Sorry ladies, this post is about football… however, bear with us, it’s not all about tactics, starting XIs and the offside rule!
Swindon is a town not far from our base of Brimsham here in the South West of England, with a rich industrial history, most famous during the height of the steam age. I grew up not far from Swindon- it was my main shopping area, it’s where I met my wife, and where some of my in-laws live. But until recently, it’s main claim to fame has been the having the UK’s highest rat population, providing us with “world class” celebrities like Billie Piper and Melinda Messenger, and that big attraction the “magic roundabout” (little less magic, little more annoying).
However, right next to the magic roundabout is a stadium called the County Ground. It’s the home of Swindon Town Football Club, a team recently relegated to League Two (the bottom tier of the football league). They’re famous for big names coming through their doors- Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardilles and Dennis Wise to name a few (but the less said about the last one the better!)- and for one of the worst record for a season in the Premier League (conceding 100 goals in 38 games).
But the last six months have seen Swindon Town transformed- by an infamous Italian who goes by the name of Paolo Di Canio.
Di Canio has an interesting history. A man of great skill, talent and ability, he was known for great goals, pushing a referee and receiving an 11 game ban as a result, and for giving a fascist salute when scoring for Lazio late in his career. Yes, you read that right, a fascist salute. Here are just some of his highlights…
Now, just to be clear for any Swindon fans who I am increasingly coming to love, I am not going to criticise Di Canio here.He’s doing great things for Swindon Town. His passion for the club has been clear to the club’s hierarchy ever since he burst a button on his shirt during the interview for the manager’s position with chairman Jeremy Wray. Under his management, Swindon are genuine contenders for the League Two title, and Di Canio’s ambitions to at least get them to the Championship are starting to seem lass fanciful than they did back in August last year. His passion has also led to some comic moments, from breaking dugouts to sprinting down touchlines, from scuffles with players to comparisons of his players to rottweilers and poodles! Even in Swindon’s last victory away to Southend, Di Canio led the travelling fans in applauding the players at the end of the game- literally!
But, it can’t be ignored that Di Canio is a self-proclaimed fascist.The Italian has, in his autobiography, praised Mussolini as “basically a very principled, ethical individual” who was “deeply misunderstood”. He has a tattoo of the word “Dux” (which is the Latin equivalent of Duce- a title given to Mussolini). He claims to be “a fascist, not a racist”. This appears to be true, given his conduct in Britain as both a player and a manager. His political beliefs are controversial, but not confrontational.
Still, there is a rather interesting comparison to be made, more on the supporters of Swindon Town than on Di Canio himself (again, just to clarify- Swindon Town are like a second club to me, I go to matches, I enjoy them, I wish them well and I will cheer them on against Barnet on Tuesday from the Town End- just so no one looks to hunt me down and have a go!)
Swindon Town were a struggling side when Di Canio arrived. Initially, people doubted Di Canio’s ability. They criticised his fascist beliefs. They criticised the board for making such a risky appointment. When the early games didn’t go well, people called for the “Di Canio circus” to end. Yet now Swindon Town find themselves in second place in League Two, having beaten one of their near rivals 4-1 away from home!
Suddenly, Di Canio is making headlines for different reasons. His outlandish behaviour still can’t be ignored, but it’s now seen as entertaining rather than embarrassing (such as his wrong turn during the Swindon fun run, resulting in him completing the half marathon course instead!) Swindon fans love Di Canio- and for good reason too. He has brought hope to the fans, even to the town as a whole. He loves Swindon.
It shows us how extreme beliefs can be ignored if people feel like a person or groups leadership benefits them. Hitler was seen as joke, a loser with no hope of running for government. People thought his beliefs were too radical. But when times were hard, he was given a chance by showing the people he wanted it more. His work to restore belief, and good times for the country, led people to follow the Nazis, and begin to look past some of the more odd beliefs. See the similarity?
The lesson of all this? Don’t dismiss extremism. Don’t assume it won’t ever be part of mainstream politics in the future. Don’t assume that a population won’t overlook some more unpleasant aspects of a political group if they feel it will benefit them (this could lead to a whole other post on the USA’s relinquishing both liberty and even human rights in the name of security!).
But let’s keep things in perspective- Di Canio isn’t Adolf Hitler. He also isn’t ever going to run the country- maybe just manage the English football team one day (if he has his way!)