David Head: Imports kick out racism and bigotry

From a lecture given in Munster, by the Professor of International Business at Plymouth University

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THE INTERNATIONALISATION of football is causing progressive neglect of its local roots, and from this perspective, the game is lost if it does not think local and act local. But where football thinks local and acts local to an extreme degree, we also find xenophobia, racism and bigotry. An effective antidote to the narrow-mindedness and prejudice that stem from blinkered local affinities is internationalisation at both club and national level. In particular, Europeanisation through football has had a salutary effect in Britain.

The internationalisation of football is causing progressive neglect of its local roots, and from this perspective, the game is lost if it does not think local and act local. But where football thinks local and acts local to an extreme degree, we also find xenophobia, racism and bigotry. An effective antidote to the narrow-mindedness and prejudice that stem from blinkered local affinities is internationalisation at both club and national level. In particular, Europeanisation through football has had a salutary effect in Britain.

In Scotland, it took Graham Souness, fresh from his Europeanising experience with Sampdoria, to bring about the anti-sectarian revolution at Glasgow Rangers that was to restore that club's fortunes on the field when he signed the Catholic player Maurice Johnston in 1989. In England, within the past 10 years, a German player and a Swedish manager neutralised the blimpish insularity that is an expression of English localism.

The imported Swede, of course, is Sven Goran Eriksson. Labelled " il gentiluomo" in Italy while with Lazio, he became a conspicuous European embodiment of the gentleman football manager. He had to overcome initial cultural hurdles. But the fact that he was not one of us was an asset. He was immune to English jingoism. He was quiet, reflective, scientific, urbane and a polyglot. He got England to the World Cup. His manner and methods have even generated interest in the Swedish business management style, which he is seen to epitomise and which has started to sound like an appealing and effective way of doing things.

European imports have shown us English that keeping things local is not all it has been cracked up to be.

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