Miners join opposition to Paolo Di Canio's appointment at Sunderland

New manager made inflammatory comments in the past

Paolo Di Canio will be formally presented as Sunderland's head coach this morning as controversy over his appointment persists.

Last night the Durham Miners' Association (DMA), which has close links to the football club, branded the decision to hire the 44-year-old Italian "a betrayal and a disgrace" and demanded the return of a symbolic banner should he remain in position.

The Stadium of Light stands on the site of the former Wearmouth Colliery and the Wearmouth Miners' Banner has been a permanent feature at the stadium, but that seems certain to end as a result of Di Canio's arrival.

Like former foreign secretary David Miliband, who on Sunday resigned as vice-chairman and non-executive director of Sunderland, the DMA has taken a stand because of comments Di Canio has made in the past.

Di Canio, who will appear at an 8am media conference, has previously declared himself "a fascist, not a racist" but yesterday attempted to cool any anger against him by saying media representation of his position has not been fair.

Nevertheless, the DMA has made its views clear.

Dave Hopper, the organisation's general secretary, said in a statement on the DMA website: "I, like many thousands of miners, have supported Sunderland from infancy and are passionate about football. But, there are principles which are much more important.

"The appointment of Di Canio is a disgrace and a betrayal of all who fought and died in the fight against fascism.

"Everyone must speak out and oppose this outrage and call on (owner) Ellis Short and the Sunderland board to reverse their decision.

"Our banner represents the Durham miners' long struggle for the rights of the working class, rights which were annihilated by fascism in Germany, Italy, Spain and Chile.

"We have a sacred obligation to the millions who were wiped out by Hitler, Mussolini and Franco to oppose fascism wherever and in whatever context this evil creed raises its head - particularly at a time when working people are again being forced to pay for capitalism's crisis as they were in Europe in the 1920s and 30s."

Di Canio is due to talk about "football issues only" at today's briefing and addressed his political views yesterday.

On the subject of fascist leanings, he said: "This didn't come from me, it came from a big story that people put out in a different way to what it was.

"I expressed an opinion in an interview many years ago. Some pieces were taken for media convenience.

"They took my expression in a very, very negative way - but it was a long conversation and a long interview. It was not fair. Sometimes it suits their purpose to put big headlines and a big story.

"When I was in England (as a player) my best friends were Trevor Sinclair and Chris Powell, the Charlton manager - they can tell you everything about my character.

"Talk about racism? That is absolutely stupid, stupid and ridiculous."

Sinclair and Powell are both black.

Sunderland's chief executive officer Margaret Byrne spoke for the club prior to the DMA statement but in response to earlier dissent.

She said: "To accuse him (Di Canio) now, as some have done, of being a racist or having fascist sympathies, is insulting not only to him but to the integrity of this football club."

PA

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