Left Wing Football Clubs

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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 (SCO)

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”.

St-Pauli-outside

St Pauli’s Millerntor, Hamburg

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.

RELATED  Football Travel: A.S. Livorno

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.

Related Post: Podcast with FC St Pauli’s head of marketing Martin Drust.

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…]

A.S. Livorno

A.S. Livorno under lights
Credit: Michael Saxton

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.

RELATED  Football Travel: A.S. Livorno

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.

Liverpool (ENG)

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.

[Continues…]

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…]

The famous blue and yellow of Boca Juniors is down to a shipping company. Credit: Borja Garcia de Sola Fernandez via Creative Commons

The famous blue and yellow of Boca Juniors is down to a shipping company.
Credit: Borja Garcia de Sola Fernandez via Creative Commons

Related Post: Football Travel – Boca Juniors.

RELATED  Football Travel: A.S. Livorno

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.

Beşiktaş (TUR)

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)?

Care to share?

16 Comments

    • Thanks for taking time to comment, John. Pretty much every club in the world could make a claim for being working class in origin. What I’ve looked at are clubs that have an active leftist element in their fan base. That’s particularly rare in places like Spain and Italy, where ultra groups are more often than not on the right. Sometimes far right.

  1. Liverpool FC was founded by a conservative counciller to make more money when Everton refused to pay more rent. If anyone is left wing in Liverpool; it is Everton.

    • Good point, thanks. Liverpool FC has changed since its foundation, but I will add Everton.

  2. You need to add Universidad de Chile and its fans “Los de Abajo” (both the Old and New school and Autonomous Movement LDA factions). They took part in a broad left-wing/green and humanist coalition fighting local and presidential elections from 2003 until 2009 called Juntos Podemos Más (originally Juntos Podemos/ United We Can). By 2012 it had dissolved because the Communist Party and the Christian Left no longer formed part. Other parties that took part in the coalition included the MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left) and a splinter group of the FPMR (the group that tried to assassinate Pinochet in 1986) and the JJ.CC., the youth branch of the Communist Party of Chile.

  3. Celtic is one of the most committed clubs in the world to social justice and compassion for others. I could not believe the amazing atmosphere at Celtic Park when I visited Scotland. It is disgusting that their rivals Rangers FC who were liquidated about 5 years ago were so racist.

    Celtic are really cool guys and are the most successful Scottish club as they won the Champions League (or European Cup as it was called then) in 1967.

    I really hope those Scottish guys win their Independence.

  4. FK Velez Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovinia is also a club known for their antifa stance. Their crosstown rivals, ‘Zrinjski’ are a well known croatian neo-nazi fascist club which has stolen their home stadium ‘Bijeli Brijeg’ since the wars in the 1990s. Velez is well known for their inclusive nature, and their supporters long for the former yugoslavia and like tito as well.

  5. In1865 Nottingham Forest were the first team ever to wear red. The club chose red in support of the Italian freedom fighter Garibaldi, hence the club’s nickname the Garibaldi reds. A new club in north London was formed a few years later made up of workers in the ammunition factory. They had little money so wrote to the Forest board asking for any Old football jerseys. Forest kindly obliged and that team still wear red today. Their called Arsenal, or something like that. A nice story I thought I’d share.

    • Thanks, Darren, good fact. Arsenal didn’t move to North London until 1913, so the earliest outfit would have been Dial Square of the Woolwich Arsenal.

  6. i am proud to see beşiktaş is on the list. to support beşiktaş is not just sopporting,its also lifestyle.

  7. Not sure about the inclusion of Liverpool or Everton in this list. Both were notoriously racist until John Barnes, and attending games in the City in the sixties and seventies, Liverpool in particular could count a high proportion of Orangemen supporting them. Times have changed and they do have a lot of Irish ties and links with Celtic now so maybe. Perhaps you should include Sunderland. Big trade union country and protests against Di Canio as manager due to his fascist leanings.

  8. Here is one that works for this list, Pumas from LigaMX. They are based at UNAM which is the most important university in Mexico and its base is young and very left wing

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