Liberal? Socialist…? No, apparently football is small ‘C’ conservative


Gemma-Milwall-Millwall-Lions-siteI received the following tweet this morning:

“@DrChrisAllen it’s a contradiction in terms to be a millwall and that kind of liberalism. Millwall is small c conservative”

Sent from someone I’d had no previous contact with, they clearly objected to me being a Millwall fan given the political views I hold.

However in the same way that I disagree with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown when she infers that all Millwall fans are racist, I equally refuse to accept that to be a Millwall fan you have to be a “small c conservative”.

Such a statement comes as a bit of a surprise, especially when in recent weeks Millwall Football Club and its players have been at the forefront of the campaign to save Lewisham Hospital’s Accident and Emergency Department. The relevance of this is best summed up by a post on the 200% blog:

“In a statement on its official website, the club has stated that, “Millwall Football Club, our players, staff and many thousands of fans have, over the years, had reason to be grateful for the resources, facilities and care we have received from our local hospital”…the Millwall team warmed up for last weekend’s home match against Burnley wearing t-shirts with the slogan “Save Lewisham A&E” printed on them and, furthermore, the club also brought forward their FA Cup match against Aston Villa to the Friday night in order to not clash with the demonstration, gave permission for hospital staff and supporters to hand out leaflets at the match and also urging the club’s supporter to turn out at today’s demonstration, to which a good number of the club’s staff will be attending. Players have also attended the hospital themselves.

When we talk of football clubs being involved in their communities, out thoughts may naturally turn to youth teams being run and other football-related ephemera which, while they are obviously welcome work for a football club to carry out, fall within the comfort zone of neutrality for a club. The decision taken by Millwall FC to back this campaign and to throw itself into it so whole-heartedly is one which carried an element of gamble for the club, but this was not a political decision, rather it was one that was taken because these cuts are happening to their people, their supporters and their community. The “easy” option would have been to stand back and say, “Well, you know, we have to be seen to be being neutral on such matters,” but the club decided that this matters enough to offer the publicity that it can offer, and is surely to be commended for this.”

Not a political decision? I disagree. And let’s be honest, it was far from being either small ‘c’ or big ‘C’ conservative.

A few years ago, former Leeds United and Scotland international Gordon McQueen lamented in the Daily Mirror about how 99% of modern players had lost any interest politics. McQueen himself was an active supporter of the Labour Party in the 1970s and 80s and a proud socialist. If McQueen was right about modern day players, then the stance taken by Millwall FC and its players is even more admirable.

Beyond Millwall FC, football has traditionally been far from being the bastion of small ‘c’ conservatism that the tweeter suggests. In fact, its been traditionally socialist. Take for instance Bill Shankly, British football’s most celebrated socialist. Traced back to his birth, Shankly insisted on talking politics even while talking football. As he put it:

“The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards. It’s the way I see football, the way I see life.”

And don’t forget how Nottingham Forest legend Brian Clough was a sponsor of the anti-Nazi League and a regular on picket lines during the miners’ strike during the 1980s. As Clough put it:

“For me, socialism comes from the heart. I don’t see why certain sections of the community should have the franchise on champagne and big houses”

Like Shankly, Clough, McQueen and many others, their politics were a product of their upbringing, their roots, of who they were. More importantly, their politics were about working together as equals in order to share the collective rewards.

And like them, my politics are a product of my upbringing, my roots, of who I am. Being born in Bermondsey, my family were proud supporters of Bob Mellish, the longstanding Labour MP. This was not unusual, all of those living around us did the same. None of us were small ‘c’ conservative, in fact I don’t remember anyone who was.

For me, the recent support of Lewisham Hospital’s A&E Department said more about Millwall FC, its players, its supporters and its local community than any single tweet does. It had a real resonance with who I am and who I believe ‘we’ are and undoubtedly contradicted the view of the single tweeter !!!

You’re going to have to work harder than that if you think that you’re going to either change who I am or what I believe. Likewise, you’re going to have to work harder to convince that “Millwall is small c conservative” !!!

Sorry.

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