Cod Almighty | Diary
7 November 2019
You cannot keep politics out of sport. Consider how the Olympics played out during the Cold War. "Keep politics out of sport" was always the battle cry of apartheid South Africa, but actually picking teams on the basis of ethnicity (to take just one of apartheid's crimes) is as much, or even more, a political act than refusing to play or watch those teams. For those of Middle-Aged Diary's generation, watching a South Africa team led by a black captain win the rugby world cup is an inspiring moment: both sporting and political.
Politics makes little attempt to keep out of sport. Cod Almighty is the grandchild of a fanzine movement that arose in the battle against membership schemes and has kept going ever since, campaigning on safe standing, on football finance, on racism, on homophobia.
Politicians – from Harold Wilson through Norman Lamont and on to Tony Blair and Boris Johnson – love to cloak themselves in the trappings of sporting glory. What better way to show yourself one of the people? What better photo opportunity than to have yourself pictured with a successful team? All smiles, all friends, a tacit endorsement.
It is precisely because you cannot keep politics out of sport that no football club should offer its facilities for party political purposes. Yet Grimsby Town have accepted a booking for McMenemy's from the Brexit Party.
It's just another booking in any old venue: why shouldn't the club take their money, some argue. But Blundell Park is not any old venue. It is the home of a football club that is the symbol of who we are. However it is owned and run, like it or not, Grimsby Town are a community institution. In offering our facilities to a political party, we run the risk that its leaders will use the chance to paint themselves as representing all of us.
Would these objections apply if it was the Labour Party or the Green Party? Certainly, yes. But they apply with redoubled force to a party which makes no apology for exploiting xenophobia and race-based fears, at a time when racist abuse is once more a serious concern in football. To a party with an openly homophobic elected representative, at a time when the football club is trying to become more inclusive.
If politics is divisive here, that divisiveness begins not with people's objections to the Brexit Party, but with the Brexit Party itself, with the prejudice it represents.
This is not "all Town aren't we". This is "you're not one of us".
A football club is an odd thing: inseparable from its locality, yet run as a private business. The Mariners Trust should be our way into the boardroom, our chance to influence the decision about who gets to exploit Grimsby Town and who does not. So the response of the trust when this was raised with them – nothing to do with us, gov – is worse than the club taking the Brexit Party booking. If having Mariners Trust representatives on the club board does not give us the right to ask these questions, to influence these decisions, what is the point of them at all?