Alan Harding will be as sick as a parrot if football
doesn't remain a game of two halves
When an emotional Luciano Pavarotti received the gold disc for the sales
of his 1990 World Cup hit 'Nessun Dorma', he exclaimed that this was one
of the proudest moments of his life. Not because he had succeeded in bringing
great music into the homes of millions, but because the disc was presented
to him by 'the great champion' Bobby Charlton. Pavarotti (a devoted Juventus
supporter) was honoured to be in the presence of a footballer - and an English
footballer at that!
It was a touching moment that revealed the gulf between Italian and British
football. In Britain, when Nigel Kennedy wraps an Aston Villa scarf around
his neck, his manners are part of a self-conscious attempt to junk the idea
that he is 'cultured', and to appear plebeian. Indeed supporting Villa is,
for Kennedy, a way of acquiring a working class aura. Pavarotti, on the
other hand, loves football because he is cultured, not in spite of it. Kennedy's
conceit would have no meaning in Italy where it is not vulgar to follow
football, and middle class supporters of the game are not johnny-come-lately
yuppies slumming it on a Saturday afternoon.
Of course the majority of the fans who fill the San Siro stadium in Milan
and the Stadio Olimpico in Rome are working class. But a far wider audience
follows the game and is engaged by its passions and personalities. And,
unlike in Britain, the players are presumed, until evidence points to the
contrary, to be reasonably intelligent human beings. 'Toto' Schillaci, the
Italian World Cup hero, was recently asked whether the fact that his wife
had left him was responsible for his lack of goals. 'My personal life does
not affect my performance on the pitch', Schillachi replied. A diplomatic
reply that strains credulity - but a far cry from a burp and a fart, which
would probably have been Paul Gascoigne's response.
The centrality of football to Italian life has given it the power and the
affluence to draw to the national game some of the world's greatest players - and
in turn has made Serie A (Italy's equivalent of the Premier League) the
world's greatest league. 'When I pick up an England programme, and I see
it there, "Platt, Juventus", it hits me', observed England (and
former Aston Villa) player David Platt. 'There I am, in that black and white
strip, the most famous in all football. There is never going to be anybody
bigger than this club.'
But the glitz and affluence of the Italian game has also led to fears that
it is being 'Americanised': that the interests of the sport and its followers
are taking second place to business interests and the need to transform
the game into glitzy entertainment. The epitome of this for the European
observer is the presentation of the SuperBowl (American Football's Cup Final)
where Michael Jackson is an equal attraction to the game itself and the
whole schedule is dictated by advertising revenue. And what happens in Italy,
many fear, will also happen in Britain. Already in Britain much of the Premier
League schedule is dependent on the whims of Sky TV, which has exclusive
live rights to the game.
The Americanisation of football is a particular worry since the next World
Cup takes place in the USA. It might not only be a matter of being unable
to say 'it's a game of two halves' because TV advertising demands four quarters
instead. The greater fear is that the Americanisation of soccer will rob
this greatest of sporting spectacles of any atmosphere. After all, despite
the generally inferior quality of the football at the last World Cup, the
sense of occasion at Italia '92 was unparalleled - even though in the end
it was a deeply mourned funeral for the Azurri (the Italian national team),
rather than the expected Caesarian triumph.
Personally, I think the fears for the Americanisation of football are overplayed.
Even in American football there is spectator involvement. After all there
are 49er and Giants' fans who, for better or worse, do define themselves
through their team. It is also senseless to complain about football being
considered as entertainment. What else has it ever been?
There is an even more important point here. Football, like all other sports,
is an organic part of the culture that produces it. And like every other
cultural phenomenon you cannot simply drag it out of the culture whence
it came. Just as it has proved impossible to implant American football into
Europe (viewing figures for Channel 4's coverage of the game have fallen
sharply since the initial hype, and the London Monarchs reigned for only
slightly longer than Lady Jane Grey) so there are limits to which real football
can be Americanised. Italian football may look more like an American sport
because the people involved are richer and there is more razzmatazz about
it - but it remains a specifically Italian cultural phenomenon.
You certainly need big money to succeed in Italian football, and it is big
business. Former steel-mill owner Jack Walker of Blackburn Rovers, the closest
thing to an Italian football magnate in Britain, would not make much of
an impact alongside the likes of media mogul Silvio Berlusconi at AC Milan
and Gianni Agnelli (Mr Fiat) at Juventus. But Italian businessmen do not
buy franchises on teams to make money, and there is no case of a team being
bought up and moving city - something which has happened often enough in
AC Milan - probably the best club side in the world today - is the best example
that money can buy success but success does not bring automatic financial
reward. This year, even with 73 000 season ticket holders, a league triumph
and so far an uninterrupted run in the European Cup, Milan will not break
even. Not surprising, when you consider that owner Berlusconi signed away
£40m last season on eight players.
No doubt there will be a tendency for the game to become less focused on
the paying customer and, as in the USA, there will be less away support
for the key games as big clubs travel the length and breadth of Europe in
search of the glamour prizes. But it is very difficult to see this destroying
the fabric of support. In the end what makes football is the emotional support
for your team, however unglamorous it may be. Once a Charlton supporter
always a Charlton supporter. A friend of mine in Italy has remained a Bologna
supporter all his life because that's where he did his national service.
And so it goes.
For all its success, Channel 4's coverage of Italian football remains a
minority attraction. It may provide a dazzling display of international
talent playing to feet and killing the ball with a first touch. But it doesn't
have the raw excitement of a ball pumped into the air, chased hard, and
skidding away in the mud from a player who might be a donkey, but he's your
The cultural war goes PC
The controversy surrounding Michael Medved's book Hollywood v America
has made censorship sound politically correct says Alka Singh
Michael Medved is a worried man. The American film critic whose book Hollywood
v America has caused a storm on both sides of the Atlantic fears that
Tinseltown is being taken over by a posse of film-makers who have a fatal
attraction for sex, violence and immorality. Hollywood, he told a packed
audience in London's Dominion Theatre earlier this year, has become about
honouring ugliness. Why else, he wondered, would Martin Scorsese's Cape
Fear be nominated for an Oscar?
Medved's crusade is to return Hollywood to upright citizens and decent values.
Why can't art be uplifting rather than sordid?, he wants to know. Why can't
it be beautiful rather than ugly? And why can't the main characters in Hollywood
films be 'ordinary' people: married, faithful, responsible parents, rather
than single, divorced, gay or psychopathic?
If Medved did manage to cleanse art of its nastiness he would barely have
a book to read or a film to watch - and certainly not by his favourite authors
or directors. All the names held up as the great masters of the Western
artistic tradition are hardly shrinking violets in their treatment of sex
Take Shakespeare. From King Lear to Macbeth, there is barely
a single decent, law-abiding, faithful citizen in sight among the buckets
of pig blood which were habitually thrown around the Elizabethan stage.
Titus Andronicus is surely one of the goriest stories in the English
language, in which children are served up for dinner in a supreme act of
vengeance. Or think of the Greek plays. If any Hollywood scriptwriter came
up with the plot of Oedipus Rex ('man has child by his mother and
then gouges his eyes out with a pin') his script would be binned quicker
than you could say 'self-censorship'.
Or take one of Medved's favourite films, The Alamo. Here John Wayne,
as Davy Crockett, helps lead the fight for Texan independence, massacring
Mexicans wholesale in the process before getting his own men massacred in
the fight-to-the-death finale. 'Its sole redeeming feature', critic Peter
John Dyer wrote at the time, 'lies in one of those crushing climaxes of
total massacre which Hollywood can still pull off thunderingly well'.
Medved clearly does not object to violence, only violence that does not
uphold his moral vision of the world. Violence at the Alamo is acceptable
presumably because it is in pursuit of the American dream. Violence in Shakespeare
and Greek tragedy is acceptable because the masses don't read them (or at
least so Medved would like to believe). But Cape Fear or Terminator
2? Now, they might give the wrong idea to the wrong people. What Medved's
argument boils down to is that violence and moral ambiguity is fine for enlightened
minds (like his own), but not in front of the plebs or the children, please.
Medved justifies his objections to Hollywood's output by arguing that screen
violence leads to social violence and moral depravity. This is, of course,
a very old chestnut, long favoured by the more loony right-wing politicians
and figures like Mary Whitehouse.
It is also a specious argument. Watching Terminator 2 is no more
likely to lead you to blast away with a machine gun than Oedipus Rex
caused an increase in incest in ancient Greece or Titus Andronicus
led to a wave of infanticide in Elizabethan England. There is no link
either logical or factual between artistic representation and social behaviour.
The argument that 'screen violence causes social violence' hinges on the
idea that people are irrational, unthinking beings moved by instinct and
emotion, for whom images of violence trigger an atavistic response to go
out and cause mayhem. That says more about Medved's view of humanity than
it does about people's actual behaviour.
In the past, liberal commentators would have had little difficulty in dealing
with the arguments for the censorship of violence. Today it is different,
however, because Medved uses the language of liberalism to promote his reactionary
ideas. Not for him Pat Buchanan's 'cultural war'; Medved prefers the politically
correct 'cultural environmental movement'. He is opposed to violence, he
says, because it is oppressive to women. He likes TV programmes like LA
Law because they have a high quotient of black and female characters
in important roles. He sprinkles his argument with impeccably PC terms like
'diversity' and 'positive images'.
Medved employs the language of political correctness to promote highly reactionary
ideas about family values, moral order and Western civilisation. Where once
liberals called for 'positive images' to promote women and blacks, Medved
calls for positive images to preserve American values. Where once liberals
called for the censorship of racist material, Medved argues for the 'self-censorship'
of all 'demeaning' material. To those liberals who used to call for pornography
to be banned because it led to violence against women, Medved says why stop
there: 'Let us clean up the whole of our culture.'
The result is a panoply of liberals who now back Medved's censorious campaign.
People like film producer David Puttnam ('a raging moderate' as he describes
himself), critic Barry Norman and Guardian journalist Melanie Phillips
have all given their support to Medved, albeit reluctantly. It is ironic
that the most vocal opposition to Medved has come not from liberals, but
from reactionaries like film director Michael Winner.
In Medved's hands censorship has become politically correct. This is a far
greater threat to our well-being than the most depraved product of Hollywood.
The body count in Gone with the Wind (left) made Terminator
This work by Tom Halliday is one of the winners of a national competition
for cartoons about the monarchy, on the theme of 'Another Annus Horribilis?'.
The competition was supported by Living Marxism and the New Statesman
and Society. The judges - including Steve Bell, Spitting Image's Roger
Law and Financial Times cartoonist Jeremy Banx - placed Halliday's
cartoon third, but we liked it the best so we've reprinted it here. First
place in the competition went to John Docherty, and Leon Kuhn came second.
A selection of the cartoons submitted - including the winning entries - can
be seen at The Angle gallery in Birmingham from 17 April. The exhibition
has already caused controversy before it has even opened, with a number
of local councillors trying to get it banned - so catch it while you can.
The Angle gallery, The Arcadian, Ladywell Walk, Birmingham B5 4ST. Tel (021)
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 55, May 1993