Tag Archives: football

Gigi Riva – Not Everyone Is For Sale

 “Scoring is what gets you through the week.” – Gigi Riva

by Dona Velluti

At 18, Gigi Riva had already made a name for himself in Varese and its province. He was born on November 7, 1944 in Leggiuno, a small village of about 3,500 population, near Lake Maggiore in northern Italy, and had been playing football for coach passes and, later, for blocks of butter and wheels of cheese for local teams, but the Varese football team, at the time playing Serie B, had shown some interest in engaging him. So he was dreaming big: Varese, Milan, Turin and one day, perhaps, Juventus, the biggest of them all… When his club agreed his transfer to Cagliari (Sardinia), he said, he felt scared.

Sardinia was considered a place of exile, almost a penal colony, disconnected from mainland Italy by 120 miles of Mediterranean Sea. Not a place you could drive to. The nearest city was Rome, but unless you had a lot of money for a plane ticket, you would be facing a 13-hour crossing (if the weather was good) on a dingy ferry. The slow process whereby its middle class would sell the region out (together with their soul) for a small piece of the action for themselves had already started, but the island hadn’t yet learnt how to market its rugged, wild and unspoilt beauty through tourism, the only industry it currently hangs onto (and you cannot stay rugged, wild and unspoilt when you start building ugly tourist villages on the beaches). It was (and still is) one of the poorest Italian regions, with very little industrial development to speak of (the lion’s share of the post-war development funds targeted at the island was pocketed by corrupt administrators and industrialists) and an economy based on coal mining (now long gone), agriculture, sheep rearing and dairy production. Many found that their only option was migrating to the industrialised north.

Unlike Britain, where accent is linked to class, in Italy it only identifies geographical origin. An accent from the north is associated with wealth and distinction. A Sardinian accent was synonymous with poverty and coarse, underdeveloped peasants and shepherds, and mocked as such. Sardinians responded with an ill-concealed minority complex. Except for the central mountains, where, amongst the shepherds, bandits, feared as much as secretly admired (and romanticised), held sway: landowners and industrialists were not safe there and would be kidnapped for ransom.

Bandits and shepherds: to an 18-year-old kid from a village in northern Italy, it must have looked like the Wild West – and not in a good way.

Cagliari is the capital of Sardinia. In the spring of 1963, when Gigi Riva arrived, it was a very pretty (but not yet conceited), narrow-minded, very conservative but generous town, controlled by the Catholic Church and the merchant classes which had not yet managed to contaminate everybody with their cynicism. Cagliari had a major port, a small airport, two fishing villages, a wonderful beach with white sand dunes, colourful beach huts and blue clear water, a modest amount of fancy clothes shops, one record shop, and huge pressure to conform. Corruption was already rife, as well-connected cowboy builders were starting to help themselves to the white sand of the beach with the cover of the night and local politicians – the dunes of the ’60s are also long gone – but it wasn’t endemic yet, and the kind public office worker who would help you through the diabolical maze of bureaucracy was still the rule and not the exception. When Riva first arrived at the Cagliari FC training ground he found out, as a confirmation of his worst fears, that it was a dirt pitch – not one single blade of grass.

Life had been hard for Gigi. One of four kids, he came from a poor family. His sisters remember going to bed hungry. His father worked as a tailor and a barber, his mother worked in a textile mill. His father died when Gigi was nine, and he was sent to a boarding school for boys from poor families. He was expelled from two schools as he couldn’t stand the discipline, and he finished his middle school in a third. One of his younger sisters was hospitalised for a rare medical condition she soon died from, and another sister was run over by a car while going to the hospital and was paralysed for 5 years. When Gigi left school at 14 he went to work in a factory, and used to steal away two afternoons a week to go to football practice. His mother died when he was 17, and as of the two surviving sisters one was still paralysed and the other was in hospital giving birth to her first child, Gigi was alone when he followed his mother’s hearse to the cemetery.

It’s not surprising then that the teenager who arrived in Cagliari in 1963 was a polite, introverted, melancholy loner who didn’t talk much, struggled to make personal connections, was painfully homesick and couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there and get back to civilisation. 

He was, of course, also extremely talented, extremely driven and not afraid of hard work – of the “first-in-last-out” type the goalies tried to get away from as he wanted to keep practising when everybody had gone home. He played fair, had brilliant ball control, impressive pace and skilful dribbling ability. He was fearless, daring, very powerful, left-footed and could kick the ball at almost 80 mph. It wasn’t long before a popular journalist in the national press nicknamed him Rumble of Thunder, and the moniker stuck.

When Gigi Riva arrived at Cagliari FC, the club was rooted in Serie B. He dragged them into Serie A, dominated by Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Fiorentina. Cagliari was under the under-underdog. As their coach Manlio Scopigno said when a Juventus official claimed that the mafia had ensnared Riva (the mafia had no presence in Sardinia), “Juve and the Milan clubs have had the wealth and contacts to ensure that they’ve had things their own way for far too long. If Cagliari should win Serie A, I’d imagine it will be the first honest championship victory for years.”

The town was already in love with Riva, and the love was a real, practical, warm embrace from humble, generous people. They didn’t worship him from afar, nor did they crowd him: they respected his privacy and his shyness, but they would stop him and talk to him in the street, they would take him to the nearest bar and buy him an espresso or a beer. Fishermen would take him home for family meals. This was a pre-selfies era when celebrity obsession was still unknown, and Riva never behaved like a star. His modesty and slight awkwardness struck a chord. The town adopted him. And when he talked about the town or Sardinia, he said “we”, in his strong northern accent.

Recovering from a fractured fibula, Riva led Italy to win the European Championship in 1968, the first win of any kind since the end of WW2, and at the end of the match against Yugoslavia everybody at the Rome Olympic Stadium lit a newspaper and turned the place into a gigantic candlelight celebration (Health & Safety has never been a concern…).

Then Cagliari FC strengthened the team around him, and in 1970 Riva led them to win their first (and only) scudetto. For the town that was it. You can hear this new, unknown pride in their voices in archive footage, when they shout into the microphone that he is the greatest footballer of all time. They are saying, “now you can think what you want about us, we don’t care anymore – we have Gigi Riva.”

 “I couldn’t just say, ‘Thanks for everything, have a nice life,’ and leave”

He returned the love in spades. In his club career, wearing the now legendary No. 11 jersey, he played 373 matches and scored 207 goals. He was the top scorer in three championships (1967, 1969, 1970). His record with the national side, 35 goals in 42 caps, is still unbeaten. None of this went to his head, and when on the principle of “if you can’t beat them, buy them”, Inter Milan and AC Milan tried to buy him and Juventus harassed him for a year offering him huge amounts of money to play for them (Juventus and FIAT owner Agnelli was said to have issued his officials with the order “Grab that sheep boy by his ear and drag him to Turin”), he said no every time – he was not for sale. He told his team-mate and Cagliari sweeper Pierluigi Cera that they were offering too much, that nobody should be paid that amount of money, and he wouldn’t have been able to play under a burden like that. But above all he said he didn’t think that in big towns he could find the “family environment” that he had found in Cagliari, and that leaving a town and its people that had given him so much just wouldn’t have been right. So he stayed.

He later said, “I would have earned triple. But Sardinia had made me a man. It was my land. In those days, they called us shepherds and bandits around Italy. I was 23 and the great Juve wanted to cover me in money. I wanted the scudetto for my land. We did it, the bandits and shepherds.”

In 2010 a party was thrown to celebrate the scudetto 40 year anniversary. The entire old team turned up, happily noting they were all still alive, but mourning the passing of Scopigno and the two masseurs. When interviewed about how football had changed, Riva said, “There was an emotional bond with the supporters. You could feel them in Cagliari. We could feel them when we played away matches in the north, when all the Sardinians who had emigrated up there would come to the stadium. They were asking us to win so that they could go home and feel proud. We could feel them.”

Always shy of the limelight once he was off the pitch, he again turned down an offer of astronomical amounts of money, this time from acclaimed film director Franco Zeffirelli, to play the lead role in Saint Francis’s biopic Brother Son, Sister Moon. He even turned on his heels and left when, arriving at the stadium in Turin where he had been invited to test a machine that measured the power of a shot, he realised that an audience had been allowed in. He said, “I’m not a freak show”, and left.

But the gods were not done with Riva. In October 1970, during a match against Austria at the Prater stadium in Vienna, a nasty challenge by the defender Hof (no Italian who was alive at the time will forget that name) resulted in a fractured tibia and fibula. Images of his team-mate Domenghini running up to him and sinking his face in his hands at the sight of the broken bone sticking out of Riva’s shin are etched in the memory of those who remember Hof’s name.

Without him, Cagliari was eliminated from the European Cup and started slipping down the Serie A table. He fought back and recovered and in the 1971/72 championship bagged 21 goals in 30 games and revived his team’s fortunes for a bit, but Cagliari’s steady decline had started. In spite of that, Riva remained loyal and stayed with his team. Until February 1976, when, during a home match against AC Milan, he injured his right thigh adductor. He never fully recovered and never played again. In 2005, Cagliari FC officially “retired” his jersey and handed it to him during a special ceremony: nobody will ever wear the number 11 jersey in Cagliari again. That’s Gigi Riva’s for all time.

FOOTBALLERS AND MEN

He still lives in Cagliari, with no fuss. When he retired he bought a petrol station, and founded the Gigi Riva Football School. On their website he wrote: “When back in 1976 I decided to create a football school, initially my main purpose was probably to train ‘footballers’. But I soon realised that the aim of an initiative like that should not be to find the champion, but rather to support young people’s growth on the formative and social level through the discipline of a sport that helps them to feel better with themselves and with others. So the objective changed radically and our slogan became ‘forming the man before the footballer’”. The school has an average of 250 registered children a year. The website quotes the German theologian Dorothee Solle: “How would you explain what happiness is to a child?” “I wouldn’t,” she answered, “I would give him a football.”

He’s often seen having a coffee in the afternoon at the bar where he has always gone to have his afternoon coffee. He never married, but has two sons and three granddaughters he dotes on.

He was never involved in any of the corruption/match-fixing scandals that have plagued Italian football over the years, and he declined the usual huge wads of money that he was offered to become a TV pundit. When Berlusconi offered him to stand for the regional elections a few years ago, he declined saying that he didn’t feel it was his place. Later, in an interview with the national press he denounced the way Sardinia had been exploited and was being left to die by an incompetent and corrupt political class, and encouraged young people to pay attention to politics.

In a recent interview Gigi was asked about the glory, awards and recognition that his greatness has brought him. With one of his shy smiles he said, “lots of beautiful things happened to me thanks to football, but I would sacrifice some of that gladly if it could help to mend my childhood a little.”

***

I used to see Riva on my way back home from primary school, in the takeaway pizza place where they had his framed signed photo on the wall behind the counter. Like everybody else, I had exercise books with his photo on the front cover, like this one > 

On February 1st, 1976 I was a few yards away, with my dad, when during that match against AC Milan in Cagliari Riva screamed in agony and fell holding the inside of his right thigh. I heard the scream and the collective gasp in the whole stadium – none of us breathed as he was taken away on a stretcher.

 And I used to see him going into the small restaurant attached to my swim club, Rari Nantes Cagliari, when I was a teenager, after he had retired.

Years ago, in a pre-mobile phones era, I was teaching English at the same school in Cagliari where one of his sons, Nicòla, was a student. Nicòla wasn’t in one of my classes, but his class was one of the three that took part in a school trip to Rome that two of my colleagues and I were in charge of. Needless to say, when we arrived at the hotel the kids ignored the way rooms had been allocated and re-arranged themselves to share a room with their best mates. I knew where each of them was at the end of this reshuffle, the hotel reception didn’t. So when very early one morning reception called me to say that a parent was trying to locate his son and could I help by taking the call, although annoyed and half-asleep I said yes. I recognised his voice instantly and, suddenly awake, I automatically stood to attention (you don’t sit when Gigi Riva is talking to you, do you?). He didn’t say, “This is Gigi Riva, do you know where my son is?”. He said, very politely, “This is Nicòla Riva’s father and I can’t find him – can you help me, please?”. Nicòla Riva’s father. That’s Gigi Riva for you.

About the author

Independent Working Class Association activist Dona Velluti has lived in England for the last 23 years, but she was born in Cagliari, on the island of Sardinia, and grew up there when Gigi Riva was at the height of his powers.

This article first appeared on the IWCA Athletics Club website.

Politics also plays in the African Cup of Nations

By Francisco Centauro of Grada Roja

There are two faces to this beast; on the one hand the clamor that represents a continental tournament organized by FIFA, which brings together different countries in Africa to share the values that football transmits. On the other hand, also visible are the many factors that have led to the social and economic decline of the whole continent. In the 19th and 20th Centuries it was the shared experience of the imperialist yoke that gave the African nations the by-product of a fighting heritage. Now FIFA and those in political power in Africa try to provide cover for the continuing poverty and inequality of the continent with showcase tournaments. Nothing to see here, move along please…

The host country for the 2017 edition of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations is Gabon. Similar to Brazil at the last World Cup, a large percentage of the population of Gabon lives in dire poverty. The dissatisfaction at the amount of money invested in organizing the tournament permeates the population and has manifested itself in widespread discontent and protest on the streets.

The riots in Gabon commenced in the aftermath of the re-election of Ali Bongo of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) whose victory is widely considered to be corrupt and fraudulent. Gabonese opposition candidate Jan Ping leads the protests and the social upheaval is ongoing, in spite of the African Nations Cup tournament. The capital Libreville, is the epicenter of both the sporting event and popular discontent. But the Cup must continue because the economic interests of the organizers in this era of commercialised soccer are a priority – they have match timetables to fill and profits to make, because ‘time is money’.

The first game of the Cup, on January 14, saw host Gabon play Guinea Bissau. Inside the stadium the encounter takes place with a certain normality, contrary to the scenes on the outside, where the population is immersed in episodes of violence, culminating in the protesters setting fire to the National Assembly as a sign of their discontent. Revolts, riots and mass arrests are the reality of the African Cup of Nations that is not reported by the mainstream media. It is obvious that, as in Brazil, the interests pursued by the government, the African Confederation and FIFA, is considered to be more important than responding to the demands of the protesters. No matter that public resources have been diverted to fund a lavish opening ceremony, the basic needs of the population can wait, because it is the priority of those in charge to show the world that Gabon is up to the task of organizing an event of this type. Most likely, after the tournament, stadiums will become abandoned properties, due to the inability of the government to finance their maintenance. Just look back and observe the countries that have hosted a tournament of similar character in other continents. In Brazil, those stadiums that were built after long days of exploitation and brutal effort for the workers, now lie abandoned. They remain as the silent witnesses of the socioeconomic consequences of being a World Cup host, Gabon will be no exception to this rule.

Looking beyond the facade of this tournament, it is important to celebrate the tradition of resistance that is demonstrated by the protests on the streets of Gabon. These protests recall the examples of struggle that led to the national liberation of several African countries, as well as the heroic characters who fought colonialism and achieved independence for their nations. Today these achievements are overshadowed by interventionism and betrayal.

So we remember Thomas Sankara and his legacy in the liberation of Burkina Faso, President Nasser’s Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the revolution of Patrice Lumumba. The many liberation struggles in southern and central Africa that saw the colonialists overthrown. And, of course, the Algerians as authentic warriors both on the pitch and on the barricades of the National Liberation Front. The revolution in Africa continues because, as has been proven by experience, national liberation in and of itself does not automatically lead to social liberation and freedom from poverty. Football and Politics remain intertwined and reflect the social context of the time and we will continue to report the political as well as the sporting.

This article first appeared in Spanish on the Grada Roja website.

Translated & Edited by Talman, with thanks to F.C. and Grada Roja

Football mourns the loss Of Atlético Chapecoense

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Today the world of football is rallying around the small Brazilian club Atlético Chapecoense after most of its players and staff, as well as the sports journalists accompanying them, were killed when their chartered plane crashed in the Medellin region of Colombia. Chapecoense had, against all expectations, qualified for the final of the Copa Sudamericana, the South American equivalent of UEFA’s Europa League competition.

chapecoenseblackribbonThe Brazilian FA have canceled tomorrow’s cup final and all matches this weekend as a mark of respect. Other clubs have called for solidarity with Chapecoense and requested that the club be exempt from relegation for a period of 3 years as it tries to recover from the tragedy. They have also pledged to loan players to Atlético should it elect to continue to fulfill its fixtures for the rest of this season. The Colombian side Atletico National that would have been their opponents in the 1st Leg of the final have requested that Chapecoense be declared Copa Sudamericana champions.

Some Celtic fans have also asked our club to stock the jersey of Atlético Chapecoense in the Celtic shops and to donate all profits from sales back to the Brazilian club. Every act of solidarity with the club and its fans should be embraced. In an era where greed has become the definition of football, there are still some acts of human solidarity that we as fans can participate in, with or without the consent of those at the top. Our humanity will always eclipse their greed.

Every incident that results in the loss of life is a tragedy, but some tragedies hurt more when those who died carried the hopes and dreams of the people, of thousands of fans, of whole families. The Atlético Chapecoense Football Club just a few days ago celebrated one of its greatest football achievements, and today it suffers the worst episode of its entire history.  TAL Fanzine extends its sincere condolences to the family and friends of the victims and to the fans of Atlético Chapecoense.

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The Olympic Legacy: Sporting Leg-Ends, Spivs & Gentrification

AllInItTogether

By Phil Thornton

Well, the circus has packed up for another 4 years. Maybe it was fitting that West Ham’s first league home game at their new ‘Olympic’ stadium (bought and paid for by the ‘Great British Public’ TM) came as a reminder of all those ‘legacy’ promises that were spun in order to justify the obscene costs of the London 2012 Games.

“Legacy” – it’s one of the words of the new millennium. Everyone’s after a legacy from political failures like Tony Blair and Barak Obama to global institutions like FIFA and the World Bank.

When the much lauded opening ceremony for London 2012 was taking place, I was sat in a tapas bar on the Costa del Sol watching it with the sound turned off. Now praised as some kind of glorious reimagining of British cultural, scientific and social triumphs , all I saw was a surreal, Lionel Bart-esque imperialist wet dream. The Queen! With James Bond!! How very er, British!

Underneath all the showbiz however was the familiar story of land grabbing, social engineering, corporate greed and political sophistry. I was also reading Iain Sinclair’s ‘Ghost Milk’ at the time which put all the 2012 hype into its true historical context. Here’s Sinclair writing in 2008, four years before the London games began about what was already happening to that much romanticised area of the East End where the Hammers now plough their trade.

StratfordWestfieldTo question all this at the time or even now is to be branded a ‘naysayer’, a ‘cynic’, a ‘Doing Britain Down-er’ and anyone that opposes such magnificent projects is an enemy of ‘progress’ but what kind of progress is it, if progress at all? These vast theme parks, like the Millennium Dome before it, sold on similar promises, soon become nothing more than corporate entertainment centres with terrible transport systems and windswept concourses.

Soccer - West Ham United Takeover - Upton ParkWest Ham owners, David Gold and David Sullivan won’t be moaning however. They now have a buck shee super-stadium and won’t even have to stump up the running costs for most of it. This places them at a considerable financial advantage to other clubs both in London and elsewhere who have to spend large parts of their revenues on stadium costs.

What’s the betting that Gold and Sullivan end up selling large chunks of the Irons off to ‘investors’ keen to take a punt on a project that’s too big to fail. Where is the legacy in all this for those kids living in the shadow of the new stadium, or those businesses now left without a customer base in Green Street?

Just as Manchester City’s move from Maine Road to Eastlands left an already impoverished area, Moss Side, even more bereft, so West Ham’s move will have a lasting legacy on the population of E13. Yet at least City pay £4 million a year in rent to use the former Commonwealth Games stadium plus all overheads. West Ham’s deal not only upset other clubs, notably Spurs and Orient who had their eyes on the ground but also may fall foul of European ‘state aid’ laws, y’know those pesky ‘level playing field’ rules those Brussels types were always imposing on us.

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Legacy doesn’t always work out in the way those who seek it planned. Blair was looking around for a legacy and thought he’d found one with Iraq. That backfired but hey, he’s still milking that cash cow for all it’s worth, so what’s a legacy worth these days? Obama thought he’d found one with Health Care but, that piece of ‘communism’ is still twitching in the morgue and The First Black President presides over a nation whose law enforcement and judiciary kills and incarcerates its black population in frighteningly disproportionate numbers. No you can’t mate!

The word legacy actually means “an amount of money or property left to someone in a will.” It’s not about some demagogue associating themselves with a piece of legislation or a bloody conflict, it’s not about creaming off contracts or gifting a stadium to a bunch of millionaire businessmen. If it wasn’t yours in the first place, how can you pass it on?

Abstract legacies will no doubt justify Team GB’s record medal haul at Rio 2016. They were ‘inspired’ by the successes of 2012, and maybe some were, and maybe money talks and bullshit walks, and maybe asking what it’s all about anyway, is just being a joyless loser. Keep those flags flying, keep those medals and honours coming, keep the myth intact; ‘we’re all in it together’ folks.

Israel – The Apartheid State

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By Phil Thornton (Author of Casuals)

The Zionist regime of Israel despises the ‘apartheid’ description of their cruel oppression of the Palestinians.

This is the definition of apartheid:  “a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race.”

Now, I don’t believe in using words such as ‘race’ as that term implies differences in humans that don’t actually exist, apart from in the warped minds of evolution deniers.

The Nazis believed in racial purity, as did the architects of apartheid in South Africa. The Zionists obviously believe that the Palestinians are ‘culturally’ different to them, not only in terms of religion and language but also ‘race.’

There are some who still believe in the ludicrous genealogies of the Bible right back to Adam and Eve or at least back to Shem, y’know Noah’s lad who founded the ‘Shemite’ race.

Such people still use these spurious and childish arguments to justify their ‘right’ to land and natural resources and to remove others from it and place them in what amount to huge open prisons.

Like the South Africans, they believe that they are intellectually, morally and culturally superior to these lower, savage races. They dress up their barbarity in cloaks of sophistry.

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They use words such as these:

“Because America and Israel, we share a common destiny, the destiny of promised lands that cherish freedom and offer hope. Israel is grateful for the support of American — of America’s people and of America’s presidents, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.”

– Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the US congress in 2015

‘Promised lands?’   Who promised them to you? Your God? Oh, OK then, crack on!

‘Cherish freedom and offer hope!’   You’d have to laugh at such nauseating lies if it wasn’t for the pathetic reality of the world’s richest state giving tacit approval for its client state’s (or is the other way around) illegal and disgusting treatment of the Palestinians.

Israel needs to be treated with similar contempt shown to the South African regime in the 70s and 80s. If the waving of a Palestinian flag at a football match in Glasgow can be regarded by Uefa as an illegal act then maybe it’s UEFA that needs to examine itself, not Celtic fans.

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Meanwhile, the campaign to ‘Match the fine for Palestine’ continues to build and is now standing at around £140,000 – a phenomenal sum of money raised by Celtic fans in solidarity with the Palestinian people, in aid of two very worthwhile charities working in the occupied territories. The original modest target of £15,000 set by the Green Brigade has been bettered almost ten times over! It is an unequivocal answer to the oligarchs who run the game that these football fans will not be silenced when it comes to matters of injustice, inequality, racism and apartheid.

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The beauty of Celtic fans’ solidarity with Palestine

In just 24 hours Celtic supporters have raised more than £50,000 for humanitarian projects in Palestine. This was their response to the threat of a UEFA fine for the club as a result of their display of Palestinian flags at the Champions League play-off match against Be’er Sheva. A demonstration of their understanding of the issues and a display of international solidarity with the people of Palestine.

By John Wight

The worldwide response to the stance that thousands of Celtic fans took in solidarity with the Palestinians during their Champions League tie with Israeli side, Hapoel Beer-Sheva, leaves no doubt that in the second decade of the 21st century internationalism remains more powerful than any number of Apache helicopter gunships, cruise missiles, and tanks when it comes to shaping the world. For the Palestinian people, living in a de facto open prison in Gaza and under the longest military occupation in modern history in the West Bank, the sight of Celtic fans flying and waving a flag that means more to them than life itself will have made their hearts soar, reminding them they do not stand alone in defiance of an oppressor dedicated to their subjugation, cultural annihilation and despair.

While no one is suggesting that a free Palestine is just around the corner, the growth in international support for this righteous objective, with the spread and growth of the international campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, makes the status quo evermore untenable and unsustainable.

A people who find themselves living under occupation, subjected to a racist system of apartheid at the hands of a colonial power, can never be anything but politically aware. Under such conditions you don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind is blowing, and neither does it take a PhD in politics or economics to gain an understanding of the world. Thus the struggle waged by generations of Irishmen and women against British colonialism entrenched the worldview and core values that underpin Irish republicanism. A key plank of those values is the unshakeable belief that standing on the side of justice in the matter of oppression is more than a choice it’s an obligation and a duty. When it comes to the Palestinians this takes on added force when we consider the solidarity they have shown towards the Irish struggle in the past.

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One of the most moving documents I have ever encountered in my political life was a letter written by Palestinian political prisoners in tribute to Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers upon Sands’ death. The letter was smuggled out of the Nafha prison in the Negev desert, where they were incarcerated, and arrived in the Falls Road soon after.

It reads:

To the families of the martyrs oppressed by the British ruling class. To the families of Bobby Sands and his martyred comrades.

We, revolutionaries of the Palestinian people who are under the terrorist rule of Zionism, write you this letter from the desert prison of Nafha.

We extend our salutes and solidarity with you in the confrontation against the oppressive terrorist rule enforced upon the Irish people by the British ruling elite.

We salute the heroic struggle of Bobby Sands and his comrades, for they have sacrificed the most valuable possession of any human being. They gave their lives for freedom.

From here in Nafha prison, where savage snakes and desert sands penetrate our cells, from here under the yoke of Zionist occupation, we stand alongside you. From behind our cell bars, we support you, your people and your revolutionaries who have chosen to confront death.

Since the Zionist occupation, our people have been living under the worst conditions. Our militants who have chosen the road of liberty and chosen to defend our land, people and dignity, have been suffering for many years. In the prisons, we are confronting Zionist oppression and their systematic application of torture. Sunlight does not enter our cell. Basic necessities are not provided. Yet we confront the Zionist hangmen, the enemies of life.

Many of our militant comrades have been martyred under torture by the fascists allowing them to bleed to death. Others have been martyred because Israeli prison administrators do not provide needed medical care.

The noble and just hunger strike is not in vain. In our struggle against the occupation of our homeland, for freedom from the new Nazis, it stands as a clear symbol of the historical challenge against the terrorists. Our people in Palestine and in the Zionist prisons are struggling as your people are struggling against the British monopolies and we will both continue until victory.

On behalf of the prisoners of Nafha, we support your struggle and cause of freedom against English domination, against Zionism and against fascism in the world.

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On Wednesday August 17, 2016, thousands of Celtic supporters answered this message of solidarity from Palestinian political prisoners in 1981 with a message of their own. They did so in the face of UEFA threats of disciplinary action against the club and a hefty fine. Celtic FC and its fans should be proud to pay any such fine, viewing it not as punishment but as an investment in their humanity. As Malcolm X said, “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.”

The world now knows that in an age of cynicism and indifference to suffering, Celtic supporters most assuredly do stand for something.

Follow John on Twitter @ JohnWight1

You can see more of his writing at Medium, RT, Sputnik, and Counterpunch.

To make a donation to the #matchthefineforpalestine appeal click here

Let’s Match The Fine For Palestine

CelticPalestine

Let’s Match The Fine For Palestine

Click here to make a donation – #‎matchthefineforpalestine‬

At the Champions League match with Hapoel Beer Sheva on 17 August 2016, the Green Brigade and fans throughout Celtic Park flew the flag for Palestine. This act of solidarity has earned Celtic respect and acclaim throughout the world. It has also attracted a disciplinary charge from UEFA, which deems the Palestinian flag to be an ‘illicit banner’.

In response to this petty and politically partisan act by European football’s governing body we are determined to make a positive contribution to the game and today launch a campaign to #MatchTheFineForPalestine. We aim to raise £15,000* which will be split 50/50 between Medical Aid Palestine (MAP) and to the Lajee Centre, a Palestinian creative cultural children’s centre in the Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem.

MAP-logoMedical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) works for the health and dignity of Palestinians living under occupation and as refugees.

MAP delivers health and medical care to those worst affected by conflict, occupation and displacement.

Working in partnership with local health providers and hospitals, MAP addresses a wide range of health issues and challenges faced by the Palestinian people.

With offices located in Beirut, Ramallah, Jerusalem and Gaza City, MAP responds rapidly in times of crisis, and works directly with communities on longer term health development.”

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Aida is one of 19 refugee camps in the West Bank and has for 66 years played temporary home to Palestinians forcibly expelled from their homes in Hebron and Jerusalem. Its residents live in the shadow of Israel’s apartheid wall, cut off from social and economic opportunities by the wall and neighbouring illegal settlements and military checkpoints.
For the young people of Aida, the Lajee Centre offers hope and an escape from the realities of life under Israeli occupation via its art and culture programmes and sport programmes.

A female Israeli border guard fires tear gas towards Palestinian demonstrators (unseen) during a protest in the Aida Palestinian refugee camp near the West Bank city of Bethlehem on March 22, 2014, after three Palestinians were killed in Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank during an operation launched by Israeli soldiers to arrest a militant. Medical and security sources said two of those killed were militants and the third was a civilian. (MUSA AL-SHAER/AFP/Getty Images)
A female Israeli border guard fires tear gas at protesters in the Aida Palestinian refugee camp

The camp’s only football pitch was built last year by the Lajee Centre, at the heart of Aida. The pitch is now protected by metal netting after it was damaged by tear gas canisters fired by the Israeli Defence Forces. Residents had previously played on recreation ground stolen by the wall.

The money will be a much needed boost to the Lajee Centre who will be able to extend their activities to bring much needed relief via their arts, dance and football programmes. One such programme is that of youth football, with the Lajee Centre looking to organise a youth football team to take part in the Bethlehem Youth League.

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There are no organised teams in Aida, with basic equipment like boots in short supply. Funds raised will provide equipment, strips and travel costs to enable the camp to enter a team in the Bethlehem Youth League.

In recognition of the show of support from Celtic fans and all those around the world Salah Ajarma, Coordinator of the Lajee Centre will name the team ‘Aida Celtic’: “It will mean so much to our young people to be part of an official team, to have boots and strips and to represent the camp wearing the colours of our friends. Aida Celtic will be a source of pride for all in Aida”

Let’s #matchthefineforpalestine and show the footballing establishment the true spirit of the game.

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