Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Paulo di Canio: the faith and fascism of football


 From Brother Ivo:

Football is, as Jimmy Greaves used to say is 'a funny old game'.

Never was this better illustrated than this week when David Miliband resigned his recently-acquired £75k pa non-executive directorship of Sunderland Football club on hearing of the appointment of Paolo Di Canio as their new manager.

That decision has attracted huge publicity and comment. Some approve his 'principled stand' against Mr Di Canio’s apparent fascist politics, though it has to be said many of those would now be crying 'McCarthyism' if his politics had been of the left. Others, like Paul Goodman of ConservativeHome, used the occasion to revisit the debate 'Is Fascism of the Left or the Right?', whilst Iain Dale pointed out that nobody took much notice when Mr Di Canio plied his trade in the lower ranks of football at Swindon Town.

Brother Ivo doubts this controversy will end soon, however, for there are rich layers of contrast and irony and he predicts that such a story will continue to attract comment for some time.

Yesterday it was revealed that the BBC, which has run enthusiastically with this story, was not unduly troubled by the politics when they signed Mr Di Canio as a monthly pundit for its own website, where they were happy to describe him as 'one of football's most controversial and colourful characters'.

This is plainly a target-rich environment, and as we appear to have have a national obsession for both the game and the cultural politics of left/right, no doubt Question Time and Any Questions will keep the story alive.

Brother Ivo’s own two pennyworth might as well be added here.

Nobody is unduly troubled that Sir Alex Ferguson played for Glasgow Rangers Football Club when it refused to sign Roman Catholic players, or that former defence secretary John Reid is now Chairman of Celtic, whose repertoire of terrace songs and chants periodically praises the IRA. In fairness, the club does disapprove but seemingly cannot extricate itself from its historical roots.

Rather more interesting is Brother Ivo’s realisation that football fans (usually men) will desert their spouses, abandon their children, change their religion, betray their country and even alter their sex; it is, however, extraordinarily rare for such a fan to cross the rubicon and support a bitter rival, whether that be Spurs/Arsenal, Manchester United/Liverpool, or Lazio/Roma.

He understands that it will be a major news story when a Lazio-supporting priest is appointed to work at the Vatican, where AS Roma is the team of choice.

Such is the obsession of fans, that when US fast-food franchise TGI Friday first opened in Newcastle, it was troubled to find that it was attracting few clients, until locals pointed out that their staff were wearing the hated red and white stripes of Sunderland. It is the only such outlet in the world whose staff wear black shirts, which is perhaps rather ironic in the circumstances.

What is this all telling us? It was the late Bill Shankley who said: “Some people say football is a matter of life and death - but it's much more serious than that.”

There is perhaps a hidden truth in this: the game's adopted language and metaphors are those of religion.

Football has its saints, sinners, scapegoats and martyrs. It has its quasi-liturgical year, but when disaster strikes in the form of relegation or elimination, its adherents speak to one another of renewal and resurrection. Disaster attracts the building of makeshift shrines with votive offerings.

Fans encourage each other to keep the faith - and they do.

The late Danny Blanchflower observed that 'It’s not about winning - its about glory'.

An equalising goal can be transformative; a new manager is hailed as a messiah; a crafty opposition striker can be castigated as the Devil incarnate, until such time as he signs for the team, at which point he is welcomed as a repentant sinner.

It also serves as a social glue.

Dr Samuel Johnson once said that he encouraged his dinner guests to 'talk bawdy', for on that subject all men could discourse on an equal footing. Modern society is not averse to salacious talk, but soccer talk especially crosses boundaries of class, race, religion, politics, and even gender.

When the BBC offers six and even seven-figure contracts to its pundits, it is not to provide certainty but to identify talking points. With replays and the internet, each of us may have his or her own opinion and share it. Controversies can be prolonged for days in a way that old print journalism never could. Once, a reporter could record that there was a debatable decision; now it can be instantly replayed and then slowed, digitally examined with computer-generated graphics, and reviewed from virtual camera angles.

The football culture is removed from, but related to, our religious world view. This is both dispiriting and yet strangely encouraging. It may not quite be the subject for a sermon on Intelligent Design, but it does suggest that human beings are hard-wired for hope, transformation and triumph over adversity, however unlikely in many parts of the footballing and non-footballing universe.

These cultural inclinations are not limited to football. In Constantinople, the Charioteer rivalry between the Blues and the Greens was fierce and at times murderously violent. We can see a similar rivalry in the Siennese Palio. One may even find it in the rivalry between the great Opera Houses, where a similar religious language of triumph, character, tragedy or resolution is to be found.

In many forms, mankind is seeking to assuage a thirst for meaning and to receive the satisfaction of his ill-defined longing; the need to belong and a deep desire to feel accepted as part of a worthwhile endeavour.

Those of us proritising a true religion rather than a dim reflection need to learn how to work with that grain of humanity, which is perhaps why God sent us a carpenter to show us how it may be done.

(Posted by Brother Ivo)

14 Comments:

Blogger Tony B said...

I take it Brother Ivo is not a football fan, and doesn't know as much about the game as he pretends to.

3 April 2013 at 12:11  
Blogger Elby the Beserk said...

Would that be this David Miliband?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1206833/David-Miliband-There-circumstances-terrorism-justifiable.html

3 April 2013 at 12:30  
Blogger Youthpasta said...

I am more interested to know whether the comment about Lazio/Roma and the Vatican is true, or just an attempt to throw a bit of humour into the mix?

3 April 2013 at 12:30  
Blogger Marie1797 said...

Thoughtful post Brother Ivo, thank you.
People used to follow Christ now they follow Football and Rugby teams instead. Religious leaders will have to look hard and deep into the teachings of Jesus again in order to recapture his spirit and
preach it with relevance to our modern day society. And I don't mean adopting urban dictionary speak or mutating into some form of LGBT club with women at the helm.

I've always thought myself that these games ( Football and Rugby) bring out the more basal and tribal instincts in man rather than fostering good humoured progressive, civilised competitiveness.

3 April 2013 at 16:51  
Blogger Brother Ivo said...

Brother Tony,
I think regular following of the game over decades might cause you to revise your view, though why it should matter in context puzzles.

Youth pasta, That information came out of a rather fascinating airport conversation with a Vatican insider during a flight delay at Naples airport over a couple of hours. It was a light conversation with this amidst several (not discreditable) amusing anecdotes that Bro Ivo prefers to keep to himself. He has no doubt it was not maliciously suggested.

To confound Brother Tony, it is not surprising most Romans look to AS Roma as the Fascist era saw an amalgamation of various Roman teams to produce a strong contender against the Northern giants ( then Torino of Turin) Mussolini and one or two others favoured Lazio so that club was left out of the amalgamation. The fanatical Roman support comes from the Travastere district near the Vatican, whilst Lazio support tends to be from the greater region from which it is named. Nobody should draw any very serious conclusion from a casual remark lightly made but truthfully reported.

3 April 2013 at 17:39  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...



Ivo. Football - the living embodiment that man is pre-programmed to accept a higher authority: A god for him to worship, if he cannot worship God alone, if you will. Even if it means impoverishing yourself and your family to follow the ‘greedy game’. Fortunately, the Inspector operates on a higher plane so has no need for this colossal waste of time, money and energies. But don’t let you lesser intellects be put off from your own ball devotion by this man.

There is much to be said for Italian fascism, and its ordered view. In the 1920s, it was very popular, and amongst its ranks were legions of Jews. Of particular significance was the refusal of Mussolini to deport any of them into the hands of that Austrian madman. Very commendable. No doubt the Inspector will receive a swipe for this eulogy, but fascism kept Italy out of the hands of the Bolsheviks, and of course, established the Vatican.

Viva Paulo di Canio !

Viva il duce !





3 April 2013 at 19:16  
Blogger Peter Damian said...

Brother Ivo
Clearly you've never stood freezing on the terraces of the Globe Arena watching your team lose to Wycombe Wanderers on April Fools Day!

Yet, you raise an intereating point about the source of man's spiritual and religious need: "human beings are hard-wired for hope, transformation and triumph over adversity" - not forgetting sacrifice as the pivotal concept.

Sadly, this aspect of our nature can be distorted and manipulated through emotion.

Many religions evolved out of star worship in an attempt to make sense out of life. Before the revelation to the Jews and then through Christ, man gave meaning to his existance through observing the patterns of nature and pagan worship reflected the themes of sacrifice, death and resurrection.

Did God place this need in us - or did it evolve? Is it simply a matter of emotion or does it require a rational element too?

Some 'christian' ministers hold that the death and resurrection story of Christ is an adapted and historicised version of ancient tales. The crucifixion and resurrection narratives retell the cycle of seasons, the death and return of the Sun. The Easter story is myth; no more than a powerful and wise sacred story; a historicised version of ancient myths where dying and rising gods represent the cycle of the seasons and the stars.

These 'christian theologians' see the crucifixion and resurrection as a spiritual story about hope beyond despair, redemption and new life. Being a 'christian' is spiritual, not a doctrinal; it is defined by feeling, values, spiritual practices, and 'faith' rather than belief in doctrine. They say, if the resurrection of Christ didn’t literally happen, that has no bearing on whether life now is worth living or how we live.

Having been to political rallies, football matches, rock concerts and to evangelical meetings, there seems to me to be very little difference between them. Now, add reason, study and doctrine and a qualitatively different phenomena emerges.

3 April 2013 at 20:13  
Blogger Berserker said...

The football terraces might soon be making a comeback. Soccer is the English working man's last available right to shout and swear and let go. At home on the English hearth. he is kept in place by 'her indoors' as we are the most feminised race on this earth. If he can get a job it is poorly paid as the Socialist Union's have destroyed our economy.

Now if he lived in Germany or Italy in the 1930's after the hyper inflation years, he would as so many Germans did, love and admire Hitler and Mussolini for getting them out of degradation and poverty and giving them pride again. It's a great pity our trains don't run on time!

I read in the newspapers today how many millions died under fascism. Hey ho, a lot more died under Communism and Socialism but if say De Canio had been of that lefty persuasion and said he was a comrade and a bolshevik and had the Red Flag printed on his vest, I doubt whether the lazy media journos would have even lifted an amused eyebrow. For make no mistake, this frenzy is about selling newspapers.

3 April 2013 at 22:44  
Blogger joseph burrell said...

is he a nazi supporter?

4 April 2013 at 00:39  
Blogger David Lindsay said...

David Miliband was going to have to resign from Sunderland, anyway. He could hardly have done the job from New York. But one hopes that this appalling appointment will finally bring to a head the question of who owns this country's last great expressions of working-class culture, and last great focal points of local patriotism.

There should be mutual ownership of the clubs by the fans, as in Spain. And there should be municipal ownership of the grounds, as in, now that we come to mention it, Italy. The Americans would never permit ownership of major sports teams by foreign nationals thousands of miles, who knew nothing about the local culture and who cared only about the money. They are right. Nor should we.

The Durham Miners' Association, which is rightly demanding the return of the Wearmouth Miners' Lodge Banner than hangs in the Stadium of Light over the former mineshaft, is not short of a bob or two. It continues to put on the Gala ever year, and it co-owns the Morning Star, which still comes out as a daily paper despite also publishing its entire content on the Internet. Watch that space.

Meanwhile, Sunderland was part of County Durham in September 1943, when the Durham Light Infantry was part of the army that landed at Salerno, Reggio and Taranto, thereby beginning the liberation of Italy. That city's football club therefore has until 3rd September 2013, the seventieth anniversary of the start of the Italian Campaign, to be rid of this person.

Or let all hell break loose from the Tyne to the Tees two months later on Remembrance Sunday.

4 April 2013 at 01:35  
Blogger Gnostic said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4 April 2013 at 08:08  
Blogger Gnostic said...

I would ask Milipede how many people Di Canio has sentenced to die of cold and cold related illnesses because they've been plunged into fuel poverty due to his support of his brother's outrageously flawed and tax-grubbing Climate Bill?

So who's the real fascist here?

4 April 2013 at 08:12  
Blogger Steropes said...

I understand that the Soviets and their successors always use the term Fascists when denigrating the Nazis as of course NAZI is an acronym for National Socialists.

4 April 2013 at 10:54  
Blogger len said...

One picture says more than a thousand words.

When a Society turns away from God then the` isms start to appear.Communism , Fascism, and the latest 'Secular Humanism' which will be the foreunner the 'perfect vehicle' for the antichrist.

4 April 2013 at 18:57  

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