David Cameron risks turning all-seated stadia into a political football in England. This news comes in a week of violence for Italian Football. Football violence in England has arguably been controlled partly because political leaders have, until now, avoiding making it a party-political issue.
Overnight, news of violence in Italian football. A policeman dies in the rioting. A gloomy picture in Italy comes to more international attention. My mind goes back to the football scene in England in the 1980s. Images from Manchester can serve as typifying the wider national scene.
Piccadilly Station guarded by highly visible police and horses, each cohort in battle gear. Convoys of truculent visiting supporters semi-controlled by police and Alsatian (German Shepherd) dogs. Dogs and refugees snarl at each other as the ragged column makes its way to Manchester City’s stadium on Maine road. The scenes are somewhat more localized ,and perhaps therefore apparently more intense, than those replicated the week before and the week afterwards on the routes to Old Trafford on the Red side of the City..
Today, The old Maine Road stadium is part of football history. Last week, police horses still made their majestic and caparisoned way from their Chorlton barracks through Stretford to Manchester United’s match at Old Trafford. But to attack a police horse is no longer a mark of tribal honour and a gesture against all things Mancunian. Something happened over a couple of decades in the heartland of English football culture. Dreadful tragedies led to a range of improved policing strategies, and all-seater stadia.
Keeping politics out of social change
It seems to me that there has been changes that have met with the approval of the majority of fans as well as the wider public. Also, the changes have largely avoided being caught up in political battles. Political leadership has succeeded by avoiding the temptation to make political capital out of the matter.
Which is what may be changing. This week David Cameron signals a willingness to revisit the matter of all seater stadia in time for the forthcoming political battles, AB (After Blair). There may well be political mileage in raising the issue as an alliance can certainly identified among those with libertarian values and popularist sentiment for the good old times. Even in Old Trafford, that near-gentrified Theatre of Dreams, groups of fans regularly carry out their acts of ritualistic defiance by ‘standing up against sitting down’.
There may still be lessons to be learned for Italian football from what happened in England over the last few decades. And maybe lessons for England football and politics for the future, from the scenes in Italy last night.