MSWell done to The Morning Star newspaper for being the only UK paper to bother to report about the wonderful football solidarity tour that I mentioned here last month.

http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-ebfb-Easton-Cowgirls#.VK1fDyusWKY

However, there’s also another editorial by Sanaa Qureshi, published on the Morning Star site the same day, (please click link) which opines that:

“More broadly, I think we have to take a step back from valorising football both in Palestine and generally. Although it is a brilliant and universal hook to connect with people and harness collective power, it is still a sport that reproduces the same hetero-patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy prevalent in the rest of society.

“I think when we consider the use of football as a useful tool to break boundaries and engage with people, we also have to recognise the complicity of how the industry of football perpetuates inequality.”

I thoroughly understand why many on “the left”, typified by Qureshi’s article, are sick and tired of modern football’s perpetuation of inequalities and its crass top-down gestures like the ill-conceived FC Barcelona ‘peace match’ she refers to. However I couldn’t disagree more with her apparent despair as to football’s potential as a multi-faceted medium for the promotion of awareness and change, on almost any issue you care to name. Football is what you make of it, and groups like Easton Cowgirls FC and Republica Internationale FC do try to make it something different.

“Another kind of football is possible.”

Here’s the start of my original blog post, as published here last month.

Football Against Apartheid in West Bank Palestine

Posted: November 20, 2014 in Football Campaigning, Liberation Footbology, Republica Internationale FC 

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Earlier this month two women’s football clubs from the UK, Easton Cowgirls FC of Bristol and Republica Internationale of Leeds, embarked on a trip of a lifetime to the occupied territories of Palestine. The tour aimed to build solidarity with the women footballers of Palestine and for the UK teams to learn about life under occupation…. (see full original report).

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Bullieve it

Posted: November 14, 2015 in Rants in my Pants

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First thing you notice about ‘Anti-bullying week’, this coming week, are that it’s only 5 days long and that it focuses exclusively on kids & young people.

http://www.westridingfa.com/news/2015/nov/anti-bullying-week-2015

Maybe it should be a full week, and the other 2 days should focus on adults playing football next weekend, because bullying stays with you for life and bullying goes on in all walks of life. This means that, by simple arithmetic, there are more adult bullies out there than child bullies, and by simple psychology, that adult bullying is a principal cause of child bullying.

At at least two of the schools I attended, we were systematically bullied by the PE/sports staff, which seemed to be fairly typical in those days. The resulting bitterness will never go away, and it has made me very sensitive to those who abuse their power around any sports pitch. Indeed it has meant that there are a couple of sports that these people tried to ‘teach’ in their sadistic ways, that I will never be able to enjoy in any way.

An interesting aspect of the definition of bullying, published by the Anti-Bullying Alliance who organise this ‘awareness week’, is that it includes the word ‘intentional’. We can guess that this is to enable educators to argue for sanctions against perpetrators, where unintentional acts would be a case for education rather than sanction, and that once further education has been given, then an act can be considered ‘intentional’. It is difficult to know how much the teachers and coaches who bullied us were doing it ‘intentionally’ in that sense, because you don’t know what awareness they had or whether they were just involuntarily repeating ways in which they themselves had been bullied. They did though seem to want to hurt us and I will never forget that.

I’m sure the days of the good old-fashioned, sadistic, sergeant-major-style PE teacher are long gone, but the legacy is still there in plenty of sports teams, whether it is what people say to each other or the tone of voice they use. Misogynist and homophobic bullying is still rife in amateur football, from on and off the pitch. But even ‘nice’, ‘educated’ people who wouldn’t dream of being homophobic or sexist can still be bullies if they do not exercise tact and tolerance in how they talk to team-mates and opposition on the pitch.

Bullying isn’t handball, and I would argue that it doesn’t have to be intentional – if you repeatedly make someone feel bad in a futile attempt to cajole them into doing something you are mentally/physically capable of doing/willing to do but they aren’t, you are bullying them even if you don’t fully realise in what ways they are less capable or willing than you.

So let’s start with our own team-mates. No it isn’t just banter, no it isn’t just exasperation with the performance of others, no it isn’t alright to talk to someone like that as soon as you step over a white line in a park. Please be careful fellas, and why not just be prepared to lose the f*cking match rather than aggressively express your own exasperation with weaker players, whether the perceived weaknesses be physical or mental. Our own team-mates will hopefully soon become aware that we would rather lose than be bullied, that we will always, always stand up to it verbally, and that we won’t be back if it happens again. And ‘try grow a thicker skin’ should never, ever be anyone’s shrugging advice to the bullied … not until the advisor can find comparable examples where it successfully changed anything.

Get that sorted and we can then all stand up together to some of the bullying dickheads on opposing teams or the pond life on their touchlines.

 

10364120_736515819775193_1384974952598572783_nFrancisco Javier Romero (AKA “Jimmy”) Taboada was brutally murdered last Sunday, not long after arriving in Madrid to attend an away match for his beloved Deportivo de La Coruna against La Liga champions Atletico Madrid.
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Jimmy was a member of the Deportivo ultras Riazor Blues, a group which is explicitly left-wing, anti-racist and proudly Galician. The picture above (“Love Depor, hate Racism”)shows that their ethos is as far as it is possible to be from the group of far-right Atletico Madrid ultras, Frente Atletico, who lay in wait for their arrival at the stadium last Sunday. The ambushing fascists were armed with deadly weapons including knives, clubs and metal bars, and the helpless Riazor Blues were immediately overwhelmed. Videos (see below) show the intensity of the clash that took place along the banks of the Manzanares river. It was along this river where Jimmy would be savagely beaten and then thrown down a steep embankment into the freezing water, trapped there for half an hour as rescue attempts were disrupted by the ongoing battle.

Jimmy’s autopsy showed he died of head trauma with internal bleeding from blows to the head, possibly caused by an iron bar. He was the sole fatality in an attack that saw at least a dozen injured, three stabbed and another person thrown into the river. Bloody photos of the injured circulated on social media and Spanish news outlets spoke of police encountering trails of blood across the whole area of Frente Atletico’s savage charges.

This ‘El Pais’ video is especially spine-chilling for those of us who know the approach to Atleti’s stadium along the leafy riverside Avenue, with bars I remember fondly from Liverpool’s visit to Atleti in 2008, when many friends were made with normal, non-fascist Atleti fans. The video shows fighting between two groups, yes – witnesses says that Jimmy was was one of the first to defend himself – but what is hard to make out from footage like this is that one group consisted of a coachload – a few dozen – and the other of several hundred ambushers. I would hope that if a coachload of my own friends ever gets jumped by fascists, we would try to defend ourselves, but that would not make it any less of an ambush.

In the aftermath, a narrative that indiscriminately denounces all ultras has prevailed, not just in the Spanish media but in most commentaries on it by complacent foreign journalists who have been content to take the word of the ‘football authorities’ at face value. Articles that should have been highlighting the problem of fascism in football have instead suggested a false equivalence of ‘two extremes’ at either end of the political spectrum, both of whom, it is suggested, somehow enjoy violence for its own sake. These narratives were spread by the authorities, who within hours of Sunday’s murder were lying about the Riazor Blues and Frente Atletico having communicated over social media to arrange a fight, as if this was somehow an equal and consensual thing rather than a brutal, cowardly ambush by the fascists.

By Monday, this claim was already being revoked by police sources. The only communication for which they had evidence was in fact between the fascist Frente Atletico members who were called upon to gather for the ambush, ominously ending their call with “Atleti o muerte”. Atletico or death.

Like so many police and press conspiracies to smear anti-establishment groups though, the damage already appears to have been done. The Spanish and international media is still full of calls for both groups (nay all Spanish ultra groups, whether good or evil) to be banned, and the right-wing establishment of Jimmy’s own club Deportivo have even seized the chance to say they will ban the victim group from the stadium, even though it’s a group who have been responsible for anti-racist initiatives, etc! Anti-fascist ultras exist because fascist ultras exist, but surely that does not make them part of the problem!?

Attempts to decontextualize the violence or deny its political nature, or say that somehow the fascists and the Depor fans were equal players in Sunday’s events, simply do not stand up to a closer examination of the Frente Atletico ultras’ record. The group has murdered before – in 1998 near the same stadium where Jimmy was killed on Sunday, they cornered and fatally stabbed Aitor Zabaleta, while hunting down defenceless Basque fans ahead of a match with Real Sociedad. This isn’t blind violence against random opponents – this is cowardly mob murder with a clear fascist motive. the name of the fascist thug who was sentenced for the killing of Zabaleta is still regularly chanted from the south stand occupied by the Frente, together with warnings to Basque fans: “we came here to knife you.” In 2011 Frente Atletico ultras were recorded celebrating Zabaleta’s murder during another match against Real Sociedad. The Frente ultras chanted “you don’t fool us, Aitor Zabaleta was from Jarrai.” Jarrai is a radical left-wing youth organization advocating Basque independence, which has been outlawed by the Spanish government. Whether those who deny fascist violence a problem wish to believe it or not, Frente Atletico members themselves consider their violence political and glorify it as such.

The appeals for ‘football without violence’ by the media, political authorities and sections of the public risk becoming ‘football without any ultra groups’, when the objective should be ‘football without fascism and racism’. Ultra groups such as Riazor Blues at Deportivo, Biris Norte at Seville FC or the Bukaneros of Rayo Vallaceno are part of a strengthening anti-fascist and anti-racist tradition being built in La Liga, offering a far more heartfelt, ‘bottom-up’ stance against racism than the fines and rehearsed, ‘top-down’ pre-match statements by football federations.

The problem with the media just echoing the authorities’ response to Sunday’s violence isn’t just a matter of false equivalence between the far-right ultras who brandish their racist Celtic cross symbols (because they’d like to use swastikas, but can’t) on the one hand, and the left-wing ultras who protest during matches about good causes such as home evictions, violence against women, and austerity measures, on the other. The problem is that authorities and the media are together taking advantage of this fatal attack by the far-right to continue a long-standing campaign of criminalisation against left-wing ultras. This is particularly the case with Rayo Vallecono’s wonderful Bukaneros, who have been demonised for several years now by the right-wing Spanish media as the shock troops of various mass anti-government mobilizations in Madrid over recent years. Before it was even clear what had happened on Sunday, the Bukaneros were already being linked to the violence by police and news outlets, when the bloodstained hands on the videos of the violence clearly belonged to Frente Atletico. If a few Bukaneros were arrested as fellow victims with their friends from the Riazor Blues last Sunday, it’s not some sign that a “left v. right” fight was arranged, but that the network of anti-fascist friendship is strong. Many of us on the left in European football have paid homage to the Bukaneros and stood on their terraces with them in Madrid, just as we make pilgrimages to St. the likes of St. Pauli. It doesn’t mean we are looking for a fight or asking to get murdered.

Of the 21 arrested following the street battle, only six were from the far-right ultras. It is always easier to pick up outsiders and victims. No justice can be expected from a state that has common cause with the killers of Jimmy and Aitor.

This post was loosely based, with my own additions, edits and re-translations, on an excellent article on an Italian blog by David Perreira http://wire.novaramedia.com/2014/12/how-madrids-fascist-ultras-are-getting-away-with-murder-actually/

POSTSCRIPT 12/12/2014: The lies of the authorities gradually start to unravel. The police withdrew their “pre-arranged fight” allegations within hours.  Now ‘El Pais’, Spain’s establishment newspaper, has shown that the Madrid police were indeed given prior information by email that this one coachload of Riazor Blues was travelling to Madrid, something which had previously been denied. Furthermore, Depor’s President has now admitted he was wrong to order the closure of the Riazor Blues’ end for last week’s cup game, which came across as punishing even more of their own fans for being victims of this ambush.

I can’t think of a precedent for any neighbouring country having openly raided the offices of an occupied country’s Football Association, though I’m sure that Nazi or Stalinist armies would have readily done so during the turmoil of the mid-twentieth century (had they not just been able to quietly replace the incumbent executives with their own appointees, where they deemed it necessary).

Israel has as yet supplied no explanation for its forces raiding the Palestinian FA’s offices in Ramallah on Monday 24th November, when three military Israeli patrols raided the HQ, blocked the employees from going about their business and thoroughly inspected the offices without giving any information about the reasons behind their acts.

Palestinian Football Federation president Jibril Rajoub said that “What happened last week had no precedents in the history of sport … we want to represent the values of the game of football rather than the violence of the guns and rifles. I do believe that this disgraceful act requires a position from the family of football and I think it is the time to take sanctions.”

This was an incursion by Israeli forces into Area “A” of the West Bank, over which the Palestinian National Authority(PNA) has jurisdiction for both civil affairs and security. “Area A” includes most large Palestinian towns – including Ramallah where the PFA HQ is situated, so the Israeli action once again showed a flagrant disregard for the Oslo Accords.

According to a Ma’an News Agency report, when PFA Director of International Affairs Susan Shalabi asked an Israeli officer the reason for the raid, he merely responded that it was “not a raid”. http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=742363

Before Israeli forces left the place they tried to prevent journalists from taking pictures.
PFAHQ

Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Shaikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa condemned the “unjustified aggression” on one of the Federation’s affiliates, calling it “unacceptable”.

It is not known whether Israel’s actions are a precursor to attempts to further hinder the freedom of movement of Palestinian international players in the run-up to their first major international tournament, the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia, but the occupying forces have long tried to disrupt travel and preparations for Palestinian players, as they do for all the citizens of the occupied territories. Rajoub naturally expressed his fears that this may turn out to be the case, calling on FIFA to put pressure on the Israeli authorities to ensure that the players are allowed to travel for preparation and for the tournament itself.

As well as qualifying for AFC Asian Cup for the first time in its history, the Palestinian national side was also awarded the distinction of being voted “Best National Team in Asia” for the year 2014.

Condemnation by the Asian Federation is natural of course, but will UEFA now join them in condemning this action by the government of a one of its own favourite members? We won’t hold our breath.

The Cost of Loving

Posted: November 29, 2014 in Liverpool FC

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Liverpool supporters protested today on behalf of those of us who are priced out of going to the match these days. The Spirit of Shankly supporters’ union has declared that there will be no flags on the Kop for their next home game, unless the club agrees to talks over ticket pricing. It’s a relationship on the rocks, but while there are ‘plenty more fish’ in the sea of willing punters for LFC, it was an ‘Amoco Cadiz’ scale shipwreck for me quite a while ago.

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Earlier this month two women’s football clubs from the UK, Easton Cowgirls FC of Bristol and Republica Internationale of Leeds, embarked on a trip of a lifetime to the occupied territories of Palestine. The tour aimed to build solidarity with the women footballers of Palestine and for the UK teams to learn about life under occupation. The joint team’s slogan for their tour was “Freedom Through Football”, a message that they wrote on Israel’s separation wall (pictured above), along with the words “we will share your story”.

“It wasn’t always an easy experience emotionally” said Chrissie P (the captain of the joint team). “We met families who had just had their houses knocked down and we witnessed total apartheid, but equally we were so warmly welcomed and met some amazing people. I think we all knew before we went out there that the only thing we would change would be ourselves. But the one thing that we can do, and that we are doing, is to speak to everyone we can about everything we experienced.”

Having been in Palestine for less than 24 hours, they had to hit the ground running when they played the national under-19’s team at the country’s national stadium in Al-Ram. “It was an amazing atmosphere” added Chrissie. “We lost 5-1, but as we scored two own goals it was like 3-3 really!”

The second game could not have been more of a contrast. Played behind closed doors and with no male spectators or cameras allowed, Hebron University Women had never before played a competitive game. “Maybe we laid off them a little too much” says midfielder Sarah, “it was 4-4 and with the clock counting down from 10 seconds we hit the post, the rebound was cleared straight to their forward who pulled out a fantastic strike to win the game bang on full time!”

The final game was against Bethlehem Diyar, a team who have regularly won the Palestinian national league (which currently stands at 12 teams). “They had a number of players from the women’s national team and they were shit hot” said Sarah. “But it was never going to be about winning. What struck me most was when chatting with one of players afterwards, she explained that she had been inspired to take up football seriously in 2001 when her cousin, who she first played football with as a child, was shot dead in his house by Israeli soldiers.”
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“It may be a bit of a cliché, but football really is the international language”, said Chrissie, explaining that the visiting group’s contacts also took them on visits to other projects in the Hebron area – amongst these a women’s co-operative that employs 120 women allowing them an income by selling traditional embroidery and needlework. They also visited projects in the South Hebron hills area, where the ever-increasing number of illegal Israeli settlements threaten the very existence of the villages struggling to maintain their traditional subsistence farming way of life.

The Easton Cowgirls from Bristol and Republica Internationale from Leeds are football teams with a bit of a difference. Although they play their regular league football, both are also involved in fundraising activities, community initiatives and politics.

“Our clubs are involved in a European network of DIY/alternative football teams” explains Chrissie “We play in annual tournaments including the Anti-Racist World Cup in Italy and are friendly with several like-minded teams across Europe, including the famous St.Pauli FC women.”

The tour participants are currently editing film footage they took and hope to produce a short documentary of their trip early in the new year.

The Exploited

Posted: October 25, 2014 in Football Campaigning, Liverpool FC

Great to see the black flags of protest unfurled at Anfield today – on behalf of those of us who were long ago priced out of going to the match, as well as those who aren’t quite yet.

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