Football as a commons - Yavor Tarinski

Football as a commons - Yavor Tarinski

Football has been turned from a commons shared by everybody who loves and practices it, to big business put in service of profit. In this article are described alternatives in which the sport has been run by players and fans.

Football blossomed in the slums.
It required no money and could be played
with nothing more than sheer desire.

Eduardo Galeano [1]

In his book Football in Sun and in Shadow, Eduardo Galeano pointed at the commercialization of the world’s most famous sport and its detachment from the grassroots. In it he says that “when the sport became an industry, the beauty that blossoms from the joy of play, got torn out by its very roots. Professional football condemns all that is useless and useless means not profitable.” [2] Once again we saw this in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil where modern football appeared for what it really is: a mechanism serving the logic of constant capital accumulation, aggressive towards those at the bottom who cannot afford to participate in this celebration of modern consumerist culture. It has been turned into spectacle, one more commodity in the shelves of the global supermarket, in which we can participate only as passive consumers.

But in contrast with many leftist intellectuals, for whom “football castrates the masses and derails their revolutionary ardor”, for Galeano it was rooted deeply at the bottom of society with potential to sparkle human imagination, blunted nowadays by bureaucratic logic. In his own words “for many years football has been played in different styles, unique expressions of the personality of each people, and the preservation of that diversity seems to me more necessary today than ever before.” Antonio Negri points [3] at another capacity of the most popular game: “the great merit of football lies in its ability to make people talk amongst each other”, which in my opinion is quite necessary in a period where alienation is degrading the social fabric.

In this line of thought football can be viewed as a commons, shared by everybody who loves and practices it, However, there is now a fierce attempt of privatization of the sport. Though millions of people all around the world share passion for football, they do not have any influence upon their favorite teams. Instead they are being placed in the hands of corrupted football associations and federations which prioritize the maximization of profits which constantly produces scandals on huge scale like the latest scandal around the FIFA’s president Sepp Blatter.

But even 27 years before these words of Galeano, during the events of May ’68 in Paris, one of the first stands against the trend of bureaucratization and privatization of football was taken. While millions of workers were on strike, students had occupied the universities, the president had fled the country and France seemed on the verge of revolution, a group of football players occupied the headquarters of the French Football Federation for six days [4]. In their communiqué they acknowledged that football had been snatched away from the players and the fans and put in service of profit. They demanded the immediate dismissal of the profiteers of football through a referendum of all 600,000 French footballers.

Later on, during the late 70’s in the Brazilian football club Corinthians the players decided to take in their own hands the team they played in. Motivated by Socrates [5], the famous captain of the team during that period, the players started discussing and voting with a simple show of hands on all matters which affected them, from simple things like what time they would eat lunch to challenging the dreaded concentração, a common practice in Brazil where players are practically locked up in a hotel for one or two days before a game. One of the most notable decisions they made was, in 1982, having "Vote on 15th" printed on the back of their shirts to motivate fans to vote in the first Brazilian multiparty elections since the 1964 military coup. The model of self-management they created was called Corinthians Democracy (Democracia Corinthiana) [6]. However in this experiment, though the players had a say in what affected them, the fans were not involved in the democratic processes.

One example in which the management of a football club was put in the hands of the fans was the case of Ebbsfleet United, participating in the English Conference South. On 13 November 2007, it was announced that the website MyFootballClub (MyFC) [7] had entered a deal to take over the club. Approximately 27,000 MyFC members gathered the necessary £700,000 (£35 per member) for the deal. All of the members owned an equal share in the club but made no profit nor received a dividend. The members had a vote on transfers, player selection, budget, ticket prices and all major decisions. Because of the democratic nature of MyFC, it was announced that manager Liam Daish instead would become head coach. His backroom staff remained at the club. Under this type of direct-democratic management by the fans, during the season 2008 Ebbsfleet Utd. won both the FA Trophy, becoming the first team from Kent to win it, and the local Kent Senior Cup.

On April 23rd 2013, after a dramatic decline in membership (from 32000 in its peak to just 1000), MyFC members had voted in favor of selling their shares of Ebbsfleet Utd. This decline in interest can be attributed to many factors, like the constant skepticism expressed by club officials blaming the website even for “damaging the club” [8] or that it became a economic burden for some of its members during period of global financial crisis, or perhaps the fact that the members of the MyFC viewed this just as a hobby and did not link their democratic endeavor to a wider project for direct democracy that covers all spheres of social life.

In all of these cases we can find imperfections: in the first one, even though the role of the players was being extended beyond the football field, politicized and loaded with democratic characteristics, the fans remained out of the democratic processes. In the latter we see the opposite. However, they offer us invaluable experiences and models, which if combined, could give us a potential base for the de-privatization of football and its commonization. In order for such a project to be long-lasting, it should be linked to a wider project for social democratization. As Cornelius Castoriadis says, direct democracy cannot exist only in one public sphere, as the inequalities in the rest of them, caused by their non-democratic character, sooner or later will effect the former one [9].

Therefore, the turning of football into a common, managed directly by the players and the fans, is a feasible possibility and has already been attempted. In the words of Eduardo Galeano: football “is much more than a big business run by overlords from Switzerland. The most popular sport in the world wants to serve the people who embrace it”.

Notes:

1. Eduardo Galeano (1997): Football in Sun and in Shadow, Verso Books, 2003. p.30

2. Eduardo Galeano (1997): Football in Sun and in Shadow, Verso Books, 2003. p.2

3. Ibid., p. 208

4. https://libcom.org/library/football-footballers

5. http://libcom.org/library/s-crates-midfielder-anti-dictatorship-resister

6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corinthians_Democracy

7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MyFootballClub

8. http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/london/hi/front_page/newsid_8967000/8967067.stm

9. http://www.athene.antenna.nl/ARCHIEF/NR01-Athene/02-Probl.-e.html

Republished from: http://new-compass.net/articles/football-commons

Posted By

free_demos
Aug 16 2015 17:28

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  • The turning of football into a common, managed directly by the players and the fans, is a feasible possibility and has already been attempted.

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Comments

Sister Ray
Aug 18 2015 23:27

Maybe it's just me, but I've always thought of all spectator sports as bizarre cultural phenomenon that are pushed heavily by capitalist interests. Think about it, they encourage competitiveness and nationalism (witness all the sickening jingoism at the London Olympics a few years ago), and also serve as nice safe brainless cultural pastimes that stop people from getting involved in anything more subversive. I don't think it's a coincidence that many totalitarian/fascist regimes have heavily pushed sports, or that governments all over the world are desperate to host an Olympics or a World Cup etc...

Maybe I'm just biased because I fucking hate sport though...

Khawaga
Aug 19 2015 00:03

Well, to that I can only say that there are plenty of revolutionaries who do like their sport and are quite obsessed with their teams and so on, but that does not stop them from being involved. It's not as black and white as you see it, but that doensn't mean that you're wrong either. Sports has been and is used for nationalistic purposes and can be used as a diversion (football in Brazil comes to mind). But the origins of football is quite anti-capitalist considering it was often used as a way to tear down the fences of enclosure.

Dyjbas
Aug 19 2015 01:46
Sister Ray wrote:
serve as nice safe brainless cultural pastimes that stop people from getting involved in anything more subversive

If you look at the involvement of football ultras in various street movements, both left and right wing, in Europe and not only (see Turkey and Egypt for example), this clearly isn't true in all cases.

wojtek
Aug 19 2015 02:19
Auld-bod
Aug 19 2015 07:52

I watch some cycling and a bit of football and think sport is at best politically neutral. To claim it’s radical or anti-capitalist is leftist wank. I understand General Franco rather liked Real Madrid. So what?

elraval2
Sep 24 2015 15:55

This article seems to forget that there are plenty of amateur sports clubs around that people can join to have a more active participation in sports. Football, for example, isn't just Man U and Real Madrid. You don't have to be a mindless spectator. If you want to get football back to the people, switch of the tele and go play it. If you want to watch a live game, get down to your local non-league team. If you want to turn football into a revolutionary vehicle, then, well, I'm not even sure why you would want to do that. It's just a game, surely?

This article sounds to me like "it aint like the good old days" when footballers earnt 5 quid a week and we all shook our wooden rattlers. It was professional sport so surely it's the same principle - just the amount of money involved has changed.

elraval2
Sep 24 2015 16:11

Also, I would say that if people at large do want to resist the capitalisation of the sport and generally feel alienated from the money-merry-go-round then they need to drop their idols. You can't sit in front of the tv drooling over Messi's latest trick while condemning the insane amount of money in the game. Fans of all sports are obsessed with bigger, faster, stronger etc but that depends upon increased amounts of money.

Personally, I'm not a sports fan but if I were I'd much rather go to a non-league team for 2 quid, watch the game with a 50p cup of tea and then have a pint in the bar with the players afterwards. Who cares if they don't play like Barcelona?

Khawaga
Sep 24 2015 16:11
Quote:
If you want to turn football into a revolutionary vehicle, then, well, I'm not even sure why you would want to do that. It's just a game, surely?

The roots of football can be found in the anti-enclosure efforts of those that were thrown off the common land. Football was used as an excuse to tear down the newly constructed fences and walls. From the get-go it was revolutionary.

Auld-bod
Sep 24 2015 16:16

elraval

In Glasgow the police stopped people carrying rattles. It's good to know people are still finding a use for redundant football rattles.

'We actually wanted the football rattle to scare cats off our garden and it works very well. We have a large vegetable garden and for obvious reasons don't want cats doing their business over vegetables we are going to eat.'

elraval2
Sep 24 2015 19:31

Khawaga, that's very interesting. It's not something I know anything about so I'll look it up for sure.

The only thing I would say is that it seems to me that the revolutionary or anti-authoritarian act was tearing down the fences and not the fact that they played football. They could have played any game.

When I was a kiddo, during school holidays or on Saturdays my friends and I would cycle over to a private school located a few miles outside of town. They had an all-weather pitch. We'd climb the perimetre fence and play football all afternoon. Sometimes we'd get told we were trespassing by a security guard and told to get lost but most times nobody bothered us. In my opinion the anti-authoritarian act was jumping the fence at an upper-class school, not the fact we were playing football.

Anyway, I'm not wholly certain of the stance I have regarding the topic raised by the article. Am I opposed to all professional sport, or just "elite" sport? Or, as Sister Ray commented, perhaps it's more an aversion to the phenomenon of spectator sports in general.

What do you guys think? If the insane amount of money in football was taken away, would it make the sport more palatable?

Khawaga
Sep 24 2015 21:06
Quote:
The only thing I would say is that it seems to me that the revolutionary or anti-authoritarian act was tearing down the fences and not the fact that they played football. They could have played any game.

Well, football as it exist today did not exist back then. But the reason they could do that has probably something do with the fact that earlier on was so-called mob football. Wikipedia describes it as this:

Quote:
The early forms of football played in England, sometimes referred to as "mob football", would be played between neighbouring towns and villages, involving an unlimited number of players on opposing teams who would clash en masse,[27] struggling to move an item, such as inflated animal's bladder[28] to particular geographical points, such as their opponents' church, with play taking place in the open space between neighbouring parishes.[29] The game was played primarily during significant religious festivals, such as Shrovetide, Christmas, or Easter,[28] and Shrovetide games have survived into the modern era in a number of English towns (see below).

Wiki also has this about the enclosure and football:

Quote:
The Enclosure Acts placed common land into individual ownership and removed the rights of local people to use the land as they had previously. Football was used as a means to protest this enclosure, and the supposed football game was often a pretext to organise a riot. One such event in Deeping Level, north of Peterborough, led to the sherriff of Lincolnshire raising the posse comitatus to quell the riots.[16] In 1740, "a match of futtball was cried at Kettering, of 500 men a side, but the design was to, "Pull Down Lady Betey Jesmaine's Mill's." In 1764, 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) of land was enclosed at West Haddon, Northamptonshire. A game of football was advertised in a local newspaper[17] and after the kick off the mob set about tearing down and burning the fences amounting to £1,500 worth of damage.[18]
Quote:
What do you guys think? If the insane amount of money in football was taken away, would it make the sport more palatable?

To be honest, I don't care that much. I enjoy watching football, and I love my team.

elraval2
Sep 24 2015 21:20
Quote:
To be honest, I don't care that much. I enjoy watching football, and I love my team.

Fair enough. Who's your team by the way?

Khawaga
Sep 24 2015 22:29

Oh, you wouldn't know them. It's a Norwegian team called Strømsgodset. In the premier league I follow Norwich (due to me living there for uni).

Flava O Flav
Oct 5 2015 11:39

I actually saw them playing away to Atletico Madrid in 2011 in the Europa League. Met some of the fans afterwards. Nice crowd.

Khawaga
Oct 6 2015 20:35

Thanks, we are indeed a pretty nice crowd wink

And sadly I missed those matches since the trip from North America was a bit long.

anabraxas
Jan 5 2016 21:24

Taylor Swift and Sam Jackson are the champions of a new class consciousness. Football -at least Euro football,couldn't say the same of hockey and US football- have become main outlets of class assembly and the development of a broad and far-reaching common consciousness, though spoiled into more brutal nationalism and racism.

But if there's any anarcho-syndicalist out there who isn't a dolt, he-she should have understood something revolutionary and fresh with stars of the spectacle connecting in some increasingly socially-critical way with the "public" and their fans. They should have got something that hits home with Daniel Craig's recent statements on how he hates his job playing "007", and doesn't wanna sacrifice his life any longer for such spectacle bs... As a matter of fact he is right. Most high-profile actors are working 12-16 hours a day even though they're paid millions a year and ride in Lambos, they get scrutinized intensely by the studios, the press, so they can't really have a life of their own.

Explanation for the lib-com dolts, since especially the end of WW2 the class relationships have changed dramatically, due to the rise of a never-before-seen system of commodity/spectacle that democratized capital even further, destrying the proletariat "positively" by spreading it all over a vast scale of wealth and poverty, where social mobility is the central condition of labor, beyond survival.

In such a world where you've got ultra-rich proles and lumpen proles, where a Hollywood actor may be just as alienated in his working conditions than a women workign as clerk at the dollar store or call center, what is the common condition unifying the proles?

The spectacle.

Sleeper
Jan 5 2016 23:03

Whatever happened to throwing down a couple of jumpers to make goal posts and just getting stuck in to a match

smile

Chilli Sauce
Jan 6 2016 04:24
anabraxas wrote:
Taylor Swift and Sam Jackson are the champions of a new class consciousness. Football -at least Euro football,couldn't say the same of hockey and US football- have become main outlets of class assembly and the development of a broad and far-reaching common consciousness, though spoiled into more brutal nationalism and racism.

But if there's any anarcho-syndicalist out there who isn't a dolt, he-she should have understood something revolutionary and fresh with stars of the spectacle connecting in some increasingly socially-critical way with the "public" and their fans. They should have got something that hits home with Daniel Craig's recent statements on how he hates his job playing "007", and doesn't wanna sacrifice his life any longer for such spectacle bs... As a matter of fact he is right. Most high-profile actors are working 12-16 hours a day even though they're paid millions a year and ride in Lambos, they get scrutinized intensely by the studios, the press, so they can't really have a life of their own.

Explanation for the lib-com dolts, since especially the end of WW2 the class relationships have changed dramatically, due to the rise of a never-before-seen system of commodity/spectacle that democratized capital even further, destrying the proletariat "positively" by spreading it all over a vast scale of wealth and poverty, where social mobility is the central condition of labor, beyond survival.

In such a world where you've got ultra-rich proles and lumpen proles, where a Hollywood actor may be just as alienated in his working conditions than a women workign as clerk at the dollar store or call center, what is the common condition unifying the proles?

The spectacle.

So I don't really understand how this was a response to the article. I'm not even totally sure I understand the response altogether. And I really don't understand why it was so weirdly aggy.

Spikymike
Jan 6 2016 10:50

Forget 'The Spectacle' presented here as a 'Thing' and perhaps substitute the alienation of labour in capitalism as the explanation of what unites (but only at one level) both rich and the poor workers? Still that seems unlikely to provide a basis for any practical unity in struggle across the wide stratification of income levels within the modern global working class, extended here to include it seems top earners able to spirit away enough savings to invest in capital/property to turn them at some stage into the non wage earning rich - ie members of the middle and capitalist classes!