Perhaps, dear reader, you are mildly informed on the subject of European football and are possibly saying “oh, one more fascist?” Absolutely! The tropings of modern football have so far failed to reduce the combination of hetero-working-class-white-male culture into the politically correct anti-racist anti-fascist we all want them to be. My liberal heart bled dry, a new found thirst for reason and accountability in the free market – pumping on fumes. But this time, there’s a real bad egg back in the game. This full fledged purveyor of “italian heritage”, Paolo Di Canio, was recently appointed head boss of freshly relegated League 2 side Swindon Town.
Di Canio was a fantastic fooballer. He played at almost every major club in Italy, many of which approved of his outwardly fascist celebrations and lifestyle (Lazio). Later moving to West Ham United in London, where he was met with massive fan support due to his give-it-all attitude and willingness to throw a punch at the opposition. He eventually left top flight football in 2006 and began his remodeling campaign to find his way into a managerial role. Di Canio sports a tattoo on his bicep printed as DUX, or leader, i.e. Duce for Mussolini. When asked in an interview about his controversial roman salute to Lazio fans he unabashadly replied “I will always salute as I did because it gives me a sense of belonging to my people..I saluted my people with what for me is a sign of belonging to a group that holds true values, values of civility against the standardisation that this society imposes upon us.” *Cultural anthropologists couldn’t ask for more here* Sometimes sports stars react different when put under the lens, say for example punching a referee, or Eric Cantona’s famous stomping of a fan on the touchline during a Manchester United game. However Di Canio hides nothing about his beliefs in ultra right politics. These were not flashes in the pan.
Now to the point. In a pawn’s game of player as commodity: Can you separate the man from the identity? Swindon town’s head offices believe you can, by hiring the most synonymous name with crypto-nazi. It is my belief that football is a political sport, it is played philosophically with a tactics that idealize a recognition of individual talent yet forced to thrive on communal participation through teamwork. If the team doesn’t work, the individual will starve. It is absolutely political in that it operates within a context, and that base is the global economy. Perhaps Marx would say this post is merely superstructure, however a potential big L ‘Liberalizing’ economy of small r ‘responsible’ investors could make all the difference. Swindon town are looking for a new face, a revitalizing period for its recently demoted squad to a lower earning league. They have chosen a face to be sure, so far it has cost them two major sponsors who politically will not contribute to a team bossed by a man who speaks his politics on and off the pitch. Di Canio, when pressed on this development, simply responded that he would like to get on with the football. After all, the managers job is to be Dux, not to sell soft drinks for an extra million pounds of spending power.
In a historical period when fascism operates in the police force, the prison system, small circles of fringe thinkers, and even somewhat larger groups of those who do their bidding, we rarely have a character in sport be as pronounced as Di Canio. As demonstrated, despite the capital losses to the club, this does not seem to matter. A line i recently read in Robert Muchembled’s Orgasm and the West, he describes era’s of cultural/social/sexual thinking as hegemonic yet not entirely pervasive, “Deep hidden meanings emerge more clearly from between the cracks and fissures than in periods of strong convictions.” The 1930s was the era of Di Canio-esque strong convictions. Strong convictions in neo-liberal economics also exist today as economies and their physical boundaries in the state begin to blur. Is this just a case of new money hate being picked up for his ability to stir a pot, or more genuinely an attempt at progressing in sport through tried and true skill? Oddly, Di Canio’s rejection of modern society and its ‘imposed standardization’ and ‘lack of values’ makes a tad bit of sense. The lack of rhyme or reason beyond the profit motive in the global football market prevents a clear reading of his recent appointment, unless both options spell the same end result. At what point will all leagues begin to import a ‘character’ to continue football’s slide into tabloid culture? Unfortunately, I for one assumed that Di Canio had been crumpled up like a wad of gum and squeezed back into the crack he came from.