Fortunately, I was distracted from the football fiasco by spending much of the day moderating the final event in the RSA Changing Chelmsford programme (of which more later). But I can’t resist a Marxist interpretation of England’s abysmal showing.
In a famous New Left Review essay published in 1964, Perry Anderson wrote about ‘the origins of the present crises’. Anderson was discussing the sense that Britain was inexorably set on a long process of post imperial decline. At its core, Anderson’s argument was that the English Civil War was not a proper class based revolution – of the kind which occurred in other European countries – but a fight between factions of the aristocracy. That the war centred on religion also meant class interests were obscured. In consequence a historic compromise took place in which the bourgeoisie was allowed to come to power as long as it kept the aristocracy in place. It is this compromise that underpins the sclerotic, complacent nature of British (and especially English) political culture.
The application to English football is clear. It too is a unholy compromise between a useless, status-ridden, incompetent ruling class at the FA and a money-grubbing, self interested and amoral Premiership. The deal has two aspects. The Premiership can keep raking it in and enjoying all its perks despite doing terrible damage to the national game; witness its utter indifference in the face of the disastrous financial regimes at clubs like Portsmouth and Hull and the irresponsible and transparently dishonest buy outs of Liverpool and Manchester United. In return the FA is allowed to stumble on, incompetent, unreformed and increasingly ludicrous.
And who is it that suffers in this pact? Well, who else but ordinary fans; many priced out of watching their clubs, the national game reduced to an international laughing stock, many smaller clubs on the verge of bankrupcy and a shambolic youth system in which, for example, 10 year olds are expected to play on full size mud patch pitches.
It’s not a new manager we need, nor touchline technology, but a full scale footballing revolution: who currently in a position of authority in either the Premiership or the FA should be left in post?
Anyway, back in Chelmsford we had a great day with lots of ideas and commitment. In the end the initiative will be judged by whether, now the formal process is coming to an end, the seeds it has sown turn into new policies and projects. Not for the first time I was struck by the overwhelming desire of people to live in places which feel more distinct, more rooted in their past, more connected to a compelling future. From a variety of starting points the RSA is getting more involved in place-shaping, a task which will I think become even more important as public sector austerity kicks in.
We shouldn’t underestimate how far our societies have pulled apart. Yet there is hope for renewal, says Anthony Painter. The question is not whether we come together – but how.