I don’t think they usually interview footballers for clubs, or issue job briefs. If they did then they could add “Being a bit of a tit is okay” to the person spec. It’s sort of expected. The ones who aren’t stand out. Everything from domestic abuse to GBH and racism litter many of their personal CVs. We seem to tolerate this. But football managers are different. They are figureheads for their clubs. They often become father figures for their teams and embody a club’s values. In my limited knowledge of football, managers come in two basic models; the Salt of the Earth camel coat type who would be managing a garage if they weren’t managing a football team. They have old fashioned hair and views. Your Harry Redknapps and your Alec Fergusons. Then there’s the Egomaniac Armani jacket type. You know you’ve got one of these if they refer to themselves in the third person and give themselves a nickname encapsulating how brilliantly narcissistic they are- the Special One, the Unique One, the Most Mint One (in reserve for when Gazza becomes a manager). Paolo di Canio would unproblematically fall into this latter category if it wasn’t for his fascist past. If he was coming to the North East to manage a pub, then this would be annoying and worrying, but it would only be the pub chain that suffered. It wouldn’t reflect on the whole region in the way that a football club’s choices reflect on the region.
Hooray for David Miliband for taking a stand and resigning as Vice Chair of the board, for the fans who say they won’t go to games while he’s in place, for those who set up a “Sunderland Fans Against Facebook” page and got banned from the club’s official Facebook site for their comments, for the journalists who keep on asking awkward questions rather than toe the PR line.
No hoorays for the club for deciding to employ him, for the club’s PR team who are staggeringly incompetent in their crisis management, for the fans who say “But at least he might help us stay up”. It’s easy to be drawn into hyperbolic comparisons, but that does remind me of the “At least Hitler got the trains to run on time” argument.
The Dean of Durham Cathedral and Durham Miner’s Association also spoke out but seem to have been quickly mollified by his cursory “I don’t support fascist ideology, now I’ll only talk about football”. That won’t stop the circulation of the images of his one armed salute, or him at a fascist bomber friend’s funeral, which could act as a lightning rod for some disaffected football fans looking for a justification and conduit for the right wing extremism these things symbolise- in the same way as it did for former club Lazio’s notorious hooligan fans the Ultras (Photos have emerged of him wearing their T shirt).
Football clubs are no longer just about the activities of eleven men on a field. The Black Cats values are exemplified in their outreach work with youngsters in the region with the Foundation of Light charity and in Africa with the Nelson Mandela Foundation. It’s the positive flipside of the corporate focus which means fans pay more for matches and merchandise. It sees their power being used to make a positive difference. Paolo di Canio may say he’s not a politician- but he IS now, like it or not, a public representative of the North East. A region which has long fought against racism and in these difficult times is battling growing support for groups like the BNP.
It seems that the language of money is the only one that some football clubs understand. So fans should withhold their money from the club until he is gone. They should let the club’s sponsors know that they will be withholding their money from them too. (Simple emails would suffice- “Dear Adidas, I’m buying Nike until Di Canio’s gone from Sunderland” etc). They would still be supporting the team, but not the club. A club which now needs to conjure up some genuine humility to counterbalance the breathtaking arrogance displayed by Di Canio in his first ill-fated meeting with the press. I know, breathtaking arrogance and football in the same sentence- who’d have thought it? But in this instance they’ve crossed the line, scored an own goal and are in danger of making their game of two halves over before it’s even begun.