Yesterday I wrote about how the BBC must stand by Gary Lineker, who was under threat from the right-wing hate mob. The BBC caved. He was benched for the show he’s been fronting for years, Match Of The Day. There was talk that it might be the end of his career, or that it would end in some sort of humiliation for him.
But something wonderful happened instead.
Football spoke up. First his colleagues refused to do the show without him, and when the BBC foolishly decided to do the show anyway without a panel, as no-one would agree to be on it, Anthony Joseph last night tweeted that the PFA had been approached by senior footballers who wanted to know what would happen if they refused to talk to the broadcaster.
So this matter continues to escalate, and that has caught the hate-mongers completely by surprise. They had expected another easy victory, particularly as the BBC has proved so easy to browbeat and so susceptible to the dog-whistlers. It helps that the entire organisation is now stacked to the rafters with their ideological bedfellows in the Tory Party.
As some commentators have asked, had Lineker tweeted in support of the policy would we even be having this conversation?
Of course not. This is a government which is grotesquely intolerant not only of immigrants and public servants and unions and such like but it cannot handle criticism at all, and especially not when it comes from a high profile public figure who might put things in such a way as to cast a harsh light on these hypocrites and their ideas.
So getting the BBC to cave was easy. It’s a Tory organisation now, and their objective is to dismantle it from within.
What proved harder was bending football to its will, and we gave them an early lesson in that during their faux outrage over the reaction of our fans being asked to pay tribute to the dead monarch. When our fans made it clear that our philosophy was “citizens, not subjects” they were outraged. But Celtic withstood it.
See, what these people forget is that but for a handful of basket case clubs there is barely one in the country which does the forelock tugging and ass kissing that they were counting on here. We are unfortunate enough to have one of them right on our doorstep, but they are a source of dark humour. Those clubs are very rare.
Put it this way, sides with foreign owners aren’t going to cave in to The Daily Mail, nor are clubs based in working class towns and cities, whose fans have come to detest, once more, the odious shower from Conservative Central Office.
And yes, I have to remind those people that a lot of them voted Tory in spite of all the historical evidence that it was a major mistake, and a lot of them went along for the joy-ride on Boris the Buffoon’s Party Bus before Covid offered a harsh lesson in what happens when the idiots have their hands on the levers of power during a crisis.
Best not to let those grubby fingers anywhere near those gears, just in case.
Still, like someone who returns to an untrustworthy partner the reminders are not long in coming and eventually the lesson takes. I suspect that most of these communities need no further education as to what the Tory Party represents and it’ll be a long time before they are so tempted towards the dark side.
The fans aren’t the real driving force here though.
No, the resistance came from football itself, and as shocking as that must be for the Farage’s and Braverman’s and the other assorted goons who have been getting by on blaming immigration for all this country’s problems for years now, in fact it should have been fairly obvious to them that the sport itself was simply not going to leap on that bandwagon.
It is easy, at times, to look at our football stars and see nothing but pampered, rich men miles removed from the ordinary supporter. But here’s a question; who was the last professional footballer who went to Sevenoaks? Or Oxford? Or Cambridge? Who was the last manager to climb the ladder from an investment banking background?
Most footballers don’t emerge out of the landed gentry.
They aren’t produced, as Prime Ministers were once said to be, “on the playing fields of Eton.”
The Spectator did a piece on this last year and concluded that you could barely put together a decent Premiership XI who were privately educated. One of the ones who was, amazingly, was our own former keeper Fraser Forster. It is exceptionally rare. It is not unheard of, but just 5% of England’s top flight pros went to posh schools.
These guys are wealthy, yes, but the money hasn’t erased their sense of where they came from, and most of them still cling fiercely to that. A lot of them are from communities which have been almost totally destroyed by more than a decade of austerity cuts. Many of them have friends and family members still living in those places.
Many of them knew people who died of Covid whilst Matt Hancock and others were giving big contracts to their mates and slandering public service staff on WhatsApp even as they stood applauding them for the cameras.
Many of them play alongside players from the very foreign countries successive Tory leaders have slandered. Almost all of them have had terrible searing experiences at the hands of the bigots and racists and muckrakers of The Telegraph, The Mail and The Express. They have no love for the gutter media, all of which skews hard to the right.
Footballers who have been outspoken on social issues have been treated like children, told to shut it and seen relentless attacks. Marcus Rashford is not the only one to stand tall against them and emerge from it with more friends and fans than ever. And these fools haven’t learned the most basic lessons from that or thought about what it means.
Football has moved away from its roots; this is the commonly held view. And yet those who play the game still come, predominantly, from the working class areas in which large sections of the fan-base live and work, and no matter how much money these guys have the streets they emerged from are still a part of them, and still mean something to them.
Most of these guys share dressing rooms with players from all over the world. When the Turkish earthquake struck, a lot of these guys played alongside people who had friends and family in the disaster zone. Christian Atsu died in that quake; he played for Newcastle. Now this country is barring the doors to people displaced by that disaster and by others.
If you polled professional footballers in England’s top flight on the government immigration policy, you probably wouldn’t find enough support for it to put together an eleven a-sides match. That’s how much has changed. That’s where the game is now.
The dressing rooms aren’t filled with yobbish BNP boot-boys like they were back in the early 70’s when you could count high profile black players on your hands, and when foreign signings were virtually unheard of. The reek of sectarianism might still cling to a club up here which still tells its Catholic players to watch what gestures they make, but the rest of the game won’t tolerate that kind of thinking at all within its walls.
The government’s immigration policy stinks, and you don’t have to be part of the Islington chattering class to recognise that. Millions of people are appalled by its callousness, its inhumanity and aghast at the idea that we might be wilfully violating international law. Gary Lineker wasn’t speaking out as a media personality far removed from the real world and it’s problems; this guy is a national icon, and speaking the words a lot of folk wish they were able to say.
This government and its ghastly apologists, not to mention its media shock troops, believed that they were tackling just one man and that once he was silenced there would be no more dissent.
But that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the football family, which sticks together and which is nowhere near as intolerant and insular and hateful as the right-wing media believes it to be, and that’s because whilst its own ranks are made up of public school elitists, football isn’t, at least not yet and I don’t think that it ever will be.
And you know what? I’m damned proud of that, and we all should be.
Because all too often football is presumed to be followed and played by nothing but Neanderthals.
It is great when those within it show themselves to be so, so much more.