially not Tony Blair or Coca Cola and it is rather patronising to suggest that vast swathes of the population have all been hoodwinked into following one team in some grand conspiracy to print money. Of course greedy companies try and capitalise on the popularity of the World Cup, just as they constantly try and make money out of sex, crime and death. However, long before soft drink, car and shaving cream manufacturers realised that there was money to be made by getting David Beckham to do keepy-uppy with a crisp bag or whatever goes on these days, people all over the world loved football and loved the World Cup. They didnt need encouragement then and they don't now.

If one was to apply an entirely Marxist or socialist view, then no team is worthy of support as football is just another attempt to undermine class consciousness and dilute revolutionary feeling. As has been said by past left wing writers, football is part of the capitalist system and does a very good job of keeping people quiet and amused. I was once shown an article which set out to prove that organised sport in any form whether at school or between countries is morally wrong.

According to the standards being set here, I should not be allowed to support my own local town football team. Apparently setting one small crummy market town against another creates unneccessary and fake divisions in the working class and distracts from the real enemy. I cannot accept this point of view. Attending football matches and playing in them is an expression of who people are, where they come from and what they enjoy doing. Should I be embarrassed about wanting to thrash the other crummy market town up the road ? No, I should revel in it just as I should revel in the prospect of giving the Germans a good seeing to in the second stage.

There is nothing wrong with supporting other teams at a World Cup. Anyone who had a pleasant holiday in a part of the world represented in Germany should feel entirely comfortable hoping they do well. If someone wants to support them against England, well, thats up to them, just don't expect many people to follow them - that is until we all go on holiday there.

There are so much better reasons to support other teams at this World Cup than some urge to feel morally superior. I will always have a soft spot for the Dutch after Dennis Bergkamp's amazing last minute goal against Argentina in 1998 - a stunning moment I'll never forget while the South Koreans did so well last time that you can't fail to admire their achievements against all the odds. Who knows who else I'll have a soft spot for this time around. Maybe Australia will pull off a shock and reach the latter stages and when Costa Rica play more or less anyone (except I'll admit, England) I'm sure I'll be rooting for them.

The concept of supporting "ethical" teams who have suffered at the hands of imperial oppressors is also problematic. Surely the people of Trinidad and Tobago shouldn't be organising themselves into football teams to take part in the biggest tournament in the world with all of its corporate trappings - instead they should be railing against the injustices committed against them over hundreds of years and fermenting revolutionary ideas to make sure the sort of abominations carried out against them can never happen again. Should they be chided, as we are, for being sucked in to a global corporate scam ?

Its also a hugely patronising to present yourself to true supporters of teams such as Iran or Trinidad and Tobago and say, "I'm supporting you due to your downtrodden status and the fact that people who looked and sounded an awful lot like me spent a long time enslaving your people. I can't possibly support the country I come from because they're such awful people and they go around getting drunk and starting fights. I know you probably won't win but its making me feel morally superior to feel like this. Best of luck." I wouldn't be surprised if you got told to fuck right off.

Imagine if you will that an American swans round your house tomorrow, throws a friendly arm round your shoulder and exclaims that "due to the collapse of your manufacturing infrastructure, your loss of world power status, the fact we kept having to bail your economy out for most of the last century and because your government does everything we tell it to do, I thought I'd cheer you guys on in the soccerball this summer. Good luck with those pesky penalty kicks!" You'd boil him, or her for that matter, in their own oil.

Your point about nationalism is well made. It is very often a construct put in place to exercise control over people and the England team is clearly an embodiment of English nationalism. However, the concept of Englishness is so misinterpreted and misunderstood to the point at which its rather difficult to explain. The England team is one of the few things that exclusively unites the people south of the Scottish border and west of the Welsh border - very little else does. The element of control excerised by what you would term the ruling class is done so through Britishness - British borders, the British pound, the British veto, army etc and if you will the British way of life. It is also fatuous to characterise the English and Englishness as some sort of smouldering pile of fascist hooligans who want to drink, fight and paint the world with a big red cross. The north of England has been screwed by the South of England for hundreds of years. I will be supporting England because that's where I'm from. Not because we used to rule the waves, or because we won two world wars or because foreign food tastes a bit funny. If East Anglia was in the World Cup I'd probably support them.

So anyway, support who you like, I don't care. Whoever you support, I hope they give you something to remember this world cup for. Don't criticise anyone else for their choice of team. Instead, critisise racism, people who cause trouble, cheating and pomposity from those who try and turn the World Cup into some sort of political message. Most of all, ignore the adverts, the gimicks and the idiots and enjoy the wall to wall tv coverage, the stunning goals, the wonderful players and the great moments any and every world cup provide. I don't think England will win it but I'm looking forward to seeing them try.




At 5:46 pm, Blogger Callum said...

"I shall be supporting England because, for better or worse, that is where I am from"

Fine, but don't you see, ultimately, how arbitrary and meaningless that support is. Why should "being from the same place" instill a sense of "belonging" in a group? You may aswell support a team because they share your hair colour or race or political affiliation. Because, does "Englishness" really enter your "day-to-day" experience. Is that what you think about when you interact with people - are they "English"?

"The England team is one of the few things that exclusively unites the people south of the Scottish border and west of the Welsh border - very little else does."

Really? I get the sense that patriotism, especially English patriotism, is an inherently exclusivist phenomenon. It's not the case that "everyone" gets behind the team. Look at the crowd in Manchester today, it will have been 90-95 white, and predominantly male. Why is it that the England football team remains, to a large degree, an enclave of this minority?

I'd suggest that it's because it provides not a "solidaristic unity", but a rather nasty, vulgar, chauvinistic form of "identity". This expresses itself in many forms: from the "I'd rather be a Paki than a Turk" chanting at the England-Turkey game a few years ago, to the, I'm sure, anti-German, xenophobia we'll witness in Germany.

But, you may ask, why is this different from any other type of nationalism? And I'd suggest that English, nay, "British identity, is not the expression of some "positive" or "emancipatory" urge. It's not like the nationalism of former colonial states or of the oppressed today, because it expresses not a desire for "freedom", but a reactionary "attachment to the past". A hatred of the "Other".

At 10:49 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But taking this view surely means that supporting any football team is meaningless. Your issue seems to be with supporting any football team at all. As soon as you want one team to win, be they Carlisle United or England, you set yourself against another set of people. Of course the concept of Englishness does not enter my life on a daily basis, neither does the fact that I come from East Anglia but that doesn't stop me from supporting a rather dismal team from those parts.

Is it not possible to divide the notion of "English patriotism" with a simple desire for the England team to do well at the World Cup ? I reject the notion that anyone who wants England to do well subscribes to the "rather nasty, vulgar, chauvinistic form of "identity" that you describe.

Once again I feel obliged to point out that of course racist behaviour from a minority of people is disgusting and wrong but why should that prevent me from the simple pleasure of watching a group of people who I watch every week on Match of the Day play together in a tournament against the rest of the World. I agree with you that there is an element of the "hatred of the other" in an element of English football support but I don't believe that is a uniform opinion or that those who chose to support the England team are giving it tacit support.


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