The democracy of cycling

With the Tour de France starting on 29 June Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman argues for a two wheels good politics

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race”
– HG Wells

Philosophy Football t-shirt 1 June 2013The most infamous quote on cycling from modern British politics remains hard right Thatcherite Norman Tebbit’s unhelpful advice to the 1980s unemployed to ‘Get on your bike’. So suggesting that two wheels are a more than useful basis for a progressive political project may be an uphill struggle. Whoops! Apologies, a cycling pun so early in the piece; don’t worry there’s sure to be more.

My weekend early morning ride takes me up Sussex’s Ditchling Beacon. Sad I know, but kitted out in a London 2012 Team GB replica cycling jersey I am Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Laura Trott all wrapped up in one for those stupendous and lung-bursting 90 minutes of cycling. And as I finish with a sprint drown Lewes High Street there’s a little bit of me that is Cavendish too. This is part of the fantasy of non-competitive cycling: we can all have that dream and not be too ashamed to admit it. Click to continue reading

Boycott Israel’s hosting of the Euro Under 21’s

Philosophy Football 'Boycott Apartheid Israel' shirtOn Wednesday 5 June the Euro U 21’s football tournament opens in Israel. It’s the second biggest European tournament, England have a real chance of winning it, it’s the greatest sporting event Israel has ever hosted. And at Philosophy Football we’re not celebrating. Why?

Because no journalists question why Israel is hosting a European tournament. Every other country in that region plays football in the Asian Confederation but none will have any sporting ties with Israel. For one reason only, its brutally lethal mistreatment of Palestine.

In the 1970s Apartheid South Africa was isolated by a sporting boycott. Israel is every bit as discriminatory and murderous in its mistreatment of Palestinians as Apartheid South Africa’s mistreatment of its black majority. Israel cannot enjoy the normality of sporting and cultural relations until this is put right.

To mark the opening of the tournament, Philosophy Football launches as an alternative our ‘Boycott Apartheid Israel’ T-shirt. To the point, wear it with pride in Palestinian football; keep up with Palestinan football here.

Available for a SPECIAL LOW CAMPAIGN PRICE – JUST £14.99 from Philosophy Football

They Thought It Was All over

As England prepare for a World Cup Qualifier double-header Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman reviews the decline and fall of a Football Nation

Philosophy Football shirtNever mind the debate over the dodgy third goal in ’66, was it or wasn’t it over the line. The most famous piece of commentary in English footballing history, “some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over, it is now,” proves definitively England’s fourth goal against Germany should have been disallowed. A goal scored with a pitch invasion underway, absolutely against the rules of the game.

And thus England’s 47 years of hurt began. Up to 1966 we’d been World Cup quarter-finalists at best, and no European Cup had been lifted by an English club side either. Spurs had been the first English team to win a European Trophy, the Cup-Winners Cup in 1963, followed by Bobby Moore captaining West Ham to winning the same trophy in 1965.

Immediately after ’66 English club sides did begin to dominate European competitions. In quick succession Leeds, Newcastle and Arsenal won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, while Manchester United lifted the European Cup in 1968, following north of the border Celtic’s success the previous year. Into the 1970s, apart from the European Cup English club sides continued to do well in the other two European competitions. Chelsea, Manchester CIty, Liverpool, Spurs all won these tournaments, while any Leeds fan of a certain age will tell you that their club, not Bayern Munich, were the ‘true’ winners of the 1975 European Cup with disallowed goals robbing them of victory.

It was the late 1970s to mid 1980s however when English domination of Europe really established itself. Liverpool winning the European Cup in 1977, 1978, 1981, 1984. Nottingham Forest’s back-to-back wins in 1979 and 1980. Aston Villa in 1982. This was a remarkable run of success. But after the 1985-1990 ban of English club sides from European club competitions following the Heysel final involving Liverpool and Juventus which led to 39 deaths from a combination of rioting and poor stadium facilities, nothing like this kind of domination.

Since the English clubs were re-admitted, they have won just four Champions Leagues in 21 years. Spanish clubs can boast 6 wins, Italian 5. As for the UEFA Cup and the Europa League, just one win since 1992, Liverpool’s in 2001.

This season’s failure of a single English club side to make it through to the Champions League quarter-finals has been widely commented on as the worst English performance since 1996. But actually the decline and fall of English club sides’ dominance of Europe goes considerably deeper than this. In ’66 the fans and the clubs might well have thought it was ‘all over’, a golden period of club football about to begin. But despite all the Premier League-driven hype it has never recovered anything like the heights of 30 years ago. The sweet irony of the centrepiece of the FA’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations being a Champions League Final in the season of English clubs’ worst performance in the competition not to be missed.

If the situation for English club sides in Europe doesn’t look too good, this is nothing compared to the England team. After Euro ’96 and reaching the semi-final, the bare minimum surely for a major football nation in a home tournament, there’s been no progress beyond the quarter-finals at a Euro or World Cup since. Never mind the nearly five decades of hurt, these past 17 years have been bad enough. In European terms Croatia and Russia can claim to have done better, with a semi-final each since ’96 and not at home either. Turkey has managed two semi-final appearances. The Czech Republic reached the final in ’96 and the semi again in 2004. Apart from that little lot England can’t claim to come anywhere close to matching the records of Holland, Portugal, Italy, Germany, France and Spain in European Championship and World Cups since ’96. And then there’s Greece, who we squeezed past in 2001 to make sure of qualifying for the following year’s World Cup, and then they had the cheek to go and win Euro 2004, a feat that still remains beyond the reach of England.

What might be the reasons for this spectacular failure? In their excellent book Why England Lose, authors Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski offer a number of reasons, the principle one being that given the size of England’s population and number of professional footballers, being regular quarter-finalists but not much better is the kind of position we should expect in world football. This sits uneasily with our martial and imperial history and the fact we like to think we invented the game; but in reality it’s a theory not too far wide of the mark. It is the expectation that somehow 1966 wasn’t the blip it has proved to be and being a world power in football is our natural position in sporting life that distorts the magnitude of our failure . To that extent the 4-1 defeat to Germany at World Cup 2010 may prove a more important benchmark for the next 47 years than 1966 has proved to be for the past 47 years. It is unlikely ever again, certainly not in 2014 for anybody in their right mind, that England will go to a major tournament expecting to win it. And so when we make it to the quarters and not much further, we can be pleased with ourselves rather than agonising over the latest in the game of what-might-have-beens but weren’t.

I would add some other factors too. Firstly the psychological. In an England tournament squad the players know the expectations are unreasonably high. At club level they are mostly idolised — many have win a cabinet full of winners’ medals already — and they play their international football every season in the Champions League. Yet with England, unless they defy history and get past the quarters they are losers at best, vilified at worst. They can’t win. Secondly, our style of play. And as fans we’re culpable in this too. The English love a fast-moving physical game, ‘get stuck in’ with loads of commitment. Good enough to get England to the quarter-finals, but not many tournaments are won playing like this. Thirdly the narrow base of team recruitment. Despite all the changes in our society, professional footballers still come overwhelmingly from a narrow, and numerically declining, social base. And entire communities are entirely under-represented: Asian, Chinese, East European and other sizeable immigrant communities hardly feature in the professional game. No this isn’t the much touted “political correctness gone mad,” it’s ensuring we draw on all the talents that might be available. England doesn’t.

Fourthly we fail to learn from others. Yes there are foreign players, managers and coaches in English football. But the changes they bring with them still hardly impact on club football, and on the national team scarcely at all. It’s all a bit foreign, and what do we have to learn from the Germans, the Spanish and the Italians anyway? This inward-looking cocksureness largely insulates football from other far more successful sports too. How many of those who’ve excelled in establishing regimes that produce winners in other sports are headhunted to contribute something to football? Finally, our lack of experience of tournament football. Age-group competitions at a European and World Cup level are consistently undervalued, with the best players often not even sent there to represent England. And apart from the 2012 exception no England team competes in the Olympic football tournament, for many young players an essential experience towards a future World Cup. One simple solution: introduce what would be a hugely popular and highly competitive football tournament in the Commonwealth Games.

Five ideas; there will be plenty more. Just the kind of thing the FA should be debating as part of its 150th anniversary. Instead, England appear to be quaking in their boots at the prospect of the must-win game against Montenegro next Tuesday. This is a country with a population roughly comparable to the numbers living in the London Borough of Hammersmith. OK we seem to be as safe as houses facing San Marino in the first of the World Cup double headers, but plucky Montenegro have us worried. Looking back at our accumulated decline and fall, club and country, since 1966 with good reason.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction, aka Philosophy Football

England Should Play a Game of Low Expectations

Tonight England vs Brazil at Wembley marks the start of the FA’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations. Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman argues that it is the perfect time to lower our expectations of England’s chances.

Philosophy Football t shirtEngland vs Brazil, friendly or no friendly, is a tasty international fixture to mark the start of the Football Association’s 150th birthday celebrations. It will be a feast of free-flowing football, and England. Never mind, with the other home opponents lined up so far the Republic of Ireland (last qualified for a World Cup in 2002, at Euro 2012 failed to win a single game) and Scotland (last qualified for any tournament, 1998) England fans should be able to look forward to some home victories to savour. Although what exactly the players, manager and coaches will learn by playing such relatively lowly opposition is anyone’s guess. These opponents have been chosen to put bottoms on seats, and stir up memories of old, and more recent rivalries, but never mind the quality of the football.

Meantime Brazil are not only the 5-times winners of the World Cup, and hosts of the 2014 tournament; they also single-handedly invented what Pele famously dubbed ‘the beautiful game’. Or as Brazil international, doctor, philosopher and left-wing political activist Socrates poetically put it, “Beauty comes first. Victory is secondary. What matters is joy.” Words which, naturally have been turned into a Philosophy Football T-shirt available here.

Brazil have had their own problems – a disappointing semi-final defeat at World Cup 2010 following their Quarter Final exit at World Cup 2006. This is a team however whose high expectations are based on recent success: winning the tournament in 2002, that semi-final in 2010, finalists in 1988 is all a lot more recent than anything England has achieved – I’m sorry, I don’t count England getting to a semi-final in ‘96 when we are the tournament hosts.

Philosophy Football t shirt backThe period since Euro 96 has been a successful one for the England team, relatively speaking. Every tournament, except Euro 2008, was qualified for. This compares well with the 1990s when England failed to qualify for World Cup 94, the 1980s when the team failed to qualify for Euro 84 and the dismal 1970s with failures to qualify for the World Cup in both 1974 and 1978. The much maligned Sven Goran Eriksson took England to three consecutive quarter final stages, in 2002, 2004 and 2006. The latter two lost on penalties, while at World Cup 2002 England lost to the eventual winners of the tournament, tonight’s opponents Brazil. Very few England managers have come close to match Sven’s achievement. Roy Hodgson has started well too, surprising many by taking England to the top of their group at Euro 2012 and going out on penalties to Italy in the quarter-finals. Not bad, but not good enough many England fans would argue, with the 47-year old memories of 1966 still fresh in the nation’s memory. Yet as Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski argue in their provocatively titled book Why England Lose comparatively speaking, in terms of England’s size of population and number of professional players, getting into the top eight of the World’s teams is a considerable achievement. It’s just that England’s national psyche, which is largely impossible to separate from the legacy of empire, the martial history and having invented most of the world’s sports, expects to win trophies and nothing much else will do.

Up to World Cup 2010 the popular support for the England team was huge. Every other summer the country would be decked out in St. George Cross flags. Beckham helped football reach a wider audience in the way Gazzamania did before him at Italia 90. And the team resembled serious enough contenders not to lose all hope that when they got knocked out that they might at least do better the next time. The linkage, often unfairly made, of following England with hooliganism also pretty much ended after Euro 2000 with every tournament since then England fans coming home feted for their friendliness.

World Cup 2010 pretty much dented all of this. The team was arguably the strongest since 1996. With Wayne Rooney we had a world-class player in our starting eleven. The spine of the team was looking good too from Ashley Cole at the back, Lampard and Gerrard in midfield. Plus the promise Theo Walcott had shown with his hat-trick against Croatia in the qualifying campaign. The sorry exit at the hands of Germany, losing 4-1, at the last sixteen stage following a series of dismal group games put paid to all of that pent-up optimism. The turmoil over John Terry, his manager, Fabio Capello’s, resignation over the way the FA was treating the matter, his awkward reinstatement, widely perceived as at the expense of Rio Ferdinand, and the apppintment of Roy Hodgson as manager had left pre-Euro 2012 interest at an all-time low. Yes England can still fill Wembley, as it will do tonight, and count on a size of support that dwarfs most other European countries, home and away. But in terms of the much bigger broader audience, with a St. George Cross flying out of every other car window, worn as a T-shirt and daubed on kids’ faces, there was precious little of this during last year’s Euro 2012. The TV viewing figures were impressive enough but this was more a case of going through the motions from the comfort of the sofa; there was little of the magnitude of the spectacle of London 2012. In last year’s summer of sport, from Chelsea winning the Champions League, via Wiggo winning Le Tour, to Europe’s victory in the Ryder Cup and Andy Murray ending the British Tennis version of the years of hurt in New York, well England at the Euros hardly merits even a footnote.

And the immediate future doesn’t look much brighter either. A qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup which had looked easy turned awkward almost from the start. The away qualifier against Montenegro (total population around the size of the London Borough of Hammersmith) has all of a sudden turned into a must-win game; the last time England were there in 2011 we scrambled a draw. And even if England do get to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup the expectations which were low enough for Euro 2012 are likely to be lower still. Meanwhile England will around the same time be hosting the first three days of the Tour de France. A decent performance this year by Wiggo, Cavendish and Froome could leave the previously unrivalled ascendancy of England’s tournament campaign shaping the sporting summer severely dented, if not irreparably damaged,for the second time in three years.

So enjoy the game, but give a thought to the sport’s future as the goals rain in, hopefully in the back of Brazil net, not ours. Optimism cannot be entirely extinguished, otherwise what’s the point of being a fan? However getting used to being around the 8th best team in the world probably isn’t quite how those organising the FA’s centenary in 1963 envisaged the following fifty years through to 2013. A decent performance at the 1962 World Cup, yes once again losing a quarter-final, and spookily it was to Brazil once more, the eventual tournament winners that year too, was the cause of some hope. And they would have been looking forward as well to hosting the World Cup three years later in 1966 with the emerging talent of a youthful Bobby Moore suggesting this team had some considerable promise. Today there is precious little optimism, the crop of young players coming through look decent enough but well-short of being world beaters so far at any rate. The public excitement around the England team will take something really special in the difficult conditions of Brazil to restore it to anything like its previous scale. Still, if we finish the year having beaten Scotland at Wembley, plenty will be happy enough. Maybe actually the FA’s 150th anniversary fixture list is inspired after all, by the management of low expectations?

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters’ of intellectual distinction, aka Philosophy Football.

75th ANNIVERSARY OF GUERNICA

Philosophy Football Guernica shirt sleeve detailPhilosophy Football Guernica shirt26 April 1937. The Nazi Luftwaffe backed Franco’s fascists with the first ever carpet bombing of an undefended civilian target, Guernica. This atrocity horrified the world and helped to shift public opinion behind the Spanish Republican cause, though shamefully not that of the British Government, which stuck steadfastly to its ‘non-intervention’ line.

George Steer’s eyewitness acount in The Times described what he saw as ‘without mercy, with system’, words that remain tragically pertinent to the bloody legacy of carpet bombing in conflicts ever since.

Philosophy Football’s anniversary T-shirt, reflecting Picasso’s famous painting, bears witness to Guernica and is available here.

Commemorating the Heroes of the Anti-apartheid Struggle

From Philosophy Football , order here

Embroidered crest : Makana FA Robben Island, Football v Apartheid 1969-1990 MakanaFA

A unique commemorative football shirt honours the Makana FA. The football association which was formed by prisoners on the notorious Robben Island. Imprisoned because of their opposition to Apartheid, playing football, organising their own league and cup competitions as the Makana FA the game became a symbol and tool of the prisoners refusal to surrender their human dignity to the prison authorities. Yet this FA never had their own strip, now they do. Not a T-shirt, a proper modern football shirt with embroidered badge. Sizes, medium (40inch chest/100cms), large (44inch/110cms), x-large (48inch/120cms) and xx-large (42inch/130cms).More than Just a Game, the book that tells the incredible story of Makana FA is also available from here. Or order with your shirt.