Di Canio and me: ‘nothing will stop me supporting my club’

Jake asks the question
Jake asks the question

The Blackcats forum has, as ever, responded to a controversial matter – now which one could we be talking about? – with a varied but always thoughtful set of views from Sunderland supporters scattered around the word, from Wearside to Down Under. Many of the contributions could be be reproduced here and add to the debate but one fan and occasional Salut! Sunderland writer, Mick Goulding, specifically gave consent for his to appear. No one who feels the topic has been done to death needs to read on but I hope readers of this site, all of whom surely want the club to succeed or at least survive come what may, will not fall into the easy, lazy trap of suggesting the row has ‘all been got up by the press’. If there were no genuine issue involved, hundreds or even thousands of non-press people would not have insisted on having their say one way or the other …



Mick began by quoting
something I had written in response to suggestions that Paolo Di Canio’s attachment to fascism in the past, whatever he thinks and whatever strange gloss the club puts on it now, perhaps meant a lot less in Italy than it does in the UK: “Perhaps fascism does not have the same stigma in Italy and you can somehow be a ‘moderate’ one who just appreciates Mussolini’s successes with train punctuality.”

Leaving aside dispute as to whether trains really did leave on time under Il Duce, Mick wrote:

I think the problem in all of this is that PDC can’t adequately articulate what he truly believes. The reason for that seems to be a mixture of a) having to operate in a foreign language within a different culture, and b)
(my opinion that) he’s not politically sophisticated in the first place – he’s politically naive.

On the politics itself, let’s remember that he’s linked himself (by a tattoo, no less) directly with Mussolini. What he actually might believe in may well be some other kind of watered-down fascism which we don’t fully understand – but we can’t know this, because he won’t or can’t explain it.

But we do know what Mussolini was about. While not completely the same as Nazism, Mussolini’s fascism was about extreme nationalism, expansion of the Italian state (including by annexation of neighbouring countries), a
one-party dictatorship, suppression (by violence, including murder) of all political opposition, control of the press, removal of the unions etc.

Possibly the only thing he differed from the Nazis on was the issue of racial purity. For instance, it is reported that Jews weren’t routinely rounded up for extermination in Italy until after Mussolini was deposed and the Germans took over occupied Italy in 1943.

Giving PDC the benefit of the doubt, he’s possibly looking at Mussolini through rose-tinted glasses and seeing some kind of Italian hero who stands for a strong Italian identity, a strong sense of nationalism, the promotion of “traditional Italian values”, Italy for real Italians etc. In such a watered-down scenario, this would be the same as someone in this country supporting the National Front/British National Party. This is certainly the
province of unsophisticated quasi-political groups like the Lazio Ultras – with whom PDC shares his “brotherhood”.

It’s still not nice, but it’s not against the law – either there or here.

In my opinion, this shouldn’t be an issue about stopping supporting my club. Hopefully, I (and all the other fans) will still be here when Di Canio (and Short) have gone. Having thought about this for two days now (and getting
major stick from the wife, who’s taken time off work at Easter, only to find me doing nowt but looking at the internet), it seems to me that the main (only?) question to ask is: “Does my continued attendance at games depend on the political beliefs of one of the club’s employees?” (NB Not the club’s official stance, not even the beliefs of its owner – just one of its employees, who probably won’t last long even if he does well.)

Looking at it in such a simplistic way, the answer has to be: “No, it doesn’t.”

That’s because I don’t even know what the beliefs of the rest of the employees (players, board, owner) are. I only know about PDC because he’s been stupid and naive enough to make an issue out of it. Well, now he wants it all to go away and just talk about football, which is exactly what he should be doing and should have been doing all along.

But nobody, I submit, really knows what anybody at the club really thinks – and we are already guilty of paying to watch certain players with histories of very dubious behaviour.

I have had a problem, in that my conscience keeps suggesting that I am just making mealy-mouthed excuses. But I’ve come to the view that there’s nothing about the whole PDC fiasco that outweighs my right to watch football at SoL and support the team to which a significant part of my life is devoted. I’ve opposed previous managerial appointments in my 50 years of supporting the team, and I’ve been disgusted by some of the things I’ve seen (like relegation to Div 3) and none of them has stopped me going whenever I’ve wanted to. I’ve just come to the conclusion that the unsubstantiated and inarticulated views of an undeniably extreme right-wing person – the kind of person I wouldn’t ever turn to for a political discussion in any case – aren’t as important as the football issues and the future of the club.

On the purely football issues, I like what he’s had to say about passion, hard work and making the players focus more with less time off. For too long now, our performances have lacked passion and total commitment – and that’s especially true of the derbies in the last 10 years. If he can change that overnight, that would be some achievement.

I still wonder whether he has a screw loose, but he’s here now and we’ve got to get on with it.

* This reminds me of the situation in Madrid. When my daughter lived there I went to watch Real Madrid a couple of times. I remember standing outside a bar, before a game, over the road from the end where the Ultras go. They’re all there next to us drinking in the street and my daughter was translating what they said. They were basically
skinheads (although stylish, continental, types) and their politics, banners and insignia (including tattoos) harked back to the politics of Franco.

They display the Spanish flag, for instance, as it was in Franco’s day (it changed when Spain reverted to a royal democracy).

Anyway, they were apparently oblivious to the irony that, under Franco, they wouldn’t have been able to stand in the street drinking and shouting – because his special secret police would have battered their heads in and swept them up into prisons from which people disappear. I imagine the Lazio Ultras should also beware what they wish for.

I’ve just come off the phone to the same daughter and her Italian husband, who has pointed out that, unlike in this country, many Italian clubs have close historical associations with politics. Their fans reflect this and are acknowledged by the club (sometimes only silently) as quasi-official parts of the structure of the club. Lazio is famous for being a “fascist” club, while Juventus, for instance, is “communist”.

It’s part of the fabric of their existence and for the fans is an important part of supporting the club and singing at matches etc. This is the culture PDC is claiming fellowship with. It’s still not nice, and specifically “not British”. But as we’ve said, you probably wouldn’t get a coherent political debate from him about it.

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8 thoughts on “Di Canio and me: ‘nothing will stop me supporting my club’”

  1. forget the media hype over his so called politics if he keeps us up and i think he will ,all will be forgiven or forgotten.Let him get on with sorting out the team and get sum pride back in wearing the shirt. we had stagnated under O,niell nice man that he was but we were in freefall and he couldn,t stop it. the players (I use the term loosely) are to blame and i,m sure de canio will give them the kick up the backside they deserve.Come on you fans help the new man keep us up with your fantastic support.

  2. Interesting juxtaposition of articles in today’s Times. Marcotti offers more insights as posited in his book on PDC. Even he has concerns. Matthew Syed articulates what many protagonists feel. It’s too big an issue to be ignored.

    Credit to Salut Sunderland for allowing the debate.

    Also there’s a cartoon by Peter Brookes worth a look for those interested in such satire

  3. Apparently a UN Security Council meeting has been called to discuss the gravity of the situation at Sunderland and whether an invasion to rescue us from Paolo would be legitimate.

  4. Personally I find thatcherites and champagne socialists more loathsome but if they ever managed to get off their soft backsides and turn our club around I’d cheer them to the rafters. Let’s drop this nonsense and let him get on with it because I’ve seen more activity around SAFC in the last 2 days than I have in the last two months under MON (as much as I liked the man).

  5. Too much has been said, people appear not to be listening and have made their minds up. Is Di Canio a fascist in the true sense of the word? From the evidence it would appear not. These emotive semi politacal rhetoric about Nazi bombs and War Memorials don’t help or reflect the man’s true emotions. So let’s call an end to it and move on. Milliband however has gone down in my opinion and used this whole episode as a publicity stunt which does him little credit, goodbye Dave and don’t darken these doorsteps again. Just remember your time hobknobbing with Gaddiffi then try to justify it.

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