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As Protestors March to Reverse Brexit Vote, Main(lame)stream Media Manipulates Readers by Focusing on Football

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Which Way? Image Courtesy Of: https://briefingsforbrexit.com/where-the-eu-and-ourselves-went-wrong/

 

Hundreds of thousands of protesters descended on London on 20 October 2018 to demand a second referendum on the final Brexit deal, which is scheduled to occur in March 2019. Perhaps in line with the dominant narratives in Western media, football has become a major talking point in the media’s fear-mongering which surrounds Brexit. Most recently, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino (who is, ironically, Argentinian) compared Brexit to “a car crash” and claimed that voters received “manipulated information” during the campaign. With all due respect to Mr. Pochettino, I am forced to ask a simple question: Where did this “manipulated information” come from?

 

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A 16-year Old Saying “Brexit Stole My Future” is the Height of Victimhood. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/premier-league/brexit-mauricio-pochettino-european-union-britain-tottenham-hotspur-referendum-a8591976.html

 

It is no secret that the media manipulates information in the modern era, but I am afraid that Mr. Pochettino is mistaken when he thinks that pro-Brexit voters were the ones who were manipulated; indeed, most of the media was—and continues to be—extremely biased against the “leave” campaign and voters. A good recent example of this bias is a 4 September 2018 The Telegraph piece written by Tim Wigmore with the emotional title “Why Premier League fears work permit changes after Brexit could make another Leicester miracle impossible”. Now, to any football fan the utter idiocy in this headline should be fairly obvious.

 

It is well known that modern industrial football—especially in the last twenty years—has become increasingly unequal due to its intimate connections with the processes of globalization, characterized by growing interconnectedness, transnational flows of capital and corporations, and the trend towards “open borders”. Similarly, those familiar with the Premier League are also aware that it is one of the world’s most unequal leagues. Therefore, one would rightfully give you a weird look if you were to argue that the Premier League is an “equal” league. Similarly, one would also likely give you an odd look if you were to make the claim that—somehow—Leicester City’s improbable 2015-16 Championship happened because of Britain’s EU membership, as The Telegraph’s headline seems to imply. Make no mistake, Leicester City took the title in spite of—and not because of—the Premier League and the EU’s open borders. This is an important distinction to make, and one that Mr. Wigmore seems to miss in his article.

 

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Make no mistake, Leicester City took the title in spite of—and not because of—the Premier League and the EU’s open borders. Image Courtesy of: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2018/09/04/premier-league-fears-work-permit-changes-could-make-another/

 

Mr. Wigmore claims that the Premier League’s great concern is that “Brexit will limit the talent that clubs can access, and so make the league of lower quality, more predictable and less interesting to a global audience”. It seems that this should not be a concern, since the Premier League was never supposed to be for a “global” audience; it is an English League and—therefore—was primarily designed to be played for an English audience. Perhaps this passage would have been more correct if it had said “Brexit will limit the international talent that clubs can access”; the rhetorical jump made in assuming that this would make for a “lower quality” and “less interesting” league is based partially on assumption, and partially on a major underestimation of Britain’s young footballing talent. There is absolutely no guarantee that the young British players—who are often shut out of the top teams due to international competition—are somehow of a lower quality than their international counterparts. Indeed, making this argument in any other context—at least one not referring to the native talent of a white Anglo-Saxon country—could easily be construed as xenophobic or racist. Imagine making the claim that African football cannot survive without access to European (often white) coaches? It likely wouldn’t go down well, yet we—somehow—allow opinion shapers in the media to give us these same biased opinions on other topics without batting an eye.

 

According to Mr. Wigmore, the Premier League fears that “clubs’ ability to recruit from the continent” will be obstructed if the UK were to leave the EU. This would be of little concern to British teams—and the Premier League—if they had faith in their own academies and locally raised players. But, of course, the issue is not as humanist as one focusing on faith in one’s fellow humans; rather, it is about money (as it often tends to be in industrial football). As Mr. Wigmore notes, “the Premier League is increasingly dependent upon foreign broadcasting revenue, [and] becoming more amenable to young foreign talent [is] commercially appealing”. From this comment, we see that the real fear for the Premier League is that international audiences would not be interested in watching XIs made up of players from the British Isles. Yet instead of admitting this very real concern, the author—and the Premier League—instead appeal to emotion through some thinly veiled virtue signaling with this absurd claim: New transfer rules would affect the smallest teams, “so the Premier League’s competitive balance would suffer, entrenching the elite”. I am certain that the vast majority of Premier League fans who have been watching for the last twenty-six years can recognize just how patently false this is. After all, the elite have already been entrenched.

 

A cursory look at the history of the Premier League shows that, over the past twenty-six years of the league’s existence, competition has gradually become intra-elite, rather than league wide. Just look at the champions that have come out of the twenty-six years of Premier League football (from 1992 to 2018) as compared to the twenty-six years preceding the Premier League (1965-1992):

 

1992-93 – 2017-18 (26 Seasons):

6 Different Champions

Manchester United (12)

Chelsea (5)

Arsenal (3)

Manchester City (3)

Blackburn Rovers (1)

Leicester City (1)

 

1965-66 – 1991-92 (26 Seasons):

9 Different Champions

Liverpool (12)

Arsenal (3)

Everton (3)

Leeds United (3)

Derby County (2)

Aston Villa (1)

Manchester United (1)

Manchester City (1)

Nottingham Forest (1)

 

It is a fairly obvious fact that the Premier League did not increase the competitiveness of English football’s top tier. Can you imagine Derby County taking the title one year, followed by Aston Villa the next year? If you can’t, then it may become clear that The Telegraph is engaged in a crude form of opinion shaping and manipulation, which goes against Mr. Pochettino’s argument that it was just “leave” voters who were “manipulated”. The entire nature of this debate would, of course, be comical if it were not for the fact that it is harmful to the development of what German sociologist Jurgen Habermas termed “the public sphere”, characterized by free and open discussion of matters of public concern.

 

If we are to be able to realize that transnational unions like the European Union—and the rhetoric of “open borders” and “increased productivity” that go with it—are actually harmful to individuals by subverting democratic practices, open dialogue is essential. Indeed, given that the protestors of 20 October 2018 who have filled London’s streets are actively participating in subverting their own democracy by demanding a second referendum, it is clear that this kind of open dialogue is important now more than ever. It is only by individuals speaking to other individuals—within the public sphere—that elite control over the media and culture can be resisted. But, of course, don’t think you’ll find that in outlets like The Telegraph.

 

It is vital that citizens take back their countries—and their democracies—from transnational oligarchs. Nations are made by and for their citizens, just like football leagues. By participating in the public sphere, individuals might be able to realize this. Otherwise, they will fall into the logic of The Telegraph, which writes that “the Premier League is one of the UK’s most successful exports, televised in 189 of the 193 countries in the United Nations. It has harnessed globalization [sic] to become the envy of every other football league in the world – not so much a domestic league as a transnational one, inspiring deep devotion from Jakarta to Lagos and New York”. The Premier League was not meant to inspire “deep devotion” from Jakarta to Lagos and New York. Rather, it was meant to inspire “deep devotion” from Plymouth to Norwich and Newcastle and give young British footballers the hope that they could, too, don the shirts of their favorite teams. And just like the Premier League, the British government was not meant to take its cues from European Union bureaucrats in Brussels; it was meant to take its cues from citizens in London, Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and across the UK.

 

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A Pro-Brexit Campaigner Saying “We Want Our Country Back” While Looking to Reverse Democracy Must Be the Height of Irony. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.businessinsider.com/the-british-public-now-backs-a-second-brexit-referendum-2018-7
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White Hart Lane, London, England–(Tottenham Hotspur FC): Tottenham Hotspur-Besiktas JK (1-1) Matchday

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Some more pictures of White Hart Lane taken from the away supporters section during the UEFA Europa League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Besiktas JK. White Hart lane opened more than a century ago in 1899 when the first match saw a modest crowd of just 5,000. While the record attendance is an astounding 75,038, from a match in 1938, the new seating regulations mean that the current capacity is 36,284. Since this is smaller than the capacity of many Premier League stadia there are plans for reconstruction afoot. Luckily, I was able to make it out before another classic British ground fades into the past. The stadium has a cosy feeling, there is no denying that, and as a fan it feels as if you are almost on the pitch. To get there, take the Victoria line to Seven Sisters station and change for a National Rail service to White Hart Lane station.

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London Fall Football Fest 2014 (10.01.2014-10.06.2014): Six Days, Four Matches, One City

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Ölümle Yaşamı Ayıran Çizgi, Siyahla Beyazı Ayıramaz Ki . . .

The Line That Separates Life From Death Can’t Separate Black From White . . .

Those poetic lines come from Beşiktaş supporters and they became a bit of a mantra for me during my recent trip to London. It was four matches in six days, punctuated by all sorts of lessons learned on either side of lines that separate so many instances of life—things that are so close yet so far apart. One often thinks of white and black as opposites—symbolizing life and death, respectively. Yet, in the context of one football team, these two opposites are inseparable; separate they may mean two different things but together they symbolize something that is very much alive: love for one football team.

 

London Fall Football Fest Part One: The Line That Separates Football Crazy From Just Plain Crazy

 

Çocukluk aşkımsııııııın!!!!!

Sen ilk göz ağrımsıııııın!!!!

You’re my childhood love!!

You’re the first apple of my eye!!!

 

The tune—if it can even be called that—rises from a single tinny voice somewhere behind me. Imagine the most off-key singer you’ve ever heard . . . then ten times worse. This is something like that. I haven’t turned my head yet, neither has Ekin. We want to make it crystal clear that we are not with this man.

 

Kimseyi, kimseyi sevmedim senin gibiiiiii…

Sevdanın uğruna terkettim herşeyiiiii…

No one, I’ve loved no one like I’ve loved you…

I’ve abandoned everything for the sake of your passion…

 

No, we have certainly never seen this man in our life.

“John, what was our flight number?”

“Let me check . . . 519.”

“519? What kind of a flight number is that?”

“I don’t know man! It’s on the boarding pass!”

 

Hayatın anlamıııııı

GALATASARAY!!!!!!

Hayatın anlamıııııı

GALATASARAY!!!!!!

 

The meaning of life is….

GALATASARAY!!!!!

The meaning of life is….

GALATASARAY!!!!!

 

The off key-tune keeps interrupting us as we try to fill out our immigration cards. Our minds have turned to mush after traveling and now, at 12am, this one-man sideshow is really the last straw. By now others have noticed him and are starting to stare. The UK citizens line is staring, and the non-Turkish contingent in the non-UK citizens line begin to send disapproving looks his way. He seems to be oblivious as I look him over.

He is definitely a strange looking fellow. But, then again, you’ve got to be a little off to be belting out Galatasaray songs in the middle of the night below the UK BORDER sign in the passport control line at London Stansted Airport.

I just hope that his ill-timed display of team pride won’t disrupt our entry; our purpose of visit—to see some football matches—could mean we get painted with the same brush as our wayward friend in line behind us. After all, the UK BORDER sign puts us in our place. We are all guilty until proven innocent here.

 

We inch through the line at a snail’s pace, everyone is being scrutinized down to the last detail. I’m not worried about getting to where we need to go—the busses to central London run 24 hours a day from Stansted. However, I am worried about the exchanges taking place behind me.

“I can see the light! We will get the three points from Arsenal!” He sounds confident, judging by the sound of his voice. Perhaps he hasn’t watched the first five matches of the season.

“What light? Have you seen us play lately? I’m treating this as a sightseeing trip!” Someone gives him the answer I would have given.

“A sight-seeing trip?” He gets in the other man’s face. “If you’re just here to see the sights then you can’t say ‘Galatasaray’!” He is definitely out of his mind and I just turn to Ekin. We share the same grave looks, looks we know all too well from living in the same country some 3,000 Kilometers away.

 

Gözlerime bak! Gözlerime baksana!! (Look into my eyes! Look me in the eyes!)” he has now found another adversary and is staring him down in a zero-sum game. After all, they don’t have anywhere to go—they’re surrounded by velvet ropes on either side. Another man tries to intervene.

Yapma, değmez. Haydi kardeşim, en azından burada yapma (Don’t do it, its not worth it. Come on brother, at least don’t do it here)”. I chuckle at the “don’t do it here”. Its clear that this man will cause some trouble in England—this just isn’t the time or place for it.

 

Ekin and I laugh at this with the people behind us in line. They are at least normal. One is a girl who has lived in London for seven years, another is a middle aged man who has come to see the game, like us. He says he is looking for tickets to the Beşiktaş match as well and Ekin—ever the optimist—assures him that some can be found.

“Well, if not, all I want to do is watch this Galatasaray match safe and sound.” He pauses as if for effect and all four of us look over our shoulders. “I mean, there will be people like that.”

Yes, there will indeed be people like that. I can read Ekin’s mind as we stand, immigration papers in hand, waiting for our turn to be examined beneath the UK BORDER sign. All we can do now is stay away from those who live on the other side of that line separating football crazy and just plain old crazy.

 

London Fall Football Fest Part Two: The Line That Separates Turkey From Europe (And England From Europe, For That Matter)—Arsenal FC-Galatasaray SK (4-1) 10.01.2014

 

We’re seated in the Arsenal seats but we may as well be in the Galatasaray section. Only a single police officer separates us from our fellow fans to the right; nothing separates us from the Arsenal fans to our left (who would surely tear us limb from limb if they knew our true allegiance).

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Before I can get settled and take in the atmosphere of Emirates Stadium it seems as if the game is already over. Danny Welbeck has already netted two goals in the first half hour en route to his eventual hat trick. Not that this surprises me of course, I just thought that Galatasaray would be able to at least hold “the Gunners” off until the second half—such is the hopeless hope of a football fan. “Two nil, to the Arsenal…two NIL, to the Arsenal!” rings out across the Emirates Stadium, and I just hope that those around us don’t notice our conspicuous silence.

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As the match starts to slip away from Galatasaray I can feel the tensions rise and the policeman next to us starts to scan the crowd, the nervous look showing in his young eyes. Like the oppressive humidity before an oncoming rainstorm the air is heavy and the inevitable thunderclap comes in the form of sound bombs. Then comes the downpour. Flares are literally raining down onto the pitch as the Galatasaray section is bathed in an orange glow. Smoke rises into the London night and that old familiar burning scent comes to my nostrils. I can’t help but think that “this is football”.

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The grass has caught fire and Galatasaray keeper Fernando Muslera picks up one of the flares as Wesley Sneijder does his best to calm his fans down.

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The Arsenal fans, for their part, are watching with a mix that is equal parts fear and glee. Fear because it is an unpredictable situation, glee because London has not seen such a colorful night in a long time. While pyro shows are common in Eastern European stadia, they are virtually non-existent in Britain. It is that strange sense of being both in and out of Europe that the English love to cultivate.

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The PA announcer is barely audible as bottles begin to fly in the Galatasaray section. Arsenal fans in the upper decks are egging on the visiting supporters below as they return fire, not to be outdone. Extra police are called in to form a ring around the unruly supporters while the riot gear gets distributed among them. The policeman to our right takes off his vest and calmly dons his helmet as the Arsenal fans hold the tune “Who are ya?!” It is definitely going to be a long night, I can read it in the faces of the cops swarming around us.

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The Arsenal fans are booing the Galatasaray fans with each chair that is thrown into the air. Their reaction is the right one—after all, you don’t go into someone’s house and ransack it. But this is football. The hooliganism that Britain terrorized Europe with in the 1980s has now come back to them. I would have preferred it if my fellow fans could have shown a modicum of self-control but that isn’t always possible. I think back to the man in the line at passport control. No, it isn’t always possible at all, and I’m not surprised. It is the childish glee of the Arsenal supporters that surprises me more. But it too is normal. After all, they can relax. They are the ones on the other side of the line. They are behind their police. They are an island. They are in Europe. And Turkey is not, it is that simple.

 

By halftime it is 3-0, seven minute into the second half it is 4-0 as Danny Welbeck completes his hat trick and I’m bracing for the chant “Five nil, to the Arsenal. FIVE nil! To the Arsenal!” but it never comes. Keeper Wojciech Szczesny is sent off just past the hour mark and Burak Yilmaz sends the substitute keeper the wrong way to grab a consolation goal and make it 4-1. My consolation is that four of the five goals came in the goal directly in front of me. But it is a hollow feeling, scraping what little happiness we can get out of a night where the lines between Turkey and Europe showed themselves as clear as the bright orange flares burning in the smoky air.

As the police dogs come onto the field to prevent a pitch invasion after the final whistle we file out, headed to the Arsenal Tavern down the road to drown our sorrows in a few pints of London Pride.

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London Fall Football Fest Interlude #1: The Line That Separates Art from Art

 

I don’t think I’ll ever understand modern art. I’m trying to work off the previous night’s stress before tonight’s Tottenham-Beşiktaş match by taking in some “high culture” to offset my days and nights spent in the “low culture” of football stadiums. The day before it had been the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square, today it is Tate Modern on the banks of the Thames. As I stroll through the exhibits I find it difficult to wrap my mind around what constitutes “Art”. The masterpieces I saw at the National Gallery blew me away. On the same level as the pieces of the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg they inlcuded, among other things, Monets, Friedrichs, and what was probably the first “Instagram collage”…from 1642, a portrait of Cardinal Richelieu by Pilippe de Champaigne.

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Now, I can only laugh when a mirror on canvas is presented to me as art. As if the mirror wasn’t enough, then there is of course a beige octagon on the wall. Or vertical brush strokes, painted until the paint runs out. Those too are art. I was hoping that the beers I drank at the Globe Theater—the absurdity of Shakespeare’s famous venue housing a watering hole aside—would kick in at the Tate but I have no such luck. I look at myself in the mirror, criticizing the lines on my face and decide “No. This is much too ugly to be art”. Or is it?

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I remember a conversation I once had with a friend, himself an aspiring artist. When I told him that I disliked some of the pieces of modern art on display at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) museum—after all, is a simple black canvas with a red square art?—he told me that was exactly what art is supposed to do. Anger or dislike are still emotions just like love or enjoyment, so—even if it is not positive, if it elicits an emotion in the viewer then it is indeed art. By his definition then yes, I suppose Tate modern is certainly a tour de force of emotionally stirring artwork!

I am left trying to work out the thin line that separates the concepts of “art” in my head as I leave the former power plant that is now a modern art Mecca and head down the walking path along the Thames. Teenagers are skateboarding in front of an urban gallery of spray painted “art” while I peruse the nearby used book market. I choose The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence, reasoning that a British author is most fitting. Plus, I think most of us can agree to its merit as “art”.

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London Fall Football Fest Part Three: The Line That Separates The Bad People From The Good People—Tottenham Hotspur FC-Besiktas JK (1-1) 10.02.2014

“Hey! You! Take that Galatasaray shirt off, you can’t wear that here!” I look around with the most innocent “Who, me?” face I can muster as the cop comes up to me. We are buried in the innards of White Hart Lane in the small café area allotted to the Beşiktaş fans–the walls tell me what section I am in.

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“Come on now, put something on over that shirt.” The cop is getting impatient as I attempt to explain. As I tell him that our friend invited me here and explicitly told me to wear my Galatasaray shirt it even seems like he will let me go. That is, until I feel a hand on my collar, trying to get at my throat. It is not the policeman’s hand, and it is not an English voice yelling in my ear. It’s…a Turkish voice.

Cikart o formayı! (Take that jersey off!)”

Sakin ol, polis ile konuşmaya calışıyorum! (Calm down, I’m trying to talk to the cop!)”

Burası siyah beyaz tribünü seni öldürürüm! (This is a black and white crowd I’ll kill you!)”

The cop gives me his best “I told you so” look and all I can do is relent. After all, if these two Beşiktaş men were rational—and could understand from logic—I wouldn’t have a hand around my throat. All I can do is resign myself to falling into the policeman’s clutches. It is undoubtedly the safer option.

“Alright, alright” I acquiesce as he carts me away. I can feel the fifty-pound ticket going out the window, I figure he’s ejecting me.

“Where are your seats?” I’m relieved but he still has his arms around me as I direct him to where we were seated. As soon as I’m released I go for my shirt and begin buttoning it up over my beloved jersey. Ekin does the same as the cop looks on, making sure the job is done correctly.

Ne yaptığıni sanıyorsun? (What do you think you’re doing?)” Asks one of the Beşiktaş fans below us as he watches me button up my shirt.

Formaları çıkart dedi (He told us to take off our jerseys).” I say, nodding to the cop.

Hayır. Çıkartmayacaksın. Forma kalcak. (No, you’re not taking it off. You’re going to keep it on)”.

The cop can only shake his head as they start arguing with him before he wanders off realizing we are in good hands. Sometimes there is no reasoning with football fans.

Aşağıda saldırdılar bize (They attacked us downstairs).” I explain in a bid to clear our names as I slowly take my shirt off, revealing the jersey again.

“Boşver. Burası siyah beyaz tribünü falan değil forma’da ay yıldız yok mu? Burası kırmızı beyaz tribünü! (Forget it. This is not a black and white crowd isn’t there a Turkish flag on your shirt? This is a red and white crowd!).” He’s right—we’re here to support a Turkish team, as if the Englishmen surrounding us—the ones yelling profanities at us from behind the police line—care what team we support. They just know we’re the enemy, football is sometimes simple like that.

 

The men in front of us are definitely the good guys, the great guys. They almost want the people who attacked us to come to our seats so that they can set them straight. As one man says, its better to be in a Galatasaray shirt among the Beşiktaş supporters than be the one in a Fenerbahçe shirt among the Tottenham fans (apparently, there was someone like that in the stadium). One guy gives Ekin a Beşiktaş scarf that he wraps around his neck and I know that here, within five minutes, I have interacted with both spectrums of humanity. Luckily, here good has prevailed over bad in spectacular fashion. It’s one nil to the good guys after all.

Buoyed by the good guys’ support I redouble my singing, belting out Beşiktaş songs at the top of my lungs and sending a few choice words out to the Tottenham supporters to our right, focusing on a particular asshole who is mocking my Galatasaray shirt.

“Keep going in his language,” say the fans around me as I continue in a profanity laced exchange that cannot be printed here.

Luckily Demba Ba equalizes by converting his 88th minute spot kick to save me—and us—the blushes, allowing me to take out my anger at the bad guys by giving it to the Tottenham supporters. They’re not to be out done though, sending bottles and coins our way as a scuffle erupts between the fans following the final whistle. I have half a mind to pick up the coins that were thrown at us—after all, they’re British Pounds Sterling! Before I can do that, however, the cops push us back—there is no separation between good guys and bad guys, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş supporters here. We are all just potential hooligans, and they deal with us accordingly before sending us out into the night.

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The author wearing the questionable jersey beneath the Spurs Shop.

 

London Fall Football Fest Interlude #2–The Line That Separates Being Lost in Life and Just Finding Your Way Through Life

Four in the morning and you’re sitting at a roulette table on Leicester Square. Soon the morning will come and make everything clear. Or so you hope. Until then its one more Maker’s Mark, and one more bet on Red. Or should it be evens? The day has been long but it isn’t over yet.

It started sightseeing and walking all over the city before moving to a London club, dancing with those girls who carry themselves with a sense of purpose, in a way that only the residents of a true world city can. Some were pretty in a British sense—something about the way they wear their hair. Others were partiers, on vacation from Berlin and Amsterdam. Staring at those dancing crowds you realize you’ve come a long way from getting foreign objects thrown at you on the terraces of White Hart Lane. But that’s not the purpose of your journey, they are not the objects of your attention. It can all wait, you say, following your friends into the casino.

You tell yourself you’re not lost, you’re just finding your way through life like you find your way through the crowds of the cities, the club, the casino, of the football stadiums. And that is where you find your confidence even though your life is as random as the silver ball spinning around the roulette table, waiting to land somewhere, anywhere at all . . .

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London Fall Football Fest Part Four: The Line That Separates Dreams From Reality—Southend United-Morecambe (0-1) 10.04.2014

No trip to London would be complete without a little rain, and I get my share of it on a Saturday afternoon. In the drizzle the train pulls out of London’s Liverpool Street station and I settle in for the hour-long ride to Prittlewell in Southend-on-Sea. The train stops at a lonely suburban station and I follow the crowds in what I assume is the direction of the stadium under a rain that is slowly picking up.

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At the central intersection there are a few pubs and the crowds have gotten larger, everyone making their way to Roots Hall Stadium. The mood seems buoyant, which is normal considering that Southend have gone four matches without defeat.

 

I queue for twenty minutes, thankful to be out of the rain, and eventually get my twenty-one pound ticket with…the amazing view of a support column. Thankfully, due to my experiences at Fenway Park I’m not too disappointed. It’s all just a part of the adventure.

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No sooner have I settled in than Morecambe strike, Jack Redshaw hitting a fifth minute shot to put the visitors up 0-1. The home “shrimper” fans are not too disappointed that the visiting “shrimps” have scored—after all, Southend are on a good run of form. I like the idea of the match as a “Shrimp Derby” (both teams have shrimps on their badges) and strain around the column to look at the proceedings. Sitting behind that column and listening to the fans screaming at the top of their lungs I can’t help but realize it is all part of a losing battle. Roots Hall, with a capacity of just over 12,000, can not compete with the big money in London that I saw first hand in Emirates Stadium and White Hart Lane. Yet here these fans are, fighting the good fight of dreams in the face of reality. As football has become more and more about money, it is unlikely that any of these smaller teams will ever be able to truly compete with the teams in the Premier League and Championship any time soon. Sadly there isn’t much to see on the field either and, forty minutes later, its still 0-1 at halftime.

I head down to the bar underneath the stand for a half time pint of Foster’s in order to get the gloomy thoughts out of my head. It’s not surpising that a bar exists in the stadium—after all, the team were formed on May 19 1906 in the Blue Boar Pub! Watching highlights of other League Two matches deep inside Roots Hall I think back to high school. My soccer coach at the time, himself an ex Southend United player, had brought our whole team to London when we were just fifteen. It had been our first real experience in European Football (and European drinking), and for that I am forever indebted. The least I can do is take in a match at Roots Hall in return.

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I decide to watch the second half from the top of the stand—I couldn’t go back to the column, now that Southend were attacking the goal with the obstructed view. Again, there isn’t much action even though Southend go close numerous times. Before the final whistle I get scolded for taking pictures by the steward—apparently it is grounds for dismissal. I told him I wasn’t going to make a live stream of the match via my smart phone’s video camera but he wasn’t amused. I guess, for some reason, I just can’t stop getting in trouble at matches during this London Fall Football Fest.

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I’m not offended, he’s just doing his job. The match ends 0-1 to the visitors, just as the sun begins to break through the clouds. I head to the club shop after the final whistle and grab myself a Southend United shirt. I ask whose name should be on it and after a fierce discussion amongst the workers Jack Payne’s #19 is decided upon. Apparently he has been the best over the past month, shortlisted for the Player of the Month award.

What drove me to the shirt was a charity fundraiser for Prostate Cancer UK. The Men United logo to raise prostate cancer awareness in the UK will be displayed on every number of every football shirt in the Football League during the 2014-2015 season. This may not be as famous as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge but it is no less important. Prostate Cancer affects one in every eight men in the UK, and one man will die of it every hour according to the charity. So the next time you pull on a Football League shirt, go the extra mile and get a name and number set to help raise awareness while showing your team pride.

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For the match report please see Southend United’s website at http://www.southendunited.co.uk/news/article/041014-morecambe-match-report-1988517.aspx. For some professional quality pictures of the match please visit Southend United’s website for the Match Gallery at http://www.southendunited.co.uk/news/article/060114-morecambe-gallery-2000937.aspx.

 

London Fall Football Fest Part Five: The Line That Separates England’s Past from England’s Future—West Ham United-Queens Park Rangers (2-0) 10.05.2014

On my last day in London I find myself on Green Street (of Green Street Hooligans fame) getting tickets for an East London-West London derby clash between West Ham United and Queen’s Park Rangers. After getting my tickets from the Boleyn Ground I head down Green Street alone, just to get a sense of the area, and here it hits me how blurred the lines between England’s future and England’s past truly are.

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It is a sight to see. Subcontinental clothiers line the street, windows full of saris that carry all the colors of the rainbow. The colors remind me a bit about my own closet of football shirts back home, and I feel how far I am from the clothiers of Picadilly Circus. Even the signs in the Underground advertise the same things—either sending money to India or Islamic dating. Britain’s colonial past is alive and well here in East London.

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Being a child of parents that come from two different cultures I know how valuable biculturalism can be—but only if it is accepted. Otherwise, it falls pray to xenophobia and racism—destroyed before it can show its benefits. Here on Green Street watching the QPR and West Ham United fans walk together beneath signs for the Al-Madinah bookstore, I see just how complicated the relationship between England’s past and England’s future is.

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Once my friends finally make it into the Boleyn Ground I’m confronted with this harsh reality again and—not being one to hold my tongue—I almost pay the price for it. I understand how difficult it is to accept immigrants and I know that those glassy blue eyes and beautiful blonde girls (who could only be British) are slowly being outnumbered by new arrivals either from the ex-colonial territories or Eastern Europe. Therefore, I understand but could never condone the sentiments of a particular West Ham United fan I encountered at the Boleyn Ground.

The friend I was staying with, Berker—himself Turkish but a man of the world having studied in the United States and lived in London for four years—led us to our seats. We thought we were in the correct row, since the writing noting the letters of the rows had worn out on the steps. Berker told the man sitting in what he thought were our seats that he was in the wrong area. Well, it turns out we were mistaken, standing in Row J instead of row I.

We apologized to the man, but—after explaining to us our error—I heard him mumble “learn the language”. And it pushed me off the deep end. I told him that it wasn’t my friend’s lack of linguistic skills (which he has in abundance, I might add) that brought us to the wrong row, it was the fact that the stadium’s infrastructure was out of date and that the paint denoting rows had worn off in this particular row. Before he could give me a response my friends chided me for talking back to him. Perhaps they are more refined than I am, I’m not sure. But the one thing I am sure of—despite not being part of any firm—is that one line from Green Street Hooligans rings true: “Its not about your friends having your back. Its about you having your friend’s backs”.

 

Our conflict settled we sat down and watched. West Ham went one to the good early on, much to the enjoyment of our ‘‘friend’’ behind us and went into halftime with the lead. At the half I went for a snack, as is my custom—Carlsberg and spicy hot dog was the fare on offer.

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In feasting I missed United’s second goal, right at the beginning of the second half, but I didn’t really care. After all, I came for stadium culture and stadium fare. Plus, I’d already heard the faithful sing “Bubbles” upon entering the stadium, which was truly an experience to behold and something we can all relate to. We all have hopes and dreams that—for reasons out of our control—cant always be realized.

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I’m forever blowing bubbles,

Pretty bubbles in the air,

They fly so high,

Nearly reach the sky,

Then like my dreams,

They fade and die.

Fortune’s always hiding,

I’ve looked everywhere,

I’m forever blowing bubbles,

Pretty bubbles in the air.

 

For a clip of a few renditions taken from Green Street Hooligans:

And for a Punk Rock Cover, why not the Cockney Rejects rendition from the 1980s—London Calling eh?

Liverpool Centenary Home L/S Shirt, 1992-93–In Remembrance of Hillsborough and The 96

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For readers of this blog who are not football fans I would like to remember today, April 15th 2014, as the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster. On April 15, 1989 ninety-six Liverpool fans died in a tragic human crush at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield during an FA Cup semi-final—more than 400 more were hospitalized with injuries. The causes of the disaster were many, from an antiquated stadium to poor decision-making and communication by Police.

On that sad day in April “The 96” were immortalized in English history and changed English football—and society—forever. After the disaster standing room sections were banished and stadiums in the top tier (the Premier League only started in 1992—in many ways a response to this tragic event) became all-seaters. What also happened—and perhaps more important for English society—was a re-appraisal of football (and fans).

After the Heysel distaster of 1985 English clubs—and Liverpool in particular—were pegged as troublemakers throughout the continent due to the pervasive “hooligan” element in British football. Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher, made no attempt to dissuade such labels. Indeed, British authorities tried to peg “the 96” as drunkards and troublemakers who had caused the crowd crush by entering the stands without tickets. It was a false accusation; one that the police manufactured so as to shadow their own failures in the disaster. Many subsequent documentaries (Including a well done feature by US sports network ESPN) have focused on the doctored reports of police who were at the stadium the day of the match. Many were edited to cover up criticisms of the police response by their own. It was a shame to disgrace the names of those who died at a football match in the name of politics.

For years Liverpool fans have wanted justice for “the 96” and it has been echoed by football fans across Europe; the scarves sent to Anfield Road for the weekend match against Manchester City are testament to the fact that the Hillsborough disaster was not just a tragedy for Liverpool fans—it was a tragedy for football fans everywhere. The quest to clear the names of “the 96” has forced a new look at the British justice system and the government’s role in the tragedy.

For more in depth writing on the tragedy please see:

http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/news-and-comment/hillsborough-disaster-anniversary-25th-anniversary-of-tragedy-that-claimed-lives-of-the-96-marked-as-nearly-25000-attend-anfield-service-9262439.html

and

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/soccer/news/20140415/hillsborough-disaster-liverpool-tragedy-25-anniversary/.

 

 

So here is a picture of my Liverpool shirt, posted today in honor of “the 96”. I always wanted a Liverpool shirt for my collection because I think their “motto”, if we can call it that, of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is truly in the spirit of football fandom, whatever team you support. If you’re not convinced, these two YouTube clips of the fans during last weekend’s remembrance of Hillsborough are a good introduction to Liverpool’s spirit (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3UPeulnY6c   and   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpP5SWH62Bg). I was lucky enough to find this rare long-sleeved shirt online last year, complete with classic Carlsberg sponsor.

The shirt is Liverpool’s centenary shirt with a special embroidery around the crest (According to this site, the embroidered crest and Adidas motif mean this is a player quality shirt)–there are also two embroidered FA Premier League patches on the arms, the first season of the now world-famous league. The fabric is normal for the era, shinier than that of current shirts. In my opinion, this shirt also has the added bonus of being a classic Adidas design from the early nineties, with the three stripes coming across the left shoulder. They just don’t make shirts like they used to.

 

Remember The 96.

 

Scarves From Around Europe In Honor of The 96, courtesy of Ultra Style’s Facebook:

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A Couple Pictures of My Liverpool Shirt:

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Craven Cottage, London, England – Fulham FC

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Craven Cottage is one of those epic grounds. Its location is amazing, its age makes you feel the years. In it, you are truly living the evolution of football, from local XIs to the cash-splashed Premier League. As of now the capacity is 25,700, but it is slated to be increased. After all, it has been in use since 1896! In many ways, Craven Cottage took me home and gave me the feel of Fenway Park, the first stadium I ever attended a game at. The small doors–built in an age when people were of smaller proportions– reminded me of the small seats at old Fenway, where fans can’t help but feel slightly uncomfortable.

I was able to get a Fulham shirt, a picture of which can be seen here, and with it sitting on the banks of the Thames next to the stadium I was in a state of near-perfect contentment, a day in London well spent. For those interested, the Wikipedia article on Craven Cottage has a nice aerial photo, which puts the stadium’s unique location in perspective for the unfamiliar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craven_Cottage_).

 

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