Anarchism and football – tackling from behind

The marriage of anarchism and sport may sit uneasy with some – certainly the idea of professional competitive sports is an anathema to some anarchists – tightly regulated and controlled by a self-selected elite, mass spectacles acting as a distraction for the masses and driven by corporate greed, the reinforcement of nationalistic tendencies, are all seemingly antagonistic to the ideas of free association, non-hierarchy and the spirit of internationalism.

Yet anarchism and sport somehow always find ways to connect. The most popular team sport worldwide, football, holds a special place historically amongst anarchists. There are a surprising number of professional league clubs founded by anarchists or with close anarchist associations.

RNK Split of Croatia was originally called Anarch when it formed in 1912 in an attempt to spread anarchist ideas amongst the poor working class of the area. In Argentina Club Atlético Colegiales was formed in 1908 by a group of anarchists in Buenos Aires. Originally called Club Atlético Libertarios Unidos (Libertarians United) they were forced to change their name after the government banned them identifying with anarchist ideas, Argentinos Juniors was founded under the name ‘Mártires de Chicago’ (Martyrs of Chicago) as a homage to the Haymarket anarchists and Chacarita Juniors was actually set up by an anarchist library in 1906 which declared “In soccer you learn how to act in solidarity.” The team continues to wear red and black today as a reminder of it radical roots.

Progreso of Uruguay, another club with close links with the anarchist movement, also wore red and black in the beginning to promote the players political identity.

Closer to home political support for football comes it two forms – break away clubs who have turned their backs on the “prawn sandwich” brigade gaining grassroots recognition for their stance against the corporate takeover of the beautiful game. Most vocal, literally, being FC United of Manchester who have christened their outlook “punk football”. The other is fan ownership of clubs within the football league with supporters unions like Spirit of Shankly expressing overtly political agendas of how the game should be organised for the benefit of the fans and not for profit.

Beyond the professional game anarchists have always been involved in football. Bradford’s 1 in 12 Club used to organise regular Mayday football tournaments, and today still field the 1 in 12 AFC. There is also the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls, a community based sports club based in Bristol who organised an alternative world cup in 1998 and were the first European team to travel to Chiapas in Southern Mexico to play a series of tournaments against the Zapatistas.

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