A recent Guardian article entitled Anyone want to play on the left?, asked whether footballing socialists are becoming an almost extinct breed in the UK and beyond? Sport and politics don't always have to go together of course, as the article admits: 'This is only football, after all. It doesn't have to mean anything. But it's usually much more fun when it tries.' In particular, it argues that 'Historically, football's politics, such as they are, have tended to loiter on the left wing', but the modern marketised model has meant that 'the working man's ballet' may be turning into 'the middle-class man's ballet'. [See more below]
We learn the following about some of the politicised players in football:
Italian Cristiano Lucarelli: 'a self-avowed communist'
Scottish Gordon McQueen: the football community he grew up in contained 'more communists than Tories', but nowadays '99% are totally uninterested in politics'
Bill Shankly: British football's most celebrated socialist once proclaimed: 'The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards. It's the way I see football, the way I see life'.
Nottingham Forest's Brian Clough: a sponsor of miner's strikes and the anti-Nazi League 'was pretty much the standard-bearer for football socialism in the 1980s'
France's Thierry Henry often wears a Che Guevara T-shirt to express his politics
Diego Maradona: smokes Montecristos with Fidel Castro
Eric Cantona: has an 'elusive loopy left-of-centre persona'
Liverpool's Robbie Fowler: publicly supported striking Liverpool dockers on the field (but also owns almost 100 houses)
Germany's Paul Breitner: helped win the 1974 World Cup while 'growing a bushing beard, espousing Marxism'
Brazilian striker Romario: 'a high profile supporter of the progressive Lula and has assisted with projects to relieve poverty'
Argentinian captain Xavier Zanetti: convinced his club to donate $10,000 to Mexican Zapatista rebels, saying 'We believe in a better, unglobalised world enriched by the cultural differences and customs of all the people'
But in general the article makes a number of interesting points about market-led sport. The author, Barney Ronay, astutely points out that 'In our footballers we see a funfair mirror reflection of the same forces working on the people watching them from the stands', and rather than being non-political, modern professional sport is 'an extreme expression of a certain kind of politics, rampant capitalism with the volume turned up to 11', with the affect that the game and its participants are inevitably divorced from the mass of society.
See also the humorous column by Mark Steele - Soon every football club will be a corporate brand - who comments on the idea that Charlton football club may be bought by Middle Eastern businessmen, but suggesting that 'Tottenham will become the subject of a bidding war between Osama Bin Laden and Kim Jong-Il'.