I remember as a first year Politics student at the University of Liverpool, a football mad, LFC fan lecturer asked the question in a seminar once “What’s more important than politics?” Being a feckless, quietly obnoxious and clueless 18 year old I said “football.” But football IS politics he said. Everything is politics. And do you know what? He was right. The feckless, quietly obnoxious 18 year old wasn’t.
We are currently approaching remembrance Sunday, a time of year that should be about quiet, dignified reflection and thanks for the thousands of men and women who have given their lives for our freedom and often for nothing more than a government’s politicking.But instead it has increasingly become the time of year for Poppy fascism (the irony) and trite, vulgar meaningless displays of nationalism and jingoism that bastardises what the poppy is meant to stand for. It’s the time of year where James McClean, a man born in Irish Derry where the British Army shot 28 unarmed civilians, killing 14 in 1972, has to explain why he chooses not to wear a poppy. What was I saying about freedom? Yet those who denounce him scream blue murder about freedom of speech and expression.
It is the same people who you often hear trot out the tired old phrase “politics doesn’t belong in football.” Well, it doesn’t unless it is the politics of forcing people into trite nationalistic displays that suit their right wing agenda. God forbid when Liverpool fans should fight for years against the injustice of the Hillsborough disaster cover up, or display banner in support of the Grenfell victims or when thousands of fans of clubs up and down the country support food banks. That sort of politics isn’t allowed. Politics isn’t allowed in British football, despite us having one of the biggest football rivalries of them all based on ancient wars and religious hatred. It’s hard to know where to start with the hypocrisy and irony.
My old lecturer was right, football is politics, everything is politics. Football may be an escape from a bleak or boring reality for many, but it doesn’t mean that you can somehow detach football clubs, communities and thousands of people from reality, from politics.
I feel like I have become a lot more vocal about my politics over the years. And there is no doubt that since the days of being that feckless 18 year old, my politics has changed, developed and I’ve learnt a lot about what I believe in. So I am not going to apologise for my politics and I’m certainly not going to detach it from my love of football.
I regularly visit St. Pauli in Hamburg, mocked by many as the hipster’s choice and the ultimate sin for the “politics doesn’t belong in football” brigade but somewhere I have come to adore. I can understand why it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me a football club with values is a wonderful thing. A football club that actively helps the community and the less fortunate, that openly denounces division, racism and homophobia, I am struggling to see what the problem is? Unless you actively support division, racism and homophobia.
But in the UK, or England certainly, we still seem reluctant to pair our politics with our football club. I am lucky in supporting Liverpool, one of the more politically charged football clubs and certainly cities in the country. But even then, with such a huge and world wide fan base there are plenty of people who feel uncomfortable or downright angry about Liverpool fans showcasing their left-wing leanings. My answer to them would, if you can’t accept why Liverpool as a city is left wing and therefore it’s support base in turn, if you can’t understand that, then perhaps you should think about supporting someone else. Or at the very least, accept it.
Which is why it was so disappointing to see some of Liverpool’s Brazilian players seemingly showing support for the newly elected right wing president of Brazil; Jair Bolsonaro. Of course they are free to support who they wish. But as Liverpool players, you would like to think that they have an understanding of the city an the support. It’s wishful thinking perhaps, which is why I would like to think that some of Liverpool’s most hardened support and the likes of Spirit of Shankly and Spion Kop 1906 will do something to display our objection to such a right wing politician.
We can all have our politics tested severely. We are all hypocrites. But what cannot be denied is that politics and football go hand in hand and we shouldn’t be afraid to bring politics into our support of clubs. If for Chelsea fans that means politics of a right wing nature, then so be it. But for Liverpool that should be the politics of the left and we should be proud to set our stall out as such.
There was an article recently highlighting how both Everton and Liverpool are leading the way in fan activism, which underlines what the area of Merseyside and both football clubs is all about. I fully appreciate that everyone has the freedom to different political views and I am not expecting the entirety of Liverpool’s fan base to share the same views.
But as a Liverpool fan you should have to understand the culture and make up of both the city and fanbase otherwise a football club will cease to become the embodiment of its environment.