By TONY SEED
(July 11, revised July 19) – The world has been saved from an England-France Brexit final at the 2018 World Cup, renditions of “Three Lions” and “Rule Britannia” in the stadiums, and the tsunami of British chauvinism unashamedly embraced by the Canadian sports media.
What goes around, comes around. The dodgy English threw their final match in the opening round with Belgium back on June 28 with the pretext of resting players and avoiding injuries for the Round of 16. “Sometimes, you have to make decisions with the bigger picture, and that’s what I did tonight,” rationalized head coach Gareth Southgate at the time – as if the decision was his and his alone. That bigger picture seems to have included getting a better draw in the knockout stage, that is, to avoid Brazil and therein build the betting pool, the TV market, the revenues of the English Football Association, and “hearts and minds” diversion from the crisis at home – giving a new definition to match fixing and a level playing field. Such are the elastic ethics of England.
England played eight subs – only three of its outfield 10 were from the Premier League – that day. Belgium responded with nine and decisively won that farcical match of two reserve sides 1-0.
England’s opponents overall? Tunisia, Panama, Colombia without James Rodriquez and a strangely listless Sweden. It wanted to “have its cake and eat it too.” The renowned Maradona, once again avenging the wound to his country inflicted in the Malvinas (Falklands) war, went so far as to call via Telesur England’s victory against the tough Colombians a “monumental theft.” Colombia conceded twenty three fouls in the tense clash, compared to England’s thirteen. The Latin American squad was shown six out of the eight yellow cards. The American referee also awarded England a spot kick. Wednesday night’s meeting with Croatia was even deemed the “easy” semifinal. Meanwhile, Belgium went into the side of the bracket with Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, a Uruguay without Edison Cavani and France. The ensuing Belgium-Brazil match turned out to be the best game of the tournament, but it was the fluid French who then advanced over the Belgians by the narrow margin of 4-3.
Now little Croatia, with the same population as Alberta, exhausted after a third straight trip to extra time, has knocked out its big NATO patron 2-1. The CBC and the Toronto sports media are mourning and the scribblers are writing that the “plucky” English side “lost,” but during 90 minutes regulation time neurotic England had but one shot on goal; it was just a matter of time before it caved to the indefatigable Croatians.
The British May government, the Royal Family and even the Labour Party who all called for a boycott of the World Cup over the concocted Skripal case are eating crow. The BBC manufactured a fictional documentary called “Russia’s Hooligan Army” and the Foreign Office which warned England fans of “heightened risks of violence” if they went to Russia; it is eating crow. Twenty two thousand people from England bought tickets to attend opening round matches in Russia. Meanwhile, 24.3m Brits back home watched the England-Croatia game – an audience share of 84 per cent – and the highest average TV audience for a single game ever, according to ITV. One who watched, football aficionado Frank Chilelli, wrote me earlier today a harsh judgment, “Glad that Horrible English team is gone. They do not have collective, refined, creative play. They should have been out earlier. Such an unpleasant team to team to watch – I think they should sing ‘God give England some talent’ and creative play.”
Three Lions, that imperialist lion, king of the jungle, who attacks every enemy.
But who is singing now?
The checkered Croatians are singing. But what is their song? Their sport was shaped in the former Yugoslavia whose teams were “known as the ‘European Brazilians’ for their neat technical moves that sometimes produced great play,” as AP acknowledges. That country and its sport was wrecked by the establishment of a sectarian Croatian state in 1991 that set out to rehabilitate fascism and a NATO war of aggression in 1999. The seven countries of the former Yugoslavia today exist to supply trained young players to the European professional leagues. Switzerland’s International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES) has found that Serbia and Croatia are the third and fourth most important “suppliers” of football players to Europe’s top teams. Today all the players of the Croatian side play abroad for European teams, its amateur club system is a shell of yester years, its national federation has been privatized by a football mafia and is mired in corruption and disgrace, its fans known as hooligans, its international matches are sanctioned by FIFA, and some of its best players have sold out and dishonoured the best traditions, fraternal values and peoples of their homeland in the ancient Balkans by embracing fascism.
Now the Croatians have the opportunity to affirm themselves on a world stage against a team from racist France notably composed of the talented young sons of immigrants and which postures as the champ of “diversity.” But which Croatia will show up on Sunday, the day after Bastille Day? The government-connected neo-nazis and chauvinists with their “Burn Belgrade” and “Glory to Ukraine” (Slava Ukraini) slogans, banners and racist “Thompson” songs unchecked by FIFA (see here and here.)? Or a squad representing a people of dignity and culture who heroically fought the German Nazi- and Vatican-created and racially pure puppet state of the Utasha with the checkered flag during World War II and who defend the rights of all?
There are no frauds left in this Eurocentric tournament, but there will always be an England. This is why England lost its 26-million-pound bid in 2010 to host the 2018 World Cup to Russia in the first place and in Russia in 2018 by throwing a game forfeited once more any moral and ethical right to lecture the world and dictate to other countries about abusing sport and competition.
The British premise of “bringing it home”, which “takes back” football and the World Cup to the land of those who invented it in the 1800s, is a phantasm. The fact that some 50 per cent of all the players comprising the four semi-final European teams play in its Premier League neither gives “English football” bragging rights nor shows its superiority.
“English football” is an oxymoron; the global financial oligarchy dominates professional sport in England as sure as it does the economy. The oligarchs buy and sell athletes as if they were some kind of merchandise without regard to national borders or age. Manchester City has acquired the contracts of over 300 professional players throughout the world; it owns “city” teams in Australia, Uruguay, New York and Spain in a vertical pyramid scheme, with partnerships in Senegal, Venezuela and China in its drive for global domination. England is the principle destination for players having been recruited as minors; out of the 597 footballers who migrated under the age of 18 over the past 20 years, according to a CIES study, 180 went to England (30.1%). The number tripled from 1995 to October 2016. (In 2015 FC Barcelona and its talent factory, La Masia, was sanctioned for buying child players from as far away as South Korea.)
This underscores whose interests are served by the neo-liberal globalization of football and the labour market that has been formed in today’s world. All these professional leagues in Europe (35 in number, dominated by five) and USA/Canada are at each other’s throat competing to drain Africa, Asia and Latin America of talented youth of the most humble origins and monopolize the most outstanding players in the world. What the peoples desire, England included, is their own control over the direction of their sport, culture and their economies.
The drive for a World Cup is clashing with a modern and human-centred conception of sport based on the people and the rights of all. Football, a universal sport, has reached extraordinary levels as exemplified in the competition and skill in this World Cup. To be a footballer, an athlete, is an honourable practice. Yet today the only countries which preserve sport as a people’s right are Cuba and Venezuela. The problems facing sport and society in England, Croatia and any other country are not going to be resolved through the capturing of trophies and fleeting euphoria.
Que sera, que sera, England plays Saturday in the consolation final – against Belgium. Oh yes, the two teams that tanked and should have been sent home by FIFA without honour for not fielding their best players nor competing according to world standards of play, violating all the modern norms of sportsmanship and defrauding tens of millions of spectators to boot.
– Updated and revised from a Facebook post, July 11, 2018. First posted on my Amateur Sport blog.
Related reading: 2018 World Cup: British über alles – great nation chauvinism