Category Archives: debate

The (inceasingly tedious) historiography of Arnhem

I know its something I have written about before, but it never ceases to amaze me how historians and publishers will attempt to flog dead horses. Well, maybe thats not a great analogy, but some battles have been written about so much, without anything substantially ‘new’ being offered.

Coming from a background of academic history, my philosophy is that you only undertake to write something if you have a new vein of original material that has never been worked on before, or you can offer a dramatically new appraisal of something that has already been done. What you don’t do is just re-hash what somebody else has already done. It gets very tiring when you see yet another book about an epic battle, that promises much but delivers little.

Therefore I am astounded by just how many books get written about Arnhem and Market Garden. Most of them are very general books, telling any reader who has more than a little knowledge what they already know and offering nothing new in return. In Waterstones yesterday I picked up a copy of a new Arnhem book by a well-known military history duo, whose books I have previously enjoyed, but whose new effort on Arnhem appears to be re-inventing the wheel. It does seem to be publisher-motivated, as any military history publisher knows, books on Arnhem sell.

Out of the virtually hundreds of books written about Arnhem, only a handful of them are really indispensible, in my experience. Arnhem by Martin Middlebrook is the best overall, general introduction about the Battle. A Bridge too Far by Cornelius Ryan is, for obvious reasons, another good introduction, which reads almost like a novel, and takes a wider perspective. It never snows in September by Robert Kershaw is invaluable, as it is the only book that really tells the German side of the battle – and a history of a battle that only focuses on one side is like watching a football match but only being able to see half of the pitch. Arnhem 1944 by William Buckingham was, in my opinion, the first book to look at Arnhem through a more challenging, modern historiographical perspective. Even if you don’t agree with his conclusions, putting the cat amongs the pigeons leads for a more rigorous history in my opinion. And obviously ‘original’ texts like those by Roy Urquhart, John Frost etc are invaluable, as primary sources.

It’s so disappointing, to see big name authors with big publishing deals re-hashing what is already out there, when there are legions of historians out there who are working hard on original material, yet never get the credit that they deserve. As much as I want to sell books and pay the bills, I also want to contribute to history, and you do that by offering something new or different. I guess in that respect military history does lag behind some other disciplines, in that sometimes it is nowhere near challenging enough, and of course as a popular subject for publishing it is open to market forces more than say the history of ferret stuffing in deepest Somerset.

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Filed under Arnhem, debate, historiography, Uncategorized, World War Two

Thoughts on the Fleet Ready Escort

HMS Somerset of the Royal Navy. Type 23 frigat...

A Type 23 Frigate, often on Fleet Ready Escort (Image via Wikipedia)

There’s been a lot in the papers recently about the fact that the Royal Navy has not had a Frigate or Destroyer designated as the Fleet Ready Escort for the past four weeks or so. But what exactly is the Fleet Ready Escort? It is usually a Frigate or Destroyer, maintained at high-readiness in UK waters to respond to events anywhere in the world. The idea presumably being that if a crisis kicks off somewhere, we can at least get ONE ship there quickly, and the most utilitarian of ships at that. If we need to augment the deployment, add ships, roulement, etc, then we can deal with that in time. FRE could be referred to as the first domino.

A clear example of this is the manner in which during the Callaghan Government of the late 1970′s, a Frigate was despatched. A Submarine and RFA soon followed. Sending a Frigate might be largely symbolic in a lot of cases, given the time that it will take to actually reach a crisis zone. But it is a statement of intent, that we can and will respond. If it is commonly known that we have no means of response, then rogue elements around the world know that they can act with impunity. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if they can read Janes and see that our ability to respond is somewhere between unlikely and impossible, it must have at least crossed Argentina’s mind that if the Royal Navy does not have one Frigate spare in British waters, how the hell could it send a Task Force 8,000 miles south?

Therefore, that the Royal Navy has been without an FRE for any length of time is a cause of concern. It certainly is an indication that the fleet is far too stretched to fulfil all of its commitments adequately. Defending the realm and responding to the Government’s Foreign policy needs are surely the primary role of the Royal Navy? If they cannot be met, then why not? It’s hardly rocket science, but you can’t keep cutting ships without affecting capability. One expects that if something happened that required a response we would have to scrape the barrell and pull a ship out of refit, or off of exercises. We could probably cope, but ‘cope’ is not a very confidence-inspiring word.

One aspect in which I do think the role of FRE has been overstated is that of terrorism in UK waters. With the best will in the world, enough has been written here and elsewhere online to show that against seaborne terrorist tactics, such as small boats, Frigates and Destroyers are far from ideal. In any case, if you are looking to respond AFTER a terrorist incident, then it is already too late – the perpetrators will either have made away, or been vaporised along with their explosive-packed RIB. Smaller patrol craft, such as those employed by the SBS, would be far more suitable.

Neither is there any credible need to have a warship available to defend British waters in the conventional sense. All of our neighbours in Europe are friendly, and there are no antagonists anywhere near our seaboards who are likely to send a Battle Group up the western approaches any time soon. In any case, one expects if they did, we would know about it with plenty of notice. We are living in a different world from that of Jutland or Operation SeaLion.

In a similar manner to the FRE, the Army usually has an infantry Battalion on short notice to go anywhere in the world, and the RAF has assets on high-readiness, in particular fighters to intercept aircraft nosing into our airspace. When it comes down to it, all British servicemen and and defence materiel are on some level of readiness to go anywhere in the world should it be deemed necessary. If one ship is at high-readiness, what are the rest of them at? In the same manner, I guess, we have got used to roulements, with ships/units etc only being deployed for around 6 months at a time. This is obviously a ‘luxury’ or peacetime punctuated by low-intensity operations, whereas during total war, everyone is in the front line for the duration.

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Filed under debate, defence, Navy, News, politics, Uncategorized

History and Piracy, and other asymetric threats

HMS Mary Rose in a battle with seven Algerine ...

Image via Wikipedia

One of the more unusual units I studied at University was an eccentric module entitled ‘Rum, Sodomy and the Lash: Outlaws at sea 1650 to 1800′. Although the title hints at a bit of a laugh, and possibly sounds like something starring Johnny Depp (or the talentless wonder that is Orlando Bloom), the lessons seem all the more startling when we consider how Piracy and other ‘low-intensity’ or asymetric sea threats are occupying the thoughts of naval strategists.

Two examples spring to mind initially. Firstly we have the stereotypical Pirates of the Carribean – Blackbeard et al. They roamed a large tranche of the West Indies, principally hunting Spanish treasure ships. Initially this was sanctioned by HM Government as privateering, but I digress. The big lesson is, that no matter how cunning Pirates are, they will need to land every now and then to take on supplies, off-load their wares, exchange crew members and maintain their ships. And they can only do this if there is a regime – or a vacuum - that allows them to do so. In the Carribean this was Port Royal in Jamaica, a veritable Vipers Nest of cutthroats. Port Royal was only neutralised when it was swallowed up by an Earthquake. Once Port Royal was gone and the Pirates were denied a base, piracy dwindled.

The second  example is that of the Barbary Corsairs. North African seamen sailing out of modern Day Morrocco, Algeria and Tunisia, they paid nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Sultan in Istanbul.  Long before times of Bin Laden, Khomeini and Infatadas, the Barbary Corsairs sailed actively against Christian shipping, and on a number of occasions even landed in the South West of England and the South of Ireland and carted off whole villages into enslavement. The Barbrary Corsairs would not have been able to operate if the Sultan in Constantinople had taken them under a tighter rein, nor if the North African states had not actively encouraged them. Eventually raids by the Royal Navy culminating in the early 19th Century seriously dented the Corsairs. The privations of the Corsairs on US shipping also led to the formation of the US Navy around the same time.

The overall lesson, in my opinion? That it is all very well to float around in troubled waters chasing after miscreants, but that is only treating the symtoms and not the cause. But to treat the cause of piracy – ie, the states and ports that sustain it – ultimately you need to land and fight. Which is not something that Governments are willing to do, especially after the Iraq debacle. The irony being that dealing with piracy in somewhere like Somalia is more achievable than anything was in Iraq, but because of poor decision making back then, we are hamstrung now.

So, limited to treating the symptoms rather than the cause, what do we learn from the past?

With both the Carribean pirates and the Barbary Corsairs, the wooden walls of the Royal Navy were hardly suited to dealing with the fast, nimble ‘now you see them, now you don’t’ tactics of the Pirates. A vast, floating 74-gun ship of the line was no match for smaller, faster craft. In essence, large battleships honed towards pouring tons of metal at French and Spanish ships were hardly ideal for tackling smaller less conventional targets.

One useful example of how authorities changed tactics – and procurement – to deal with a problem is in how the Customs and Excise men tackled smugglers in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries. Smuggling cheated the Exchequer out of fortunes, and more often than not was linked to other organised crime – not unliked drug dealing and smuggling nowadays. The smuggles operated small, fast craft in a clandestine manner, after dark and out of sheltered coves, inlets and harbours. Faced with such a problem, the revenue men fought the smugglers at their own game, employing fast cutter style craft, and working in what was virtually a ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ approach, the idea that to deal with such a clever foe, you have to beat them at their own game.

It strikes me that military forces – including navies – are not particularly good at getting into the minds of enemies and threats that do not fit exactly into their staff college exercises. In the same manner, it took years for conventional forces to work out how to deal with terrorism, and how to keep the peace. But surely, if we have to deal with the threats that face us rather than the ones that we would like to face,  then threats HAVE to be dealt with, in the way that enables it to be resolved as effectively, as cheaply and as succesfully as possible.

So, if we are faced with fighting pirates in small boats in the Gulf of Aden, or swarm attacks and suicide boats, why are we lumbering on focussing solely on our big ships? It reminds me of the example of the Iran-Iraq War, when during the 1980′s rush to expand the US Navy, no-one thought to develop a Minewarfare capability. Any coincidence that Minewarfare ships are small and unglamorous? The US Navy eventually did a good job of dealing with the Iranian Navy in the late 1980′s by setting up Mobile Sea Bases – anchored platforms – to launch helicopters and small, fast but heavily armed boats to patrol the Gulf. Might it be better for us to work in this manner, from semi-permanent bases or floating motherships such as the Bay Class, than sending Frigates and Destroyers – the modern equivalents of the 74-gun ship of the line? All an escort vessel can do is launch a couple of RIBS – and something more flexible and substantial than that is needed.

Something tells me some of our regulars here might have a few things to ponder…!

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England’s green and privatised land

New Forest Autumn

Image by danny george via Flickr

The Government is currently consulting over proposals to sell off a large proportion of our nationally-owned forests. As far as I can tell the plans are ill-defined, ideologically-driven and risk casting a scar upon the landscape of this land forever. In the consultation document Caroline Spelman describes them as ‘treasured woodlands’, but if thats so, why flog them?

Historically Britain – or at least England – has been one of the most heavily forested countries in Europe. Forests and trees are a strong central thread in British history – look at Robin Hood and his merry men hiding out in Sherwood Forest for starters. For hundreds of years the Forests sustained Royal Hunting, with plenty of lodges and a supportive infrastructure. And then we have the crucial role that Royal Forests played in supplying timber for the burgeoning Royal Navy. Not for nothing is the Royal Navy’s march entitled ‘Heart of Oak‘.

The Government, through the Forestry Commission, currently looks after 18% of Britain’s woodland – 258,000 hectares. The other 82% is privately owned (how much of it is on Tory MP’s and Peers estates, one wonders?). Near me there are a couple of ancient Forests – the Forest of Bere and the New Forest. The Forest of Bere was for hundreds of years an ancient hunting reserve. And the New Forest is an enigma all of its own. There are so many ancient customs going on there, and its a real gem of this country that we should be so proud of and protect to the hilt. Particularly at a time when so many people, especially young people, dwell in inner cities and never get to see the countryside – we should be encouraging them to get out and walking in the mud of the Forests. Maybe in this sense communities could take over and run small forests – particularly those on the fringes of urban areas. But only wealthy, well-adjusted communities will have the time, funds and resources to do so.

I cannot understand what the Government hopes to achieve, aside from saving a few quid. Actually, I’ve answered my own question there. Surely some things should be sacred beyond mere penny-pinching? I am in no way convinced about the safeguards in place to prevent private companies – in all likelihood foreign – exploiting and asset stripping the very fabric of our land. We were told before the privatisation of public transport that it would lead to better services and investment, and to be quite frank that was bollocks. The countryside is not an amenity, it IS part of the country. Are we to see ‘the [insert name of faceless company] New Forest’, complete with huge advertising hoardings, blocking access or charging for the right to visit, or exploiting the hell out of the Forest’s resources? We might not, but once control is handed over, what is there to stop it? The consultation talks about ‘alternative models of ownership’, but past experience shows us that this is window dressing for getting something off the balance sheet, and to hell with the consequences, and if someone can profit from it as well, even better.

Is anything about this country sacred? If we are being consulted about selling off our trees, heaths, fields and pastures, had we might as well consult about privatising the oxygen supply as well. For me this goes beyond politics, it’s just plain wrong. Yet only the other day a majority of MP’s in the House of Commons – aided by a large number of Tory MP’s who have rural constituencies and a vacancy in brain cells – actually backed the Government’s plan. Evidence, if any is needed, that MP’s will just go along with whatever their political masters tell them to vote for.

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A research-based dilemma…

I’m currently in the phase of doing some more primary research for my book on Portsmouth’s Second World War dead. I’ve been looking at doing some research in the Archives of a small, independent military Museum (line infantry Regiment, shall we say). I enquired by email about visiting the Museum to do some research…. no problem. The cost though? £25… AN HOUR! So for a days research, which is the minimum I would need, I would be looking at something in the region of £150! That would be a sizeable percentage of the total money I would make out of selling the maximum print run of my book!

I just think its wrong. All I want to do is write about some brave men who didn’t make it home, but I’ll now have to do it without the help of their Regimental Museum. I know its expensive to run Museums – hell, I know that more than anyone, I pay the bills and process the income for six – but why charge such a prohibitively high cost? If you need to make money, think outside the box and get your income generation hat on rather than hitting people who are trying to do good work. It obviously doesn’t cost £25 an hour to have somebody visit to do research, so why penalise? It’s not as if researchers ever make money out of what they do… only the big-shot historians like Max Hastings or Anthony Beevor really make any money. At best I’m looking at covering my costs. At best.

I always thought the idea of the Regimental Museum was to preserve the memory of those who have died serving with it? Or am I missing a trick – is it that some Museum’s just don’t want any tom, dick or harry turning up poking their noses in, so they set the costs prohibitively high? I’m just at a loss to understand why there is such a barrier to access, study and commemoration. And especially with budget cuts, institutions will be unable to carry out research and projects that they might like to, making it all the more important to encourage and enable individuals to do so instead.

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The Taylor report unpicked: Class bias

Liverpool fans desperately try to climb the fe...

Liverpool fans climbing on to the pitch to escape the crush at Hillsborough (Image via Wikipedia)

Motivated by my recent trip to watch German football matches, and my long-term interest in Football Stadia and Football culture, I have been taking a historical look at the pivotal Taylor report into the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. I’m starting with a look at the class bias of the report, and following on with a look at hooliganism, the terracing debate, and stadium architecture.

On 15 April 1989 a crush at an FA Cup Semi Final at Hillsborough resulted in the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans. The subsequent report into the disaster, the Taylor Report, led to all major football stadiums being all-seater. This meant the end of terracing at football stadiums, and along with the introduction of Sky TV at around the same time, has probably done more to shape English football than any other development.

Although the report was supposed to be focussed on the Hillsborough Disaster, the recent history of football in England had a chequered past. The 1985 Bradford Fire had led to the Popplewell Report into Fire Safety at Football Grounds. In the 1970′s and 1980′s crowd disorder had culminated in English clubs being banned from European Football after the Heysel Disaster in 1985.

Yet, reading the Taylor Report, you do not have the feeling of a Lord Justice trying to investigate the causes of 96 deaths. Taylor goes much further, almost as if he has been given a tacit remit by the Thatcher Government to ‘sort out’ English football, even elements that had nothing to do with Hillsborough and didn’t need ‘sorting out’. In short, was the Taylor Report a sledgehammer to crack a walnut?

Taylors remit from the Home Secretary was as follows:

“To inquire into the events at Sheffield Wednesday Football Ground on 15 April 1989 and to make recommendations about the needs of crowd control and safety at sports events”

The ‘and’ is important. Previous inquiries had looked into the specifics of a disaster. The Hillsborough inquiry was different – Taylor was instructed by Douglas Hurd to go further than the events of 15 April 1989, and to report on the state of the game in general. The inquiry took place from 15 May to 29 June 1989, and heard evidence from 174 witnesses, as well as much written evidence. 31 sports ground were visited, including in Holland and France, and other sports grounds such as Rugby, Cricket, tennis and golf. Part I considers Hillsborough; Part II wider safety at sports grounds; Part III crowd control and dealing with Hooligans; and Part IV the proposed national membership scheme.

The Taylor report was the NINTH such report into saftey at football grounds. In 1973 the first Green Guide on safety at sports grounds was published, largely prompted by the 1970 Ibrox disaster. That Hillsborough happened, after such scrutiny, does suggest that the Government, football authorities and clubs had failed to take safety seriously enough. Measures that would have prevented Hillsborough had been proposed as early as 1924. This was due to a combination of cost, a laissez-faire attitude, and a pre-occupation with dealing with hooliganism. Taylor stated that ‘there is no point in holding inquiries or publishing guidance unless the recommendations are followed diligently’.

Taylor states that when touring grounds after Hillsborough, the inquiry encountered an attitude amongst football clubs that ‘it could not have happened here’ – this was exactly the kind of complacency that allowed disasters to happen in the first place. What is most sobering, is that Hillsborough was regarded as one of the best and safest stadiums in the country. These are all sobering and salient points.

Yet in his section ‘A Blight on Football’, Taylor belies his intentions:

“Football is our national game. We gave it to the world. But its image in our country has been much tarnished”.

There was indeed a malaise amongst football clubs before 1989. Ground improvements were minimal, as there was no pressing need to improve. In the 1980′s most clubs occupied the same grounds as they had at the turn of the century, and many stands were almost just as old. Any changes were half-hearted or not motivated by safety. In this respect, Taylor DID bring about a change in focus on the part of football clubs, and a willingness to demolish, build and improve that was not there before.

In terms of facilities, Taylor laments the poor condition of football grounds, from a spectators point of view. He describes the terraces as ‘squalid’, yet I doubt that many people who stood on the terraces in 1989 thought of it that way. Going to the football on the saturday afternoon was different to going to the Opera. In classic victorian terms of social control, Taylor states that ‘it directly lowers standards of conduct’. Unbelievably, Taylor sees fit to comment on the quality of the Burgers available to fans – ‘on sale from shoddy sheds’ – as if that really mattered. Was he comparing football to a day at the races or a night at the theatre, one wonders? The classic line, however, has to be ‘there is a prevailing stench of stewed onions’. How about if fans liked having onions in their burgers? I hardly think that stewed onions caused Hillsborough.

Taylor also mentions the lack of quality pre-match entertainment, which is pertinent. However, it is difficult to imagine what the football clubs could have organised – even nowadays, the usual pre-match and half-time entertainment is best filed under ‘cheese’ and is widely ignored by most fans. Taylor had clearly failed to grasp the attitude and background of the average football supporter.

Taylor recognised in his report that ‘football created special problems’ not to be found at other sports grounds – namely, the numbers in attendance and the atmosphere. Within two pages, football was being singled out for special treatment. Amongst the sports listed, it is noticeable that Football is predominantly the most working class sport, and the one that generates the most visible passion and support.

Conclusion

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Taylor Report was a part of wider class issues in 1980′s Britain – the report is couched in ‘top-down’ class semantics. Clearly, Taylor was no football fan. The language is evocative of a victorian philanthropist investigating inner-city slums, holding firm to pre-conceived agendas and prejudices. Not just from a personal perspective, but we cannot expect a Lord Justice – instructed by a hard-line conservative Government – to be too bothered about understanding the culture of Football, THE working class sport. Thatcher had shown a willigness to ‘take on’ football earlier in the 80′s – it is believed that pressure from Thatcher herself led to UEFA banning English clubs after Heysel. For Thatcher and her Government, was Hillsborough part of the wider class struggle, much the same as the miners strike and the Poll Tax riots? It is hard to come to any conclusion other than that Taylor and the Government used Hillsborough - and the deaths of 96 people – as cover for gentrifying football and firing another shot across the bows of ordinary working people.

 

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The decline of English football: a German perspective

Dietmar Hopp

Dietmar Hopp, backer of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (Image via Wikipedia)

Regular readers will be under no illusions that I have a very low opinion of the state of English football. In my opinion, it is far too commercialised, bloated, devoid of atmosphere and passion, weighted far to far in the direction of the wealthy few, inaccessible to ordinary working people. Its virtually at the point of eating itself. Its not even as if the overpaid, overhyped players we are told to idolise are really any good – witness South Africa earlier this summer.

By contrast, I’ve been to a few football matches in Germany over the years, and the contrast is striking. 90 minutes spent on the terraces at Borussia Monchengladbach is like going back 20 years to the uncovered, terraced Fratton End. Not just in terms of architecture, but in terms of the culture, and the experience. Why is this so? How has our national game declined to such a pathetic level, whilst in Germany it is thriving?

Ownership and Management

Lets just take a look at the ownership of the 20 Premier League clubs – the vast majority are owned solely by wealthy foreign oligarchs, people who have little or no understanding of football or English society. Rich person’s playthings. By comparison, the majority of clubs in Germany are just that – clubs. Not only football clubs, but full blown sporting clubs, with amateur, junior and womens teams, athletics, basketball, and all kinds of other sports – Unterhacing’s logo is a bobsleigh, as the club also has a winter sports heritage. Bayern Munich, the biggest club in Germany, has 162,187 members. The football part of the club is run by a spin-off company, of which 81.82% is owned by the Club itself, and 9.09% each by Adidas and Audi. The club is not listed on the stock exchange, so is therefore a private company controlled by the members of the club.

There are several German clubs that do not follow the club principle. Bayer Leverkusen are supported heavily by the Bayer pharmaceutical company. Although the club started as a social club for Bayer employees in the town, many fans of other German clubs consider Bayer Leverkusen to be an ‘artificial’ club. Ironically, however, perhaps the most prominent example in Europe of an artifical club is that of 1899 Hoffenheim. A fifth flight club in 2000, Hoffenhiem made a remarkable rise to the top rung of the Bundesliga ladderr in 2008, helped along the way by the wealth of software magnate Dietmar Hopp. The club only turned fully professional in 2007-08. Hoffenheim and Hopp have been roundly criticised in Germany, even being referred to as 18.99 Hoffenheim. The village of Hoffenheim only has 3,000 residents.

Schalke 04 were once known as perhaps the most down-to-earth, working class club in Germany. Hailing from the heavily inustralised Rurh city of Gelsenkirchen, in recent years Schalke has evolved into a slick business operation, with a brand new 60,000 stadium. Disturbingly, in in 2006 Schalke announced a link-up with the Russian energy giant Gazprom, who also own and sponsor Zenit St Petersburg. Gazprom apparently intend to invest up to 125million Euros over 5 years, something that has been seen as an attempt to gain political influence in Germany. It’s sad indeed for such a proud, cultural club to turn its back on its roots.

Although FC St Pauli are often held up as an example of a working class club with a strong fan culture, this reputation has almost become a victim of its own success, with thousands of random people around the world deciding that they are St Pauli fans. Whilst it is OK to go along with the ideals and the culture, I cannot help but feel that an English person randomly deciding to support St Pauli ‘because everyone else does’ is like a Londoner supporting Man Utd. Why St Pauli? Pick a different team!

But these examples aside, German clubs are overwhelmingly exactly that – clubs. Clubs are viewed by the size of their membership. The differences with English football are not just in ownership. In German football Clubs are often run by former players (it is not hard to come to the conclusion that English footballers, on the whole, are too intellectually challenged to run a hot dog stand, let along a football club). Figures such as Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rumenniegge and Uli Hoeness, and more recently Jurgen Klinsmann and Rudi Voller moved not only into team management, but also club management. Club boards are also larger, and made up with a far more balanced membership, from a wide range of backgrounds. Not just the rich owners handpicked flunkies.

Fan Culture

Not only is German football different in terms of the bigger issues. I have often felt that English football has sold its soul and fogotten the very people who made it so special – the gate-paying, ordinary working fans. Now, you have to sit down and shut up. Even at Portsmouth, ‘fans’ (no doubt called Norman or something like that) complain about the noise of the singing and the drums, or when someone stands up in front of them. A club with any bollocks would tell them to stick their season tickets somewhere uncomfortable. When did English football get so soft? (see Taylor report). Fans are no longer supporters, but customers. Fans have no real stake in the club, and are there only to be exploited and taken for granted. Clubs do nothing to encourage atmosphere, or stimulate passionate support. Spectators of English football are as removed from events on the pitch as a cinema goer is from the film on the screen.

I would like to see somebody complain about standing or excessive noise on the Nordkurve at Monchengladbach. At a German football match atmosphere is appreciated and encouraged. Tickets are cheap. Huge flags and banners and singing are encouraged. Many fans will be full members of the club, so are not just spectators, but really are part of the whole club experience. No wonder they are more likely to get more involved and more passionate about events on and off the pitch. At Monchengladbach there is a Fan Haus (Fan House) a few hundred yards from the ground. Decked out in flags and memorabilia, it is essentially a hub for supporters, selling beer but also putting on live music, and surrounded by food and clothes stalls. I know of nothing like it in English Football.

In England, the supporters clubs are normally run by eccentric bearded gentlemen, often called Roger or Norman. Their most important contribution to the operation of the club is giving their opinion on the number of toilets, or the quality of the meat pies at half time. You cannot help but feel that the Football Clubs view them as a nuisance. At Pompey we have the Supporters Club, the Independent Supporters Club, and now a Supporters Trust. The next step will probably be a supporters club branch from the People’s Front of Judea.

Whereas in Germany, the Fan Club is a real powerhouse. Although independent from the clubs themselves, the supporters clubs have real influence over what goes on. Most German clubs also employ fans liaison officers, who play a significant part in looking after supporters, both home and away. When I worked in youth politics some time ago, I came across something called the ladder of participation. At the bottom of the ladder, you are standing there watching; powerless. Whereas nearer the top, you are in the thick of the action, playing a part in what is going on. No prizes for guessing where on the ladder I place English and German football respectively.

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