Archive for the ‘Fan Culture’ Category

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.

Millerntornament

The “Alerta!” Network held its annual tournament this weekend – but this time with a difference, as the event was held on the hallowed turf of St. Pauli’s beloved Millerntor stadium itself. In the women’s tournament, the glory was shared between Republica Internationale FC and The Easton Cowgirls, who drew the final match and will take this dose of international antifascist inspiration back home to inspire their UK activities in the year ahead. See you next year everyone!

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Gig organiser Peter Hooton alongside Clash legend Mick Jones

I’m pasting a  review by the great John Robb (of the band Goldblade), writing about last night’s magnificent DBTS gig in Liverpool. It’s not often you get such a brilliant review from the man who compered a gig! Check out the original review site here if you want the embedded clips of songs performed (and you really do want them, believe me). Take it away, John:

“Every gig should have a reason.

In the past couple of decades, music has become detached from the community. Detached from real life. Corporate branded venues flogging you overpriced booze whilst the band plays in the background. Everyone trying to squeeze some money out of you before the whole damn ship goes down. Tonight is so far away from this that its emotional power knocks you flat.

Let’s just look at the facts. The history of the event.

Clash legend and the perfect elder statesman of rock n roll Mick Jones played a set of Clash songs for the first time since he was kicked out of the band in 1982.

It sounds amazing.

The gig is being promoted by the ‘Don’t Buy The Sun’ campaign. Still justifiably shocked and appalled by the way The Sun reported the Hillsborough tragedy, the campaign rolls on. The Sun has its lowest sales in the city and the fact that the Murdochs are no longer imperious started here. Tom Watson MP, the man who brought the Murdochs to their knees does an inspiring speech tonight, it’s a pure rock ‘n’ roll moment. A one-man political punk rock machine, Watson took on the media barons who have tabloided our culture and made fools of us, and he’s winning.

The night has a political air, with trade union leader and the head of Unite Union Len Muclukley also delivering an emotive speech, but this is not the sort of well-meaning political droning you sometimes get at gigs, just a three-minute slice of passion and humanity, making a noise just when is needed – like I said, pure rock ‘n’ roll.

The gig is also about getting Justice for the Hillsborough 96. Its unbelievable that, after all this time, the truth has not been told and the cover-up continues. People want justice for what happened that day and they want the owning up about the rot coming from the top. The very top. People were justifiably angry about the way that football fans were treated worse than animals and died in the most appalling and heart breaking of conditions and no-one took the rap. The government at the time were as guilty of this as anyone. Check their comments about football fans at the time. The fact that it was 96 Liverpool fans is irrelevant. It could have been anyone in those death trap grounds at the time. It could have been you.

Tied into this is all proceeds of the gig are to be donated to the Fazakerley 9 Charity in memory of James McVey, a young Liverpool fan who was murdered and whose father is campaigning to buy some local land to make into facilities for bored teenagers. The father ends the night with a powerful speech of raw emotion, a perfect epitaph to an important event.

Everyone is playing for free and I was totally honoured to be the compere. There’s nothing in it for the band, no money- just the total honour of being involved in a powerfully emotive campaign for justice.

The night kicks off with The Sums, Diggsy of Oasis song fame, a proper scouse legend, one of those charismatic characters that the city produces, a waif like man who’s still out the believing with his crystal clear voice and songs that are tinged with beat, a touch of Britpop and a psychedelic twist that is part of the water supply in the North west. Give the man a guitar and he becomes a poet with a 15-minute mini-set of melodic quicksilver.

He is followed by the Tea Street Band who deal out a mesmerising, hypnotic set of keyboard-driven songs that end with a long piece called ‘Fiesta’ that is the sort of song you could get lost in before giving up the stage to Amsterdam whose raucous punky folk is dripping with the same sort of charismatic bonhomie as the Pogues and whose heart on the sleeve shenanigans are perfect for this event. With tunes flowing like the Mersey this is perfect port music, a myriad of influences and styles washing through their sound.

Next up is John Power, the Cast and former Las man who plays a solo set of singalong hits that sound powerfully emotive when stripped of all artifice and bombast, Power has a great voice and a loveable charisma and is one of those great wavering Liverpool singers whose songs are natural anthems and get the audience singing along.

The amazing venue is now packed, it’s one of the great halls in the UK, a former circus which has showers for elephants in the basement it has that kind of unique atmosphere that old venues had before the corporate, concrete boxes took over. Could there be any better place to see some real electric history?

And when the headline ensemble takes the stage, the venue’s grandeur matches what’s on the stage. A rolling rock ‘n’ roll review of local legends who take the stage in full support of eachother starting with the Farm who bring the house down with their classic ‘All Together Now’ which has transcended critics and become a people’s song, the sort of tune sung at Labour Party conferences or people events like this, the whole room sings along and the band have never sounded better, veteran status really suits them giving them a chance to relax into their natural intelligence and street smart charm with frontman Peter Hooton a great spokes person with his innate knowledge of norther street culture giving him a gravitas.

Like a fine wine, the Farm improve with age and have become part of the fabric of the city and their mini set is rapturously received before their set segued into Pete Wylie’s which is something else.

Wylie, where the fuck have you been? Plaintive, powerful, emotional, political, human songs are just what we need right now. Where are ya?

Wylie owns the stage like a natural, his voice is as pure as it ever was and the emotion pouring out of him along with the sweat is palpable. Wylie is as charismatic as ever and his songs are as part of this city’s folklore as Springsteen’s are for New York- blue collar anthems of spectral beauty and haunting raucous power and he doesn’t even play ‘Story Of The Blues’! The run though of ‘Heart As Big As Liverpool’ says everything you need to say about the evening and there is a notable surge of emotion as Wylie sings and does his imploring mini-speeches between the songs demanding Justice “not just for the 96, but for EVERYONE!”.

How can you top that?   With Mick Jones.

The Clash are now, of course, legends. As every day goes past their songs mean more and more and as the world veers into these meltdown times we need them more than ever. Without Joe it’s almost impossible to take them back out on the road but somehow Mick has found a way of doing this. He has not reformed the Clash, he has reformed the Spirit Of The Clash!

You can see Strummer grinning as he looks down on this. Because surely this is what the whole thing was about. The band’s music being used to underline a powerful cause, a meeting of pop, politics, football and community…can you get any more Clash than that? This is what the band’s music was for and as Jones walks on the stage looking super sharp in a perfect cut shiny grey suit the room goes mad.

They rattle through a set of Clash classics ‘Stay Free’, ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’, a thrilling ‘White Man In Hammersmith Palais’ (wow!) BADs underated brilliant ‘Rush’, a powerful Armageddon Times- the backing band is the Farm, who do the songs the sort of justice that only Clash fanatics can. Farm bass player Carl Hunter is in meltdown as he plays the bass on the songs that shaped his life, growing up on the council estates of Bootle.

The power and the reach of the music has come full circle. Jones does his Chuck Berry shuffle across the stage and can’t stop grinning. A QPR fan and football fanatic, he knows why this gig is happening, far away from the out-of- touch rock star he is, bang smack in the middle of a crucial campaign. He looks to the left and it’s Wylie giving it everything for one song before Jones himself takes the vocals on ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ before Pete Hooton sings ‘White Man’, of course the room is going bonkers crazy, this is a historic moment, the Clash are back, Joe Strummer’s ghost is on the stage, his right leg twitching, you can feel it in the room, the Spirit Of The Clash are back and doing what they did best, making great rock n roll for the community, making a powerful point, being the focal point and that surely is what it was all about.

There is talk of somehow taking a version of this out on the road under the banner of ‘Justice for the 96’. They should do it. This is far away from a cash-in, this is what the Clash were built for. This is what rock ‘n’ roll is all about.”

That’s a fine review indeed, John, and one which makes pretty much everything I could add redundant. But I will just say that as MP Tom Watson finished his rousing speech with the words “Now let’s drive Murdoch out of Liverpool”, surely he could have called on his audience to consider stopping their Sky packages too? I bet there were many in that audience who pay Murdoch’s most profitable enterprise (and let’s not forget he’s still the major shareholder) around £40 of their hard-earned cash every single month. In these times of being able to stream matches etc for free off the internet, does anyone really need to be paying him for any of the crap he peddles through any of his dodgy right-wing outlets?

Peter Hooton (left) and Pete Wylie (right) sing for justice alongside comrade Mick Jones from The Clash

“There was one of the gang who had (insert whatever you like),
And because of that he thought he was better than you .”

Now I’m not one of those abitrary arbiters of fashion who dogmatically declare that “no grown man should ever be seen in public in a replica football top unless they are, actually, playing football”.   I’ve been known to wear such an item while doing other sport, too.  But I do think that anyone over the age of (let’s say) thirty needs a very good excuse, and I do think that your synthetic shirts can make you look like a bit of a synthetic supporter, especially if the sponsor is a huge faraway corporate entity and you’ve spent forty quid to become a shiny walking advertisement for some American financial institution or some Middle Eastern airline.

Standards Corrupted - a peacock and his replica away shirt

One good excuse, of course, is that your shirt can be a prompt to start conversations with like-minded individuals (or, indeed, abuse from unlike-minded ones). For example I may bump into fellow FC St. Pauli sympathisers, when I wear one of their famous brown and white tops at a gig or down the pub, and St. Pauli sympathisers will invariably be people worth talking to. Likewise,  if I wear my Dukla Prague away shirt, I may get talking to some of the most tasteful human beings alive.  No, I don’t mean Czech football fans, lovely though most of them surely are, but about the devotees of the world’s greatest alternative rock ‘n’ roll outfit, the “four lads who shook the Wirral”, Half Man Half Biscuit. One of HMHB’s best-known early tunes is the Scaletrix-and-Subbuteo-themed classic “All I want for Xmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit”,  so of course it became natural that the “Toffs” vintage football shirt company would see a market and that the nostalgic punters would, from the mid-nineties onwards, lap them up at about £35 a  pop, plus P&P.

Claire's standard-issue Dukla Prague Away Shirt

I’m certainly not implying in any way that the owners of such DPAKs, who include my own dear beloved herself, are sheep. Nor am I saying that you won’t find some outstanding HMHB band t-shirt designs on their merchandising stall at gigs, or even here on that there interweb. It’s only around 5% of the audience at the gigs who wear a DPAK, and anyway various alternatives are available for the rebels amongst them – particularly as, from time to time,

Home kit for your birthday, darling?

vintage Dukla Prague home shirts will pop up on the internet masquerading as away shirts. Some HMHB gig-goers wear these burgundy and gold (rather than gold and burgundy), tops unknowingly,  but woe betide any clever clogs who might bump into them during the gig and might drunkenly deride them for their apparent ignorance. It may in fact turn out that some Biscuiteers are wearing the home shirts ironically, and some as a statement of independence in their dress sense, thank you very much. You might even earn yourself an embittered smack, if it turns out that he (or she) asked for a DPAK just like yours for Xmas, but someone had, in all innocence, given him (or her) this DPHK instead.

Another familiar face at HMHB gigs is always seen sporting  his vintage “Toffs” Honved

Teenage Armchair Wear?

top, in celebration of that other early Biscuits  classic , “I was a Teenage Armchair Honved Fan”. This familiar face in the moshpit has, naturally, become known to his peers as ‘The Galloping Major” (that’s probably Ferenc Puskas to you).

It was also natural that, the first time that I had the chance to follow Liverpool FC to the Czech Republic, back in October 2000 when we were drawn to play Slovan Liberec in the UEFA Cup, I should feel compelled to seek out an actual, contemporary Dukla Prague Away Kit. Not just a Dukla Prague shirt, but the whole kit, and in fact I found it relatively easily that time.  The manager of the Sparta Prague shop in the historic tourist area  near the Charles Bridge had become so accustomed to half-pissed English tourists coming in and asking, half-jokingly, for a Dukla Prague Away Kit, that he had actually started to stock such items. For the equivalent of about twelve pounds I acquired the full DPAK that I have now worn at HMHB gigs for over a decade: shorts, socks and all.  I’ve only ever encountered  one other Biscuitista with the same shirt at a gig, and he told me that he too purchased it, about ten years ago, from the exact same shop in Prague.

The Sparta Prague shop, near the historic Charles Bridge

When I returned to Prague a few years later, by the way, in about 2005, the same shop was only stocking a retro cotton t-shirt in the home colours – the previous English-speaking manager had now departed, and the reasons why crazy English tourists would ask, and even the facts of exactly what they might ask for, were now lost in a haze of Czech whispers.

"Are you sure it's not this one you want?" If I had a Czech Koruna for every time I was offered one of these ...

At that time there wasn’t even a football club called FK Dukla Prague any more, as the ailing club had been “saved” (ahem) by a businessman (oh dear), who had merged them with his own club, FK Marila Pribram, and had moved them about 30 miles outside Prague. A two-hour tram and bus journey took me all the way there, but there was no club shop at the stadium, and nowhere in the rather bleak town of Pribram was selling any sort of home or away kit that day (incidentally, it shows how much I have in common with my lovely partner Claire that she had made the same pilgrimage from Prague to Pribram, for exactly the same reasons,  at around that time too, before I even knew her!)

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That obscure object of my desire ... still.

So, fast forward six more years to 2011, and at long last Liverpool have been drawn in Prague  again, this time to play Sparta over two legs in the Europa League. FK Dukla Prague, meanwhile,  have been reformed as a new club, have returned to their historic home stadium and have marched back up through the leagues. Looks like they’ll get promotion back to the top division this year. And the big news from the fashion point of view is that, like Liverpool themselves, Dukla now play in a splendid Adidas-designed outfit. You see, my old Czech DPAK is getting a bit threadbare after a decade of moshpits, a decade of beer and a decade of late-night post-gig curries. I must admit I’ve even played football in it from time to time, so I definitely need a relacement, but online I’ve only been able to find last year’s Dukla kit. Yes, they have the three stripes. but the home version of that one is an unattractive all-burgundy and the away version an even worse all-white, both a far cry from the classic retro away colours. This season, by contrast, photos from their home matches show them sporting the classic gold of the away kit, with red trim and the three stripes and all – I want that one.

So off I trek northwards on the tram, and up the hill to the Juliska stadium. It’s a pity it’s still the winter break, which goes on till early March, so no chance of seeing any match action. I clamber in over a fence on the wooded hillside behind the main stand, and have a good nosey around. Here are some pictures.

The Juliska Stadium still doubles as the army’s national athletics stadium. Athletes are hurdling round the track and on the pitch itself, the Czech Republic’s next generation of Fatima Whitbreads are practising their javelin throwing -that’s one way of keeping intruders like me off the pitch I suppose. But this Czech army sports complex includes neighbouring artificial pitches too,  so when I say there was no

What he got for Xmas was a Dukla Prague training top

actual football action, well I did manage to spy on a training session and a youth team practice match. One of the youngsters speaks English. “Where can I buy stuff like that?” I point and ask him about his kit when the training session finishes. He doesn’t know. There’s no club shop here. The club gives them their gear, he says, and skips off before the strange bloke with the camera can ask any more daft questions.

As I leave, I pass a bemused security guard, probably wondering how I got in. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t speak English, so I use a bit of sign language and he scribbles down an address, which takes me on  another two-hour jouney the next day – two more trams and a bus, taking me to the  door of a warehouse at the foot of the hills on the south-eastern outskirts of the city. Just when I’m starting to worry that maybe the security guard was in league with a ruthless mafia gang of human traffickers, that this is their lair and that my kidneys will soon be en route as spare parts for some ailing eastern oligarch, the door opens and it turns out that it’s the headquarters of the firm that does Dukla’s online shop for them.

I feel like I’m going round in circles – huge two-hour-long circles, as I’ve already tried and failed to get the current Dukla shirt from this same company via the internet. They’re not really even a shop, and they so rarely get an actual bodily visitor that they have to switch on the cash register when I arrive. They do  show me plenty more reproduction retro memorabilia, but I’ve already seen it all on the internet of course. As they’ve gone to the trouble of switching things on for me, I feel like I have to buy some badges and a scarf. In terms of Dukla shirts, their wares are ironically just the same sort of vintage cotton home and away shirts sold by our Toffs in the UK.  But do they sell the current shiny synthetic Adidas replica first team shirt ? “No, ” I’m told emphatically. “Nobody wants this; they have so few supporters compared to Sparta, or Slavia, or Bohemians Prague.”

The majority time of our time on away Euro trips tends, of course, to be spent absorbing the local culture, i.e. in the local bars. But this time it felt like most of my valuable drinking time was wasted on public transport – good job it’s cheap over there, but then so is the beer that I’m not getting to drink anything like enough of ! The previous evening, one of the Bohemians Prague Ultras has given me the addresses of two more sports shops that might be able to help, so there are yet more tram journeys, north and east again, and I feel like I’m getting to know Prague really well.  But everywhere I go, I find only that same retro cotton t-shirt in the home colours.

How many times do I have to mime that no, I'm after the actual kit? Like the ones they wear on the pitch....

So again I didn’t get what I came to Prague for, but at least Kenny Dalglish’s depleted Liverpool team did. It may have been Kenny’s first match back in Europe for 26 years, but he seemed to come looking for a boring goalless draw, and that’s exactly what he got. Did I mention, by the way, that I came on this trip to Prague without a match ticket, and never had any serious intention of going to this match at a minimum rip-off ticket price of SIXTY QUID ?!!  Sixty f*cking quid – and that was the same for the poor old home fans as well, coming out of their winter break hibernation to watch a stultifying crap nil-nil for SIXTY QUID OR MORE!!  The return leg in Liverpool cost about twenty quid, and I remember that the Liberec match over here in 2000 cost us about a tenner. So I sensibly watched this match with other ticketless Reds in a lively city centre bar, and I duly got my whole trip paid for too, when my bet on the predictable 0-0 scoreline came in. Perhaps I’ll leave it to Half Man Half Biscuit’s own lyrics to sum things up better than I ever could: “The results of my life are a string of nil-nils”, as they sang in their great 2005 song “Depressed Beyond Tablets.”

A big “Děkuji” (thank you) too by the way to Martin, the old mate from the Bohemians 1905 Ultras who put me up in his flat and so made this trip such a cheap one – the only way I could have afforded it, in fact.

POSTSCRIPT – Autumn 2011.  When Dukla did indeed get their promotion back to the big time, they sorted out their online shop with another company, one that did actually decide it might be a good idea to stock some of the current first team shirts. So of course I made immediate enquiries by e-mail. They wanted the equivalent of forty quid plus another seventeen pounds for P&P!! So I would have liked to be the first person wearing one of these little beauties at a HMHB gig, but I guess that honour may now have to go to somebody rather richer…err.

13th November 2010

Last Saturday morning we were visiting Claire’s granny in Fleetwood, and then we were off once again to the big match: AFC Liverpool at AFC Blackpool in the glamorous FA Vase. We drove past the factory where they make Fleetwood’s most famous export, Fisherman’s Friends, but that only made me shudder and want to load up on sweets and chocolate for the match. So we took the opportunity to visit a proper old-fashioned corner sweet shop, the locally-famous Rimmers. No papers, no tobacco, no groceries, just rows and rows of jars of lovely sweets. The friendly septuagenarian owners carefully weigh such delicacies as vimto lollies and parched peas into quarter pound bags (if weights and measures officials are reading this, I asked for “120 grammes”, honest). If you ask really nicely, you might even get a two ounce bag (“60 grammes”, if the Metric Stasi are reading). Parched peas for the visit to gran, sherbert lemons for Claire and chocolate limes for me. My confection of choice when I can’t make up my mind whether I want chocolate or a sweet.

Grounds in leagues like the Northwest Counties (Vodkat) Division One are similarly reminiscent of a bygone age, and like Rimmers sweet shop, I reckon we should treasure them and make the effort to visit them more often. That’s what I believe, but of course what I actually do is another matter. When AFC Liverpool was first being set up, I told my mates I was thinking of getting a season ticket. That was when I thought the best part of a thousand fanatics were going to turn up at Valerie Park every week in search of real honest football and a real atmosphere, rather than just a couple of hundred. So despite all my best intentions I never even made it to a single AFC Liverpool match until this, their third season. Living across the Pennines in Leeds is a decent enough excuse, and anyway Prescot turns out to be a bugger to get to on public transport from there. Meanwhile I’ve been to more AFC Wimbledon matches than AFC Liverpool. In fact I have to confess I’ve seen FC United more than I’ve seen AFC Liverpool ! Whatever my infidelity, all of these fan-founded, fan-run teams are an inspiration and long may they prosper.

The first time FC United of Manchester came to AFC Blackpool, the year after their foundation, the seaside away day was treated as a kind of “Euro away” by the new protest club, and they brought some 4,500 fans, with the tie switched to Bloomfield Road and both clubs making plenty of useful cash out of the whole day. Today’s away cup tie has attracted 45 AFC Liverpool supporters out of a total crowd of about 135.

Personally I have mixed feelings about whether AFC Liverpool should also have been set up as the protest club that their bold and Bolshie badge design suggests. It could have been, but it wasn’t, for good reasons that have been debated and put to bed by now. Because their raisons d’être are so different the comparison between AFC Liverpool and FC United has become spurious, not to say irritating,  to all who are involved with the fledgling Merseyside club.  “Is It Against Liverpool FC?” is a FAQ on their website “No. Quite the opposite,” surfers are told. “It draws its support base from Liverpool fans. AFC Liverpool fans still support Liverpool and those who can afford to will still go to Anfield to support the Reds. The club is meant as a grassroots addition to Liverpool FC, not to be a replacement for it…..thousands of Reds can’t get to games anymore, either because it is difficult to get tickets or because they can’t afford them. The average age of a Premiership fan is 43, so we need a way to get kids hooked into experiencing football at an actual match, surrounded by a passionate LFC community.”

But the inevitable result of it not being a protest club, particularly with AFC’s home ground being well outside Liverpool itself in Prescot, is that average crowds are less than a tenth of FC United’s, averaging around 140 at the moment, and I’m told that just a couple of dozen kids do regularly attend the games.

Of course for some AFC fans it’s also at least partly about being able to stand. For their £5 (£3 kids), today’s crowd can choose whether they stand or sit, leeward or windward, sing or stay silent, bring their own flasks, sup their own fine ales or avail themselves of the clubhouse facilities. The away contingent  are free to stand and sing, and to change ends at half time like so many of us used to do in the good old days. I’m reminded of many happy childhood days at the lower league grounds, but there’s certainly no innocence in the chants of the away fans. These old-school supporters aren’t too bothered about making friends, whether it was “You can stick your raffle up your arse” or “Tangerine, tangerine,  Your tower’s shit, And so’s your team.” And there was me naively thinking there would be plenty of mutual solidarity amongst the supporters at this sort of level.

Surely not as proud and honourable as ... a seagull !??

Liverpool were the better team from the outset, and the disparity in passing ability was such that it was actually hard to believe that these two clubs  stand in adjacent league positions, second and third respectively. Despite all their superiority, though, AFCL did not force many saves and were lucky not to go in at half-time a goal down, the referee not seeing the clear case for an AFC Blackpool penalty.

Blackpool rallied second half, especially after AFCL took their deserved lead with a penalty of their own, but as the home side tired AFCL had several chances to settle the match. My own vote for man-of-the-match, Karl Gornell on the left, broke powerfully out of defence and floated an inch-perfect crossfield pass to Steven Jones, who turned a defender inside out and calmly rounded the keeper to make it 2-0 with virtually the last kick of the match. Check it out at the very end of the match highlights video, around 8 minutes into this clip:

http://afcliverpool.org.uk/go/1st-team/fa-vase-highlights-afc-blackpool-0-2-afc-liverpool.html

“A goal fit to settle any cup tie” is my featured cliché-of-the-day.

By then those away supporters were already looking forward to a trip to “Wemberley, Wemberley….we’re the greatest club in non-league and we’re going to Wemberley,” and combining both the predictable and the extremely unlikely in their promise that “We’ll be drinking in the bars, When we win the FA vase, AFC, AFC”

If they do progress beyond the next round, AFC Liverpool will indeed have to be seen as real contenders, because  the draw has presented the Liverpudlian faithful with a longer and far tougher trip to the seaside in the next round. The holders themselves, Whitley Bay, await on December 4th. Hopefully this FA Vase run can continue and attract a wee bit more glam and publicity to swell the AFC Liverpool crowds, the same way that this season’s FA cup exploits have helped further accelerate the causes of AFC Wimbledon and FC United. Onwards and upwards.

I wish I could say that a Liverpool victory over a Blackpool side was sweet revenge for Claire’s lads’ nightmare victory (or glorious triumph, depending which side of the relationship you’re on) at Anfield a few weeks ago, but she didn’t seem all that bothered. Meanwhile for me the sweet taste of victory didn’t even last as long as the chocolate limes and sherbert lemons, which we were still sucking as we watched on telly in the pub while the other Liverpool, all too predictably stumbled and then crumbled at Stoke.

Written in summer 2010, about a tournament in 2009, to explain why I didn’t go back to the same event again this year.

Part 1. The flag-making habit

Bill Shankly once compared LFC’s assembled red throng, with their red flags and their banners, to the “show of red strength” at a Chinese communist rally. Over the years I reckon I’ve spent more time sticking and sewing words and symbols on to red flags and banners than most of Chairman Mao’s most devoted followers ever did.  But as somebody once said, “if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone, anyhow.” So for me it’s a flag for every occasion, like this one for a supporters’ match in Madrid which took place at a time when the campaign against Hicks And Gillett was really starting to kick in.

And you know by now that my Sunday league team, Republica IFC, also plays in red, so that’s meant plenty more occasions for red banners like this one:

Of course, some of the best ideas can’t be done with iron-on letters and have to be made professionally. As long as someone at the printers owes you a favour that is ! Like this one I had made before the Athens final in 2007, showing a scene from the Parthenon marbles, but with the heads of Gerrard and Gattuso photoshopped on. Unfortunately it proved so popular in Syntagma Square on the day of the match that somebody stole it. Kind of like the Elgin marbles theft in reverse, really.

But it was a whole decade ago now when, inspired by the silhouettes of Che Guevara you see in leftist Ultra crowds all over Europe, me and my mate Alan decided to have the iconic image of Shankly made into our famous flag. These days you’ll see several big images of Shankly on flags on the Kop or at Euro away matches, but when we had this made (this time it was Alan, a graphic designer, who was owed a favour by the printing company),  it was not only the first Shankly flag, but was, as far as I know  the first  such “silhouette flag” of any major club legend anywhere. Now you’ll see silhouettes of club legends on all kinds of clubs’ banners all over the place.

Our flag has appeared on stage at the Liverpool Empire in “The Shankly Show”, and at the first mass meeting of the protest group “The Spirit of Shankly”, before they had their own version of the Shankly logo (pictured on the Kop, right). Our flag appears three times on the LFC club video that celebrates its first season of life, the treble-winning season of 2000-2001. It’s there once in Cardiff for the FA Cup final victory over Arsenal (where I’m told Alan Green mentioned it admiringly in his radio commentary too), once at Anfield for the UEFA semi-final victory over Barca, when it leaps up above our heads as Gary Mac’s penalty hits the net, and once at that dramatic final in Dortmund.

This massive banner is made of heavy duty weather-resistant, fire-proofed material and it was a hugely weighty thing to lug around, and after all the cheap airlines started to charge for hold luggage,  I never bothered taking a big bag on Euro trips any more. Big Shankly has not been overseas since 2005 when I made a lighter “hand luggage” version for the final in Istanbul. Here he is on a second visit to Istanbul in 2007:  The slogan “these are the days”, is intended as a deliberate contradiction of the song “those were the days”.  And here’s the low-calorie “Shankly-Lite” in Bordeaux in 2006, where it became the focus for our meet-up with the “Devils Bordeaux” ultra group. As I mentioned, the original flag was fire-proofed.  But this is the story of how “Shankly-Lite”, a focus for friendly meetings between myself and Turkish fans, or groups of French and English fans in the photos above,  came to be burnt alive by a not-so-friendly fascist ultra group in Ukraine.

Part 2:  Eurofans 2009

I’ve written plenty, elsewhere on this blog, about the well-established annual tournaments my various teams have been to around Europe over the years like the Mondiali Antirazzisti (Anti-Racist world cup) in Italy, the Alerta! Network’s AntiRa tournament in Hamburg, or the Worldnet event in Leeds for supporters’ teams.

But when some of my friends from the “This is Anfield” website accepted an invitation over the internet to attend a new event in Lviv, Ukraine called “Eurofans 2009”, they were always taking a step into the unknown. This tournament for supporters’ teams was devised to promote this city and the wider region (Karpaty, i.e. Carpathia in English) in the lead-up to Euro 2012, for which Lviv is a host city. The “This is Anfield” crew couldn’t raise a full squad, and so they asked if anyone from my (now defunct) Liverpool supporters’ XI would like to make up the numbers. After finding out that some of my old friends from the Inter supporters’ team would also be attending, along with another particularly hard-drinking rabble from Atletico de Madrid, with whom I was bound to have a few friends in common, well I couldn’t resist signing up as the Liverpool lads’ veteran centre-back.

Then, just four weeks before flying out there, I attended a talk at another tournament about the increasing fascist violence around football in Ukraine and Russia. Those who actively oppose racism in the stadiums are increasingly likely to be attacked as they go about their daily lives, and many have been murdered. Fascist symbols are openly displayed and racist slogans regularly chanted at many big matches. So, when it came to making a new flag the trip as I always do, the choice of slogan was easy. I learned a bit of Russian 20 years ago so I was able to copy the slogan “Solidarity with Anti-Fascist Football supporters in Eastern Europe” (for which the Russian and the Ukrainian is the same) from a sticker I’d been given, and cut it out in my usual iron-on fabric. 

The organizer, Slavik, e-mailed us that we’d been drawn in a group with a Croatian team, a Ukrainian show business XI and a team representing supporters of Bohemians 1905 Prague. The latter are well-known in Eastern Europe for their staunch anti-fascist stance. One year I even ended up playing for the Bohemians fans’ team at the St. Pauli AntiRa tournament in Germany (when most of their players got too drunk to stand up). To whet our appetite Slavik also sent us a picture before we left the UK of the stadium where we’d be playing, once the home ground of one of the city of Lviv’s top teams. It seemed to me that this big, empty ground had seen better days and would badly need some banners.

So in typical style I took three of the buggers !

Nice one Saint Cyril, nice one son. The red antifascist banner in Lviv.

This was the first amateur tournament I’ve been to which insisted on 90-minute group games, of which we had to play three in two days.  That alone would have been an incredible and unprecedented feat for most of us, but we had to do it and consume about 30 pints of great beer over the 3 evenings as well. We beat the Czechs, were unlucky to lose to the Croatians against the run of play and got knocked out by the “Ukrainian showbiz XI”, of whom some seemed to be ringers from the ex-professional football ranks! Certainly didn’t look like some old Rod Stewart XI anyway. My Inter mates were knocked out in the semi by supporters of the big local team, Karpaty Lviv.

But for me all the real drama happened off the pitch. As I left the stadium on the second evening I was jumped by a gang of 20 young fascists and knocked to the ground. Luckily my bag was their real target and I just got a couple of kicks. Not my camera, not my wallet, they just wanted the bag containing my flags. It emerged from hints over the following 24 hours that some of the tournament volunteers, including one who had befriended our group, were fascist sympathizers and they had probably set me up at the only moment I was alone with them. This was while they were supposedly helping me find a taxi to go to meet my Italian mates from Inter, who were playing their group games at another ground. I should have been suspicious from the moment I saw that one of the volunteers was wearing a Lazio t-shirt featuring Di Canio doing a fascist salute in the Stadio Olimpico, and when this nutter only wanted to ask me questions about  hooligan groups. Never trust a fella in Ukraine whose first question is about Millwall.

The youngsters, it transpired, then passed the banners they had robbed off me on, up the chain, to the real big-time fascist ultra leaders, who the next afternoon turned up at the stadium with 100 followers to support the local team in the final v. Glasgow Rangers supporters. Of the Lviv public, really only a few dozen kids and  students who wanted to practise their English had shown interest in the tournament up to this point, so it was obvious these fascists had come not for the football but to make a political point and to try to provoke a fight. They draped their Nazi-style flags on the pitch side fence, with a local Ukrainian symbol in place of the swastika, and next to these I was shocked to see my own banner, with its anti-fascist slogan …. hanging upside down. Apparently that’s a sign of humiliating your enemies over there – you hang their flags upside down. There were no police or security at this tournament at all, so the Fash were just free to march in and do whatever they wanted. I took advantage of a moment when a local bigwig was making a show of pally negotiation with the thugs, for our benefit (along the lines of “look lads, we don’t want any trouble in front of our guests” while they laughed in his face) to walk up behind him quickly tear my flag back down off the fence. Looking back now, I was lucky to void a proper kicking.

So the irony is that I do still today have my anti-fascist banner, intact despite its upside-down trauma – indeed I took it to the anti-racist world cup in Bologna, later last summer – but my Shankly flag and the other one, well they’d disappeared totally. My friend from “Football Supporters Europe” later told me that a video had circulated on the internet of my beloved Mr. Shankly being doused in lighter fuel and torched !  Those  bastards probably think the picture was of some great Liverpool socialist leader or something. Oh wait a minute – it was! But anyway, I can’t let them win so I’ll just have to make another low-calorie Shankly Lite for my low-budget hand luggage.

Meanwhile the fascists had sent young ‘spotters’ over towards our group in another part the stands, probably to find out if any of us split off as I’d done the day before. One of them drew his finger across his throat when I sussed him. The word went round the other antifascists present, like Schalke and the Bohemians, that we’d have to stick together if we were to avoid getting picked off, inside or outside the stadium. At this point the organisers were still trying to tell us that “these people aren’t racists. They are just nationalists who associate the term anti-fascist with the old communist regime.” Almost on cue as if to disprove this, the thugs they were talking about then marched around to the far side of the pitch to tear down a banner placed there by the “Football Against Racism in Europe” rep at the tournament. We had no hesitation in joining forces to put it back up again – Czechs, Germans, Croatians and Brits all united, and getting  a big cheer as we did so.  But when we went back to the main stand, the fascists in turn marched back and tore it down again, and in the confusion they also stole a banner that read “Schalke Against Racism” and proceeded to “sieg-heil” its shocked German owners. Not racists, huh ? The tournament organisers blushed and went off to prepare the final presentation ceremony.

The supposed “Glasgow Rangers supporters XI” (Huh ! Glasgow Ringers XI more like – more proper footballers than even the Ukrainian Showbiz XI), beat the hosts 3-0 in the final, and the fascist Ultras in the stands melted away almost immediately. We wondered if they were lurking outside planning to attack any of us who gave them a chance. The organisers seemed eager to get the presentation ceremony over with, and in their speeches it was as if the disgraceful events of a few minutes earlier hadn’t happened. “Aren’t you going to say anything to disassociate your organization from what’s just happened ?” I asked Slavik who’d invited us, while his boss was making the penultimate speech. He just looked away, half-ashamedly, like a man with a guilty secret. Luckily the representative from Schalke then grabbed the microphone for an impromptu denunciation of the fascists, and an implicit criticism of the organisers; when it was my turn, my own criticism of them was more explicit.

I’m aware of course that these people have to live in a deeply nationalist place, where the aspirations of generations were crushed by Russian communism and scarred by the fact that millions more Ukrainians were killed by Stalin than by Hitler. Indeed, the partisans who helped fight off Hitler were some of the first to be destroyed by Stalin even before the war had drawn to a close. The previous evening, as our group entered one of the most atmospheric bars in town, there had been a ritualistic question from a bouncer. To enter this underground den, full of resistance and WW2 memorabilia (see photo, right) we had to give the right answer to his question “There aren’t any Russians here are there ?” then we had to down a shot of the local brandy and toast “Glory to Ukraine!” before being allowed in.

I’m also aware that in the ex-Soviet union the term “antifascism” can be falsely associated, by those who choose to do so, with the old regime, communism and anti-nationalism. It’s an easy smear by those who feel threatened by the worldwide trend towards more tolerant, more cosmopolitan societies.

But the organisers of this event tried their hardest, during and after this (otherwise extremely enjoyable) weekend to pull the wool over our eyes. “Not racists” my arse.  In the kind of climate I have outlined, surely an event of this type must stand for an anti-racism and pro-diversity message at the very least, make sure its participants are all on message with that, and make sure violations are not tolerated ?

3. Eurofans 2010 and Euro 2012

In the months following the 2009 tournament I heard that there were attempts by the Football Against Racism in Europe organization to negotiate with the “Eurofans” organisers and make sure that in future their event would have a more convincing anti-racism stance.  F.A.R.E.’s main man in Eastern Europe had told me when we met in Ukraine that his organisation faces very similar problems at home in Poland, and that if they chose to, they too could cower in fear of reprisals from their own local fascist thugs, like the organizers of this event did. Eventually he told me that F.A.R.E. would not be supporting “Eurofans 2010” because the organizers had chosen to do some sort of behind the scenes deal with the fascists to keep them away this year, rather than try to shame them or to tackle their attitudes in any way. Which was good enough, or should I say bad enough, for me to decide not to go.

So, it’s one year on and there was again a Liverpool supporters’ team at Eurofans 2010 last week, but I couldn’t have  felt comfortable going back. I was just glad to hear that the lads all got back safely again. Of course they had a great time drinking beer and singing songs again like we all did last year, because apart from the Fash of course, the local people were delightful, and Lviv itself is delightful. Architecturally, it seems like a fine old central European town, but culturally very East European.This is the European city in fact, which has changed hands between more different European powers than any other city I can think of.  But its recent history means that it’s also one of the least cosmopolitan (i.e. the whitest) cities in Europe, and is it ready to host Euro 2012 ? I don’t know, I hope it goes well but I’m really fearful of who the local racist thugs will try to pick off and what their shenanigans could kick off. It’s all about chain reactions. And I don’t think  a “let’s-all-drink-beer-together-while -papering-over-the-cracks” job like this Eurofans tournament is the way to show whether Lviv is ready. I suppose that’s what you get though when a tournament’s primary backers are the local tourist board.

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Postscript, November 2010. Every October, Football Against Racism in Europe week sees hundreds of events at grounds in about 40 countries. You’ll notice in these photos that the only Ukrainian fan group which made an anti-racist stand this October, the fans of FC Arsenal Kiev,  had to disguise their faces in photographs where all they doing is holding “No to Racism” scarves, because of the very real likelihood of lethal fascist reprisals.

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By the way, a friend of mine noticed a “google ad” for a banner-making company had appeared at the bottom of this page. Sneaky old b*stards ! Please ignore it. I’ve never paid anyone to make a banner yet.

Many members of my Sunday league club, Republica Internationale, are also FC St. Pauli supporters. For some of them it’s the only club they follow in professional football, while quite a few others would say “I support such-and-such a club in England, but I wish the club and the fans were more like St. Pauli.” Personally I was aware of St. Pauli’s brilliant anti-fascist fan scene for several years before we started bumping into them at the tournaments we go to around Europe about 10 years ago. Others, especially our women players,  got to know the FC St Pauli women at our annual trips to the Mondiali Antirazzisti in Italy. We’ve travelled to Hamburg on various occasions to experience the great atmosphere of St. Pauli home matches & their legendary after-match parties! Of course we’ve also taken part in their famous AntiRa tournament every year since it started in 2004.

Eight Republica members recently made up half of the UK St. Pauli supporters’ squad at Worldnet, a weekend tournament held here in Leeds every July, which brings together supporters’ teams of 80 English & Scottish clubs and the odd overseas team too, playing on 10 university pitches at Bodington Hall. We were in the 16-team veterans event.
The team came together through the UK St Pauli fans’ message board and this was the very first time  many of us had even met, never mind played together, but by the end of the weekend we’d been voted “Team of the Tournament 2009” by our peers, match officials, etc. That’s out of all 80 squads at Worldnet, not just the 16 veteran teams !  I’d like to think that much of the reason for that particular triumph was due to us publicising St Pauli’s philosophy on the tournament’s website & in the tournament programme, as well as the fact that we were the only mixed team in the tournament. We also had indisputably the best banners, flags, stickers and pennants as well as possibly some of the most …errm …. unique singing at the tournament !!

Aologies to Dave L and Lee that we didn’ take the photos till after you left, and of course we weren’t the same team without you ! While you were there we lost narrowly to eventual finalists Leicester and drew with Southampton, but after you left we crumpled against Birmingham, before rallying the next morning, when we should have beaten Fulham in the first knock-out match.Here we are before our match with the Birmingham veterans:

On Sunday, a 9am kick-off for our first match was too ridiculous to be taken entirely seriously. We just carried on partying and for a brief moment I thought our opponents, Fulham Ancients,  were going to join in with that spirit :

After our unlucky own goal and 1-0  defeat in that match,it was a long walk from the bar with those pints, so where to carry that pesky football gear ?

We did give every team a bottle of Astra (St. Pauli’s local brew and erstwhile shirt sponsor ) with a pennant before kick off…. but we had limited supplies so unfortunately the local Leeds pisswaterfrom the bar (i.e. Carlsberg-Tetley’s finest) had to masquerade as the Reinheitsgebot brew for some of the photo opportunities. Anthony not pleased:

Some more of the Leeds St. Pauli contingent preparing with the appropriate degree of professionalism before our unlucky knock-out by Fulham:

One of the other teams sharing our pitch were the “Arsenal fans Nigeria” veterans XI ! While they waited on the sidelines to play “Leeds Lards”, they were obviously awestruck by some novel St. Pauli tactics: