Celtic football fans and why Palestine matters


celticThe conventional wisdom that politics should be kept out of sport, that sport and politics do not mix, is a myth propagated by an establishment for whom political engagement on any level, apart from that which involves passively entering a voting booth to put your ‘X’ in the appropriate box, is deemed a threat to the status quo.

In truth, sports and politics are two sides of the same coin simply because politics and life are two sides of the same coin.

When it comes to football there is no more political an institution than Celtic Football Club in Glasgow. Formed in 1888 by an Irish Catholic cleric known as Brother Walfrid to raise money to feed and minister to the material needs of poverty-stricken Irish immigrants in the West of Scotland — a migrant community whose presence was regarded as anathema to a native population and workforce on the basis that they were people of an alien religion and culture, competing for the same jobs and thereby lowering the wages of all workers by dint of that eternal law of capitalist economics, supply and demand. Apart from ringing the proverbial bell when it comes to Brexit, it reminds us that we live in a country and a society in Britain that has scarred the world with an Empire that sowed misery and despair on a grand scale when in its pomp, and whose legacy remains a distorting factor across the world to this day.

The consequence for the Irish in Scotland in the late 19th century was that their assimilation into mainstream Scottish society was blocked, forcing them to create their own social structures for the purposes of survival — material and cultural. Celtic FC came into being as part of this process.

Out of this history has derived a concrete identity and set of values that generations of Celtic fans have embraced, upheld, and carried with pride. Aligned with the republican and nationalist community in the North of Ireland, with their bitter Glasgow rivals Rangers FC associated with Ireland’s loyalist and unionist community, Celtic supporters are typically among the most politically aware and conscious of any demographic in society. For them Celtic is more than a football club it is a political and social institution, one that has always stood and must continue to stand for justice in the face of injustice, racism, oppression, and apartheid wherever and whenever it arises.

Which brings us onto the furore over the intention of Celtic supporters to fly Palestinian flags during the club’s European Champions League qualifying fixture against Hapoel Beer Sheva of Israel. Celtic supporters, along with the aforementioned republicand and nationalist community in Ireland, have embraced the Palestinian struggle against occupation and apartheid as their own. It is an affinity based on a shared experience of colonial oppression and the religious, cultural, and racial bigotry upon which it rests. Laid bare and Israel is a settler colonial state that exists at the negation of the Palestinian people, a people whose existence has been reduced to a living hell on a daily basis as a consequence.

Aside from an occupation that has been extant since 1967, the year that Celtic were making history in Europe, aside from the theft of evermore Palestinian land and resources, the expansion of illegal settlements, economic embargo, hundreds of military checkpoints making free passage impossible, and the erection of an apartheid wall; aside from all that the Palestinians have ben subjected to numerous full scale military assaults over the years, utilising the most lethal and destructive weaponry in existence, in which thousands of civilians, women and children among them, have been slaughtered or seriously injured and maimed.

The idea that those who carry Palestinian flags are anything other than people motivated by a desire to express solidarity with those suffering injustice and oppression, that instead it is antisemitism and racism which drives such people, this is utterly grotesque and deserving of contempt.

It is not Israel’s Jewish character that is the issue, as those who attempt to delegitimise the Palestinian struggle and those who support it continually maintain. It is Israel’s apartheid character that is the issue, and where better to demonstrate resistance to apartheid than in a packed football stadium alongside thousands of others.

The Palestinian flag is more than a national symbol; it has taken on the mantle of a symbol of defiance in the face of colonial oppression and apartheid, both of which the Ireland to which Celtic FC is historically and culturally rooted has experienced in its long and tortured history.

Sport does not exist in a vacuum and the struggle for justice cannot and should not be parked outside a football stadium for ninety seconds much less ninety minutes. It is why the attempt to ban the Palestinian flag from Celtic Park is tantamount to an attempt to ban justice from Celtic Park.

If such a ban is implemented and succeeds the rumbling that greets it will be the sound of Brother Walfrid turning in his grave.

FC Barcelona



”Barcelona is my life…my heart is with Barcelona, always.” 
Lionel Messi

While the crisis that has engulfed world football over the indictment of fourteen FIFA officials by US lawmakers, on allegations of corruption, may cast a shadow over this year’s European Champions League Final in Berlin, the history of one of the clubs involved, FC Barcelona, will forever stand for all that is beautiful about the beautiful game.

In Europe there are a number of football clubs whose names conjure up a certain aura of magic, consistent with histories that are rich in drama, excitement, and meaning. In England there is Manchester United, Arsenal, and Liverpool. In Scotland Glasgow Celtic with their fantastic fans – the best in Europe according to none other than Messi – fit the bill, while in Germany we have Bayern Munich. Meanwhile in Holland Ajax of Amsterdam possess it, and in Italy who could fail to put both Inter and AC Milan on the list, along with Juventus?

Eastern Europe also has its share of such clubs: Dynamo Kiev, Dynamo Moscow, Spartak Moscow, Partisan Belgrade, Red Star Belgrade, Dinamo Zagreb, and so on. Meanwhile in Spain there is Real Madrid, Athletico Madrid, and the most famous of all, FC Barcelona, better known simply as Barca.

In fact when it comes to magic Barca easily eclipses every other football club not just in Europe but the entire world. Their stadium, the Nou Camp (or Camp Nou), exudes a magic of its very own as football’s equivalent of the Roman Coliseum. It is the centre of the universe of this most universal of sports, where the excitement regularly demonstrated and generated on the pitch is replicated in the stands by fans whose passion and knowledge of the sport is unsurpassed.

In their famous blue and maroon striped shirts, the players of Barca, past and present, have given us some of the most wondrous and exquisite displays of footballing artistry. For years now they have embodying the game as the “working class ballet” it is when at its best.

Futbol Club Barcelona were formed in 1899 by Hans (Joan) Gamper, a Swiss national who’d moved to the city and fallen in love with both it anjd the Catalan people and culture. Catalonia’s determined assertion of independence from Spain has been a constant source of upheaval and unrest throughout its history, and FC Barcelona has consistently been a symbol of that independence. This was most evident during and after the Spanish Civil War, when Catalonia was a bastion of anti-fascist and republican resistance to Franco and his nationalist/fascist forces. FC Barcelona became an expression of Catalan pride and identity during the most repressive period in Spain’s history, after Franco prevailed and the country and its people entered a long period of authoritarian and fascist rule. The club’s stadium (up until the move to the Nou Camp in 1957, the club played at Camp de Les Corts) was for many years the only place the Catalan language could be spoken without fear of arrest.

During the civil war the club’s president, Josep Sunyol, was murdered when he made the mistake of venturing into a nationalist zone of the country sporting a Catalan flag on the car he was travelling in. Fans of FC Barcelona have never forgotten nor forgiven his murder, which today still informs the deep hatred and rivalry between the club and Real Madrid. Matches between them are known as ‘El Clasico’ and are the highlight not only of Spanish football but also European and world club football.

General Franco adopted Real as his preferred team in an effort to extract as much political capital as he could from the sport’s popularity in the country. Real from then on was considered the establishment team, the club representing the monarchy, the Catholic Church hierarchy, and the rich, while FC Barcelona was and remains a club associated with Catalan independence, republicanism, and anti-fascism. This identity informs its unique ownership model, comprising some 180,000 subscription-paying members (socios) rather than a single wealthy owner. The members elect the club’s president every four years, and the maximum a president can serve is two four-year terms. This co-operative model is also responsible for the club being associated with good causes through the club’s charitable foundation, such as Unicef, to whom it donates 1.5 million euros annually.

However in 2010 the club succumbed to market pressures and entered a controversial five-year sponsorship deal with Qatar Sports Investments worth £125 million. In 2011 the club broke with 112 years of history when it agreed to carry the name of a commercial sponsor – initially Qatar Foundation followed by Qatar Airways from 2013 – on the team shirts as part of the deal. Qatar is a particularly controversial sponsor given the mounting scandal over its selection to host the 2022 World Cup and its brutal treatment of migrant workers involved in preparing the infrastructure and stadia for the event. The reputational damage to the club’s ethos has not been lost on its board, which it was reported in January 2015 was reconsidering the sponsorship deal with the Qataris. However at time of writing the partnership remains very much in place.

In terms of value, Barcelona came third in the 2013-14 football rich list, compiled by the US-based accountancy firm Deloitte, behind Real Madrid and Manchester City with £407.5 million (574.21 euros) in revenue.

On the pitch, meanwhile, the total football that Barca have perfected and are famous for began with the arrival of Johann Cruyff, the legendary Dutch player and star of the famous Dutch international side of the 1970s. He joined the club in 1973 to team up with his old Ajax manager, Rinnus Michels, and made an immediate impact, inspiring the Catalans to a 5-0 thrashing of their archenemy, Real Madrid, en route to that season’s league title, the club’s first in 13 years.

Cruyff returned to the club as manager between 1988 and 1996 and continued to exert his influence on the club’s playing style and philosophy, leading them to four La Liga titles, one European cup, one Cup Winners’ Cup, and a Copa del Rey in that period.

The Barcelona style that places an emphasis on possession, movement, and the fast transition from defence to attack in waves with short, quick passing. Former Cruyff player, Pep Guardiola, modernized the style when he took over the reins as manager in 2008 with intense and aggressive pressing of the opposition when they have the ball. The style came to be known as ‘tiki-taka’, though it’s a description and a label is one that Guardiola – who left Barca in 2012 and now manages Bayern Munich – loathed as reductive and simplistic.

Some of the world’s greatest players have worn the famous maroon and blue shirt; however Barcelona is known for its outstanding youth academy, through which it develops and nurtures talent from a young age. Lionel Messi, currently the best players in the world, joined the club at 13 from Argentina before progressing through the ranks. Describing the experience, Messi said: “The Barcelona youth programme is one of the best in the world. As a kid they teach you not to play to win, but to grow in ability as a player. At Barca we trained every day with the ball, and I hardly ever ran without a ball at my feet. It was a form of training aimed very clearly at developing your skills.”

When the players of this famous old club take to the pitch at Berlin’s Olympiastadion on 6 June to face Italian giants, Juventus, in the Champions League Final, they will do so in the knowledge that they represent not just a football club but a history and an idea of how the game should be played that resonates with people all over the world.

Sepp Blatter’s re-election

Sepp-BlatterThe arrest of seven FIFA officials in Zurich at the best of US lawmakers, two days before the football ruling body’s annual congress, casts a harsh light not so much on the way FIFA is run but on the assertion by the US of its right to police the world.

The manner and timing of the arrests eclipses the gravity of the corruption allegations that have been levelled against the seven officials concerned, indicted by the US Justice Department and arrested at a Zurich hotel by Swiss authorities working in cooperation with their US counterparts. In total fourteen individuals have been indicted on charges of corruption in connection with the investigation, with the seven arrested in Switzerland now facing extradition to the United States. None of the seven is a US citizen.

Putting this event into some sort of context, just imagine for a moment the international backlash if either Russia or China decided to organize the arrest of citizens of another country in a third country, without first taking the trouble to consult the appropriate authorities of the countries in which the individuals concerned are nationals and/or citizens. The resulting backlash would be off the scale, especially in the US, adding more fuel to the Russophobia and Sinophobia that is already prevalent there, as well as throughout the West among its allies.

The question a world interested in the right of national sovereignty, independence, respect, and international legality is entitled to ask is this: exactly where does this assertion of the right by the US to run its writ anywhere it sees fit stem from?

The answer of course is obvious. The astounding arrogance we have just witnessed on the part of the United States is a malign product of the unfettered power it has enjoyed and abused for too many years by now, evident in the chaos and crisis it has sown across a globe that has been plunged into a perennial cycle of conflict and instability.

Unsurprisingly, almost as soon as the US FIFA arrest operation was mounted, the call to have Russia stripped of hosting the 2018 World Cup grew to a crescendo. There were even calls to have it moved to England instead. How convenient.

The resulting re-election of Sepp Blatter as FIFA president at the congress, which continued regardless, came as a rebuke to a clear attempt to undermine both it and him, with the objective of bringing about an end to his leadership. This is not to assert that Blatter is completely without fault in the way the organization is run – indeed there may well be serious and legitimate questions in this regard – but this ‘stunt’, for there is no other way to describe it, was a crude and transparent attempt to seize control of one of the few international institutions that remains truly democratic and independent of control by the West.

Sepp Blatter may have many faults but kow-towing to the writ of the powerful nations within FIFA is not one of them. In fact the only thing the US and its friends in Europe have succeeded in doing is to solidify support around him as a symbol of resistance to their tremendous arrogance. For what we saw with the arrests in Zurich resembled less a demonstration of the long arm of US justice as an example of US imperialism.

Under Sepp Blatter’s stewardship, FIFA has made great strides in developing football throughout the developing world. This has taken place under football ruling body’s Goal Programme, which since its launch in 1998 has put in place modern pitches, training centres, youth academies, infrastructure, and equipment, thus providing the foundation upon which football has flowered across the southern hemisphere over the past two decades.

Blatter has played a key role in driving forward these efforts, which is why he’s earned the respect and loyalty of FIFA member associations throughout the developing world, and is why they refuse to participate in the campaign of demonization that has been waged against him over the past few years, What ‘they’ dismiss as patronage, others call the redistribution of resources and funds from the developed nations to the undeveloped nations, providing the latter with the ability to compete on the international stage. Even more important is how it has kept alive the dream in the hearts of millions of impoverished kids of a route out of poverty for them and their families via football.

The growing controversy over the decision to grant Qatar the privilege of hosting the 2022 World Cup cannot be denied, giving rise to legitimate questions over the bidding process and procedures. The abuse of migrant labour, employed on the construction of stadia and infrastructure for the 2022 tournament, is a matter of deep concern and unless strong action is taken by FIFA in response will undeniably leave a stain on the organization and international football. But here the West has little credibility also. Qatar, along with the other Gulf States, has long been guilty of such human rights abuses, while remaining close allies of the US, Britain, and France. The word for this state of affairs is hypocrisy.

What took place in Zurich was an attempt to seize the leadership of FIFA. It was an attempt driven less by justice and more by geopolitics.

Sadly for them, however, it failed. Sepp Blatter was re-elected. In the end democracy won.









Arjen Robben is a disgrace to football

Arjen Robben is a fantastic footballer, one of the best in the world, and has been for some years now. He is also a disgrace to the game. His dive inside the penalty box against Mexico, which handed Holland the penalty that put the Mexicans out of the World Cup, must surely be punished by FIFA. I would place it up there with Luiz Suarez’s bite in Uruguay’s game against Italy in the group stage of the tournament, which earned the Uruguayan a four month ban from football, when it comes to bringing the game into disrepute.

Robben’s form when it comes to diving is well established by now. He is one of the worst offenders, but by no means the only one. In fact, diving has sadly become accepted and widespread at all levels of football and it’s high time it was stamped out. Making Robben’s dive against Mexico even worse is that this World Cup has been an excellent advertisement for football up to now. Great football, excellent refereeing for the most part, packed stadiums, and it appears little if any trouble. The Brazil v Chile match was one of the most exciting games of football I can recall. Who could argue, watching it, that the beautiful game stands alone when it comes to passion, emotion, skill, and excitement?

The Dutch went through against Mexico by cheating. There is no other way to put it. Arjen Robben is a cheat.

What does the sacking of Davie Moyes say about us?

David-Moyes..Imagine being Davie Moyes right now, having your face splashed across the media for days in the wake of your very public dismissal from the biggest job in football, evidence of your failure analysed, dissected, and held up for the entire world to ponder and gloat over.

Most of us, if honest, will have enjoyed watching the public demise of this man we have never met, don’t know, but yet have been invited to excoriate over the duration of his tortured reign at Old Trafford. What does this public and ritual flogging of a man whose only crime was to be selected to manage Manchester United by its previous manager – the most successful occupant of a dugout in British football history, Sir Alex Ferguson – only to flounder and steer last year’s champions into the shallow waters of average and below average: what does this say about us?

Football has traditionally played the role of a pressure valve for the working class, an all too brief escape from the grinding pressure to make ends meet and an opportunity to experience the vicarious glory of a team on the up and up, or else let off steam by giving star players ninety minutes of verbal as an antidote to the stifling constraints and frustrations experienced during the course of the working week. In no other arena are people afforded the license to vent their anger without fear of recrimination or consequence as they are at a football match. Making the experience more salutary is doing so in the company of tens of thousands of other fans in a packed stadium as you watch twenty two millionaires and multi millionaires strut their stuff.

The love-hate relationship between major clubs and their supporters in the modern era lends itself to serious psychological analysis. Given the inordinate money earned by even your average Premier League player, resentment is never far from the emotions of the average supporter, whose season ticket is a luxury and who will not hesitate to turn on any player or manager they believe isn’t up to the task and worth the huge money they’re on.

Think about it: Moyes has gone in ten months from being the ‘chosen one’, Fergie’s dauphin, basking in the kind of endorsement bestowed on adopted sons by Roman emperors when choosing a successor, to being the most ridiculed, loathed, and derided public figure in the country this past week. With every passing and excruciating minute in the job towards his inevitable end, how he must have cursed the day Alex Ferguson called to invite him round to his house to personally offer the opportunity of his life – the opportunity to leave a job for life at Everton, where expectations were low, and fall flat on his arse at Old Trafford, the reputation he’d dedicated himself to attaining over long years spent working long hours at the less than salubrious footballing environs of Preston North End and Everton trashed in the process.

The sullen and serious features of the Glaswegian teetotaller he carries are an instant giveaway. Nothing achieved in David Moyes’ life ever came easy. He comes over as a poster boy for the virtues of corporal punishment in a child’s development – a man who, to judge by a demeanour that is so rigid and stiff he makes a lamppost appear animated by comparison, grew up expecting life to be hard and became hard as a consequence.

Unfortunately for Davie Moyes, surrounded as he was at Old Trafford by a history of near neverending success and the sense of expectation and entitlement that goes with it, the capacity and appetite for hard work was never going to be enough on its own. The paucity of flair and creativity he exudes on a personal level has been evident in United’s performances on the pitch all season. It was as if a brickie had been handed the conductor’s baton of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, such was the laboured and disjointed performances of his team. His inherent conservatism and lack of tactical nous when it came to making adjustments during matches, you could tell, had a negative influence on the confidence and performances of the team as a whole.

The man who appointed him, Alex Ferguson, was obviously drawn to Scottish working class characteristics of hard work, persistence, and grit that he himself possessed in abundance as a young manager making his way in the game. But the modern game is about more than that; it’s also about being able to connect with a squad of very rich young men used to being lauded as latter day divinities at one end of the spectrum, and derided as useless idiots and clowns at the other end. Seen in this light, a talent for man management is essential if there is going to be any chance of success in forging the bonds required to motivate players to give it their all throughout a long season.

The failure of Davie Moyes to slot in at Man Utd is the story of the rejection with which both he and his methods were met by a group of players who’ve been instilled with the values of the gambler and not the artisan. Moyes came up against a tradition of excellence and success built on the repetition of magic rather than the methodical. It’s a realisation that will provide little comfort as he weathers a media storm of vilification, criticism, and outright hostility – the ritual and very public humiliation that comes with the crime of failing to make 75,000 people happy every week.

The great Bill Shankly

The legendary manager of Liverpool, Bill Shankly, was born in the Ayrshire mining village of Glenbuck 100 years ago today.

A lifelong socialist, the first song he learned as a child was the Red Flag. He brought his socialist principles to the game he loved, when it was still the ‘people’s game’, successfully forging Liverpool from its lowly status as a Second Division club to the force it would become in British, European and world football.

Shankly quotes:

‘Football is a simple game based on the giving and taking of passes, of controlling the ball and of making yourself available to receive a pass. It is terribly simple’.

‘Aim for the sky and you’ll reach the ceiling. Aim for the ceiling and you’ll stay on the floor’.

‘I’m a people’s man – only the people matter’.

‘The trouble with referees is that they know the rules, but they do not know the game’.

‘Chairman Mao has never seen a greater show of red strength’.

Shankly to the Brussels hotel clerk who queried his signing ‘Anfield’ as his address on the hotel register – ‘But that’s where I live’.

On awaiting Everton’s arrival for a derby game at Anfield, Shankly gave a box of toilet rolls to the doorman and said – ‘Give them these when they arrive – they’ll need them’!

‘The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life’.

The ugly business of the beautiful game – how football lost its soul

sarsakRecently The Independent published a global league table of football clubs according to the average salaries they pay their players.

It comes as little surprise to learn that sitting at the top of the table is Manchester City, which currently pays on average over £100,000 a week to its first team players. Just behind them sits Real Madrid at just over £90,000 per week, then Barcelona, and so on.

Focusing in on the English Premiership, the gap between the top paying club, Man City, and the second, Chelsea, is quite considerable at £100,764 per week against £78,053 per week respectively. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the Premiership league table for salaries, is Norwich City, paying its players a comparatively modest £19,434 per week on average.

If anybody was still in any doubt that the relationship between the real world and top flight football was at best now a tenuous one, a cursory glance at these figures should end them. Football has become an increasingly corrupt global business that reflects the very worst excesses of a free market gone haywire in its corrosive impact on wider society. Ostentation and obscenity sits at the apex of football, just as it does in every private multinational business, with no time for anything approaching restraint or decency. It is particularly telling that it is in Spain and the UK where the highest salaries in top flight football are paid, considering that it is in these countries where ordinary people are paying the highest price economically and socially under the weight of the worst global economic crisis since the 1930s. In fact, more than telling it’s an insult.
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Interview with Palestinian footballer & hunger striker Mahmoud Sarsak

Palestinian footballer & hunger striker Mahmoud Sarsak with pic of CantonaHere is Palestinian national football Team player, Mahmoud Sarsak at Old Trafford on 28th May.

He stands below a picture of his hero Eric Cantona, who helped spearhead an international campaign for his release. Mahmoud was detained for 3 years without charge by the Israeli authorities. 18 months of those were in solitary confinement, under 24 hour surveillance provided by G4S. Mahmoud was on hunger strike for over 90 days during which he lost half is body weight before he was eventually released. He is on a tour of the UK talking about his experiences, helping strengthen the BDS campaign, and exposing the role of G4S in the occupation, and specifically its role in the imprisonment of Palestinians. During his time in Manchester he visited the National Football Museum, Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, Manchester United at Old Trafford.

The video interview is conducted in English & Arabic and produced by supporters of FC United.
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