(Photo from The Telegraph)
Football and history, suggests Pseuds' Corner regular Greengrass, have always been "inextricably intermingled".
Pseuds' regulars Mac Millings and Margin have raised questions regarding the appropriateness of Frederic Kanoute's display of a "Palestina" t-shirt after scoring for Sevilla in a Copa del Rey match on 01/07/09.
Looking back a bit, we see that Kanoute is far from the first footballer to use a t-shirt as a statement.
Who can forget that following Brazil's victory in the 2002 World Cup final, four Brazilian players were seen displaying t-shirts proclaiming themselves to be possessed by Jesus. And after Milan's 2007 Champions League final victory over Liverpool, one of these same players, Kaka, removed his top to reveal the same t-shirt legend: "I belong to Jesus". (Should this statement in fact be true, and should Kaka, as is rumoured, be sold to Manchester City, it might thus be a sound idea for City supporters to understand that the player is only theirs on loan from Jesus.)
Are religion, politics, sport and history inextricably intermingled?
In 1997 Robbie Fowler used a shirt display to indicate his support of sacked Liverpool dock workers. He was fined 2000 Swiss francs (about 900 quid) by UEFA.
In 2007, in a Brazil friendly with Guatemala appointed as a farewell occasion upon the retirement of the great striker Romario, the player removed his shirt after scoring a goal, revealing the slogan: "I have a daughter with Down's syndrome who is a little princess." Romario was, remarkably, yellow-carded for this "inappropriate" gesture.
Last fall in a Championship match Ipswich midfielder Michael Norris mimicked being handcuffed, as a show of support for his friend former Plymouth Argyle keeper Luke McCormick, sentenced to seven years in prison for causing the death of a two-year-old child by dangerous driving. The FA fined Norris 7000 pounds. Norris made a public apology. The fine money was donated to charity.
On November 30, 2008, South African midfielder Stephen Pienaar of Everton scored the only goal in a match away to Tottenham. Compounding his temerity, Pienaar then displayed to spectators at White Hart Lane a t-shirt bearing the slogan "God is Great."
In the first week of December 2008, Liverpool players, training for a match against West Ham, wore shirts with mottos supporting Liverpool fan Michael Shields, sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in Bulgaria for attempted murder of a waiter. (See above photo of Steven Gerrard thus attired.) No FA fines were imposed.
How should we regard these incidents? As simple proof of Greengrass's assertion? Or should we consider the incidents on a case-by-case basis, apportioning praise or blame according to our judgment of the rectitude, or lack of same, of the cause being supported?
Some may recall the shirt shown off by Ian Wright of Arsenal upon tying Cliff Bastin's club scoring record. Wright's shirt bore the legend: "179 just done it."
And then there was the shirt exposed by Swansea's Lee Trundle following his club's victory in the 2000 Football League final, contested at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff. Trundle's shirt depicted a cartoon figure in Swansea kit urinating on a Cardiff shirt.
James Joyce's Stephen Dedalus famously asserted that history is a nightmare from which one can't wake up. And then there is the even better-known truism to the effect that we ignore history only at the risk of repeating the mistakes of the past.
There is currently quite a bit of world history through which it might well be more pleasant to sleep a dreamless sleep. But unfortunately this history feels much less like a peaceful slumber than a nightmare. And if we are human and conscious, the mistakes of the immediate past trouble our sleep. Even George Bush, in his recent farewell address to the American people upon leaving office, confessed that his regime had contained certain "disappointments" (he did not use the word "mistakes"). Foremost among these, he said, was the sad fact that there had been no weapons of mass destruction to be found in Iraq.
This dovetails with Freddy Kanoute's shirt in that there are indeed plenty of weapons of mass destruction to be found currently in Gaza; American-manufactured weapons at that. White phosphorous has been raining down upon the civilian population of Gaza from the sky.
This weapon has been used before: in the firebombings of Hamburg, Vietnam and Fallujah. This is history; these are--as Rafa Benitez, were he a CNN reporter, would tell us, fishing the relevant scraps of paper from his pockets--"facts."
But what good would it do Rafa, or for that matter CNN? We probably would not want to listen. We'd probably be doing our best to look away. Perhaps we might be looking forward to next weekend's round of bread and circuses--er, EPL fixtures.
There is, for example, Tottenham's momentous home match with Portsmouth. Surely a respite from nasty world history, that.
Ah but wait. Let us think back a moment to Spurs' Sept. 28 visit to Fratton Park. A 2-0 win for Pompey; nothing very remarkable about that. But what is memorable about the match is not the scoreline. It will be recalled for some time to come, for another reason: the vicious racist and homophobic chants directed at ex-Spurs man Sol Campbell by the Tottenham travelling support.
Our Pseuds' correspondent Margin has lately written on this site about the rousing example set by Spurs fans at the Lane in their vocal support of keeper Heurelho Gomes in a November victory at home to Blackburn. So this lot, we know, have shown their contributions can have a significant effect upon the course of a match.
And what was it they were singing in that September match at Fratton Park? Nothing inappropriate or unsporting or even approximately historical, surely?
Here are two of the chants, as reported by the Guardian:
"He's big, he's black. He takes it up his crack. Sol Campbell, Sol Campbell."
"Sol, Sol, wherever you may be / You're on the verge of lunacy / And we don't give a fuck if you're hanging from a tree / You Judas cunt with HIV."
"Hanging from a tree", the Guardian suggested, could be a reference to a racist lynching, or more likely, to Judas's guilt-ridden suicide after betraying Jesus. Or, perhaps, to the death of footballer Justin Fashanu who hanged himself in 1998, after years of anti-gay taunts.
Nothing inappropriate, nightmarish or historical in any of that, surely.
This weekend Portsmouth travels to the Lane, where banks of CCTV cameras will be awaiting them, in anticipation of another friendly singalong from hospitable Spurs supporters.
"Inextricably entwined"? History and footie? Perish the thought. Football, like all sport, boasts the diamantine purity of a Platonic Idea.
Another Pseuds' regular, Guitou, has introduced into this discussion--apropos the Kanoute gesture--the example of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the American sprinters who, after winning gold and silver medals respectively in the 200 metre final at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, drew great media opprobrium upon themselves by displaying a Black Power salute on the medal-awards podium.
Smith and Carlos, at this distance, are viewed by many as historical heroes, and spoken of in the same breath with Martin Luther King--whose assassination some months earlier (along with the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and the events of the Vietnam War), helped create the historical context out of which the Smith/Carlos action arose.
No human action is not inextricably intertwined with other human actions. Some Pseuds' regulars have complained they do not have time to look at video clips. This is understandable, we're all busy people. Then again, to understand the Kanoute affair in context, one might do worse than begin by looking at this very useful clip documenting the historical context of the event Guitou has referenced:
And perhaps, if you learned something from that one--for, if you were not old enough or brave enough to be cognizant of world history in 1968, still you might wish to learn a bit about it now, not only as it unfolded in that remote past but as it is unfolding here in our painful human present--you might wish to go on and view a few clips of the current ongoing events that form the historical context of Freddy Kanoute's recent controversial shirt-show.
Israel's use of white phosphorous in Gaza was first reported a few days after New Years. The first reports came on maverick websites. Here are some examples (and though some of the video clips are unpleasant, please keep in mind that history has a way of being unpleasant at times--it's just that way):
January 5/6, 2009:
By January 11, the enormity of the war crimes in Gaza was being documented by international human rights advocates appearing on Al Jazeera:
By January 12, the mainstream news media giant CNN was finally confirming the white phosphorous atrocities:
Cameras were now trained upon the nightmare. I will spare you the images of burned children I found in my latest video searches: they are simply too horrendous. What has once burned its way into your eyeballs will remain permanently embedded there.
But let me describe to you one final clip I discovered this morning.
Look at this one and then try not to remember it forever. In this clip one may see the streams of white phosphorous shells and tracers lighting up the dark night sky (and awakening the roosters) as they rain down upon Gaza City in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday January 13. If you're like me, you'll imagine yourself there.
Then again, if entertainment is your object, and you enjoy fireworks, the clip may well simply entertain you with its aesthetic delights. When it's done, you can turn your mind back to the footie.
But if you're me, you'll feel the hot breath of the nightmare called history warming the back of your neck and making the small hairs stand on end. And you may no longer be able to deny, ignore or forget the human implications of what you're seeing. As to the feelings of the victims down below, who can imagine that? No one who hasn't been through such a thing.
But one can feel compassion. Which is what, I believe, Frederic Kanoute must have been feeling when he decided to wear that shirt and to show it.
And let us keep in mind that this gesture on Kanoute's part was no one-off. His record of backing up his Muslim beliefs with appropriate actions is well known (at least to some). He built a home for orphans in Mali. He put up half a million dollars to keep open a mosque in Sevilla. And as to that Sevilla shirt he wears, with its logo advertising the betting site 888, he's been chafing against the wearing of it for some years now (for Muslims, gambling is forbidden). This time around, he found a way to put out a shirt message of his own.