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The Dirty Secret of European Football

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The Dirty Secret of European Football

There is a “Far Right” problem in Europe. It’s not only Europe, it’s present in most continents in small quantities; and in these economic times support for extremist groups was expected to, and has, gone up.

The difference with Europe is that certain sections of the Far Right have attached themselves culturally and socially to the most popular past-time in the world. Football. (Soccer, you guys over there.)

Lots of football clubs in Europe have a history (often a proud one) of Rightist politics, just as many have a proud tradition of Leftist politics. The historically (and currently with some) clubs with Far Right associations include Lazio, Roma, Verona, Internazionale, Juventus and many others (in Italy which appears to have a real problem), and others peppered around Europe including Zenith St. Petersburg and Spartak Moscow in Russia, Paris St Germain in France, FC Twente in the Netherlands, Hamburg in Germany, Millwall in England and Sporting Lisbon in Portugal.

Clubs also associate with many things, include religious sectarianism (Rangers and Celtic in Glasgow), race/religion (Ajax in Holland, and Tottenham in England), and regional politics (Real Madrid, Atletico Bilbao and Barcelona in Spain with Barca representing the Catalonians repressed under Franco, Bilbao the Basque minority and Madrid the ruling fascist government).

None of these associations dominate the rest of the fanbase but they are present, and vocal.

Both sides of the political spectrum have die-hard supporters who often try to incite violence. Which brings me to Lazio and Paolo Di Canio.

The fan favourite former Italian striker who won the hearts of West Ham fans with skillful and cultured play up front has just signed a contract to manage struggling Sunderland in the English Premier League. He’s a pretty untested manager – have been very successful at Swindon in the lower leagues, but that’s pretty much it. Many think the appointment has come on the back of his passionate personality, which is certainly great.

He’s also a fascist.

An admitted fascist. He said “I’m a fascist, not a racist.” (A perfectly defensible statement, mind). He has tattoos relating to Mussolini…oh and what else….

Oh, yeah.

He did this.


Yeah. That seals it.

He did this to Lazio’s far-right Ultra fans. Solidarity right? We both believe in terrible things.

Football clouds people’s brains, so I fully understand why many Sunderland fans will accept this guy as the new manager whereas if he was appointed Newcastle manager they’d have hissy fits. (More) equally I understand the decision of high profile, and now former MP and Sunderland fan David Miliband to step down from his directorial role at the club.

But what gets me is a Twitter friend of mine accosted me for telling the British media not to refer to the picture above as Di Canio giving “a straight armed salute” – a phrase that no-one uses ever. I understand the desire to not say “Nazi” or “Hitler” salute because the German connotations are not wholly accurate (although I would accept them as a quick short-hand for most laymen to understand the gravity of the act), I said it should be called a “fascist salute”, something I feel most ordinary people would understand much more readily than the verbose and meaningless “straight-armed salute”.

The person asked me what I’d rather have the BBC (and it was mostly the BBC I was shouting at) because it was “in the style” of the “Roman/Italian salute”. I take the nationality point. He does not openly associate himself with Hitler, but with Mussolini. Fair enough. But “in the style of” the Romans?

cw514714e5 Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-H13160,_Beim_Einmarsch_deutscher_Truppen_in_Eger england nazi salute the-edl-nazi-salute nazi salute s africa

These are pictures from all across the world – England, Greece, South Africa and other places. All resemble Di Canio’s. Whereas Mussolini is most often depicted with his hand in a different position – pointing upwards.



So if you have problems with calling global representations of that salute “the Hitler salute” or “a Nazi salute” then that’s fine – I understand that. Although I think it’s a fine way for non-scholars to tap into the history and meaning of the act. But to say, when you have no blinding allegiance to Sunderland football club, that Di Canio is not doing a Nazi salute – because it’s not in the same style.

That’s mental.

Stop being mental.


About thommurph

A History graduate from the University of Liverpool blogging about history, politics, music, television, gaming and literature.

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