What's so wrong with supporting Trinidad and Tobago?
Much is being made of the news that Scottish first minister Jack McConnell won't be supporting England at this year's World Cup but is backing Trinidad instead. McConnell justified himself with the curious line that 'football is not about politics'. I doubt he convinced anyone. I remember 2002 when USA played Iran, with the latter winning 2-1, and with pro-and anti-regime Iranians facing each other in the stands. In a 90-minute game, you could see all the concentrated politics that we've had to endure since. That's the point, isn't it: a career politician announces who he'll back not losing a lifetime's instinct, but knowing rather that there are more swing (i.e. SNP) voters to be won from a moment of feigned indiscretion.
But McConnell's 'gaffe' raises a more interesting questions: what team should socialists support in two weeks time? There doesn't seem to be much point in backing Brazil, Germany, or Argentina, 3 of the 4 best-backed teams at World Cup Advice.com. They're getting support enough, and don't need mine or anyone else's emotional endorsement. Of the four best-favoured teams, the second favourite strangely is England (anyone who watched the qualifier against Northern Ireland will agree with me that they don't deserve to be seen as possible winners). Their odds with the international bookmakers are shorter than they are on the UK high street: suggesting that local patriotism isn't extending itself either.
There's an old socialist argument that the world cup marks a sort of practice for global war. To quote George Bush, you're either with us or against us. And if it wasn't for the blessed relief of Rooney's metatarsal, you'd know that the tabloids would be regaling us with more 'stories' of the character of Led-Zep tribute band The Darkness' world cup song: 'we've fought them on the beaches / now we'll play them on the field.'
English nationalism needs the World War story as its recent moment of vindication; odd then how few people seem to recall that it was a war ostensibly against fascism: not to be celebrated with the right-arm salute.
I spent much of the last World Cup hiding in South Africa, and will be there again this summer - so will escape the worst of it. But I think it would be a shame if people tried that approach collectively: by all just turning off their sets and wishing the football would go away. For buried in the worst of it are bound to be some moments worth savouring: the 11 June group match between Portugal against Angola, for example, could easily go the way of 2002 and Senegal's humiliation of France. For five centuries, Portugal were the dominant power in that country. They introduced the Angolans to starvation and slavery. Would it really be so wrong for a left-winger to take pleasure if Portugal lost? It will also be interesting to see how team USA goes down in Germany: a country which once had the last two Michael Moore books at 1, 2 and 3 in its bestseller charts (numbers 1 and 3 were the German editions, an English-language edition was at number 2).
And ignoring their odds (which are pitiful) I think a modest socialist case could indeed be made for backing Trinidad and Tobago: the team was built from nothing, and managed for most of the post-war period and until as recently as 1971 by none other than Eric James, CLR's brother.
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