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alt.culture.sport

Carlton Brick on a new book that suggests why even Tony Blair now wants to pose for photos in a football shirt

Using our religion

Not so long ago football and the football fan were considered the lowest of the low. Foul-mouthed, violent and uncultured, we were the dirt on society's shoe. But nowadays the politicians who poured scorn on the game cannot wait to get their kits out for the lads. Edited by Gary Armstrong and Richard Giulanotti, Entering the Field: New Perspectives on World Football offers some insights into this transformation.

Entering the Field looks at the role of football in countries as diverse as Argentina, Italy, Palestine, Scotland, and the USA. Eschewing both the simplistic studies of 'hooliganism' and the platitudes of the Hornbyesque school of 'new football' writing, the essays edited and introduced by Armstrong and Giulanotti shed light on what they call 'the politicisation of football and the footballisation of politics'.

According to Armstrong, in Britain the previous discussion about football has been dominated by 'an overriding concern with controlling and criminalising spectators'. Giulanotti believes that 'new insights have been afforded by bringing in individuals to contribute to the book who are not necessarily interested in football as such, but see football as important to developments in society'.

Perhaps the most striking contribution is the chapter by anthropologist Paul Richards, 'Soccer and violence in war-torn Africa'. Richards draws attention to the role of football in attempts to create a new sense of civil society in Sierra Leone, a country ravaged by war and economic dislocation. Where the old institutions of order and authority have broken down, Richards believes that 'new idioms of social incorporation must be invented'. In the post-political society, this is the role which football is called upon to play - and not just in the Third World.

The chapter by David L Andrews, Robert Pitter, Detlev Zwick and Darren Ambrose, 'Soccer's racial frontier: sport and the suburbanisation of contemporary America', shows how the white suburban middle classes have dominated the development of the game in the USA over the last 20 years, leading to the emergence of 'soccer mums' who are keen to point their children towards football and away from more traditional sports which are now dominated by blacks. Andrews et al recognise that the discussion about 'soccer' in the USA has become a codified debate about race, a 'convenient form of cultural "distinction", for marking off this privileged social caste in class and ethnic terms'.

In Europe the 'footballisation of politics' is also well developed, as in the case of Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister and owner of Seria A giants AC Milan. In the early nineties the mushrooming of Berlusconi's post-political movement Forza Italia provided a vivid example of the attempt to use football and the media to engage with an electorate which has had its fill of both left and right wing ideologies.

Drawing on a wide range of experiences from different parts of the world, Armstrong and Giulanotti demonstrate the key factor in the political mainstreaming of football: from war-torn Africa to white Middle America, football has become a metaphor for the desire to create new forms of political legitimacy, and a dramatic representation of the search for new moral identities.

With this in mind, it is easier to understand recent developments in Britain. Where once the discussion of football consisted of nothing more than demands for increased police powers and draconian restrictions on the movements of supporters, football is now a major player in the attempt to create a new sense of British society. In a world where traditional institutions are viewed with contempt, football provides an appropriately non-ideological focus for the presentation of ideas about New Britain under New Labour. Like Sean Bean's advert for football - 'It's our religion' - on Sky says, 'It's part of our history, part of our country, and it will be part of our future'. Hence Tony Blair's football-friendly administration (even on holiday the prime minister is photographed in the strip of an Italian police team), and the 'fair deal for all' task force headed by David Mellor.

Armstrong and Giulanotti provide a timely comparison between the game we know and love and the programmes of social engineering devised by the missionaries of the nineteenth century. Both of these, they point out, 'originated from the sons of the middle classes, and were concerned with discerning discipline and order among those assumed to be lower on the evolutionary scale....Both assumed the mantle of the "white man's burden" in "civilising" those with skin darkened by pigmentation of the filth of industrial production'.

In the nineteenth century, the social missionaries set up football clubs in the dark cities of Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. In the late twentieth century, the new social missionaries are revamping football in their own image. The mission of the government's task force is to transform stadiums into arenas of social and moral education: thou shalt not stand, thou shalt not offend thy neighbour, thou shalt not insult or abuse the opposition, thou shalt not swear or smoke in the family enclosure. Football today is less of a sport and more like a Sunday school for the nineties, or a morality play for the millennium; and in this respect, it is going back to its roots in the last century.

In their attitudes to football and its supporters, today's politicians rarely display the studs-up stamp-on-them technique associated with the Thatcher years. Instead they talk in the language of inclusiveness, fairness and community - the jargon of 'new football'. The language may have changed, but controlling crowds remains a priority. Moreover, football is emerging as a model for the re-ordering of society as a whole. Gary Armstrong said to me over a beer that 'football has always been a convenient receptacle into which to pour political and personal prejudices'. In the new model football, the prejudices of the missionaries against the masses are more virulently expressed than ever before.

Entering The Field: New Perspectives on World Football, is published by Berg £34.99 hbk, £14.99 pbk

Carlton Brick is a founder member of Libero!, the football supporters' network


Boxing ko'd

On 25 June 1997, Bury Metropolitan Council became the first local authority in Britain to ban professional boxing (amateur boxing can still take place in the borough). After a public debate, Bury councillors voted 23-17 to ban the professional sport. Council leader Derek Bowden said: 'Medical evidence showed boxing resulted in unacceptable harm, particularly brain damage, and I believe that we have a duty to care.' He added that professional boxing was unacceptable given Bury council's commitment to promoting health and well-being.

The decision infuriated Bury-born British Flyweight Champion Ady Lewis, whose eagerness to defend his title in his home town prompted the council's debate. Lewis' manager Jack Doughty told me: 'It's not on. This is not just about Ady, it's about the many other boxers we have down the gym. Ady is very disappointed but we can go elsewhere. These people don't know the first thing about boxing but they are telling us what to do. We are certainly going to fight this decision.' The British Boxing Board of Control also plans to contest the ban.

Boxing is billed by its adversaries as a less-civilised form of Russian roulette. But it is safer than they make out. There are medical officers at ringside and referees are encouraged to step in quickly if a fighter is in trouble. Dr Charlie Knowles, a research fellow in surgery at the London Hospital and medical officer of the London Amateur Boxing Association, reports that 'the incidents of acute injuries requiring any form of hospital attendance are certainly rare, taking boxing as a whole far down the ranks of all sports and below sports such as women's hockey and badminton. It is true that the professional sport has been punctuated by the occasional devastating injury but the number of such instances over the last decade can probably be counted on one hand, and such limited statistics cannot really reflect on the sport as a whole'.

Boxing can be brutal, but it is also exhilarating to watch and to take part in. Fighters gain fitness, confidence and the chance to earn money. The biggest purse yet was $60 million, shared between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield for their rematch earlier this year. With the possible exception of pop music, I cannot think of any other arena in which men from poor backgrounds can earn that kind of money. It makes me think that the current hostility towards boxing bears no relation to the injury-rate among fighters. It is more a reflection of a society in which aggression and ambition are increasingly outlawed, where the sight of young boxers flaunting their trim physique and their fat wallets constitutes an affront to the sensibilities of the new moral missionaries in Bury and beyond.

Mark Collings writes for Amateur Boxing Scene and trains boxers at St George's ABC in East London


Signs of the times

'What about all the children who will grow up never knowing her?'

wailing mourner at the Diana vigil speaking to GMTV reporter

'If one is endlessly judging every single picture - one by one - the tension is so great one feels like having a wank!'

Art critic Brian Sewell describes the joys of being part of an awards panel

'When visiting the surrounding area, please act with courtesy at all times'

ticket message at the Romney Marsh Hell's Angels convention.

Octogenarian former Daily Telegraph editor Bill Deedes is a regular visitor, and a great admirer of the Angels' discipline, though he admits he is 'not much into leather studded gear'.

'Rastafarian-type persons do not wish to co-operate with the police'

Inspector John Chandler, explaining why everybody except the suspect was wearing make-up and a wig in an identity parade at Gloucester

'I'm intrigued at how people react to someone dressed in costume', said Brian Cheeseman, a university lecturer in children's play.
Not too well, it seems. He was ejected from Headingly cricket ground while dressed as a carrot. He was accused of being drunk and disorderly, a charge he strenuously denies.

Twenty-two policemen from various forces are to be charged following 'unacceptable behaviour' with a stripper, including licking chocolate from her body.

Police on Tyneside are electronically tagging children's replica football shirts. Apparently there is a crime wave involving thefts from washing lines.

'Having survived somewhat greater dangers than breakfast, I really think I should be able to make my own decisions on whether the eggs finish me off'

Captain Peter Jones, 88, former bomber pilot. The Albury Park residential home in which he lives with other aged war heroes has stopped serving soft boiled eggs for breakfast on the advice of environmental health officers.

The forthcoming autobiography of Air Marshall Sir Peter Horsley, Second World War pilot and former head of Strike Command, will reveal how he spoke with aliens about life on flying saucers, and learned how they carry spare body parts in their luggage.

Paul Smith (the fork-lift truck driver, not the designer) has formed English Rights Scotland, to fight anti-English 'discrimination'.

Bristol Rovers have introduced a no-swearing terrace. Meanwhile Sheffield United's new manager, Nigel Spackman, has decided not to swear at his players. Other clubs are considering following suit, though some are considering designated areas specifically for foul language.

'I was always the one to test out the limitations of the costume. I was the first to fall off my chair and roll over. I took all the risks'

Dave Thompson, the original Tinky Winky of Teletubbies fame, who has been told by BBC management that it is time for Tubby bye-byes

BBC weatherman Michael Fish has been reprimanded for sporting a sun tan. This was 'irresponsible', because he was supposed to warn people not to spend too long in the sun.


alt.culture.comedy

Cuddly comic Sean Hughes showed his cynical side to Timandra Harkness

Serious Sean

If you remember Sean Hughes as the charming but eternally hopeless teenager of Sean's Show, his new novel The Detainees may come as a bit of a shock. The main characters lead a bleak existence. 'Why are we so messed up?', John asks himself on page two, prompting me to fear that I was in for 300 pages of existential angst. But besides self-doubt there is a good story here too, and humour, but of the darkest kind.

The challenge Sean set himself was 'can I write a thriller without lots of killings and blackmail?'. It is also a thriller without goodies and baddies. 'I didn't want to have any heroes. That's an easy ride. I want them to see bits of themselves in all the characters.'

David Baddiel and Ben Elton before him have moved from microphone to manuscript, but Sean dismisses any theory that he is part of a gang of comics which is turning to the novel. 'Comics are writers first and foremost', he insists, and this is just a bigger canvas. 'I wanted to get to grips with a fuller story. With stand-up you can really only scratch the surface.'

'The only similarity with the novel and the stand-up would be my first four years of stand-up, when I dealt with childhood a lot. The stand-up's moved on to a different area of my life, so it was really putting a cap on my childhood, and writing about it with honesty, and getting into all the nooks and crannies which I was never able to do in a stand-up show. In essence, the novel was putting that part of my life to sleep.'

So Sean Hughes live on stage is no longer the loveable puppy of the TV show? Declaring that 'it's time for another Jerry Sadowitz', Sean admits that 'I was very young when I did Sean's Show and I played my vulnerable trump card a bit too much. The new stage show is a lot more cynical, a lot more real'.

Alibis for Life, the show he took to the Edinburgh Festival, is about a man deciding whether to 'commit' to a woman. 'A lot of that is quite dark', says Sean, 'and I make no apologies for that'. Some of his fans are having to be forcibly weaned off the old, easy Sean. 'For anyone who says they want to see my early work, I suggest that they go and see some of the newer comics and, when they get fed up with that, come and see something with a little bit more depth.'

Like Sean's new show, The Detainees is a book which wants to be deep. Its protagonists are not materially deprived, but there is an air of hopelessness about them, certainly at the beginning. Sean describes them as 'fairly reality-based', and talks about 'telling truths - especially ones that people don't want to hear'. Does he see life this bleakly?

'I think democracy's dead, when all you can vote for is A or B. There's no big thinkers any more. People see happiness in their subculture instead of fighting against culture. If anyone sits down and thinks their life through, they are going to get a bit distraught.' Small wonder, then, that his characters are lost and alone, seeking solace in drugs, therapy and violence.

Sean is somewhat angst-ridden himself. 'The world will destroy itself eventually', he believes. 'Not in our lifetime, but eventually. We are hurtling towards extinction.' Meanwhile, his philosophy is to 'live for the moment. Do as much as you possibly can. I like to be working on two or three things at the same time, so I don't get bored'.

Sean Hughes tours Britain with Alibis for Life in the autumn, before taking the show to Australia. The comedy pop-quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks, with Sean Hughes on the panel, is about to start another run on BBC2; and The Detainees is published by Simon & Schuster £12.99 hbk


Funny girls

Fawcett's Funny Girls: Cartooning for Equality is an exhibition of cartoons about women, men and the battle of the sexes. It is also a showcase for the recently reorganised Fawcett Society, founded more than 130 years ago by the suffragist Millicent Garrett Fawcett.

Curated by Diane Atkinson, who also organised Purple, White and Green: Suffragettes in London 1906-14 at the London Museum, Funny Girls is a treat. Atkinson has drawn together the best gags from both sides in the sex-war, from the campaign for the vote, through wartime working, to current images of career-women and their families.

Ridicule was an important part of the campaign to keep women down, and Funny Girls visits a delicious revenge on the anti-suffragettes by showing their work in all its absurdity. The cartoonists of the early twentieth century relied upon 'common sense' prejudice to present an absurd picture of a female parliament (David Low), or a woman speaker in the House of Commons, or simply a household abandoned by a politically active mother (Punch). Among the best exhibits is Atkinson's counterposition of John Hassall's drawing of pinched old crones entitled 'Sufragettes who have never been kissed', with the stunningly attractive faces of the real suffragettes.

Wartime cartoons play with the reversal of sexual roles, with women shown in uniform and working in munitions factories, as in the drawing by Giles of a welder being wooed with flowers. As subject matter war work is full of the twists that make for great gags, as well as the erotic charge of sexual ambiguity.

Atkinson sets Posy Simmonds' strip The World Turned Upside Down, in which a bullying woman boss sends her simpering male secretary out to by some fags, alongside the eighteenth and early nineteenth century engravings which Simmonds was referring to. The originals depict men in harness pulling horses, and, equally ridiculous, a woman going out to work.

One of the merits of Funny Girls is that it includes apparently misogynist cartoons like Reg Smythe's Andy Capp alongside the work of feminists such as the Guardian's Posy Simmonds and Jacky Fleming. Andy Capp has been taking his wife Florrie for granted since 1957. But is this a joke on women or on male chauvinism? Asked if his cartoon reflected his own attitudes, Smythe says cryptically 'it's a toss-up as to who is doing the reflecting - myself or Andy Capp'.

Today's women cartoonists mine a rich vein of hypocrisy among 'new men' who preach equality, but still hang on to the top jobs. Others have turned their attention to the tension between domestic drudgery and career. Fleming's dinner party hostess nonchalantly tosses the washing-up, plate by plate, out of the window. In another cartoon a mother explains to her son that his long-lost father 'is at a workshop for men who missed their daddies when they were little'. So that's what they call a pub nowadays.

James Heartfield

Fawcett's Funny Girls is at the Art Connoiseur Gallery, London from 14 October to 27 November. Funny Girls, the book of the exhibition, is published by Penguin £9.99 pbk

'Yer look proper poorly. Florrie, don't yer bother about the washin'-up tonight - do it in the mornin'.'


alt.culture.fiction

No gangsta

Courttia Newland considers the media coverage of his acclaimed debut novel, The Scholar

'I'm a writer. I use my imagination. It's like being an actor. But people try to pigeon-hole you, and a lot of people are making me out to be this gangsta type which I am not. I have said to photographers that I am not doing another picture on the estate, because I am fed up of them saying "stand by some graffiti", like that's all I am about. It is patronising. For this book here, I suppose I am going to have to take it. The only way I can get round it is by writing more stories and proving I can go elsewhere. Basically they are saying, it's all right for this guy to be writing about urban London or whatever, but that's where it ends. Nearly every interview I have done, this Boyz 'n the Hood thing has been brought up.

'Most people just give up trying to change their lives. I see a lot of talented people, who are a lot more interesting than the media people you've got at the moment, and we're told don't think about being a writer, just go and work in a shop. If it wasn't for this book now I would be stacking shelves - that's what I was doing before. People are crushed - not like in The Scholar - that doesn't happen to everyone. Most of the time it's a lot more mundane and boring than that. It's just a guy who says "I give up". That is such a waste of people.'

Courttia Newland was talking to Andrew Calcutt

The Scholar is published by Abacus £9.99 pbk


Reproduced from LM issue 104, October 1997
 
 

 

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