Sport and politics mix far too often. The allure of football as a political tool has been too strong for many right-wing politicians, but what about those that swam against the tide? We look at the world’s left wing football clubs..
Historically, the political right has seized the popularity of football with both hands: Just look at how Mussolini used the World Champion Italian team of the 1930s, Francisco Franco’s extolling of Real Madrid as Spain’s PR machine during a period of international isolation, or the Argentinian junta’s showpiece 1978 World Cup.
Growing up watching football in England, football is distinctly apolitical. There will be a bit of bantz between North and South, or the occasional local derby (Portsmouth v Southampton, Liverpool v Manchester United) might have been spiced up by historical socio-economic events but that’s about it for politics, aside from what you might see at Dulwich Hamlet or Clapton.
Contrast this to Spain, where I wrote my university dissertation on ‘Regional Identity in Spain as Expressed Through Football’ and you can see the Civil War being played out again and again and again on football pitches. Take a look at Italy, where right-wing ultrà dominate many a curva in the land. So what about left wing football clubs?
Wherever politics is a big deal, this becomes embodied in the stands. So, in no particular order, here is a list of major football clubs with famously left-wing fan bases.
Celtic’s left-leaning fan base could originate from its historical identity as the club of Scotland’s exiled Irish community; hence shows of sympathy for other marginalised peoples. Basque and Palestine flags have been seen at Celtic Park and the famous Green Brigade describes itself as “a broad front of anti-fascist, anti-racist and anti-sectarian Celtic supporters”.
FC Sankt Pauli (GER)
Hamburg’s second club has certainly earned its reputation as an antidote to the negative elements of football with its public stands against racism, homophobia and sexism.
Its fan activism has been mostly based around championing the people of St Pauli, Hamburg’s red light district, but the team enjoys support wherever it goes and has been the inspiration for other left-wing clubs.
To learn more about FC St Pauli, definitely read Pirates, Punks and Politics by Nick Davidson.
AS Livorno (ITA)
Italy’s right wing football fan bases are well documented and often unrepentant. Just take a look at AS Lazio! In port side AS Livorno there is an alternative.
Born out of its working class dock roots, the politics of AS Livorno’s fans reflect the socialist ethos of the city. You will find communist insignia and the obligatory Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara image at the ground, as our writer found on a trip to AS Livorno this year.
To learn more about the politics of Italian football, read the excellent Calcio, by John Foot. [Continues…]
Rayo Vallecano (ESP)
Politics and football are symbiotic in Spain. Madrid, the city’s capital, held out longest from 1936-39 in the Spanish Civil War against the rising fascist tide of General Franco, then things changed.
Franco’s favourite team – Real Madrid – as its ‘royal’ name suggests, became the team of the establishment. Atlético de Madrid – briefly the air force team Atlético Aviación in the 1940s – also has its share of right-leaning fans.
Meanwhile, in Madrid’s southern working class suburb of Vallecas, the city’s third team has proudly flown the flag for the left.
Hapoel Tel-Aviv (ISR)
Hapoel started life in the 1920s as part of a sports club affiliated to the trade union movement. Its fans have friendships with anti-fascist supporter groups around the world – for example with the aforementioned Celtic and St Pauli. Of course, the obligatory Ernesto Guevara head appears on club banners.
As a city, Liverpool has always been renowned for its activism, particularly during the dockers strike in the 1990s, which even had Robbie Fowler wearing a t-shirt of support.
Bill Shankly was quite open about how he saw the relationship between his politics and his brand of football: “The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards. It’s the way I see football, the way I see life.”
Merseyside neighbours Everton also have a strong left-wing fan base.
Boca Juniors (ARG)
There’s a common theme emerging here: Like St Pauli, AS Livorno and Liverpool, Boca Juniors come from a port town. La Boca (‘The Mouth’) is Buenos Aires’ docklands, home to the Italian and Spanish migrants the flocked here in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Meanwhile, across town, the ‘millionaires’ of River Plate were set up as the ‘aristocratic’ club. In all honesty, both clubs probably have fans from all social strata, but the old engrained identities remain. [Continues…]
Related Post: Football Travel – Boca Juniors.
Standard Liège (BEL)
Standard have been in the top flight of Belgian since 1921, longer than any other club. This industrial town is known for its socialism, whether its standing up against King Leopold III, who many accused of collaborating with German occupiers during World War II, or the General Strike of 1960-61.
Olympique de Marseille (FRA)
The Stade Vélodrome reflects the multicultural make-up of Marseille, with its close relationships with Celtic, AEK Athens and AS Livorno. Look out for the symbols of the left in the Virage Nord-Patrice de Peretti curva.
One of Turkey’s ‘big three’, Beşiktaş is known as the halk takim, the people’s team. The club even has its own manifesto, which includes:
- We always stick with modesty.
- We do not discriminate by race, language, religion, color, status or gender. We approach everyone with tolerance.
- We know the value of hard work and labor.
- We are sensitive to social issues. We stand against injustice.
One OW reader wrote in from Turkey to report that the club’s supporters are involved in social issues and activities throughout the country. They built a primary school in Van after the 2011 earthquake, and have been involved in other political protests.
AEK Athens (GRE)
Politics is never far from the surface in Greece. AEK Athens’ ultras have formed a ‘triangle of brotherhood’ with supporters of AS Livorno and Olympique de Marseille.
What do you think? Did we miss any left-wing football clubs off the list (Dulwich Hamlet and Clapton FC aside)?