MY father detested football. He could never comprehend how thousands of people would crowd around an enclosed pitch on a wintry day to watch 22 players kicking a bag of air around. He would often remind me that one of the reasons for its existence was to distract the masses, thus enabling those running the country to make unbeknown mischief to the detriment of its people.
I love the beautiful game and ardently appreciate the very tenet of distraction that it brings. Sometimes I want to ‘switch off’ from the world and not have to worry about the erosion of my remaining freedoms, or how many migrants have drowned trying to find a better life, or whether my friends and family might soon die from a virus, a vaccine, or both. I want to engross myself in a game where I can be part of a social identity by way of sharing an allegiance to a club so that I can complain instead about something benign and trivial when results do not go my way.
Sadly, the beautiful game has been stolen from its supporters. My beloved team, Leeds United, has been stolen from me by a business and a team of players who have embraced a political doctrine. This of course is nothing new and has been going on for some time. However, I came to the decision that if the players collectively decided to bend their knee before the whistle is blown this season, I would detach my loyalty and end my support.
When the political phenomenon of taking the knee swept the nation in a protest about an event that happened 4,000 miles away, I justified the empty gesture despite its origin embedded in the communist ‘defund the police’ Black Lives Matter movement: ‘It’s just a fad, the teams are under pressure from a higher power, the players have no choice and risk being professionally ruined on their failure to participate.’ I even told myself that they would eventually realise that if anything, the gesture of kneeling could be considered ‘racist’ since it was that very action by a police officer, albeit over an individual’s neck, that caused such controversy in the first place.
To my dismay, the main goalscorer for Leeds, Patrick Bamford, has used his pedestal to proclaim his political ideologies. In June 2020, he headed ‘Time to change’ the following re-tweet:
‘White supremacy won’t die until White people see it as a White issue they need to solve rather than a Black issue they need to empathise with.’
Mr Bamford fails to see that he is an ambassador of a football club which ought to remain politically neutral and unequivocally impartial – there is no room for his opinions using his platform. Of course, he is entitled to his personal views, but you will see that his social media account becomes futile without the thing that he represents.
Things worsened when a key player, Kalvin Phillips, a Leeds boy who has moved up the echelons and won a few England caps, tweeted the following this month:
‘All of us at LUFC, as well as all other players in the premier league will continue to show our unity against racism by taking the knee this season. A reminder that there is no room for racism anywhere in society.’
He is of course absolutely right about one thing – the unity, but this unity is nothing to do with racism and everything to do with demanding that supporters adhere to their worldview on matters outside football. I’m sorry, Mr Phillips, the essence of Leeds United existed 75 years before your birth and will outlive any memories you leave. You are not Leeds United but a temporary servant of the club. Furthermore, the business is not Leeds United but a means to support financially, and mainly profit from, a shared social interest. This type of business is unsustainable without that social interest.
The truth is that football clubs belong to their supporters and if they collectively exercise their might, these parasitical businesses and privileged, grossly overpaid players would soon realise that their voices are without merit and that the dog wags the tail, not the other way around.
This weekend and for the foreseeable future, players in clubs up and down the country will take the knee. I hope you can join me in switching off, not just for those first few moments of the game, but for the full 90 minutes.