Category: football

Thoughts on the sacking of Slaven Bilic

By Daniel Margrain

So yet another sacrificial lamb has been put to slaughter. The decision by the board of West Ham United Club to sack manager Slaven Bilic, is one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the club I have supported for 45 years. I’m really angry and disappointed by the reaction of the club and our “fans” to Bilic in the months leading up to his dismissal.

Many of these baying supporters that were calling for his blood, are the same people who two seasons ago were praising his abilities and asserting he was one of the most hard-working, committed and inspirational figures to be associated with the club in its history. Competent football managers do not become bad football managers overnight.

There is no evidence, whatsoever, that a change of manager improves the fortunes of a team in terms of results on the pitch. Although it’s tempting to believe that the appointment of a Sam Allardyce or any other manager with a reputation of keeping clubs in the Premier League is based on hard evidence, empirically this is not supported by the facts. There is a zero line of causality between the fortunes, or otherwise, of a football club and the figure who happens to be at the helm of said club at any given time – none, zilch, zero, nada.

I find it incredulous that football fans and pundits alike continue to place so much emphasis on the supposed significance a manager makes in relation to the respective success or failure of a club. It is no coincidence that almost every season, the same big clubs – Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal etc – with the greatest resources at their disposal, challenge for the league title.

These clubs invariably win silverware not because of the manager but in spite of the individual who sits at the helm. That explains, why Avram Grant, for example, holds the worst win percentage of league games of all permanent managers (18.92%) in the clubs recent history, but also, conversely, came within a whisker of winning the Champions League with Chelsea.

Yes, there are anomalies – Leicester winning the league under Ranieri and Clough’s numerous successes with limited resources come immediately to mind. But that’s all they are – exceptions to the rule. It has always seemed peculiar to me that in all other walks of life, we apply the law of probability to our reasoning but somehow professional football always appears to get a free pass.

Football managers who work at the highest level are a bit like politician’s – both come and go with frequent regularity, but the fans and the voting public respectively are invariably the ones who end up picking up the pieces of the failed decisions made by others bigger than them.

If the board at West Ham end up appointing David Moyes as the replacement for Bilic, as has been widely reported, and the club start to pick up valuable points, that will not be because of the new-found “innate genius” of the former. On the contrary, as I alluded to above, the evidence would seem to suggest that a similar set of results would – given a combination of time and luck – have happened under Bilic’s watch anyway.

Moyes’ recent managerial record has been appalling and yet nobody in the media appears neither to want to point that fact out, or why a proven failure is regarded as a suitable replacement for somebody who knows the club inside out. In no other walk of life is failure rewarded to the extent it is in professional football at the highest level.

The management merry-go-round in the high echelons of the game amounts to one of the greatest protection rackets going – that if we were to apply the same reasoning to say, banking – people would rightly condemn. But somehow this scandal, when attributed to the professional game, gets conveniently overlooked by media pundits and the wider public alike.

How have we managed to arrive at a situation in which fans exult an extremely passionate, capable, committed and loyal manager like Bilic as a genius one minute, but at the next are baying for his blood? What kind of society are we living in that regards that kind of behaviour and mind-set as being in any way acceptable, never mind rational?

Why is it apparently beyond the capability of football supporters to accept that there is a correlation between the financial resources clubs have at their disposal and the success of the said clubs on the field of play? The appointment by the West Ham United board of Champions League finalist, Avram Grant, is proof positive that managers do not make a blind bit of difference to the success of a club.

But West Ham fans and fans of other medium sized clubs of the Hammers stature, continue to place what are clearly unrealistic expectations upon the shoulders of their managers. Slaven Bilic is clearly a sincere and passionate man who is devoted to the Hammers. It’s about time, the board and fans alike begin to get a grip on reality and put an end to this ridiculous game of managerial merry-go-round that is plaguing professional football.

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Frank Who?

By Daniel Margrain

Leicester City’s monumental achievement at being crowned Premier League champions at the end of the 2015-16 season at odds of 5,000-1, is a feat that is unlikely to be repeated by a similarly moderate sized club for many decades to come. The football club’s slide the following year to 12th position one place below my team West Ham United, and their current position of 17th after seven games of the current season, is more historically typical of a club of their stature.

In light of BT Sports excellent Farewell to Upton Park video piece on West Ham United that preceded the clubs move from their spiritual home to the Olympic Stadium, the thought of Leicester City’s triumphant 2015-16 season reminded me of the “Boys of ’86” – the West Ham team that came within a whisker of matching Leicester’s incredible success story.

Challenge

West Ham’s challenge for the league title in 1986 was surprising given that the team had an abysmal pre-season that led up to it. Having been outplayed by Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road (merely Orient as they were known then) where the Hammers lost 3-1, the consensus among both the press and West Ham fans in the build up to the 1985-86 season was that the team would struggle to avoid relegation.

The backdrop to the 1985-86 was one in which the Heysel stadium tragedy that preceded it played a significant part. But what the fans and critics alike didn’t take into account was the return to the team from injury of the magnificent Alan Devonshire (in my view only second to Sir Trevor Brooking in the Hammers all time list of greats), the signing of the underrated Mark Ward, and arguably most important of all, the arrival at the club of the former cab driver, and boy about town, the mercurial, Frank McAvennie. These three players represented the new creative spine of the team.

Who is Frank McAvennie?

It’s perhaps ironical, that as a result of a media black-out of English football, the ‘playboy’ Frank was able to maintain his legendary hedonistic status unhindered by the media spotlight mainly because his prolific goal-scoring record was barely televised in England during the first handful of games of the 1985-86 season.

As incredible as it seems today, I remember getting second hand reports about Frank’s prowess in front of goal from people in Denmark and Sweden. For many football fans in Britain, when Frank McAvennie’s name was mentioned, the response was invariably, “Frank who?”

It’s almost forgotten now that the former St Mirren ace was inches away from putting pen to paper with Luton Town. Apparently, somebody reminded him of the World Cup winning legacy that will forever be associated with the club from east London. Legend has it he turned Luton down in favour of West Ham on that basis.

Despite having been refused entry to the infamous West End nightclub, Stringfellows (which it was said was the main reason Frank decided to head south in the first place), the Glaswegian finally saw sense having had a last minute change of mind. The rest, as they say, is history.

Party animal

Frank has admitted to partying heavily on a regular basis up until, and including, the Wednesday’s prior to Saturday match days which he contends had no adverse impact on his fitness levels. Given that Frank went on to net 26 league goals in the 1985-86 season which was only bettered by Everton’s Gary Lineker who went on to score 30, his claim appears to be well-founded.

There’s an alcohol-related story that involves Frank and team manager, John Lyall that goes something like this:

An important meeting had been arranged with management in which the whole team were expected to attend. It was a morning meeting and Frank had been clubbing the previous night.

Suffering from a heavy hangover, Frank phoned John and asked if it would be alright if he would be able to give it a miss.

John, in no uncertain terms, emphasized to Frank the importance of the meeting. John suggested that he (Frank) should try his best to make it, especially as the media pack were expected to turn up and it wouldn’t look good for the club if he wasn’t there.

Frank proceeded to plead with his boss that he really wasn’t well enough to attend.

While sympathetic to Frank’s plight, John nevertheless insisted that he attend because he felt unable to satisfactorily explain away his absence to the media pack.

In response, Frank exclaimed:

“Boss, surely you can come up with something, You have before now. I’m really not up to it. I’m suffering so badly I can barely walk to my bathroom, let alone step over all the bodies that are lying about everywhere”,

John replied: “Yes, I understand your situation and you know me Frank, ordinarily I would be able to come up with a suitable excuse to bail you out. But here’s the thing, Frank, we’ve arranged for the meeting to be held at your place and there’s a whole load of us freezing our nuts off outside your gaff waiting to get in.”

Undistinguished

In addition to the drinking culture of the period, it’s perhaps interesting to note that all of the starting eleven that played for West Ham during the 1985-86 season were British-born players. On paper the team was not particularly distinguished, containing few internationally renowned players of note.

Although the team comprised the clubs record signing, colossus Phil ‘Cossack’ Parkes in goal, the hot shot penalty king in Ray ‘Tonka’ Stewart on the right side of defence, the dependable Alvin Martin on the left and maestro and play-maker Devonshire in midfield, the rest of the team were largely an untried experiment.

The 1985-86 season might have ended differently had John Lyall played Frank in his accustomed midfield role (his position at St Mirren which was the reason why he was brought to Upton Park in the first place}.The intention was to play him deep in the hole behind the underrated Paul Godard. Frank has since joked that playing in the hole was something he had done most of his adult life.

But Frank wanted to score goals. He craved the adoration that came with it. However, playing in the hole wasn’t going to cut the mustard for him. So having asked management if he could play up front instead, coach John Bond obliged.

Fortunes always hiding

Having lost two of their three opening games of the season, the omens for the Hammers weren’t looking good. By mid-September the team had only reached the dizzying heights of 17th while Manchester United had won their opening ten games on the bounce.

Thereafter, the fortunes of West Ham United began to change after the club went on what can only be described as an incredible run of form. Beginning with a convincing 3-0 victory against Leicester City on September 14, the team drew 2-2 against Manchester City the following week. The Hammers then won eleven of their next twelve league matches.

Defender Tony Gale has described the team that went on this magnificent run as being better than the league champions he subsequently went on to play for, Blackburn Rovers. The 84 point total the West Ham team acquired at the end of the 1985-86 season was a tally that would have won the league the previous season.

What also must be kept in mind is that the team lost ten games that season which illustrates how many games they won, as opposed to drawing. By the years end, just four points separated West Ham from the league leaders, Liverpool. It was only the Reds amazing run of ten victories in their last eleven games that prevented the Hammers from claiming the title.

Third-placed finish

Arguably, West Ham’s historical bogey team, Everton, who were also on an amazing run, defeated West Ham 3-1 at Goodison Park in the teams penultimate game which finally sealed the Hammers fate. West Ham went on to finish third behind Liverpool and Everton. Very rarely does the league table lie, but that particular season it did.

Many neutrals old enough to remember, have claimed that the West Ham team of ’86 were the most talented set of players never to have won the league in any given year. To add salt to the wound, West Ham were denied UEFA cup action the following season due to the ban on English clubs in European competitions, which had started a year earlier due to Heysel.

The following season, having finished 15th and with Frank scoring just seven league goals from 36 games and eleven from 47 games in all competitions, the inextricable slide of the club began. For his one remarkable season alone, Frank McAvennie can justifiably claim the mantle of the likes of Hammers legends Brooking, Devonshire, Dicks, Moore, Peters, Hurst, Di Canio and Bonds.

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Bony & Clyde

By Daniel Margrain

My first distinct memory of being a West Ham United fan was in 1971. More specifically, it was the brief appearances for the Hammers of the young Nigerian cult figure, Ade Coker, that first excited me the most as a nine year. That said, it was his occasional striking partner, Clyde Best, who is the player I most fondly remember from this period. I was rather proud of my club for having been one of the first in the top tier of the professional English game to have brought through the ranks both African and a wind rush generation of players from the Caribbean.

This was a period in time when white TV entertainers ‘blacked up’ as part of their role as performing minstrels on what passed for peak time Saturday night light family entertainment on the BBC. It’s also a time when people laughed at unfunny comedies of the ilk of ‘Mind Your Language’ and ‘On The Buses’ – the former having played on the crudest forms of racial stereotyping imaginable for its ‘laughs’.

As a skinny nine year old boy I remember seeing much older and bigger gangs of “suede headed” Doc Martin booted bovver boys on TV and remember seeing them on the streets of Barking and Upminster during times when we used to visit our relatives. I sometimes used to have nightmares that these older lads were Chelsea fans and would find out I was a West Ham fan and West Ham had black players playing for them who they hated.

This hatred of the ‘other’ was an integral feature of everyday life, not only in Basildon, my hometown, but throughout other working class communities up and down the country. It was normal for my parents’ generation at that time to openly address ‘concerns’ they had of ‘coloured’ people moving into their streets on mass for fear of the ‘locals’ being ‘taken over’ and thereby potentially reducing the value of their homes.

This was of course nonsense, but hopefully it does give the reader a sense of what growing up was like for many in the early 1970s. The truth is, in all my formative years living in this post-war version of somebody else’s notion of egalitarian Utopianism, I rarely, if ever, crossed paths with a black person.

To this day, I’ve not experienced a time when the gap between perception and reality has been wider. Ignorance and irrational fear is the food racism feeds on and it was difficult to envisage any group of people that were more ignorant and irrationally fearful than post-war white working class communities fed on an almost daily diet of ‘rivers of blood’ that helped sustain the National Front’s appetite for violence.

These were, then, strange and confusing, but also extremely happy times for an impressionable young boy trying to make his mark within an Essex new town in which celebrities as diverse as Bob Marley, David Bowie and Dick Emery played a strangely equal, but significant, part.

As black people began to increasingly make inroads in public life, professional football became the most visible and positive representation of this change for my class and generation. As hard as it is to imagine nowadays, black players in England, right up to the era of John Barnes and Viv Anderson, were still targeted by hooligans on the basis of the colour of their skin.

As a 10 year old, I remember being called a ‘traitor’ for supporting a club that had black players playing for it – the same club that six years previously had essentially won England the world cup. It was generally the case that West Ham United fans at that time used to get a lot of stick from the fans of other London clubs for no other reason than we had black players playing for us. I loved the fact that the club were different in that regard.

My memories of the young Nigerian striker, Adi Coker, have been largely clouded by the passing of time, but Clyde who played for us longer, and was a more regular feature in the teams line-up, I remember well. For some reason I used to refer to him as Clive Best (probably because I confused him with one of the other black players, Clive Charles) for quite a time. It was only when I read the team line-ups on the back of the match day programmes, that I realized his name was in fact ‘Clyde’.

Of course, there was another Best earning his living for some other team in some other strange and mysterious city in another part of the country somewhere up north where the people spoke funny, and which at that time seemed like the equivalent in distance to what London is to Berlin now. Sadly, Clyde was overshadowed by George which peeved me off, but then again the same applied to every other football fan in the country, whose players were overshadowed by the Belfast genius. I took a great deal of consolation from that.

I recently saw a George Best documentary on TV where they showed the famous clip where the ball wizard turned West Ham defender John McDowell inside out. That’s one of my first memories of a football match and I can say that I saw one of the greatest players of all time at the peak of his powers.

Anyway, I digress. Best (that’s Clyde not George), was born in Somerset, Bermuda, in 1951 having played 218 games and netting 58 goals for West Ham over seven seasons between August 1969 and January 1976. Long before John Barnes was pelted with bananas by knuckle-dragging morons, Best was the brunt of racist chanting from the terraces, not just by opposing fans but I remember him being abused regularly by a sizeable minority of West Ham fans too. They weren’t abusing him because of any perceived lack of footballing ability.

This happened regularly but it gradually subsided when the racists began to cotton on that he actually played better when they stopped abusing him. For one thing, Clyde put in 100 per cent on the pitch during almost every game. One of the reasons why Best still resonates with me all these years later is that then, as now, I have a tendency to empathize with the trials and tribulations of the underdog fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds.

I think Clyde fell into that category, although one against one, he was big enough, I’m sure, to have handled himself quite adequately off the pitch. On the pitch he was no slouch either. What he lacked in pace and a certain degree of technical ability, he gained in physical strength, power and on the field presence. This was a guy who wasn’t afraid to get stuck in and work hard.

In that sense, he was similar to Andy Carroll, that is to say, he possessed the kind of skills of the traditional English centre forward. He held the ball up well and was tough to dispossess when he had it at his feet. Like Carroll, he was particularly good in the air.

I often thought that he was underrated by critics at the time who by and large, in my view, tended to overlook the finer points in his game like deftness of touch and finesse which, for a big man, I thought he combined very well with his power.

Older readers who are familiar with Best and saw him play, will probably think I’m over-egging the point when I say that he reminds me to a large extent of the currently on-loan Manchester City striker Wilfried Bony (which is in anybody’s book is high praise indeed).

In general, it is arguably an exercise in futility to try to compare the quality of teams or players from different eras other than perhaps to focus on certain characteristics and styles of playing that made them similar. Physically Bony appears to have a similar build to Best at his peak and, I would argue, plays a similar type of game.

Although Bony’s current record of 43 goals in 77 premier league appearances thus far, is double that of Best’s career at West Ham, it’s the former attributes that remind me of Clyde. Overall, though, I think that Bony is a much more technically gifted player than Best was. Like Clyde, Bony is not a regular on his managers team sheet. After going seven games without a goal for his on-loan team, Stoke, he scored twice in a 3–1 victory over his former club Swansea City on 31 October 2016. After turning down a transfer to a Chinese club, the Stoke manager, Mark Hughes, left Bony out of his squad.

Personally, I would love to see West Ham put in a bid for Bony at some point before the transfer window closes. Seeing him play upfront at the Olympic Stadium with a creative midfield play-maker providing him with the ammunition would, in my view, suit the team down to the ground, particularly as the tactical trend seems to be reverting back to good old 4-4-2.

During an era when black players were virtually unknown at the top tier of the game, a great deal of credit has to be given to Ron Greenwood who brought Clive Charles, Ade Coker and Clyde Best to the fore by playing them alongside legends like Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst. Greenwood was among the first managers to realize that football was becoming a form of entertainment as opposed to merely a sport.

Of course, it was the late, great, Jimmy Hill who was one of the central pioneering figures that combined many other factors together to provide the conditions for the current premier league football to thrive. With the third week of the season beginning today (August 26) and with the Hammers currently bottom of the league, the killer instinct of an unsettled Bony will be the perfect addition to the West Ham squad, who would likely be far more clinical in front of goal than Clyde was.

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In the court of the claret and blue king

By Daniel Margrain

Moore kisses the World Cup

Moore kisses the World Cup CREDIT: HULTON ARCHIVE

 

Last Saturday (July 30) marked the 50th anniversary of one of the most historic sporting moments in history – when England beat West Germany 4-2 after extra-time to lift the World Cup. Avid football fans from all over the country joined legends Geoff Hurst, Gordon Banks, George Cohen and others from the 1966 team at Wembley for a special celebration. Ill-health kept others away.

Martin Peters, Nobby Stiles and Ray Wilson have all been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s amid fears that their condition was caused by years of heading heavy footballs. Both Alan Ball and Captain Bobby Moore, the latter who raised the Jules Rimet Trophy aloft on that memorable day, have died.

As a West Ham fan, my memories of the mercurial Moore are vague. I remember, at age eleven seeing him play one of his last games in a West Ham shirt against Arsenal at Upton Park. It is widely accepted among West Ham fans and the wider football fraternity that with the English trio of Moore, Hurst and Peters acting as the spine of the England team, it was West Ham who effectively won the World Cup for England in 1966.

Few people would have envisaged that four years after lifting the most prestigious of all football trophies, England’s world cup winning captain, West Ham United legend and international football superstar, Bobby Moore, would have had a major accusation of theft hanging over him. The accusations against Moore would last for a further two years.

The weight must of been hanging heavily on Bobby’s shoulders and that of his family during that period. In an era when colour hit many of our television screens for the first time in which a new decade premised upon optimism and hope was ushered in, professional football had become elevated to the kind of media spectacle that we have become accustomed to today.

In many ways, the changing face of football during this era became the defining feature of a society in a state of flux that had finally shaken off its post-war shackles of conformity and austerity. For the first time, foreign travel was to become the mainstay of the many not just for the ‘exclusive’ few.

No aspiring jet-setter could be seen without the trappings that came with it. For many of the working class beneficiaries of the post war boom who were fortunate enough to be in the financial position of being able to enjoy a yearly foreign holiday, this was a golden period.

It was the first time that I can remember excess being celebrated in such a gregarious, if at times, ostentatious manner. The media jumped on the bandwagon with their promotion of the ‘exotic’ lifestyles of the rich and famous most notably on the travel documentary programme, ‘Wicker’s World’.

The BBC sister travel guide show, ‘Holiday’, fronted by Cliff Michelmore was the zeitgeist of the period in as much as it brought home to the masses that foreign travel was now no longer the exclusive privilege of the rich, but was something that many ordinary people could do too.

Very few celebrities would have been seen photographed without the accompanying and obligatory ‘bling’. This captured the imagination of the public who also aspired to the demands set by the new mass consumption environment. For the first time in history, the profile of the top level professional footballer was akin to the movie star – and the ordinary working class garish man about town aspired for a piece of the action.

Each component part of the jigsaw shoehorned into one another fitting into place as smoothly as the velvet glove on the hand of Audrey Hepburn. Bobby Moore was very much the poster boy of his generation for this new socially mobile working class in much the same way that David Beckham was for his.

It was perhaps fitting, then, that if anybody with such a high profile as that of any footballing superstar in the world at that time was to be fitted up for a crime, then it was the handsome and photogenic captain of the world champions.

It was symptomatic of the times that Bobby Moore would be set up, not with stealing a painting or cash, but with bling. Its somewhat ironic that the last person most people would associate with bling is Bobby Moore who was so self-deprecating a public figure; so humble and unconscious of his ability and of his star status, that he regularly communicated personally with fans during the height of his fame.

But here Moore was in a Bogota Jewelry shop located close to the foyer of the plush Bogota Hotel in May 1970, the purpose of which was clearly to satisfy the media hordes’ need for a photo opportunity prior to the world’s biggest sporting event. Bobby was merely performing what he perceived was his role as an ambassador for a sport which he loved and was the poster boy for.

Set against this was the ‘bling’ which provided the backdrop for a scandal that was whipped up by an obliging media circus. The notion that one of the most famous and high profile athletes in the world at that time could be detained by the authorities for four days for allegedly stealing a bracelet in the context of somebody who was about to lead his county in the defence of the world cup that he had won four years previously, is incomprehensible – especially when viewed through the lens of today’s more enlightened social media age.

But it’s perhaps a sign of the times, that it was taken seriously, so much so that Bobby Moore, widely recognized as the most consummate professional in the game – both on and off the pitch – was accused, and subsequently arrested, for being a jewel thief.

Interest in the incident was stoked by the fascination the media had in Moore’s wife Tina, who at the time, was due to go out and watch England play in Mexico. Reminiscent of the subsequent ‘wag’ fiasco’s that have dogged subsequent England teams, wherever Tina went the media pack would be close behind.

What followed was an international media story on such a scale that it was to provoke diplomatic intervention at the behest of Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. The British establishment were so concerned by Moore’s arrest that Wilson requested repeated lobbying of the Colombian government by the British embassy in Bogota. It’s no exaggeration to say that a major diplomatic incident could easily have ensued.

Moore was kept under house arrest and although he was allowed to train to maintain his fitness levels, he was constantly followed by armed police guards. Within the high echelons of the football world, the accusations against Moore were treated with more than a heavy dose of incredulity, most predictably, perhaps, by his manager Alf Ramsay.

But it was to be the coach of Brazil who publicly proclaimed Moore’s innocence that was to arguably lend most weight particularly after he described a similar incident that involved his team Botafogo. It’s hard to believe that it got to the stage that Moore was actually tried before a judge in Bogota, where a re-enactment of the incident occurred, but that’s precisely what happened.

Needless to say, the case was thrown out due to the contradictory testimony of the plaintiff. According to Jeff Dawson in his book Back Home: England and the 1970 World Cup (2002) cries of “Viva Bobby” could be heard from the streets of Bogota.

Even harder to comprehend, is the fact that the case wasn’t formerly closed until two years after the incident, following a hearing at Bow Street Magistrates Court. Despite being cleared, the incident continued to dog Moore, and it has been suggested it was a major reason why he was never awarded a knighthood.

 

English football hooliganism: the UK political establishment’s trade-off

By Daniel Margrain

A teargas grenade explodes near an England fan ahead of England's EURO 2016 match in Marseille, France
Violence erupts on the streets of Marseille CREDIT: REUTERS

Almost 18 years ago to the day, the English national football team beat Tunisia 2-0 in the opening game of their World Cup campaign in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille in the south of France. For many, the victory was overshadowed by the violence off the pitch that preceded it. For the last three days running, football hooliganism in Marseille involving England fans has once again dominated the media headlines. Reuters journalist Mitch Phillips described the influx of the first wave of 70,000 England fans on the French port city:

“….the fans wasted no time establishing a foothold in Vieux Port to start three days of drinking and singing ahead of Saturday’s Euro 2016 match against Russia. Noisy and boisterous, bare-chested and full of lager and bravado, they draped the flags around the Queen Victoria “British pub” and roared out their songs of defiance in the time-honored manner of “England Away”, just as they had in the same port-side bars 18 years ago.”

Shortly after the fans had gathered in large numbers in the bars and pubs of the city on Thursday (June 9), scenes of drunken mayhem followed that involved pitched battles, the throwing of bottles and chairs and the chanting of racist abuse. This was preceded by crude displays of jingoism that included the singing of the words “f**k off Europe, we’re all voting out” and “sit down if you hate the French”. The incitement of this kind of hatred in a foreign country is bound up with the notion that these kinds of thugs perceive themselves as superior to their hosts. This in turn forms part of a wider imperialist narrative of entitlement, ownership and control. As one sports writer put it:

“The members of this anti-social faction do not visit a foreign city: they occupy it. They erase the local culture and try to turn the place they are in into a satellite of their own English town or city.”

This view neatly encapsulates why the kind of hooliganism experienced in Marseille cannot be divorced from a wider historical context. Since the mid 20th century, Britain in general – but particularly England – has existed in a post-empire historical setting. The question is, why does hooliganism and loutish behaviour appear to be more of an English trait compared to other nationalities? It seems to me that England, more than many other European societies, finds it difficult to cast off its imperial legacy. When groups of English men gather together in a foreign country there seems to be a reluctance among a large swath of them to relinquish the notion of the concept of empire.

This mentality appears to be underscored by an entrenched nationalism as evidenced by the repeated singing of the national anthem during games, an emphasis on the notion that ‘Britannia rules the waves’ and that football hooligans carry the mantle of this imperial and colonial legacy, ostensibly on behalf of their ruling class overseers. There seems, in other words, to be something deeply embedded within the mindset of English football fans when they gather collectively that transcends the simplistic argument that their hooliganism is an expression of nothing more than drunken and pathologically-driven related violence and thuggery.

This transcendence, I would argue, corresponds to the kind of historical, social and cultural setting described that enables it. Secondly, sport doesn’t exist in a political vacuum. One can see this, for example, in the chants at both club and international level and the England-Germany rivalry which constantly mobilizes ideas about the Second World War. The third broader point is that national sports are a forum and reservoir for jingoistic sentiment in general. What happens is that banal forms of nationalism and jingoistic group-think mentality – expressed through violence and an adherence to political-inspired chanting – is cynically co-opted and reinforced by national states and governments for wider sinister political objectives.

Take the current political climate as an example. The right-wing Brexit elements within the EU debate often echo the xenophobic anti-German and anti-European sentiments of many of those who chanted the anti-French rhetoric outlined above. Football hooliganism is not just an illustration of a few ‘bad eggs’ as is so often depicted in the media, but represents a far wider problem. The reality, in other words, is that football tends to be a vehicle for deep-seated expressions and outpourings of nationalistic narcissism and patriotism.

This is dangerous in another way in as much as these linkages provide a ready pool which governments can then use in order to justify even more sinister foreign policy purposes such as foreign invasions and occupations. The question is though, are the majority of football hooligans aware of the historical and anthropological background described, or is it simply that English men these days don’t generally go to war or fight as part of an organized army but have a lot of testosterone-based pent up aggression that needs to be expelled?

I would contend that it’s not necessary for individuals to be conscious of the notion of post-empire and the loss of colonial possessions – what dissident French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan termed jouissance – in order for them to experience excess indicative of societal breakdown achieved as part of a shared group. There are certain settings or locations in which the establishment deem it unacceptable to reach jouissance – mainly within the political sphere. This sphere has increasingly become limited because of the potential threat it poses to the existing class structure that this implies. Instead, jouissance is channeled as a displacement activity at football matches, pubs, nightclubs and bars.

Paradoxically, it’s precisely these kinds of violent outpourings or expulsions of visceral energy that enables civilized society to function. If the collective outward violent expression of mainly young men were to be severely suppressed, football hooligans and others would almost certainly turn their energy inwards which would be even more dangerous as far as its impact on civilized society is concerned. This is because any suppression of ‘orgasmic’ violence would be more radically destabilizing in terms of the potential for the derailment of the functioning of wider society. In other words, any major repression of the ability of hooligans to vent their anger might instead be turned against their bosses and, perhaps more widely, the owners of the means of production itself.

This is, of course, not in any way an attempt to justify the kinds of hooliganism witnessed in Marseille, but to recognize that in a wider symbolic and societal setting, such violence is arguably necessary. Englishmen abroad with their smart phones and apps, set against a context of Cultural Marxism, is an unholy, potent and potentially perilous mix for the establishment to negotiate. Nevertheless, it’s a trade-off that the said establishment is willing, albeit reluctantly, to endure in order that the current political status-quo be maintained.

Frank who?

By Daniel Margrain

In light of Iain Dale’s recent posting of BT Sports brilliant ‘Farewell to Upton Park’ video piece on West Ham United Football Club, the forthcoming move to the Olympic Stadium and the thought of Leicester City riding high in the Premier League in my mind, I couldn’t help but think of the “Boys of ’86”.

The sustained top four challenge of the Foxes this season can certainly, in my view, be compared to West Ham’s challenge for the title in 1986 which was all the more surprising given the fact that the team had an abysmal pre-season that led up to it.

Having been outplayed by Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road (merely Orient as they were know then) where we lost 3-1, the expectation among both the press and many West Ham fans in the build up to the 1986 season was that we would struggle with a likely relegation battle on the cards.

The backdrop to the 1986 season was one in which the Heysel Stadium that preceded it played a significant part. But what the fans and critics alike didn’t take account of was the return to the team from injury of the magnificent Alan Devonshire (in my view only second to Sir Trevor in the Hammers all time list of greats), the signing of Mark Ward, and arguably most important of all, the arrival at the club of the former cab driver, and boy about town, the mercurial, Frank McAvennie. These three players represented the new creative spine of the team.

It’s perhaps ironical then, that the one player who probably above any other was responsible for the record highest level finish in the clubs history was, at the time, virtually unknown among domestic football fans for a significant part of the season. This was because English football at the time suffered a widespread media black out as a consequence of the hooliganism of others.

This meant that the ‘playboy’ Frank was able to maintain his legendary hedonistic status unhindered by the media spotlight. But it also meant that a large chunk of the goals scored by the second most prolific scorer in the league at that time was not televised in England during the first handful of games of the 1986 season. As incredible as it seems today, I remember getting second hand reports about Frank’s prowess in front of goal from people in Denmark and Sweden. For many football fans in Britain, it was a case of Frank who?

It’s almost forgotten now that the former St Mirren ace was inches away from putting pen to paper with Luton Town. Apparently somebody reminded him of the world cup winning legacy that will forever will be associated with the club from east London.

Despite having been turned away by bouncers on the door of Stringfellows which as legend has it, was the main reason why he decided to head south in the first place, Frank finally saw sense having had a last minute change of mind. The rest, as they say, is history. Frank went on to net 26 league goals that season which was only bettered by Gary Lineker at Everton who went on to score 30.

It’s perhaps interesting to note that the starting eleven for West Ham at the time was not particularly a distinguished one containing few internationally renowned players of note. Yes, we had our record signing colossus Phil ‘Cossack’ Parkes in goal and the ever dependable hot shot penalty king in Ray ‘Tonka’ Stewart at the right side of the defence. And yes, we had the ever dependable Alvin Martin on the left and maestro and play-maker Devonshire in midfield, but the rest of the team was largely a hitherto untried experiment.

The 1986 season might have ended differently had manager John Lyall played Frank in his accustomed midfield role (his position at St Mirren) which was the reason why he was brought to Upton Park in the first place. But Frank wanted to score goals as much as he craved the adoration that comes with it, and a midfield position wasn’t going to cut the mustard for him.

So having asked management if he could play up front instead, John Bond obliged. The intention was to play him deep in the hole behind the underrated Paul Godard. Frank has since joked that playing in the hole was something he had done all his adult life. But as it turned out, injury to Godard, meant that it wasn’t to be.

Having lost two of our three opening games, the omens weren’t looking good. By mid-September we had only reached the dizzying heights of 17th while Manchester United had won their opening ten games on the bounce. Thereafter, the fortunes of West Ham United began to change after the club went on what can only be described as an incredible run of form.

Tony Gale has since described the team that was to be part of this magnificent run as being better than the championship winning team he subsequently went on to play for, Blackburn Rovers. The 84 point total the team acquired at the end of the 1986 season was a tally that would have won the league the previous season.

What also must be kept in mind is that the team lost ten games that season which shows just how many games they won, as opposed to drawing. By the years end, just four points separated West Ham from the league leaders. It was only Liverpool’s amazing run of ten victories in their last eleven games that prevented the Hammers from claiming the title.

Everton – arguably West Ham’s historical bogey team who were also on an amazing run – beat us in our penultimate game which finally sealed our fate and we went on to finish third behind Liverpool and Everton. I know that the table rarely lies, but that particular season it did. Many neutrals old enough to remember have said to me that the West Ham team of ’86 were the best team never to have not won the league in any given year.

To add salt to the wound, West Ham were denied UEFA cup action the following season due to the ban on English clubs in European competitions, which had started a year earlier due to the Heysel tragedy.

The following season, having finished 15th and with Frank scoring just seven league goals from 36 games and eleven from 47 games in all competitions, the inextricable slide of the club began. But that’s another story for another day.