I do not defend corruption in sport (though I suspect that it is far too deeply-rooted in many sports for many reasons to ever be eliminated), and I do not defend what has now been proven to be corrupt refereeing which prevented Liverpool from reaching the European Cup final in 1965 and prevented an all-British European Cup final and an all-English UEFA Cup final 25 years ago this year. But it should be remembered that two of the above three incidents involved clubs from Italy (probably the only other European country, at least out of the long-established multi-party democracies, to be as institutionally corrupt as England and the only one to be in as dispiriting a political state at the moment) and that, in the case of the 1984 incidents, they had a point. At that moment 34 years of development towards equality of opportunity and the erosion of squalor, want and bigotry - Britain was at its most economically equal in 1977, and its quality of life peaked in 1978 - were being systematically wrecked, and north and south were being set against each other as never since the Great Depression, leading directly to our present predicament where Chelsea/Man U pointscoring takes the place of serious debate and engagement between people who - I regret to say - genuinely despise each other, let alone everyone else. What was wrong with symbolically standing up for the European social model at the precise moment that Britain was abandoning it? The following year it became obvious what the cultural ingraining of suspicion of "foreigners" (while still taking an entire culture from a different sort of foreigner) had led to (while the Heysel Stadium was undoubtedly outmoded, this should never have been the excuse for Euro-bashing it became in the British press, least of all at a time when, as had been brutally exposed at Bradford 18 days earlier, almost all British football stadia were also largely unchanged from the days of Luke Haines' carrot-cabbage winters). I have genuine sympathy for the likes of Oxford, Luton and Wimbledon - none of whom will be in the Football League next season - whose fans could reasonably have been trusted to behave themselves and who were denied unrepeatable European campaigns by the ruling. My own team, Crystal Palace, suffered the same fate after finishing third in 1991, when the ban had been lifted but only the top two qualified, and although I doubt whether we would achieved much, simply playing in the UEFA Cup would have made us seem more fulfilled. But the post-Heysel ban wasn't a conspiracy. It was the only way UEFA could possibly have reacted to the perversion of England itself by the creed which turns the north-west Europeans against their own.
Chelsea fans need to realise that they are spoilt. Their culture is (regrettably) the dominant one that is being promoted at the expense of the native cultures throughout the world. They have it all their own way. They do not know how it feels to be under genuine threat from rapacious neoliberalism, to have the social and economic model they cherish continually attacked by the dominant ideology of the day (those of us who cling to the European social model in Britain do know how that feels, but Chelsea's current support base seem to be the children of neoliberalism, they literally do not know or understand anything else).
Most of their fellow Europeans, and especially the French, know all too well how that feels. They want a multipolar world, and for that I applaud them. They also feel, quite justifiably, that pan-European competitions should not be put out of the reach of those who are committed to the European project by money and power which emanates from directions which symbolise England's disdain for it. Perhaps The Sun is actually right when it screams that a dummy page on UEFA's website on Wednesday afternoon predicted almost exactly the outcome. But it ought to wonder precisely why that is, and ask itself whether its own pro-NAFTA propaganda, and its obvious connections with the forces that have taken the Premier League to its current financial level, is the real reason why football at this level has become so intensely politicised. Most importantly of all, it speaks with forked tongue when it attacks the death threats which have shockingly been directed at the referee. It has itself created that mindset over four decades by encouraging the working class to pathetically hate each other, or "foreigners", or the "nanny state", because the collectivised unity which was that close to achieving genuine, lasting change was genuinely scaring those who had taken power for granted (and who, in most cases, would ironically lose that power to deregulated global capitalism). If The Sun in its current form had never existed, death threats directed at football referees would be utterly unthinkable in this country.
I will no doubt being accused of being a "hater". Wrong. I don't hate English football, or Chelsea, or Manchester United, or Liverpool, in themselves - what I do hate is the process by which the Europe I love is being turned into a playground for big business and consumerism, the range and diversity of interests and tastes in England is being slowly narrowed down to Blairmurdochcamerongoodyboylewhoeveritisthisweek (and, again, who can blame UEFA for wanting to make a symbolic stand against the encroachment of this closing of the public mind into the continent?), both pop culture and high culture in England - and, through its influence, the rest of Europe - lose their fascination and thrill through becoming incompetent imitations of each other. And I think Chelsea fans in particular should look at themselves, look at their tastes in music, food, drink, newspapers, television und so weiter, and ask themselves how they look to anyone not bound up in the irrational hysteria the Murdoch media have created around football since they took it over. Ask themselves whether they might perhaps look decidedly hypocritical and humbug-ridden when they moan about all things European and yet expect complete and permanent dominance of the UEFA competitions without ever giving anything back. Ask themselves why it always has to be their fellow Europeans who have to change while they must never themselves change or absorb anything outside their experience that has not been presented to them by a tiny clique of media controllers. Ask themselves how much longer they can expect to have it both ways. As will probably happen to England itself sooner rather than later, the reckoning may well come before too long.
I am not actually saying that English football should be exiled to CONCACAF, but this would be the logical conclusion of the Murdochian nightmare of England, one which I insist he still desperately wants to see come true before he dies. It is curious how you will never get a Sun-reading, Sky-watching, rock/rap (depending on age)-listening, fast-food-eating, Coke-drinking follower of Chelsea, or whoever, to call for England to move from UEFA to CONCACAF, even though every other aspect of their vision would fit perfectly with such a conclusion. No, they expect to take everything away from Europe and give nothing back. They read newspapers riddled with hatred for their fellow Europeans and expect nothing but love in return. English football has got where it is financially purely because of one man who would have us out of the EU and straight into NAFTA if he could and still they wonder why there is antipathy on the continent to English dominance and why they are even now so hated. I say again: they cannot expect to have it both ways. Not while they issue death threats against referees, and not while they hurl abuse at "foreigners" while barely knowing anything about their own history, culture and literature.
It is time that those empowered by 40 years of Murdoch and by the self-hatred of both the Left and the traditional Right started realising how things appear when the boot is on the other foot. It is time they stopped attempting to build a surrogate Empire in their own back yard. Let us create a Europe of equals. And if it has to be without England (Scotland and Wales could still be in) let that be.
I do have a long piece on the ramifications of Hillsborough in my head which I didn't feel like posting at the time of the actual anniversary. Hopefully I will this weekend.