Review – ‘Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics’ by Gabriel Kuhn

Football. It’s something that us at the Heckler are very passionate about.

At any radical political gathering you will almost always find football being talked about by some, and avoided like the plague by others. Within the revolutionary Left and anarchist movements opinion is divided over the ‘beautiful game.’ It is seen by some as a ‘counter revolutionary’ distraction from the struggle against the capitalist system which enslaves us, much in the same way that Karl Marx describes religion as the ‘opiate of the masses.’ By others, the pitch or the terraces are seen as a legitimate arena to let our hair down, forget about work or politics and have a laugh with our mates. Some even see football as a possible force for change, bringing people together and encompassing the most essential of our beliefs; solidarity, collective endeavour and individual creativity.

In ‘Soccer vs. the State,’ activist, author and ex semi-pro footballer, Gabriel Kuhn, pulls together articles, interviews, leaflets and pictures, along with his own analysis and opinion to discuss these radical debates and interventions in the game and in wider football culture.

The book starts off covering the history and background of the sport, tracing it back from the medieval ball games played between English villages, to the public schools, and stadiums in the heart of industrial cities. In this section Kuhn covers the class-background of the sport, detailing some the truths and myths surrounding the idea of football as ‘the sport of the working class.’ Issues also covered include the ‘taming’ of the sport and the start of Football Associations, its growth worldwide, as well as early moves to repress the women’s game and forms of dissent within the game.

Kuhn goes into some detail with the radical debates surrounding modern football, covering the politics and some of the less appealing sides of the game; the trends of nationalism, sectarianism, bigotry and violence, commercialisation and its use, abuse and control by the powerful, including some notable dictators throughout history.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is the section looking at radical politics within football. Here, Kuhn gets stuck into some lesser reported stories, showing examples of football being used as a platform for protest, the part that is has played in social justice campaigns and football players, fan groups and clubs with radical beliefs and backgrounds.

Grassroots fan initiatives, such as Football Club United of Manchester, AFC Wimbledon and AFC Liverpool are included, and Bristol’s Easton Cowboys & Cowgirls Sports and Social Club, boasting many international tours and over half a dozen football teams also gets a lengthy review, looking at the relationship between the club and the wider community.

Kuhn also looks at the great work done to oppose sexism, racism and homophobia both on and off the pitch, by the formation of supporters groups set up against discrimination, female football networks and gay football teams. Campaigns by anti-fascists who have tackled far-right and neo-Nazi groups around football grounds and in the terraces are also touched upon.

As ‘Soccer vs. the State’ covers so many important topics and questions, it does tend to jump around, only touching on some important subjects before quickly moving onto something else. However, it does give a very good interpretation of the ever-changing and fluid phenomenon that is football.

To sum up, ‘Soccer vs. the State’ is an informative and thought provoking read that could be easily read by those with or without in-depth knowledge of football. It is essential reading for the football fan with an interest in politics, or the radical political thinker with an interest in football.

Highly recommended.

Soccer Vs The State
ISBN: 978-1-60486-053-5
Publisher: PM Press
Gabriel Kuhn

Currently available from Freedom Books. Soon to be available on the Heckler shop.

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