We Are Family?
Where does ‘The Football Family’ live? Like all of these non-existant ‘communities’the media’s latest attempt to foster a bogus sense of collectivism amongst disperate people ‘from all walks of life’ (y’know posh people and plebs, ‘coloured folk’ and ‘gays’) is typical of a modern need to ‘belong.’ The ‘One Nation’ Torys want us to believe that we’re all in it together because while they can blame everything on Johnny Foreigner our eyes are diverted from the real enemy; the rich cartels who manufacture wars to sustain their invisible empire.
There are those who see everything in terms of national idenitity no matter how manufactured and abstract this identity is and there are those who see everything in terms of class, no matter how ill-defined this concept is. Basically I define class as economic opportunity, what chance do those at the bottom of the economc pyramid have to escape their lot and what systems are in place to ensure that very few actually do? Humans are tribal animals as Desmond Morris proved on his shit telly programme and so they have a basic psychological need to belong to things; nations, religions, politcal parties, style sub-cultures and ofcourse football clubs.
The ‘football family’ came together recently to mourn the death of Gary Speed and the collapse of Fabrice Muamba. Manchester United fanzine Red Issue’s recent Private Eye style cover (see above) has been attacked for being insensitive and cruel yet as with its recent Luis Suarez KKK mask, has used satire to raise an important issue about not only football but modern society.
There is no ‘football family’ any more than there is a ‘ping pong family.’ Whilst it’s always gratifying to see fans of different teams putting aside their tribal loyalties to pay tribute to say the victims of Hillsborough, Munich and other football related disasters, there has been a gradual slide towards mawkish sentimentality which demands two minute’s silence for all manner of non-football related tragedies.
Just as James Cameron made a fool of himself at the oscars for requesting silence in memory of those who perished on the Titanic, so football only cheapens acts of commemoration by holding two minute silences, applause, hopscotch or whatever at the merest hint of death or illness. I won’t ‘Pray for Fabrice’ thanks because I believe the power of prayer is an insult to all those who die in agony every day, y’know the ones God didn’t save. I won’t be emotionally blackmailed into two minutes silence to remember strangers or those who die needlessly in the name of ‘queen and country’ but are really being sacrificied to the City of London’s flickering share altar.
Grief is an overpowering emotion and those who attach themselves to any tragedy, regardless of their personal connection, is surely what Red Issue are attacking, not the terrible illness of the player himself. Just as some people feel the need to set up facebook tributes within minutes of a person’s death and others travel miles to place flowers at the scene of a stranger’s death, so there are football fans who will parade their grief like a club badge. I once saw a fellar walking around Liverpool city centre with Justice for Rhys and Maddy on the back of his replica Liverpool shirt. Where was the dignity in all those ghouls following Diana’s funeral cortege jumping around trying to get footage on their video cameras?
Just as modern British football has sanitised its stadia with bans on standing, racist language, homophobic language, ‘sectarian’ songs and using swear words to make the ‘experience’ acceptable to its target consumer, so Red Issue and fanzines like it are the last voice of those fans marginalised and patronised by the media, the owners and the authorities. No one wants to return the days when monkey chants and ‘Spurs Are On Their Way To Belsen’ and no one wants a return to internecine violence that marred the game during the 70s and 80s but Red Issue represent a significant part of Man United’s fanbase and their views should be expressed along with the rest of ‘public opinion’ or what the media decides public opinion is.
I have to admit that I used to write pieces for another United zine, United We Stand and always found Red Issue’s hardline a bit counter-productive and hypocritical. It’s sub-Viz toilet humour seemed designed to appeal to the most juvenile element of the supporters and whilst it liked to glorify Mancunian traditions of ‘jibbing’ and ‘grafting’ it nevertheless wallowed in attacking scousers for these very same traits. The ‘bin dippers’ and ‘granny stabbers’ of popular folklore along with its regular attacks on City and Leeds fans never seemed to have any real political purpose other than virulent regionalism.
However, like many United fanzines the ownership battles have politicised editorials over the past decade or so and there really is a ‘them and us’ schism between those who regard themselves as ‘real fans’ and the ‘prawn sandwich brigade.’ If the editors of Red Issue wish to attack the racist behaviour of players and the ghoulish attitudes of some sections of supporters then atleast they are prepared to engage in a debate where such grass roots voices are drowned out by the meaningless cliches spouted by self-elected ‘experts’ and PR gonks.
Players such as Speed who die young and players such as Muamba who are struck down by serious illness deserve our sympathy and compassion and although Speed was generally much liked as a player, nevertheless some Everton fans questioned the outpouring of love for a player many regarded as a traitor before he took his own life. I’m sure Speed’s family drew a great deal of strength from the tributes paid to him by fans of former clubs and the Welsh national squad but he was never a ‘legend.’ He was a decent player who happened to be good looking and by all accounts, a generous and likeable lad. Hundreds of likeable lads die every day and so what Red Issue are pointing out (I think) is the grief-fest that follows the death of anyone in the public eye.
The Diana Syndrome is the most obvious example of this trend and was a worrying glimpse into the future; a kind of viral madness that infected millions of seemingly rational people to cry and mourn a person of immense wealth they never knew. Whilst Liverpool fans were condemned by the media for their ‘self-pity’ in the aftermath of Hillsborough, the media were onlyl too quick to portray the grief-fest follwing Diana’s death as a moment of monumental psychological change. The old codes of stoicism and the stiff upper lip had given away to displays of hysteria.
I was genuinely outraged the football had been cancelled on the day that Diana’s death was announced. Why should the world stop turning for this one person whatever her supposed status in the ‘nation’s hearts.’ That it eventually went on for weeks was a disgusting slight on those who die day in, day out without any recognition. This type of royalist spin is used for one purpose, to maintain the mirage of national cohesion and this is the same script that attempts to coral all football fans into one big, happy ‘family.’
Let’s hope Fabrice recovers and let’s hope two minute silences, applauses, black arm bands, sloganeering t-shirts, hands raised to heaven, praying on the pitch, crossing yourself ten times every time you step on a pitch, pop star style prayer circles and getting mad neck tattoos of Santa Maria della Pieta doesn’t turn football into some kind of quasi-religious act of faith that has fuck all to do with compassion and community but everything to do with money making sideshows and tedious PR stunts.