Archive for category Football

The beauty of the game

I’ve written quite a bit about football over the couple of years that I’ve been blogging. But I’ve said next to nothing about what happens on the pitch. I’ve talked about what happened on the terraces one day in April 1989, and the quarter-century aftermath. I’ve talked about the various nations competing in the World Cup and their history and politics in terms of the displaced people across the globe. But the game itself?

I can talk about music, though I’m not a musician, I can talk about art though I’m no artist. But I can’t talk about football, the playing of the game, without it sounding second-hand, words and phrases borrowed from the pundits on the telly or the pundits in my own life.

Forest logoNonetheless it’s played an important part in my life, still does. I barely knew the game existed until the early 70s, when the family moved to Nottinghamshire, and my brothers determined that our loyalties would henceforth belong to Nottingham Forest. And I went along on a Saturday, wearing the scarf that I knitted myself (the only piece of knitting I ever finished, at one time embroidered with the names of the players) at least until the final whistle blew and we hid our scarves away and legged it to the bus station. I stood on the Trent End, being pushed one way and another, pressed up against the barriers till it hurt, sometimes. I went along to watch them train in between home games, to watch the reserves play, to get their autographs. I loved the atmosphere, until the violence – always simmering – seemed to come every week to the boil, and I was too afraid and too sick to love it any more.

Nottingham1975-76
Reading Danny Rhodes’ Fan brought it all back. He writes about following Forest, and I recognise everything he describes. But at the same time my experience of being a football fan was so different – being a girl, a swotty, geeky girl at that, I could never have been part of the beery sweary scrappy bloke culture.

Rhodes FanI never lived for it, but I loved it. Time was I knew all the names, the numbers, the fixtures, the results. Time was I could recognise every player on the cards my brothers collected (the Panini stickers of their day) – and I was tested on this regularly and rigorously. I lost that over the years, lost touch with the minutiae of the team and the game, but never stopped checking the results, and feeling a glimmer of excitement if we were doing well in a Cup or league, or – at least as often – frustration and gloom if we weren’t.

Looking back, I’d thought that ‘my’ Forest era was the glory years of Clough, European cups and league triumphs. But in fact, the years when I was going most Saturdays, when I was the most engaged and invested, were before that. In fact, I supported Forest under three managers before Clough & Taylor arrived (Gillies, Mackay and Brown), and saw them relegated in ’72 to the then 2nd division.

Clough came in ’75, the year I went up to University in Sheffield, and my match attendance plummeted. But I still went, when I could, and saw two League Cup finals (victory over Southampton, defeat to Wolves), and a European cup tie against Grasshoppers Zurich. And I saw the players who Clough inspired to greatness, many of whom I’d been watching in the reserves before Clough saw what they could be capable of and gave them the chance to achieve it. It’s been a pretty bumpy ride since then, and most seasons I apologise to my son for making him a Forest fan – I may have seen some dire, desperate games and some crushing defeats, but I also saw the team when they were the best.

So I can reminisce, but I can’t pontificate about the game. I know genius when I see it – old clips of Best, new clips of Messi, and my memories of seeing John Robertson, short stocky guy, invisible on the left wing until he suddenly took off and scored before the opposition had even registered his presence. Clough said ‘give him a ball and a yard of grass, and he was an artist’, but also that he was (or had initially appeared to be), an ‘unfit, uninterested waste of time’, perhaps the supreme example of Clough’s own genius.

But the offside rule is something I understand only fleetingly and I never spot an offside before it’s called. And I can’t analyse – I’m always kind of surprised and pleased when my general impressions of possession and dominance are confirmed by the ‘experts’ and the on-screen stats. Instead I get caught up with the ebb and flow, the swell of the crowd’s noise and the dying away when the moment is lost, the grace and athleticism, the exhilaration and despair. I can share in that, and I’ve wept over results before now, most recently when Ghana were knocked out of the last World Cup thanks to a certain Uruguayan’s blatant hand-ball.

But when the City Ground crowd invites me to join in and assert that I hate Derby, or Leicester, or anyone else, I can’t do it. I don’t recall racist chanting on the terraces at Forest – and I do recall leaflets on the seats at a reserve game vigorously opposing the National Front and their calls for Viv Anderson to go back where he came from (as Clough pointed out, that would be Clifton, about 15 mins drive from the City Ground) – but I know that black footballers in Britain were subjected to vile abuse, and that this still happens in many European countries. I know that there are aspects of the game that are profoundly ugly.

I saw that in the violence that became endemic in the game – people who turned up for the fight, not for the football, driving other spectators away, and creating the vicious circle of aggressive policing, media contempt and political rhetoric that led us inexorably to Hillsborough. I know that the tribal loyalties that make following a football team so emotional can be dangerous, and are dangerous when they’re linked to other loyalties – religious, ethnic, political. And there’s a dispiriting cynicism in the way the game is played (nothing new, whenever I see the perpetrator of a blatant foul turning to the ref with an expression of affronted innocence, I think of Leeds’ Allan ‘Sniffer’ Clarke).

Yet, despite all that, there’s something wonderful about it all. The experience of being at a match (Premier league, championship or Sunday junior league) is unlike anything else I do. If I’m at a gig, probably the closest thing, where one is caught up in the collective experience, responding emotionally and vocally to what’s happening on stage, still, I know that it’s not going to end with the band I’ve come to see being humiliated and defeated. Every football match presents that possibility.

And all of the above is why Hillsborough is seared into my soul. I wasn’t there. But I stood in my kitchen, just across the valley, watching Grandstand, trying to figure out what was happening. And later, watching as the death toll crept higher and higher. And then hearing the way the narrative twisted – so soon – into the familiar territory of blame. I wasn’t there but it haunted me, and still does. Because it sums up what British football had become – the adversarial policing, the pens that crushed the life out of so many, and the contempt for the fans that allowed the lies to be believed, in the face of all the evidence, for so long.

I do feel some nostalgia for the days when I stood on the Trent End. It is so much safer now, so much tamer. And I’m glad of that, even whilst I feel the loss of the visceral excitement that was part of the experience then. Because that’s forever associated with the reasons I stopped going to matches. And, overwhelmingly, with 96 football supporters who never got home after the match, and the families who’ve had to fight for 25 years for the truth of what happened .

Can we find a middle ground? Can football be family friendly, safe, without being bloodless and corporate? The contradictions will always be there, I think. And I will always have this ambivalent relationship with the beautiful game but will be – can’t help it, couldn’t change it if I wanted to – Forest till I die …

 

http://www.dannyrhodes.net/fan.html

Danny Rhodes, Fan, Arcadia Books, 2014

 

, ,

Leave a comment

The Refugee World Cup – Saturday 21 June

Playing today – Argentina, Bosnia

Fittingly for the last of my series of World Cup linked refugee stories, both of today’s have a football theme.

Argentina

Bayan Mahmud fled ethnic violence in the north of Ghana, stowing away on a ship leaving Cape Coast, and ending up in Argentina.  He was lucky, finding kindness from a member of the ship’s crew, and then from strangers who helped him get to Buenos Aires, and to get refugee status.  Now, he’s on the Boca Juniors youth football team and hopes to one day be the first black player in the Argentine national team.  Maybe next time…

Bosnia & Hercegovina

Dejan Cokorilo’s story of leaving Sarajevo for safety in Sweden – ‘The Civil War kidnapped our childhood. Our city was under siege, but somehow my parents found a way out. We found peace and freedom in a new country, far away from home.’

Meanwhile the Bosnian national team includes a number of players who at least temporarily fled their homes during the war – amongst them Miralem Pjanic, Edin Dzeko, Asmir Begović, Senad Lulic, Haris Medunjanin.

 

There’s an actual Refugee World Cup, in Manchester later this month.  Details here:

http://www.manchestercommunitycentral.org/event/refugee-world-cup-2014-football-tournament/2014-06-29t084500

and another took place in Sweden just before Rio as well:

http://frenchfootballweekly.com/2014/06/11/forget-brazil-2014-the-alternative-world-cup/

 

4709e46cc39811e2976a12313d026649

 

 

, ,

Leave a comment

The Refugee World Cup – Friday 20 June

Playing today: Italy, Costa Rica, Honduras, Ecuador, Switzerland, France

Italy

The Italian island of Lampedusa is best known for being the primary European entry point for migrants, mainly coming from Africa.  Last autumn, around 36o migrants died in the seas around the island, and over 30 000 have been rescued by Mare Nostrum.  And the boats keep on setting sail, crammed with desperate people.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/02/europe-refugee-crisis-un-africa-processing-centres

Costa Rica

One of the most peaceful and stable countries in the region, Costa Rica hosts many refugees, mainly from Colombia and Nicaragua.  Costa Rica took in many refugees from a range of other Latin American countries fleeing civil wars and dictatorships during the 1970s and 1980s.

Honduras

In recent years, growing numbers of people have sought asylum in Mexico, Canada and the United States, citing the threat of gang violence and forced recruitment in countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

‘A 17-year-old boy who fled Honduras said, “My grandmother is the one who told me to leave. She said: ‘If you don’t join, the gang will shoot you. If you do, the rival gang will shoot you, or the cops. But if you leave, no one will shoot you.'”‘

Ecuador

Jason Tanner reports on a photographic assignment for UNHCR on the Ecuador-Colombia border:

‘Over the course of four weeks I would be ferried, often at short notice and sometimes covertly, to meet with and photograph refugees fleeing persecution and violence from neighbouring Colombia. This fearful frontier town in Ecuador is often the first stepping off point for refugees seeking safety and security. Unfortunately, for many refugees, the reach of those responsible for the violence often extends deep beyond the porous borders of Latin America.’

Switzerland

Switzerland’s cherished neutrality during the Second World War was in part protected by rigorous border controls.  Many refugees were turned back, including at least 20 000 Jews.  Those who helped people to cross the border were subject to criminal proceedings, and it is only very recently that some of the sentences handed out to people who challenged the restrictions to smuggle desperate people across the frontier have been given pardons.   See Aimée Stitelmann’s story here.

France

In September 1940, plans were being developed to enable Jewish children to get special visas to leave for the US.   The plan was intended for children under 13, but older children (up to 16) were eligible to accompany their younger brothers and sisters.   In March 1941, the OSE  (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants) at Montpellier sent a list of 500 children held in camps who were candidates for emigration.  These children were released from the camps, and brought by OSE to await emigration, along with children who had been helped by the Rothschild Foundation, Secours Suisse and the AFSC.   The first convoy of 101 children left Marseille in May 1941.   The train stopped briefly at Oloron station, just by the Gurs camp, so that children could say goodbye to their parents.  This was traumatic for all, and OSE did not continue with this practice.   From France, the children travelled through Spain to Portugal, stayed for around a week whilst they received medical care and were vaccinated.  At Lisbon, they boarded the SS Mouzinho, which took to the sea on 10 June 1941.  They disembarked in New York where they were met and looked after by the U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children.  The OSE went on to organise an underground network to smuggle children out of France.

Rio Mavuba, a member of the French World Cup squad, was born on board a boat in international waters during the Angolan Civil War, and later stated that his birth certificate did not have a nationality on it, reading only “born at sea”.   He received French nationality in September 2004.

4709e46cc39811e2976a12313d026649

, ,

Leave a comment

The Refugee World Cup – Thursday 19 June

Colombia, Ivory Coast, Uruguay, England, Japan, Greece

Colombia has one of the world’s largest populations of displaced people – somewhere between 2.6 and 4.3 million – due to ongoing armed conflict in the region.

See here for information on the photo project, Land of Light, undertaken by UNHCR Colombia and the Colombian photographer Santiago Escobar Jaramillo, which was realized through a series of  workshops with displaced communities.

Georgina’s story

Ivory Coast

Bere Tassoumane’s journey from stateless person to state official.

Some who left Liberia for safety in Ivory Coast during its civil war later returned the hospitality when Ivory Coast went through the same terrible trauma.  “During the Liberian war, refugees who left from Liberia to Ivory Coast stopped with people who also fled this Ivorian war,” Kolubah added.  “So those who were hosted as Liberian refugees in Ivory Coast do not want their host to go to the camp. They want them to stay with them no matter what it is.”

Uruguay

Uruguay’s president has agreed to take 100 Syrian child refugees.  The complexities of refugee politics are clear from this article – both in terms of the contribution relative to that of other nations, and to the problem as a whole, but also in terms of the way domestic politicians respond to even this ‘drop in the ocean’.

England

Refugee Action tells the stories of some of the refugees they work with, and the struggles they face in the UK.

I am, probably, more critical of my own country’s response on refugee and asylum issues, than of most others.  I expect more, I hope for more.  And there is so much to be disappointed, or angry, about.  I had to make a mental readjustment, however, talking to a taxi driver yesterday – father from Djibouti, mother from Britain, born in Dubai, and in no doubt at all that this was the place to be, a generous and welcoming society.  I found myself giving ground, acknowledging, I hope not too grudgingly, that it was good, even if I believed it could be better.   He’d have passed Tebbitt’s cricket test too, with a higher score than me…

Japan

Even a wealthy, peaceful nation, which tends not to persecute its citizens, can encounter a refugee crisis as the result of natural disaster.  The tsunami in 2011 left many homeless and facing desperate conditions.   ‘Freezing winds, hail storms and thick snow are the latest threats to 430,000 beleaguered survivors of northern Japan‘s week-long cascade of disasters. After a massive earthquake, devastating tsunami and nuclear crisis, many people made homeless are now facing icy weather, with temperatures forecast to plunge to –5C (23F).’ (Guardian, March 2011).

Greece

Syrian refugee Hussein finds safety in Greece.

In 1923, Greeks from Asia Minor were evacuated or relocated in Greece following the Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations signed in Lausanne.  This followed a period of brutal massacres and ‘ethnic cleansing’ instigated by the government of the Ottoman Empire.  The first census after the evacuations showed the number of Greeks of Asia Minor origin to be 1,164,267. Descendants of the refugees took part in the great Greek migrations of the interwar period, as well as the large immigrations to the United States, Australia and Germany in the 1960s-1970s. Today, about 40% of the population of Greece claims full or partial descent from the Asia Minor refugees; as does an almost equal percentage of diasporan Greeks.

 

4709e46cc39811e2976a12313d026649

, ,

Leave a comment

The Refugee World Cup – Wednesday 18 June

Playing today: Australia, Netherlands, Spain, Chile, Cameroon, Croatia

Australia

In December 2010, a flimsy boat was wrecked by a storm on the cliffs of Christmas Island.  50 of the 89 men, women and children aboard, all asylum seekers, predominantly from Iran and Iraq, died.

Netherlands

In the mid-16th century, many Protestant Walloons and Flemings came to England to escape warfare and religious persecution, arriving in England through the Channel ports, many initially settling in Sandwich, until the numbers became too great.   Subsequently, the Walloons were permitted to move to Canterbury, and were welcomed by the city.  ‘The strangers (as they were called), were allowed to gather for worship at the church of St Alphege, opposite the Archbishop’s Palace, and later in the western crypt of the Cathedral.  Most of the refugees were engaged in the weaving trade, and provided local employment, and a flourishing trade in finished cloth for sale in London or abroad.

Spain

In 1937, during the Spanish civil war, a group of almost 4,000 children was evacuated from Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain. They embarked from Santurce, Bilbao, on the ‘Habana’ on Friday 21st May and dropped anchor at Fawley, at the entrance to Southampton Water, on Saturday evening. The following morning, Sunday 23rd, they docked at Southampton.  Initially accommodated in a large camp at North Stoneham, Eastleigh, they were eventually dispersed to many ‘colonies’ throughout the country.

Chile – Julio Parrado tells the story of his arrest and torture after the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile, and how he found sanctuary in Sweden.

Cameroon

A few weeks ago photographer Frederic Noy went to Cameroon with UNHRC to photograph the arrival of Central African refugees fleeing the violence in their country.

Croatia

The UN Refugee Agency is recommending that the process of ceasing refugee status of refugees displaced from Croatia in the 1990s begins. Almost 20 years after the conflict in the former Yugoslavia ended, the circumstances that triggered displacement have fundamentally changed. Regional cooperation has intensified, voluntary returns have taken place, different ethnic groups have proven able to peacefully co-exist and economic and political progress is increasingly visible.  Meanwhile, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia continue their efforts to find sustainable housing solutions for some 74,000 vulnerable refugees, returnees and IDPs from the 1991-1995 conflicts.

4709e46cc39811e2976a12313d026649

, ,

Leave a comment

The Refugee World Cup – Tuesday 17 June

Playing today – Brazil, Belgium, Mexico, Algeria, Russia and South Korea

Belgium‘s invasion in two successive World Wars led to an influx of refugees into the UK. A local newspaper reported in 1916 on the celebration in Manchester of the Belgian Day of Independence,when ‘over 700 refugees were entertained by the Co-operative Wholesale Society. They had come from various parts of Manchester and the surrounding industrial towns’.  The Bishop of Salford ‘alluded to the trials through which the refugees had passed, and remarked that that day they had shown to the British race how strongly united they were. He assured them that the feelings of the English people for what the Belgians had done in the great European struggle would be always as they were to-day’.

Algeria is ‘home’ to a significant number of Sahwari refugees from Western Sahara.  Fadala was born in the refugee camps there and now works as a community outreach officer, particularly with young people in the camps:

I am working with Solidaridad Internacional as a community outreach worker. I am in charge of awareness raising efforts about the use of water. When I arrived here, it was almost a cultural shock. The situation in the camps is extremely difficult. Especially for the youth. There are no opportunities here. If there were no NGOs here, many youths would be out of jobs and would not be able to support their families.

If I did not find this job, I would have been at home. We cannot keep on waiting to receive humanitarian assistance without doing anything. Until when? The humanitarian assistance will not last forever.

I am very concerned about the dependency of Sahrawis to foreign aid and I would like to be a motor for a change in my community. My dream is to work one day as a journalist, to be able to convey the difficult life conditions my people are going through.

Brazil was the first country in Latin America to offer humanitarian visas to Syrian refugees.

Mexico – Martin Gottwald, UNHCR Deputy Representative in Colombia, shares his story for World Refugee Day here.

Russia – after the Revolution, from 1917-22, more than a million people left Russia.  Refugees moved eastward to Manchuria and China, via Vladivostok to Canada and the US, and westward, via the Balkans and the Baltic states, to Western Europe, particularly France.   Irene Nemirovsky and her family were amongst those who took refuge in France.  Irene, who became a highly successful writer, was still there when France was occupied by the Nazis.  As  a Jew, she was deported to Auschwitz where she was murdered, along with her husband, in 1942.  Her final, unfinished book, Suite Francaise, was published in 2006, after her surviving children read the manuscript and realised its importance. 

South Korea – Hungarian journalist Csaba Lukács tells his story of Soon-Sil Lee, a North Korean refugee

4709e46cc39811e2976a12313d026649

, ,

Leave a comment

The Refugee World Cup – Monday 16 June

Playing today, Iran, Nigeria, Ghana, USA, Germany and Portugal

4709e46cc39811e2976a12313d026649

 

Not all of them obvious sources of refugees, nor obvious havens for them.  In fact most are, or have been, both.

The Islamic Republic of Iran continues to host one of the largest and most protracted refugee populations in the world, despite the voluntary return of hundreds of thousands Afghan and Iraqi refugees to their countries of origin over the past decade.  But during the Shah’s regime, and the Islamic regimes which have followed, intolerance of political dissidence has also created a flow of refugees out of the country, with a significant group now based in Australia. Koroush came to the UK with his family and describes the pressures of life as an asylum seeker.

The USA‘s history is built on the movements of people fleeing intolerance and violence, from the religious dissidents of the 17th century, to the Jewish communities driven out by pogroms in the late 19th, to the victims of Nazism in the 1930s and ’40s.  Recently it has seen a huge influx of unaccompanied child refugees from Latin America.  Its history also includes, of course, the displacement of the indigenous Native American populations.

Nigeria in the mid-60s saw floods of refugees, mainly Igbo, driven from the north by massacres, even before the secession of Biafra and the resulting Civil War.  More recently the terrorist violence of Boko Haram has driven people from their homes into South Niger, Chad and Cameroon.  The UNHCR says that ‘in Nigeria, internal displacement is endemic. Recurrent ethno-religious conflicts and natural disasters have prompted people to flee their homes and seek safety elsewhere. If the general security situation remains unresolved, displacement and the need for a humanitarian response in the north of the country are likely to persist in 2014. Owing to the lack of security and limited access to affected populations, it is difficult to assess IDP numbers and needs.’

Ghana took in many people from Liberia and Sierra Leone during the vicious civil wars which tore those countries apart.  Many of these refugees have now returned home, but the Buduburam refugee camp near Accra housed over 40 000 displaced people until recently.  Jean fled from Ivory Coast and found sanctuary in Ghana.

Germany, leaving aside the movements of populations arising from war and occupation, drove out many of its own citizens as they were stripped of their professions, their property and their rights, in preparation for taking their lives.  German Jewish children were amongst those taken to safety by the Kindertransport.

Portugal became a sanctuary for many refugees from Nazi occupied Europe.  Salazar’s nationalist regime was not based on racial theories, and although under pressure from Hitler visas were severely restricted, Lisbon became the doorway to freedom.  It’s not clear how many people escaped via Portugal – but Portugal’s own Jewish population, and most of those who came there, survived.

http://stories.unhcr.org/

 

,

Leave a comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 830 other followers