I had been thinking of compiling a team of past and present footballers who happened to have interesting or even extreme politics. Of course, problems arose. Would a fascist winger track back to help out a commie fullback? Would that fullback overlap for the winger? The answer is: probably. Nevertheless I decided to make two teams – one with vaguely right-wing sensibilities, from Thatcherites to full-blown Nazis; and the other made up of old-school socialists, squatters and even a Situationist prankster (kind of).
Now for the left wingers.
I wrote about Ippig a few months ago (see punk footballers article) but it is hard to overlook him for this team. Ippig was not content to be a typical st. Pauli player. He wanted the full experience and lived in the radical squats on and near Hafenstrasse. Ippig was heavily involved with the St. Pauli fans and their various activities in the community and around Hamburg.
A true fighter in defence, Thuram always gave everything for his team. He is equally committed when it comes to politics. Thuram was born in Guadeloupe but moved to France as a child. He is proud of his Caribbean roots and has tried to raise awareness of the problems faced by newly arrived immigrants in France, as well as the difficulties that Caribbean islanders must face daily. He was the player who led the multi-cultural French sides of the 90s in their revolt against Le Pen, and certain elements of the French media, when the number of black players in the squad was questioned. Le Pen was not his only political enemy. During the riots of 2005, Thuram began to meet with people from the banlieus. He then tried to air some of their grievances to the press and discussed how he understood their anger and their violence. When Sarkozy called the rioters “scum” Thuram responded, “if they are scum then I am scum”. He crossed paths with Sarkozy again a few years later, after learning about some 80 immigrants being evicted from their illegal dwellings. He presented the newly homeless with free tickets to the France versus Italy match. This drew Sarkozy’s ire. Thuram has been politically engaged since retiring from football and recently curated an exhibition in the Paris museum about France’s human zoos, in which colonial subjects were resented as oddities and exhibits. Thuram continues to assert that France has not addressed its colonial past and ongoing racism.
The first black player to line out for the Republic of Ireland, Hughton was an intelligent and determined full-back. While playing for Spurs in the 80’s, Hughton wrote a regular column in the Workers Revolutionary Party (Trotskyist) newspaper, Newsline. He campaigned to end apartheid in South Africa and refused to travel there for training or games.
Presas didn’t make a huge impact as a Barcelona player between 2003 and 2008, but he reamins an icon. One of the enduring stories from his time at the Camp Nou tells of the battered old van that he drove to training (on the occassions when he didn’t choose public transport) and how he loved to park beside Ronaldinho’s sports car. Presas was a dedicated footballer, but managed to find time to co-author a novel (Road to Ithaca). He writes of the Catalan resistance to Franco and the continuing struggle for independence. Presas was an often controversial figure and an alleged fight with a police officer shadowed him through his career. He dedicated the only goal of his career to a 14-year-old boy arrested for wheat-pasting posters critical of his town mayor.
An Inter legend, Zanetti is a fast, exciting full-back who loves to charge forward. Perhaps it was the courage and determination of the EZLN (Zapatistas) which inspired Zanetti to lend his support to their cause. He insisted that Inter donate all of the money that they received in fines from players who were late for training to the EZLN. He also convinced the club to buy an ambulance for the rebels. Subcomandante Marcos then suggested a match, which unfortunately, never happened. Zanetti responded in an open letter to the Zapatistas:
‘We believe in a better world, in a unglobalised world, enriched by the cultural differences and customs of all the people. This is why we want to support you in this struggle to maintain your roots and fight for your ideals.’
A versatile player who could operate on the right, as a centre back or as a shielding midfielder. Karembeu is probably the greatest player ever born in the South Pacific. He hails from New Caledonia, a small group of islands about 1500 kms off the north-east coast of Australia. New Caledonia has been a French colony since the 1850s when it was used as a penal colony. The history of the islands changed when nickel was discovered in the 1860s. Suddenly the islands were making huge amounts of money for France but the indigenous Kanak people were forced onto reservations, while mining seriously damaged the local environment. The Kanak have struggled for greater control of their homeland for generations and Christian Karembeu has helped to introduce and explain that struggle to a wide audience. Karembeu first arrived in France as a trainee at Nantes aged 17. He was not the first member of his family to have been brought to France. His great-grandfather Willy, and two other family members, had been part of a Kanak exhibit at the 1931 Colonial Exhibition. They were slaves in a human zoo. The label on their exhibit read “Cannibal Men” and they were forced to swim in swampy water with a crocodile. When one of the crocs suddenly died, some of the Kanak were traded for a new one from a German zoo where they were then put on display.
When Jean-Marie Le Pen criticised the French national squad for not singing the Marseillaise, many players responded by singing with added gusto. Karembeu, however, felt that silence was the appropriate response and from that day forth refused to sing the anthem. Before games he remained stony faced as his colleagues sang. When asked what he thought about at these moments he said that he thinks about his ancestors who fought and died in France’s wars and how the Marseillaise would “accompany the cannon fire”. Karembeu points out that
“the history of France is the history of its colonies and its wealth. Above all I am Kanak and I cannot sing the anthem because I know the history of my people.”
Karembeu has written a movie entitled “Kanak: A neglected history” which is currently in production.
“The Doctor”. Perhaps the greatest Brazilian player to have never won the world cup (Zico?), Socrates was a true all-rounder. Aside from his obvious qualities going forward – huge range of passing, terrific vision and an eye for goal – he was an asset when the opposition had the ball. He had physical strength, canny positional sense and could tackle. During the military dictatorship in Brazil (1965-’84) a militaristic style became the vogue in Brazilian club football. Discipline, obedience and organisation were the key words. Socrates did not fit into this model. He was a rebel. Socrates began by trying to change his club, Corinthians. He formed a grassroots group called Corinthian Democracy in opposition to the “Order and Truth” movement. They proposed consensus decision-making in every part of the club. The new group forced out the cartolas (top-hats) and soon Corinthians were paving the way for a new Brazil. The club carried “Democracia” banners onto the pitch to promote local politicians who opposed the Junta.
Socrates had this to say about his fight:
‘I’m struggling for freedom, for respect, for ample and unrestricted discussions, for a professional democratisation… and all this from a soccer player, preserving the lucid and pleasurable nature of this activity’.
He knew that if he, and Corinthians, could help to change football then there was a chance they could help to change Brazil.
Watford legend who usually played as a striker but was a strong dribbler and so he will take up the right-wing position in this team. Blissett scored a record 148 goals for Watford in his three stints with the Hornets. However, it was his brief, disastorous spell with A.C, Milan that sees him gain a place here. For some, mysterious reason a group of Bologna based activists and artists began using the nom de plume Luther Blissett for a series of outlandish pranks. Luther Blissett’s various ‘activities’ involved manipulating the media using phony information, organising subversive street parties and even sending the Italain police on wild goose chases for imaginary missing people. Their actions culminated in the publication of the novel “Q” about a mysterious troublemaker who travels around 16th Century Europe instigating and taking part in various uprisings and rebellions. Of course the real Luther Blissett was not involved in any of this (or perhaps he was) but did endorse the use of his name. In 2004 he read a statement live on ITVs saying:
“Chiunque può essere Luther Blissett, semplicemente adottando il nome Luther Blissett” [Anyone can be Luther Blissett simply by adopting the name Luther Blissett].
Another striker who has been shunted back to the left-wing because of his passing, control and dribbling prowess. Sindelar was the most exciting and skillful player of his generation. He was the star of the Austrian “Wunderteam” and perhaps the finest player the game produced up until the emergence of De Stefano and Puskas. However, by 1938 Austria was annexed by Hitler’s Germany and a new team was to be formed. A celebratory anschluss-spiel (alliance game) was organised between the two teams. It was to be Austrias final game before becoming Germany’s newest province and by many accounts it was pre-determined that the game should finish a draw. Sindelar decided to make a mockery of this by creating golden opportunities but then spectacularly missing the target. Finally with 70 minutes on the clock he converted a chance and performed an exuberant dance in front of the nazi dignitaries. Austria finished 2-0 winners. Despite his transgression Sindelar was wanted for the new German team but he constantly made excuses and refused to play. Sindelar had become disenfranchised and bitter. He was angry at the banishment of his Jewish friends and colleagues and continued to visit and support them. It was against this background that Sindelar was found dead due to carbon-monoxide poisoning officially caused by a blocked chimney. The suspicions around his mysterious death were only enhanced by the revelation of a Gestapo file which declared he was a ‘Social Democrat, pro-Jewish and not sympathetic to the party’.
The kind of striker that no defender wants to face, Lucarelli is big, tough and scores goals. Lucarelli is the antithesis of the modern-day footballer. Lucarelli was not happy when football forced him to move away from his hometown of Livorno – a Tuscan, port city and home of Italian communism. As he pined for home he also built up a reputation as a strong and powerful player. As he moved around Italy his stock grew and so, too, did his value. In the meantime his beloved Livorno were promoted to Serie A and he knew that he finally had the chance to return. Finance was the only issue so Lucarelli proposed a 50% pay cut to make the move possible. He shrugged off the billion lira: ‘Some players buy themselves a Ferrari, or a yacht, for a billion lira. I bought myself a Livorno shirt.’ Lucarelli chose the squad number 99 in solidarity with the ultras Brigate Autonome Livornese who were formed in 1999 and who use the motto: ‘the struggle of our lives is that of the working class, of anti-fascism and of anti-capitalism, and so it will be in eternity, wherever we go.’ His goal celebrations involved a double clenched fist (Italian communist salute) or lifting his shirt to reveal an image of Che Guevara (a gesture which saw him blacklisted from the Italian national side). Lucarelli also started the newspaper Corriere di Livorno in order to ‘contribute to the diversity of opinions and the freedom of expression’ in his hometown.
Another strong goalscorer, Justin Fashanu was one of the first million pound players. He was prolific while at Norwich before his form dipped after his big money move. Fashanu is a tragic but powerful player to finish on. Sadly, he remains the only professional footballer to have come out as gay while playing when, in 1990, The Sun published his revelation (with plenty of exaggerations and inaccuracies). He claimed that his teammates took the news relatively well but he was made something of an outcast, particularly at Notts Forest. His brother, and fellow professional, John, disowned him and he was viciously abused by fans wherever he played. Despite all this, Fashanu was determined to show that he had nothing to be ashamed of and he fought for greater understanding and acceptance of gay people in England. I would love to say that he was a trail-blazer for other gay footballers but, sadly, no English professional has come out since. Fashanu’s life ended all too soon, in 1998, when he hung himself in an empty garage in London. He had fled America following allegations of sexual assault by a 17-year-old. Unbeknownst to him, the U.S. police had dropped the investigation. In his suicide note, Fashanu said: “I realised that I had already been presumed guilty. I do not want to give any more embarrassment to my friends and family.” Many prominent figures in football have since expressed deep regret, including his brother, John, and Brian Clough, about how they treated Fashanu.
One of the finest managers ever involved in English football, Shankly turned Liverpool into a world power and it is his legacy that Liverpool will always be regarded as a major team. In his 15 years at the club he won everything that there was to be won and did so in style. Shankly built his team as a unit where the players truly believed in one another and you can see that he had a similar philosophy when it came to socialism:
“The socialism I believe in is not really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day.”
This was part two of a two-part series.