Boycotting Sunderland FC is the only appropriate and moral response to their recent installation of a fascist manager

By Steve Hynd

This is the final post in an SJF mini series: ‘Football and society, then and now’. See the other articles here and here.

Paulo Di Canio, a fascist (in all probability), is now sitting at the helm of one of Britain’s most respected football clubs. The only way to remove him from such a prestigious position is for the fans to implement a boycott of the club.

For the last two years I have been calling for a boycott of Swindon Town FC – Di Canio’s former employers.

"I am not political... I do not support the ideology of fascism" - Paulo Di Canio

“I am not political… I do not support the ideology of fascism” – Paulo Di Canio

Few in the midst of the media scrum that followed his appointment to Sunderland commented on his two year reign at Swindon Town. Barney Ronay at the Guardian was the exception to this rule when he wrote, Di Canio has been manager of Swindon for two years without complaint…there is an excellent point to be made about the lack of attention paid to events in the lower leagues.”

He was right on one count. The whole Di Canio debacle shows the unhealthy media spotlight that is shinned upon the Premiership leaving the lower leagues in its shadow.

Just as the next big things can be spotted playing in the lower leagues, so the next big problem can also often be found there.

Barney was wrong however to assert that Di Canio spent two years at Swindon without complaint.

I was complaining and complaining loud.

Back in 2011 I wrote that Swindon should be embarrassed to employ a man who is a symbol of modern fascism and called for all fans to boycott the club.

I finished that article by appealing to the Swindon fans saying, “The message has to come from the supporters. Sack him for the reputation of the club.”

This message was ignored by most, if not all, Swindon fans. Could it be different for Sunderland?

At the heart of every football fan is passionate burning desire for success. Regardless of Di Canio’s politics he delivered promotion to Swindon. Success on the pitch acted to numb the consciousness of many Swindon fans. Promotion enabled them to look the other way.

Although this isn’t an excuse for their silence, it does at least act as an explanation.

For Sunderland fans there is little chance of this level of success and this might act as the catalyst for his dismissal or at least a de facto boycott (drop in gate sales).

The harder question though sits with all of the non-Swindon and non-Sunderland fans. Di Canio has been a manager for two years now; why have they not spoken out until now?

Not my club, not my problem was the most common response from non-Swindon fans that I spoke to over the last few years.

Let’s be clear though: it is our problem. Fascism has no place in a modern tolerant democracy. Fascism, by its nature, invokes a support for authoritarianism coupled with a questionable understanding of culture and national identity. Is this what Sunderland want in a figurehead?

This issue moves beyond just fascism though.

In a macabre game of ‘footballing extremist ideology bingo’ we are now erring towards a full house in modern football. We’ve got racists, we’ve got homophobes, and now, to complete the set, we have a self-declared fascist.

While the footballing establishment has at least started to tackle the first two problems, there remains uncertainty about how, or even if they should, tackle fascism.

Once again this is why the message needs to come from the fans that fascism has no place in the game.

Look either side of you on the terraces and you will see people who not only fought fascism but also know people who died at the hands of fascists. The horrors of the 20th century are not as far away as some think.

It pains me to have to write this, but being a fascist is not just being ‘a bit right wing’ – it is lending your tacit support to a movement that oversaw the mass death of millions.

At best Di Canio will stay quiet. At worst though, the poisonous ideology that this confused Italian extrovert follows will drip into his decisions and affect the players underneath him.

Just as Marcel Desailly would probably choose to never play for a team that Roy Atkinson managed, so I doubt any Italian with immigrant descendants would want to play for Sunderland.

For the good of British football, for the good of Sunderland FC and for all those who spent their lives fighting fascism I call on everyone to boycott the Stadium of Light until Di Canio has either renounced all aspects of fascism or left the club.

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13 comments
  1. Richard said:

    I think this sentence sums up the irony of this piece perfectly “Fascism has no place in a modern tolerant democracy. “

    • @Richard, I can’t spot the irony. The article clearly states that any move has to come from people exercising their freedom to express their opinions. Article does not call for any form of state intervention.

      • True, but a modern tolerant democracy (like Britain) should be robust enough to accept the presence of all beliefs and ideologies, however repugnant the majority might find them. The limits are when those beliefs translate into actions that cause harm to others. It’s not clear that has happened with Di Canio – it seems most people just think he’s a bit of an eccentric nut (or maybe that’s just my wishful thinking!). Indeed, if his beliefs did start to affect team selection decisions, he’d presumably be shown the door for the sub-par results that would follow… As for the idea that his fascism might filter through to the minds of his players, has there been any sign of that at Swindon? (genuine question – I am very ignorant of this subject)

        I do tend to agree with John D though – football has so many rotten elements, that a proper revamp would do it a lot of good. Unfortunately, it is also riddled with vested interests, and the sticky phenomenon of ‘fan addiction’ that this will be difficult to achieve.

  2. John D said:

    I wish you luck in your campaign but I suspect you will have no more success with Sunderland than you did with Swindon.
    Mussolini was a huge supporter of football, in particular clubs like Lazio, where Di Canio was a player. Other European fascists like Franco also exploited football for its fascist values and Hitler and the Nazis expended considerable effort and money on boosting official state support for football.
    Overall, I think football as a professional activity is riddled with corruption and racism. When you consider some of the venues that have been adopted for FIFA and UEFA events in recent years, it is obvious that the officials making these decisions were “on a bung” to use the vernacular. Israel has been chosen as a venue for the Under-21 EUFA contest. What part of Europe is Israel in ? – oh, of course, it is not anywhere in Europe; it is in the Middle East, isn’t it?
    Football is irredeemiably rotten to the core and a natural home for fascists and neo-nazis, which is why the Nazi swastika is so frequently displayed at football matches. The best thing to do is not to boycott individual football teams but to boycott all footballing activity, as none of it is healthy for anyone – not even the “star” players, in the long run.

  3. senex72 said:

    In think denouncing “fascism” may say more about the political attitude of the writer than about the subject itself.

    Politically, the Fascist manifesto called for:

    Universal suffrage with a lowered voting age to 18 years, and voting and electoral office eligibility for all age 25 and more, including women;
    Proportional representation on a regional basis;
    Voting for women (which was opposed by most other European nations);
    Representation at government level of newly created national councils by economic sector;
    The abolition of the Italian Senate (at the time, the senate, as the upper house of parliament, was by process elected by the wealthier citizens, but were in reality direct appointments by the king. It has been described as a sort of extended council of the crown);(like our own efforts to be rid of the ‘Lords’)
    The formation of a national council of experts for labour, for industry, for transportation, for the public health, for communications, etc. Selections to be made of professionals or of tradesmen with legislative powers, and elected directly to a general commission with ministerial powers.
    In labour and social policy, the manifesto calls for:

    The quick enactment of a law of the state that sanctions an eight-hour workday for all workers;
    A minimum wage;
    The participation of workers’ representatives in the functions of industry commissions;
    To show the same confidence in the labour unions (that prove to be technically and morally worthy) as is given to industry executives or public servants;
    Reorganisation of the railways and the transport sector;
    Revision of the draft law on invalidity insurance;
    Reduction of the retirement age from 65 to 55.
    In military affairs, the manifesto advocates:

    Creation of a short-service national militia with specifically defensive responsibilities;
    Armaments factories are to be nationalised;
    A peaceful but competitive foreign policy.
    In finance, the manifesto advocates:

    A strong progressive tax on capital (envisaging a “partial expropriation” of concentrated wealth);
    The seizure of all the possessions of the religious congregations and the abolition of all the bishoprics, which constitute an enormous liability on the Nation and on the privileges of the poor;
    Revision of all contracts for military provisions;
    The revision of all military contracts and the seizure of 85 percent of the profits therein.
    The manifesto thus reflected the early positions on what would later be characterized by Mussolini [3] as progressive movement that, in his view, should surpass the economic and political liberalization of the 19th century. It emphasized major elements of contemporary progressive thought (franchise reform, labour reform, nationalization, taxes on wealth and war profits, and economic controls for the sake of national interests, etc.) and laid out some of the ideas of state-control that the Fascist movement embodied, along with some ideas that are widely accepted today

    The control of capital, revision of armaments contracts in the national interest (do we actually control the use of nuclear submarines, for example?), improved transport, progressive taxation would seem widely acceptable. The use of State power to create a modern secular society integrating individuals into a national community in line with changing social attitudes as an attempt to reduce loneliness, isolation and despair etc.
    I find all thus has its chilling side, but under pressure of democratic and economic collapse (like S. Europe, and increasingly UK) violence may be in the end an attractive transformative factor.

    Simply mocking and denouncing people whose plight is addressed by these and similar ideas is insensitive and likely disastrous as a political ploy for gaining alternative political support, don’t you wonder? We must try to understand, not least the growing revolt against the mediocre and the half-hearted “democracies” which are in fact a front for ruthless demagogic plutocracy.

    • Please do read @JohnD’s comment below…

  4. John D said:

    Firstly, Thank You to senex72 for the information above, which provides considerable food for thought.
    Of course, the Fascist Party – like their erstwhile colleagues, the Nazis in Germany – was comprised of people who were thugs and gangsters to varying degrees. It is the universal reproach that people often – perhaps even always? – fail to live up to the grand ideologies that they espouse. Feeding political opponents castor oil and removing them through assassinations was not exactly what the manifesto suggested would happen. The fact that the Fascists were able to intimidate and enfeeble the Mafia suggests they (the Fascists) were even more ruthless and gangster-like than the Mafia.
    I think there is one simple notion behind opposition to fascism: it is the idea that the individual counts for nothing and that the totality of society is represented by the State, which looms over all others. This is the kind of Hegelian logic which the centre- and left-inclined intellectuals and politicians rejected, and this is why the Fascists were so opposed to liberal democracy.
    Totalitarian societies such as those represented by the ideologies of Fascism, Nazism and Bolshevism always treat individuals as expendable and of little value. They endeavour to control all aspects of life throughout society. I am not convinced of the transformative aspects of violence acting in any positive sense. There is a saying, “Note what people do, not what they say”. I think this definitely applies to the totalitarian ideologies. While I can agree that liberal democracy sometimes does not seem to work very well, I think Churchill (the man, not the dog) was right when he said it did not work very well but it was better than all the alternatives tried so far. Liberal democracy is imperfect but perhaps that is the actual point: it reflects our human imperfections. A “perfect” system would not be a human system, perhaps?

  5. Bentekemuststay said:

    I must confess I was grateful for Di Canio’s leadership when we thumped them 6-1, and therefore also supporting bmoussavi’s point about fan addiction getting in the way of genuine change.

    So with regards to this fascism exchange, it seems the fascist party may have said some good things, but many think the evidence suggests on the whole, people with the fascist label tend not to act out many of these good things. On the other hand, supporters of the democratic way also say some good things, and many think that the evidence suggests they tend to act slightly better than their fascist counterparts. Is that about it?

    John D – boycott football? That would involve us having to find something genuinely useful to replace it with. I’d rather waste hours of my life watching and chatting about people kicking, diving and screaming than do anything more productive (I say this in a tongue in cheek way despite the fact it is true).

  6. John D said:

    To paraphrase Karl Marx, football is now the opiate of the masses. This is because religion is not what it used to be – which is no bad thing. Perhaps the artificial loyalties encouraged by football will also decline in a similar fashion. This does leave, of course, the question open as to what other areas will fascist-inclined individuals move into…….?

  7. senex72 said:

    Perhaps the reason why we (= me and many)are so jumpy about “fascism” is the growing realisation that we live in a country of institutionalised corruption. Churches, MP’s, hospitals, social services, BBC editors, police, political parties – the list is endless. We have almost come to accept that no-one responsible resigns without hefty pay-offs (if at all) and lessons are never learned.
    The oligarchy is awarding stiffer sentences to anyone rioting, the police are being equipped and trained for crowd dispersal, surveillance, electronic tags and social reassurance. And that itself is a step towards fascism, isn’t it? If we were to gather in significant numbers at the Ecuadorian Embassy with cries of “free speech” and “rescue him now from months of detention” all that would be missing is the castor-oil bottles.

    • John D said:

      You forgot the water cannons, costing £1 or £1.5 million to supply, equip and train the police in London. Now where have I seen similar equipment to that before? I know, it was in the West Bank, where they were loaded with foul smelling skunk water by the Israel Army to use against demonstrators against the Wall in Bil’in. It looks like we are importing fascist techniques and technology from Israel. How ironic is that?

      • senex72 said:

        Yes I suppose so. If a popular reaction occurs against all this incompetence, chicanery and national downsizing it would have all this machinery to hand. I seem to recall reading that in the ’30’s it was control of the police (and any welfare distributions) that was key to control of the nation. But I don’t think this threat comes from a football player’s outbursts: it far more present as a potential for (and in some sense on all sides appreciated amidst our indifference and resignation) a movement of national restoration, or rebirth, that the democracy of the parties seems incapable of encompassing in its present form.

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