2018 07 – Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier

Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier

by Michael Murray

murraymicha@gmail.com; Facebook:  Michael Murray London- a commentary/digest of political and general interest news for busy people.

Dictionary definition of foot soldier: “…a dedicated low-level follower.”

“Russia-phobia and the World Cup”

As I write, England is a couple of games away from a World Cup Final – and a dilemma for the Conservative government: whether to keep or rescind the boycott of the competition, introduced at a high-point of Russia-phobia, fed by the dubious events surrounding the alleged Russian State instigated poisonings in Salisbury.  The boycott prevented Government Ministers attending the competition. Prince William, President of the English FA for the past 12 years, found himself being ordered to Israel for the duration (coinciding with the worst of the Gazan atrocities, but we’ll pass over that). All sorts of pressure was exerted on entertainers, like Robbie Williams, sports personalities, like Man U’s manager, Morinho, not to attend, or work for RT (Russian Television). There was also considerable pressure exerted on England football fans not to attend, backed up to an obedient media replete with colourful scare stories. And it seems to have worked. The official England fan club reported a smaller than usual travelling membership, and many of the 40,000 fans who did travel can be accounted for by foreign nationals living and working here.

But, already, there has been a small, discreet, official breach in the boycott. The British Ambassador to Russia, Laurie Bristow, it turned out, attended the Columbia v England game. When the news of his attendance at the game emerged, the spin put on it was that he was there in case any English fans required “consular assistance.” The “top-spin” to the latter narrative was that the ban didn’t technically extend to the Ambassador. You have to give it the English ruling class, necks like a jockey’s bollocks – to mix sporting metaphors. So, if England progress this coming Saturday (July7th), the shit will hit the fan big time. Already, the English in Russia, enjoying Russian hospitality and friendship, have been widely reported in the media, questioning the information they were fed about what to expect in Russia and what precautions to take to protect life and limb. The “left behind” will feel cheated also by not being there to share in a potential on-going sporting success story. They will, inevitably, ask the question, also the title of Robert Peston’s latest book: “WTF?”

I am reminded of Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly’s immortal words: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. … I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”[i] English failure on Saturday to progress will get the Russia-demonising Tories off the hook. I earnestly hope they do succeed and go all the way in a competition now more open since most of the stellar teams have been eliminated.  And I will enjoy their reaching the final – in itself an achievement – all the more because, having begun to open the eyes of some football supporters, the games and machinations of May’s pathetic “team” will have become more exposed.

Those who watched the Columbia game had their attention drawn to the overwhelming presence of Columbian supporters in the stadium, compared to English supporters. That degree of disparity in support is constantly compared to having an extra man playing.  It’s important for the outcome of a game. How “the team” does is also important for the morale of the host parish, county, city or nation, as we all know. Ask anyone in Liverpool, or Leicester. Shankley, when asked what he’d like to be remembered for replied: ““as a man who was selfless, who strove and worried so that others could share the glory, and who built up a family of people who could hold their heads up high and say “’We’re Liverpool’.”  The Tories will pay for their opportunistic and disgraceful using “the beautiful game” as a political football.  And sadly, the Labour Party, from the top down has been sucked into the Russia-phobia to such an extent that they are at risk of missing an open Tory goal yet again.

Am I pushing my luck here if I admit I see a bit of Shankly in Gareth Southgate, the England manager?  Famously, when Shankly was told by a key player in a critical game that he (the player) was worried about his knee, Shankly told him that was Liverpool’s knee, not his, and to get back out there and do his duty. Another Shankly gem, on the referee’s role, which has already come in for some heated studio discussion in this World Cup, was: “Referees understand the rules. They don’t always understand the game.” I don’t think Gareth is that sort of manager. But I was impressed by his speech in Volgograd (Stalingrad), in the face of all the political negativity towards the host country.

“We are aware,” Southgate said, “of the history of the city, and the importance of that battle (Stalingrad) in the Second World War. To see the statue (The Motherland Calls) reminds you that some things are bigger than football, and that’s a good perspective for us all.”  (Henry Winter, Times sportswriter, twitter)

A good perspective, yes. I could see Shankly, in the same circumstances, making the same speech, even revising his most famous saying in the process. But even he would have been surprised at the London Times’ headline in the middle of the World Cup competition: “FEARS GROW OVER PROSPECT OF TRUMP ‘PEACE DEAL’ WITH PUTIN.”  Yes, you read it correctly:  FEARS over a PEACE deal!  (Times, 29 June, 2018).  It’s a funny old game. How funny?

It’s just been reported that Russian “novichok” has been poisoning people again in the quiet, sun-drenched English countryside. Emergency Cabinet meetings have been called, police and troops mobilized. And the Russians have been asked to explain themselves. Again. Am I the only one to smell a rodent?

Let this Corbyn foot soldier get back to the couch, the telly, the football – and some semblance of a civilized, peaceful world where people can enjoy the vicariousness of others’ endeavours and the simple pleasures: like watching penalty shoot-outs.

(Bill Shankly quotes are from the Liverpool Echo, Bill Shankly anniversary edition, 29/9/2015)

[i] Bill Shankly quotes are from the Liverpool Echo, Bill Shankly anniversary edition, 29/9/2015