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Jamie Cutteridge looks at how football is the only true living, breathing punk movement.
Sometimes, a slow death of a movement means that it is difficult to define when something is definitely gone, and some kind of crystallising moment is necessary. For example, the freshness of New Labour seemed to disappear somewhere around the beginning of this century, but the death of the movement was confirmed when Ed Miliband of the old left was elected leader last year. ‘Punk’ this movement based somewhere within the realms of anarchism seemed to start dying as soon it reached any form of public consciousness (almost by definition, once it lost its underground and subversive nature, it lost its raison d’etre) but could never truly be said to have been killed off until a couple of years ago, when Jonny Rotten appeared in an advert for Country Life Butter. Now Rotten is well within his right to whore himself out to whatever dairy product manufacturers he likes, but it proved a cultural marker for many, as those still living in a world where punk was still relevant were rudely awakened. Our western, capitalist, culture has an ability to take any subversive powerful movement, and turn it into something easily sold, packaged and marketed. The niche of society that was prevalent in the punk movement then turns to find a similar subversive movement. I propose that football can fulfil this place in society. The birth of punk in the 70s was led by a section of society who felt under-represented in the wider culture. Music seemed to only confirm the structure already prevalent in society (as Marx would say, the Ruling ideas are, in every epoch, the ruling ideas, i.e. we live in a world where those with power only present ideas that confirm their place in society). Under-represented and angry about it, the era of punk music was born, as people began to step away from the musical norms and what was popular, instead choosing to express something different, some subversive, something, in the eyes of many, dangerous. The punk movement became about more than just the music. Simple power chords and angry lyrics were no longer enough, and punk was identified by people’s attitude, appearance and social calendar. Far from being a musical genre, punk became a holistic lifestyle, one born out of opposition to those in power. Over recent years (fuelled by the internet, blogs, and twitter) a number of football fans have begun to look further down the league, away from the mainstream for their football entertainment, in a similar fashion to how the early punk pioneers stepped away from the musical hierarchy. The similarities do not end there. These fans are displaying their dissatisfaction with the commoditisation of their game. To fully understand this shift, one must look at the early foundations, upon which the game was built. Traditionally, football was built around and within local communities, and as football grew, clubs sought to maintain this link with their community. However, when football began for real in 1992 (©Sky Sports) a light seemed to switch on in the head of owners that there was a lot of money
to be made from this sport, and that perhaps those on the doorstep of the club were no longer their prime audience. (In fairness, this was no overnight realisation, and football had been moving in this direction pre-92, but perhaps the birth of the Premiership serves as some sort of watershed.) As more and money was (and is) pumped into the game, it moves further away from the community basis. Players earn more in a week than many fans will earn in a decade, and perpetuate this gulf by appearing more and more out of touch with the ‘average’ fan whilst clubs see fans as consumers rather than a valued part of soul of the club. The matchday experience is all about exploiting the attendees for all their worth rather than facilitating an enjoyable day out, whilst endeavours within the community seem more like nods to bygone years than genuine philanthropy. If one compares the matchday experience and prices to the non-league game where prices structures are in place purely to keep the club afloat rather than make a profit from the fans. The community aspect is both more central, and better expressed amongst lower league clubs. In many ways this is purely practical as community it naturally easier to build between smaller groups of people, but from both what I’ve observed, as well as collected through a recent research project there is more of an effort within the club hierarchy to maintain the historical community. In many cases the community endeavours are spearheaded by the manager, who sees their remit as bigger than just on the field matters, but instead as an ambassador for the club as whole. This is yet another mirroring of the punk movement where the lead singer could also the band’s main promoter, flyering, sticking flyers and fanzine wherever they could find space. In some cases, (such as FC United of Manchester and AFC Wimbledon) the importance of community is written in the very charter of the club. Perhaps these two are the best examples of ‘punk’ clubs within this country. Both were set up as a mark of protest, or reaction, to something that had happened to the club they were previously connected to. This parallel with punk’s heyday seems to stand-out, and whatever one’s view on FCUM, they must be applauded for doing something about the issue impacting them. Both these clubs share an affinity with perhaps the ultimate punk club, St Pauli. In the mid-80s the club shifted to take a firm position against the right-wing nationalists and hooligans prevalent in the football culture that surrounded them. Their remit has since winded to tackle homophobia, racism and sexism. Perhaps more than any other example, this is a punk football team, one that is at odds with the world around it and fighting the problems that it sees. Joe Strummer would be proud, if he cared about football. Perhaps the man that encapsulates this more than anyone is the great Danny Baker. Here is man who was there in the middle of punk’s heyday, a man rooted in musical folklore (despite not actually killing Bob Marley), but a man who, more than many still carries that punk aesthetic in his approach to football. Danny is clearly a man who loves football, but a man who realises that football is not about money, but about an entirety of experience, the little things that no-one notices (or one fans wooden bow tie ) are equally as important as the 30 yard screamer. For some reasons in the midst of a world where football is defined by how close one is to a Champions League place, or the contents of
a club’s bank balance, the fact that Danny is still given a platform to talk about the soul of the game is reassuring. Punk was about maintaining the ideological heart of music, in reaction to the world around them and whilst Baker doesn’t hold firm to an ideology, his undermining of the norms of the game that we are bombarded with, are certainly punk. Thoughts remain with Danny.
It is the re-discovering of the previous ideology and life of the game that marks this shift of fans flocking down the league. Both myself and the editor of this site have found ourselves watching far less of our previously-beloved Villa to find a non-league alternative, whilst blogs such as the Real FA Cup and The Ball is Round are evidence of fans of clubs using the internet to document a rediscovery of the joys of lower league football. In fact the internet as a whole mirrors the subversive documentation of Punk. Many of our footballing fanzines (which inspire so much of our great football writing) were born or inspired in the Punk era and the use of the internet reflects this and allows space for further inspiration and challenge amongst this growing community. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this comparison, is how this ends. We see punk slowly dying around us, and it’s not just with former punks advertising dairy. Bands that would describe themselves as punk play stadiums, old timers who wanted to smash the capitalist system reform for the money, and modern day alternative artists sell out their songs for X Factor finalists to make Christmas Number 1s, and yes, I’m looking at you Biffy Clyro. This is not to point fingers, but to highlight that the world we lives in swallows up all that is alternative, and yet has impact, and packages it neatly into something commercially viable. Is there a non-league equivalent, someone that takes this alternative, community filled expression of the game and transforms it into something palatable to wider society? Worryingly I believe we are beginning to see this. The new ownership at Crawley has come in, with mysteriously sourced money, and have begun to throw their weight around in a way that we are more familiar with amongst teams in a higher division. There are also new foreign owners at Croydon (taking advantage of the situation involving their previous owner and cricketing match-fixing allegations), proof that small corners of the our punk, non-league game are being corrupted. In reality, this isn’t a surprise. If punk shows us anything it’s that our culture will suck up and squeeze the life out of anything alternative if it allows the opportunity to make a profit. Let us just hope that Crawley proves the exception rather than the rule. Punk lives on, but This website is advertising butter, I’m out.