At least Di Canio is honest about his fascist views - unlike his critics

Our risk-averse culture becomes less tolerant of dissent each week


Because sport is now such an important part of national life, both in itself and as a metaphor for this or that, the appointment of a controversial Italian as manager of a Premiership football club has become something of a news story.

Already, it has caused a high-profile resignation from the club’s board and much rage and hand-wringing in the press and online. The background, personality and, above all, opinions of the new Sunderland manager, Paolo Di Canio, transcend the small matter of football, apparently.

There certainly seems to be a number of good reasons to be offended by his appointment. He is an awkward, shouty character, whose histrionics as a player – pushing a referee over, going on sit-down strike on the pitch – are better remembered than his achievements. His style as a boss is “management by hand grenade”, according to his former employer. He is somewhat boastful, proud of his own egotism. His political views are a bit of a problem, too. In his autobiography, Di Canio wrote that Mussolini was a “deeply misunderstood individual... His actions were often vile. But all this was motivated by a higher purpose.” He has described himself as a fascist and more than once was photographed, mad-eyed, raising his right arm in the direction of fans during games in Italy.

Although he has always denied being racist, and his writings in the Italian press bear out this claim, the fact is that it is fans on the far right  who continue to taunt and bully black players across Europe.

Questions have been asked. Is this the sort of man we want in public life? What kind of example does his appointment set to young football fans? Were other, less controversial candidates not available?

It is, in fact, the reaction to Di Canio’s appointment which has been interesting. The club’s former vice-chairman, David Miliband, swiftly moved to distance himself from the club, resigning from the board. Local MPs have spoken of boycotting games. Grizzled, man-and-boy fans have been incandescent. “It is not my club any more,” one has written. “The heart has been ripped out of it.”

We have become so inured to intolerance masquerading as a sense of social responsibility that we have become used to this kind of thing. The idea that a person with unacceptable views, however seriously or privately held, should as a result of those opinions be denied a high-profile job is widely held by people of conscience.

Yet is this not, in its quietly sinister way, itself a form of fascism? Freedom of thought and speech is only meaningful if it applies to those who have opinions which the majority find unpalatable. The argument that only those in the political mainstream are appropriate as football managers is a small step from a wider kind of control. It is part of the same spectrum as, say, a government minister demanding the sacking of a columnist who expresses a view with which she disagrees, or a social services department denying a couple who support Ukip from adopting a child.

Our queasily risk-averse culture becomes less tolerant of any kind of dissent week by week. It is no longer enough to disagree with someone who holds inappropriate views; that person should be banned, barred, cast into the outer darkness.

It is a fear of difference, perhaps even of individuality, that is at work here. Group-think, the kind of achingly concerned, safety-first attitudes which emerge in committees, conferences and boardrooms across the country, is above all self-protective. It wants everyone to be as decent and circumspect as the majority of respectable citizens.

This socially legitimised form of prejudice tends to be highlighted by the cartoonish extremes of professional football. Any player or manager who dares to express opinions about the wider world – Graeme Le Saux, Joey Barton and Paolo Di Canio – will find himself the subject of mockery and sneers. More widely, it tends to drain the colour from everyday life, to reward cautious mediocrity, and to reveal a society afraid of itself.

Beyond the misery memoir

There are few, if any, bad books of mourning. When John Bayley wrote about the illness and death of his wife Iris Murdoch, he was praised for his affectionate honesty, with only a few critics raising questions of taste or morality.

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion’s anguished memoir following the death of her husband John Gregory Dunne became a classic of remembrance, and Joyce Carol Oates’s A Widow’s Story was praised as a moving response to the many letters of condolence which she had received.

No doubt Julian Barnes’s new book, Levels of Life, which closes with the death of his beloved wife Pat Kavanagh, will be as clear-eyed, perceptive and sad as anything he has written, and fully deserving of the lead reviews it is getting.

It is the job of serious writers to invade their own privacy sometimes, and the best of these books will bring comfort and wisdom to readers. It must be my repressed English nature which makes me feel slightly uneasy about this new literary trend, the mourning memoir.

Twitter: @TerenceBlacker

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter

Never underestimate the power of the National Trust

Boyd Tonkin
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss