Monday, May 23, 2016

"This mentality is unstoppable"

Unfortunately, it isn't. There was no cup to bring home. But there is no doubt who won the battle of the fans. It was incredible.

I don't share most other fans' antipathy for Manchester United. I have had a long connection with them, even though I always had a nagging sense of infidelity when I watched them, knowing my heart lay elsewhere. What I don't like is what they have become. The ownership issue is horrible and it stopped me going to matches there, but it isn't just that. It's the condescending sense of entitlement of a large number of their fans. Some of the most loyal and passionate, including people I know, have given up. They were alienated by the club's determination to be a 'brand', to brook no dissent after the green and gold protests, and to turn their fans into cash-generating 'customers' to feed the leveraged debt of a Cayman Islands registered company. It used to be a football club. On Saturday, their fans were mainly apathetic and quiet until they booed their manager as he went up to be presented with the cup. Afterwards, he was sacked for finishing fifth and winning at Wembley. Either would be a dream for Palace.

At the other end was something else. A gloriously unpretentious South London club showed how to support your side and cheer them on to glorious defeat. What would it have been like if we had won?

This is a wonderful shot of Jason Puncheon's mother in amongst the fans. He's local, grew up within sight of the ground, and his family are all Palace fans. He plays wearing the squad number 42 and scored our goal.

It was the display designed and choreographed by the Holmesdale Fanatics that caught the press' eye. Everyone bought into it. It was stunning.

I was in one of the seats in the top tier and all around me flags waved amongst a sea of red and blue balloons. The noise was deafening. After the Palace goal, the stand was physically shaking. It felt like an earth tremor.

My memories are not just of a great game and heart-breaking defeat, but the camaraderie between friends and thousands of other fans who were coming to party and give their team everything that they had to offer.

I drove part of the way, catching a train to Wembley Stadium from Banbury. As I drove back, I stopped off in a motorway service area. It was full of United fans who gave my Palace shirt a glance and said nothing. They looked as if they weren't bothered. There was no air of celebration. I was numb with disappointment, but overwhelmed by the emotion of a wonderful day that I wouldn't have missed for anything. If, in the unlikely event of Palace kicking on and becoming a top club, I hope we never lose that exuberance and lack of pretension that makes our support something special.

We'll be back. And please, before I die, let's win the bloody thing.


Of the fan videos being posted on line, this really shows the contrast between the fans in the build up to the teams coming out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Love stories

Most football fans inherit their team from family or from the place they grew up. There are some though who aren't locals. This isn't uncommon but most choose a glamorous, successful club. It's easy to do that. Then there are others whose choice seems inexplicable. Their path is stony and is not strewn with the rose petals of success. Something else sparked their imagination and loyalty.

I started watching football in the 1960s by taking the short bus ride to Selhurst Park to see Crystal Palace. When I moved to Manchester, distance strained but didn't eradicate the relationship. Discovering the wonders of Rugby League and following Swinton, a team that could disappoint even more than Palace, did replace watching football for a while. Over the last few years, though, Palace and I have become reunited and my vows have been renewed. The power of first love has prevailed. Then a miracle happened. Palace were promoted to the Premiership and actually stayed up. And that was not all.

This Saturday there will be a glorious consummation of the affair. Palace are in the FA Cup Final for only the second time in their history. I have a ticket. And they play, inevitably, Manchester United, who were their opponents in their first final in 1990. United are the nearest club to me now, and I have watched them often. They have won everything, multiple times. If Palace win, this will be the first major trophy in their history. It will be a special day.

I see more away games than home ones, and as you talk to other fans you hear their tales about how and why they began to support Palace. I love these stories. Each supporter has something unique to say about what brought them to their passion. It isn't always what you would expect. Here are four different ones.

Drawing up in the away fans car park for a cup tie at Wigan, our car had a Swinton Rugby League sticker in the back and we parked right next to one with a Warrington Wolves Rugby League badge in its window. We chatted to the car owners in the ground. They were a large family, but weren't from London. A friend of theirs went to work there, caught the bug, and started sending them press cuttings and souvenirs. Palace became their club too. The red and blue stripes of a Palace shirt showed underneath their Warrington sweatshirts as the whole family cheered us on - to defeat.

There must be something about Warrington and Rugby League. I was in the away end at Manchester City and a man with a broad Northern accent was explaining how he came to support Palace. He was an avid Rugby League fan - a Warrington supporter. In 1970/71 season, Warrington switched to playing on Sunday. To fill in his blank Saturdays he thought he would start watching football. But who was he to support? He had no footballing heritage, so he decided that he would watch BBC's Match of the Day one particular Saturday night, and he would support the first team they showed. It was Crystal Palace. He became a Palace fan. We lost 4-0.

Manchester United gets more than its share of overseas fans, but I was surprised when the man next to me in the Palace section spoke to me in an American accent. He had been a student in London and had done a year's work placement in the club offices at Selhurst Park. He was hooked. He returned to the States and now lives in California. He had flown over to go to the game at United and the FA Cup semi final at Wembley the following Sunday. We lost 2-0, but won the semi to reach this year's final.

I was on the train down to London for that semi final and there was another Manchester based Palace fan on it. He had moved north to go to University and had stayed. His support was unexceptional, but he was going to meet his son who lives in the north-east, and it's the son's story that got to me. He was born and bred in Manchester and his father tried hard not to influence him. For a couple of years from five or six onwards, he wore a United shirt. Then he had a City shirt. Finally, his dad took him to Selhurst Park to see Palace. The match was a tedious 0-0 draw with Rotherham. And that was it. He became a Palace fan. For life. He made a free choice on the basis of something dreadful that charmed him.

Football support is a combination of the magical with the ridiculous. All over the country Palace fans will be making agonising choices about which shirt to wear, what train to catch and which pub to drink in. All of us will be trying to decide which one will be the lucky one. We will descend on Wembley, from all corners of the world, each hoping that we have chosen right, and that our replica shirt is the one that will see us raising the cup at the end of a match that will only bring tension and pain, whether we win or lose. I can't wait. I haven't been as excited since I was a kid.

So to play us on to Wembley here's some music.

The rapper, Doc Brown, has recorded a Cup Final rap - Glad All Over Again

It's good, but I prefer this, recorded by a bunch of builders from Bromley. It has that unique Palace touch of imperfection. Some photos in the video were put in back to front. But it's a real sing-along. Here's Young Stanley with The Holmesdale.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A tale of two mayors

'Compare and contrast' is a stock examination question. Let's play that game with two Labour London mayors, one past and one present. Ken Livingstone and Sadiq Khan.

The Livingstone row is rumbling on as he keeps wittering on about Hitler. He was never one for backing down, but was always a ruthless political operator. Now, it seems he has lost his place at the centre of Labour Politics. He hasn't gone quietly, giving an interview containing another mangling of history, where he claimed that "The creation of the state of Israel was fundamentally wrong."

Now look at the newly elected Khan, another shrewd operator. London now has a Muslim mayor. So what did he do? He was sworn in at Southwark Cathedral, his first official act was to attend the Holocaust Remembrance Memorial at Barnet, and he pledged to visit Tel Aviv as head of a trade mission, using some telling words about the need for investment rather than divestment. It couldn't have been more different, or more deliberate.

In the middle of an anti-Semitism row, Khan calmed it, whereas Livingstone stoked it.

That's not all. Khan's electoral strategy dispensed with Miliband's failed focus on the core vote and totally rejected Corbyn's wishful thinking that electoral victory could be based on mobilising previous abstainers and the alienated working class. Instead, he campaigned on a narrow platform of issues that matter to all Londoners, such as housing, wages and transport, and put as much effort into winning support in the Tory suburbs as he did in Labour areas. On top of which, he has spotted Corbyn as a loser, distanced himself from him personally, and approached the media as allies to be wooed, not enemies to be confronted. It was a professional, intelligent campaign, but it was also run as a rebuke to the Labour leadership. He won by a landslide.

When it comes to Islamist extremism Khan's hands are not completely clean, as Maajid Nawaz points out here. Although he was never a supporter, he was not scrupulous about who he would work with to build his majority in his Tooting constituency. His first days in office now stand as a refutation of Islamist ideology as well as an antidote to anti-Muslim hysteria. He's starting from a good place.

It's easier for Khan to do this because he actually is a Muslim. Livingstone is not, so his commendable anti-racism led him to exoticise far-right Islamist groups as being 'authentic' and to take their claims of being representative of the whole community at face value. In doing so, his anti-racist impulses led him to his hatred of Israel and to ally with these profoundly anti-Semitic groups. Ironically, it was his anti-racism that led him to make comments that can easily be regarded as anti-Semitic. His road to hell was paved with good intentions, but he ended in hell nonetheless.

The development of anti-Semitism and of its attraction to the left is perfectly described by Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman in this superb article, I urge people to read it in full. If you do, the contrast between Khan, Livingstone and Corbyn becomes even clearer. Khan's shallow opportunism has turned out to be more moral than their deep commitment. When Corbyn became leader he was tainted by his association with some deeply unpleasant organisations. If a Tory Prime Minister can call the Labour leadership "terrorist sympathisers" and have reason to do so, you have a problem. So what did Corbyn do? He got irritable whenever he was asked any questions about the organisations he supported and invented obviously dishonest sophistries to try and explain it all away. Khan dismissed any doubts with instant symbolic actions and words.

It's obvious that Khan is a far more adept politician than the current Labour Leadership. However, I think that there is more to it than that. As I watched his victory a thought occurred to me. We are witnessing a generational change. It pains me to write this because the current leadership are my generation, with attitudes and concerns forged in the 70s and 80s. Young worshippers may be the enthusiastic red guards of this particular cultural revolution, but it is led by a gerontocracy. They won't last long. A new, hungry and ambitious generation is on the rise. Whoever emerges as a leadership candidate will not be ignoring the lessons of Khan's London.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Lamentable history

There isn't much more to say about Ken Livingstone's crass attempts at guilt by association through linking Zionism with Hitler. Roger Moorhouse's judgement that Livingstone was being "historically illiterate" will suffice. The implicit anti-Semitic import of his comments should be clear to anyone other than his squirming apologists.

All the focus has been on what Livingstone said about Hitler, yet he also added an equally revealing, and historically dodgy, comment towards the end of his interview that hasn't been talked about. I have taken the transcript from here.
Let’s look at someone who’s Jewish who actually said something very similar to what Naz has just said. Albert Einstein, when the first leader of Likud, the governing party now in Israel, came to America, he warned American politicians: don’t talk to this man because he’s too similar to the fascists we fought in the Second World War. Now, if Naz or myself said that today we would be denounced as antisemitic, but that was Albert Einstein.
It's all here; the guilt by association, the dragging in of a token Jew as an alibi, and the self-pity. Dismal stuff. And it's another distortion.

It refers to a letter to the New York times signed by a number of prominent intellectuals, including Einstein, Hannah Arendt, and Sidney Hook. It warns about a visit by Menachim Begin to promote his new party, the Freedom Party, more commonly known as Herut. The full text is here. The letter says that Herut was a
... political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties.
And that
The public avowals of Begin's party are no guide whatever to its actual character. Today they speak of freedom, democracy and anti-imperialism, whereas until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state. It is in its actions that the terrorist party betrays its real character; from its past actions we can judge what it may be expected to do in the future.
The letter is representative of the political divide between the mainstream left and the revisionist right in Israel and is based on the authors' disgust over the massacre at Deir Yassin. They were Labour supporting Zionists anxious about the future of Israel, which they ardently supported. Einstein was even offered the opportunity to be Israel's president in 1952, an offer he regretfully declined.

So what did Livingstone get wrong? Well, Begin was indeed the first leader of Likud, but it was founded in 1973, twenty-five years after the letter was written and eighteen years after Einstein's death. It's not the same party today as the one Begin started sixty-eight years ago, and might have moved on a bit since then. The tricky wording is to co-opt Einstein as an ally against current day Israel. And there is no similarity between what Naz Shah posted and the letter - at all! The letter is highly specific in its time and subject, but Livingstone treats it as general, using it as a justification for associating Zionism with Nazism at all times and in whichever TV studio he is appearing in.

It's a remarkable statement that can turn Hitler into a Zionist and Einstein into an anti-Zionist in a few sentences. Of course, both assertions are fabrications based on misrepresented evidence, circulated amongst an unquestioning band of supporters. The whole farrago is the very opposite of the historical facts that Livingstone keeps going on about. In fact, both represent classic failures of historical methods that would shame an undergraduate. He made two basic errors.

The first is to rely on a single, and bloody awful, secondary source. It seems that Livingstone is going to defend the truth of his assertions by reference to a book by Lenni Brenner, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators. I read one of Brenner's books once. It was bollocks. The most horrifying bit was that I bought the bloody thing. Anyway, don't take my word for it. From this report:
Thomas Weber, a professor of history and international affairs and an expert on the Hitler era, Jewish relations and German history, said he was not immediately familiar with Brenner’s book.
However, he added: “Brenner’s book lies well outside academic mainstream. It is mostly celebrated either by the extreme left and by the neo-Nazi right.”
Almost the first thing you would teach a history student is to use multiple, credible sources and cross reference between them. You do not use internet memes and dubious texts pulled from an echo chamber.

The second mistake is to cherry-pick a single source and then strip it from its context. Once you remove something from it's specific meaning, you can twist it to fit a predetermined narrative. This is really bad history.

Livingstone's defenders are now piling in in exactly the same way, endlessly circulating details of the Ha'avara Agreement, saying that it proves Livingstone right. It's as if the payment of a ransom to release a kidnapped child proved that the kidnappers and the family shared a common aim in returning the child. It's a contemptible argument.

I have no idea why Livingstone decided to completely undermine Naz Shah's statement of contrition and determination to face up to the offence she caused. She is the one coming out of this with some credit, especially if she follows up her promise to move outside her milieu and to learn more. Instead, Livingstone is firmly embedded within his unshakable world view, one shared by the current leadership. It combines an obsessive hatred of Israel with remarkable double standards. Point out the far right views of someone Livingstone has praised, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and you will be met by accusations of Islamophobia. It's the same tactic, diverting attention away from a particular charge by moving from the specific to the general and thereby question the motives of the accuser. It isn't convincing and, let's face it, anyone who has to drag out Diane Abbott to defend you is struggling.

I would have suspended Livingstone for crimes against history, but the offence is much more important. Gaby Hinsliff explains why action had to be taken:
The ferocity of the backlash against Livingstone from left to right of the party is a measure of MPs’ deep frustration and shame that a party that prides itself on fighting discrimination should have come to this. It’s not about factional infighting any more, rightwingers finding excuses to snipe at Jeremy Corbyn and his Stop the War mates. This is about a party trying desperately to stop itself being dragged into the gutter, and to assert values it once thought people took as read.
None of this is new. Anti-Semitism, whether hiding under one of many alibis or not, has been a constant on the left. In my book, I wrote the following about anti-Semitism and conspiracy theory:
[They are] not merely quaint nineteenth century beliefs; they are persistent flaws. ... These ideas may not be central, but they are a distasteful and dangerous intellectual baggage that needs jettisoning. Open discussion and historical exploration is a necessity if ever we are to banish this poisonous legacy from radical thought.
The only possible benefit to come from this episode is that this ignorance, stupidity and prejudice is in the open and being dealt with - at last.


If you want a prime example of checking your sources, this is an edited, replacement post for one I took down as I charged in and wrote about the wrong Einstein letter. A lesson in always doing your research properly!