Sunderland fan, Giles Mooney, explains why he thinks the controversial visit of Boris Johnson to Sunderland and in particular, The Stadium of Light, was ill advised and inappropriate…
Talking about politics is tricky. It’s a bit like football. We all know we’re right and the other people are wrong. One man’s hero is another man’s irritating Match of the Day pundit, some say ‘man of the people’ some say ‘self-obsessed fascist’. We’ll never agree and, generally speaking, I think that’s a good and healthy thing. I am proud to live in a country where Nigel Farage has the right to speak, while being devastated anyone would choose to listen.
The situation becomes very different when anything greater than an individual is seen to support a political view. When a company, a union or a club supports a view, it implies that those associated with them feel the same. It brings a responsibility for the organisation to consider not just how one, or two, people in its hierarchy feel, but rather how everyone associated with it, now and in the future, may feel.
A football club is, or should be, the heart of the community and should represent the community’s shared history, their commitment to each other and their hopes and aspirations for the future. When asked why he hadn’t tried to profit from stadium naming rights, Bob Murray said that the stadium ‘belongs to the club and the fans.’ He’s right. It’s a part of us. Our names and those of our families written into the bricks, our ancestors’ ashes scattered on the pitch and for some of us, family members lost to the shafts and tunnels that lie beneath the pitch and surrounding areas. The club isn’t, and should never be, separate from the community.
The club crest features two lions representing the people of the area. And held between those lions, held up by the people? Symbols of County Durham, of our mining community, the industrial age and a message that we should always pursue excellence, our history, our community and a vision of our future.
Of course, even that is up for debate. When I see Penshaw Monument on the badge I think of the people of Durham. The people who worked the coal and built the ships that powered the British Empire, the people who really made Britain the envy of the Western world. I look at the monument and think of them and how proud I am to be their descendant.
Back then, those people had no votes, no representation, they were focussed on their community, looking after each other and working hard to keep safe and healthy, focussed on the rights of the workers and the plight of their families who were living in slum conditions, dying of curable diseases and, in some cases starving to death.
The truth is that Penshaw Monument was built to honour John Lambton for his work on a report for the Prime Minister on how best to control Britain’s Victorian colonies. A man who was nicknamed ‘jog along Jack’ because he felt that a man could probably ‘jog along’ on an income of £4 million a year (in today’s terms).
His personal wealth came from the family’s ownership of all of the mining land in the area, profiting from the people of the county. He was admired in the south of England for travelling to the north, spending time near the workers (by living in Lambton Castle) and being ‘a character’. He was so much a man of the people that the Prime Minister went on to send him around the world to deal with uprisings and problems with ‘colonials.’
We are currently in an unusual time politically with some seats in the North East held by a Conservative MP for the first time in history. I don’t see that this is a sudden change of heart by the people, just a single-issue vote for something that they felt they wanted. In their hearts, the people of the North East are still the same with a desire to support the worker rather than the owner, equality and freedoms rather than elitism and wealth. People didn’t vote Conservative, they voted to ‘get Brexit done.’ Long after Johnson is a footnote in history, the North East will still be a proud, working class region with community at its heart.
The decision of the Cabinet to visit Sunderland was, yet again, to link the city with Brexit and Johnson’s success in the North. A city which, while the first to declare in the referendum, was far from the extremes of result seen elsewhere. A city which elected Labour MPs.
History is littered with symbolic gestures. As people we can do nothing about them, as institutions we must not allow ourselves to be involved and to enable them.
By allowing politicians to make their statement in our club, the club become associated with them. In doing so with Conservative politicians, the club turns their back on their community and the people who made our region what it is.
Many refused to support a right wing manager. We collected for the striking miners, applauded the addition of a miner’s banner to the reception area, sing ‘the red flag’ with all our hearts and then, last week, open the front door to a sitting Conservative Prime Minister and allow him to host an event inside the Stadium.
Of course, the club may well argue the room was hired for an event and it was purely a business decision. But that raises questions about company policy. What if it was a booking from a racist or other prejudice group? I’d like to think the club would refuse them access. There should be consideration of how the community will feel. With our history, the Conservative party should never be welcomed.
Our club badge features a monument built to honour a radical old Etonian who profited from the hard work of the starving people of the North East and got away with his behaviour by being a bit of a character. As a club, we must build no monuments and open no doors to the latest incarnation.