Sport, especially football, is one of the few places that can provide shelter to those who have no place in the world. - Eduardo Galeano
As New Zealand and Paraguay prepare for a showdown tonight, it’s worth remembering that football is a game that has done more than most to bring people together. As we hunker down early on Friday morning and cheer on Rory Fallon or Mark Paston, it’s worth remembering those other football players who over the years have made headlines, not just for playing fair on the field, but for standing up for fairness and justice off the pitch. Just last week the Argentinian team appeared on the field with a banner calling for the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the group of women who campaigned against the disappearance of their children during the dictatorship years in Argentina. Maps gives this as one of the reasons we should support the Argentinian team. With that in mind, Socialist Aotearoa offers up our top five football moments. (Although nothing really beats the half an hour kickabout between German and British soldiers on the frontlines of World War One during the Christmans Truce of 1914).
5. Palestinian team fights to qualify for the 2006 World Cup
After being given nation status by Fifa in 1998, the Palestinian Football team has been a source of pride and unity for Palestinians living under occupation. In 2006 the team came as close as they ever have to qualifying for the World Cup beating Taiwan and drawing with Iraq. However they were severely hampered by Israel refusing travel permits to nearly half the team and went down to Uzbekistan and then Taiwan. Their campaign was the subject of the documentary Goal Dreams. Sadly three top Palestinians footballers were killed and Gaza's Rafah Stadium damaged during Israel’s bloody 2009 attack on Gaza.
4. Robbie Fowler - fined for supporting Liverpool dockers
England and Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler was fined in 1997 for showing support for sacked dock workers during a European Cup Winners' Cup match. Fowler was fined 2,000 Swiss Francs ($1,400) by European governing body UEFA on Thursday for his show of support for sacked dock workers during a European Cup Winners' Cup match.
UEFA's Control and Disciplinary Committee made note of Fowler's sporting behaviour in assessing the punishment beginning its press release saying, "It may seem strange and even unfair...". After scoring his second goal in Liverpool's 3-0 Cup Winners' Cup win over Brann Bergen of Norway last week, Fowler lifted up his red Liverpool shirt to display a T-shirt which read: "Support The 500 Sacked Dockers".
Read more about the Dockers strike here and here. Watch Ken Loach’s film about the dispute on youtube The Flickering Flame.
3. St. Pauli player Benny Adrion sets up Viva con Agua (Water is life)
St Pauli football club in Hamburg is one of the most left-wing clubs around. It is well known for its anti-racist, anti-sexist fan base amongst the autonomous and anarchist movements in Germany. The team has an openly gay manager and uses its following to build support for progressive movements like anti-fascist and squatting campaigns. St Pauli is also the major supporter of Viva con Agua de Sankt Pauli.
In 2005 Ben Adrion, a footballer with St Pauli was at a team training camp in Cuba and during his visit began to look at the living conditions. Appalled by the lack of fresh water he eventually set up the charity Viva con Agua to improve drinking water supply in developing countries. The organization is built up as an "open network" which means that it mainly consists of individual initiatives with the support of the organization’s head office. Several activities have been organized so far, including a march from Hamburg to the Swiss city of Basel (over 1050km) in celebration of UEFA Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.
Some of their achievements have been
Installation of 153 drinking water dispensers in kindergardens and sport schools in Havana. More than 10.000 people profit from the project.
Construction of 5 drilled wells in the millennium village of Sodo. More than 2.000 inhabitants profit from the project. All wells are already built, fully functional and in use!
Construction of wells in the millennium village Manigri. 17.000 inhabitants will profit from the project. (Wells under construction)
Read more here and here.
2. Easton Cowboys (Bristol) tour Zapatista autonomous communities
The Easton Cowboys amateur team have toured the autonomous Zapatista communities three times no and raised thousand of pounds in donations to support the work of the rebel communities.
As the Zapatistas rose up in 1994, on the other side of the world the Easton Cowboys, a Bristol based amateur football team, were organising their first international tournament. Breaking down social and economic barriers and creating new friendships, the Cowboys went on to organise an autonomous world cup last year. Teams from the township of Soweto, Norway, Poland, Germany, France, Belgium and Ireland came together in a field in Dorset to play football. By this point, news of the Cowboys' exploits and their belief in 'freedom through football' had spread to the mountains of Southeast Mexico, and they were officially invited to play a series of tournaments in Zapatista communities. [In 1999] the Cowboys toured the conflict zone for ten days and played four tournaments in all, two in the Aguascaliente (centre of resistance) of Francis Gomez and Morelia and two in the smaller communities of Diez de April and Moises Gandhi. Overcoming the heat, altitude, constant army surveillance and ban on alcohol the Cowboys played 22 games and were impressed, if not sometimes outplayed by the standard of football in the communities. Roger Wilson, Cowboy centre half said: "We had a great time and the football was excellent. These people have shown us what is possible when you get together with a vision for a better future." ‘Easton Cowboys Go West’ in Do or Die
Read more here and here.
1. Jack Kirby refuses to Seig Heil in Germany
When the Derby County Rams toured Germany in 1934 as Hitler was consolidating his Nazi state. A Derby Evening Telegraph article recalls the tour and the defiant stand their goalkeeper Jack Kirby made by refusing to Sieg Heil before each game.
Just as the England team were obliged to do in Berlin, four years later, the Rams players of 1934 were ordered to give the Nazi salute before each game. Before he died in 1989, Rams full-back George Collin, who captained the side when Cooper left for England duty, recalled: "We told the manager, George Jobey, that we didn't want to do it. He spoke with the directors, but they said that the British ambassador insisted we must.
"He said that the Foreign Office were afraid of causing an international incident if we refused. It would be a snub to Hitler at a time when international relations were so delicate.
"So we did as we were told. All except our goalkeeper, Jack Kirby, that is.
Jack was adamant that he wouldn't give the salute. "When the time came, he just kept his arm down and almost turned his back on the dignitaries, If anyone noticed, they didn't say anything."