I may be a little late to the party, but here goes. The furore over Paolo Di Canio has been met by some predictable, and occasionally lamentable, responses. For some, the old and weary mantra that politics has no place in sport (usually because their politics are abhorrent) has been trotted out while others still say why wasn’t this a problem at Swindon. This is facetious in the extreme and we all know why – Premier League, like it or not, is the most visible football league in the world. And Sunderland are, even if just about, still in it. So they are more noticeable than Swindon. It should have mattered in Swindon and its a pity it didn’t, but here we are. Anyone with half a brain cell knows precisely why it matters that Di Canio is some class of a fascist.
As Enda wrote here a few days ago, when discussing the appointment of Paolo Di Canio as manager of Sunderland ‘if Fascism is about power and strength, every action under its name deserves an equal reaction from those who believe in a free society.’ And there are many many people who have waged wars, literal and metaphorical, against it and significantly have died for it. At home in Waterford over the weekend, I read the memoirs of local man Peter O’Connor A Soldier of Liberty: Recollections of a Socialist and Anti-fascist Fighter. O’Connor was one of those Irish men who formed part of the famous XV International Brigade who fought against Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. The fight against fascism was truly international in its aspect.
But there’s more than the historical imperatives, strong as those are (to say nothing of sufficient in themselves), at play in this. We are living through a resurgent period for the far-right, witness the rise of Golden Dawn in stricken Greece, and they are especially so in England these days. Fascism in whatever form it takes, hasn’t mattered so much in England as it has done since the credit crunch in 2008, or the ascent to power of the ConDems in their parliament. A variety of odious socio-political movements from the British National Party to the English Defence League have sprung up, strengthened their previously peripheral place in English society, and are using the opportunity of an increasingly euroskeptic, anti-multicultural, austerity-driven rhetoric to peddle their fascist views, as astutely noted by Owen Jones in his excellent Chavs: The Demonization of the Working-Class.
Though it may feel occasionally trite to refer to the Daily Mail as the Daily Heil given its support of Oswald Moseley and the BUF in the 1930s, the fact is that such newspapers capitalise on horror stories like that of Mike Philpott to drive a neo-liberal, and frankly fascistic attack on working-class people and the welfare state, as concrete a symbol of the victory over fascism as can be imagined. For this reason, Sunderland’s appointment of Di Canio matters more in the current climate than it might ordinarily do. In a week when Chelsea, a famously conservative club where its fanbase is concerned, saw some of its fans establish an Anti-Fascist group, the war against this odious ideology continues. Until its defeated, we will always need to talk about Di Canio.