Magazine article The Spectator

So It's All Right for a Fascist to Manage Swindon, but Not Sunderland

Magazine article The Spectator

So It's All Right for a Fascist to Manage Swindon, but Not Sunderland

Article excerpt

I've often thought that British football needed a good dose of fascism - and now at last it has exactly this, in the form of the combative and somewhat eccentric Italian chap Paolo Di Canio. He has been installed as the manager of Sunderland, and all hell has broken loose.

Di Canio has described himself as a fascist - but definitely not a racist, which shows that he is at least au fait with the current dictum that there is but one crime and one crime alone that matters. He has a couple of fascisty tatts on his muscular shoulders, one of which seems to be invoking the late, controversial politician Benito Mussolini, whom Paolo has previously described as 'much misunderstood'. There is a photograph somewhere near you at this very moment of Di Canio snarling in the manner of a Staffordshire bull terrier while giving a straight armed salute to the supporters of the team he once played for - Lazio, of Rome.

It is not clear how deeply entrenched is Paolo's fascism, nor whether it is historical and geographically occasioned rather than truly political in nature. He has never, to my knowledge, explained if he would wish the country to follow, in economic terms, a distributist or corporatist system, or whether he favours the Military Keynesianism which defined the latter stages of the Third Reich.

Perhaps the BBC, which is now obsessed with the fellow, will ascertain which it is.

The part of Rome from which he hails, and the team he has always loved - SS Lazio - are renowned for right-of-centre politics. We do not really have politically aligned football teams over here, like they do on the continent; no equivalents to St Pauli, Livorno or Barcelona (the left) or Real Madrid, Zenit St Petersburg and Lazio (the right).

Di Canio's biographer reckons the man isn't a proper fascist really, and is quite nice when you get to know him. On the other hand, Paulo's favourite reading matter is the berserk old Japanese fascist Yukio Mishima, who disembowelled himself when nobody wanted to take part in his planned coup d'etat.

My guess is that Di Canio's affection for fascism is partly a consequence of where he was raised, plus a certain intellectual sympathy for social Darwinism and all things martial. In this last regard, he is very similar to those early British fascist sympathisers such as Wyndham Lewis, except that Lewis could not hammer a ball on the volley into the roof of the net from the edge of the area.

But whatever, there is a howl-round which seems disinclined to abate. I do not think that a player or manager with extreme left-wing sympathies would warrant this sort of inquest, although I am at a loss to name any British footballer who was a member of the CPGB or the WRP. …

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