Brexitball: Dealing with disappointment

eurofootball

I can pin the last time I had that feeling down to the minute.

Sunday 13th April, 2014. 1.36pm.

Listen, I know I can’t complain about my life. I have a job I love and a wonderful girlfriend; I am healthy and have stayed out of destitution; I have good friends and live in a city I adore.

This is all fantastic but over all these elements I have at least a relative degree of control; this, sadly for a control freak like me, is not the case with everything, and of the things over which I have little or no control there are just two which really influence me: politics and football.

At 1.36pm on Sunday 13th April, 2014, Liverpool were playing Manchester City at Anfield. With the team on a Luis Suárez-inspired charge towards the Premier League title, Philippe Coutinho had put us 3-2 up against our only realistic challengers for the trophy. With only a minute or two to go, the game was essentially won. The title was all but in the bag. We could relax.

At that moment, in the 93rd minute, midfielder Jordan Henderson was shown a straight red card for a violent tackle on City winger Samir Nasri – and the world I dreamed of began to disintegrate.

The game ended 3-2, but the red card would prove costly. Henderson, initially criticised after his expensive move from his hometown club Sunderland, had enjoyed a rise to prominence supporting an absurdly talented attacking line alongside the legendary Steven Gerrard. The Mackem’s three-match suspension disrupted an otherwise consistent unit.

Downward spiral

1.36pm on Sunday 13th April, 2014, was the last time I felt the euphoria associated with the triumph of a cause with which you have allied your heart.

Two weeks later Liverpool lost to Chelsea, forfeiting the advantage in the title race, and the following month Manchester City claimed the Premier League trophy. Liverpool finished second.Since then, the following events have occurred:

  • Tuesday 24th June, 2014: Winless England’s dismal World Cup in Brazil ended with a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica.
  • Thursday 7th June, 2015: David Cameron’s Conservative Party unexpectedly won a majority in the UK parliament, marking a newfound period of austerity and demonisation of the vulnerable.
  • Saturday 12th September, 2015: Jeremy Corbyn was announced as the new leader of the Labour party, deepening divisions in the party and heralding an era of limpness.
  • Sunday 4th October, 2015: Brexit. That’s right – Brendan Rodgers took his exit from the helm of Liverpool. The manager who had led us to the brink of glory found his steep decline was abruptly halted with an ignominious dismissal.
  • Wednesday 18th May 2016: Liverpool lose the Europa League final 3-1 to Sevilla.
  • Thursday 26th May, 2016: In the USA, the Republican candidate for president was declared Donald Trump. I mean, really.

There has been the occasional outlier. I was pleased that Scotland remained in the UK – although they may well now not be – and happy that Sadiq Khan became Mayor of London, but this was mainly out of hatred of Zac Goldsmith and his campaign. I did not know at the time how much I would come to rue Corbyn becoming Labour leader, but in retrospect it deserves its place on the list. This may even be an incomplete litany but, in general, the trend has been downward.

And this has all led to the night before I thought to write this piece: Thursday 23rd June, 2016.

Who would have thought, two years, two months and ten days after Henderson’s vicious foul on Frenchman Nasri, that once again the harbinger of despair would be an attack on Europeans crafted in Sunderland?

Sunderland – one of the first results announced from the referendum to decide on the United Kingdom’s place in the European Union – had been expected to vote to leave, but the size of the win was a shock. The rest of the country followed suit. The ardent Europhilia of my adopted home city, London, coupled with Northern Ireland and Scotland was not enough to combat the voice of the large bulk of England and Wales; I, and many others around me, woke up to a world in which we felt we had rejected cooperation over self-interest, stability over rhetoric, hate over love.

Brexasperated

I spent the rest of the day in Birmingham. England’s second city had voted heavily to leave, but in the charity sector bubble in which I passed the morning you would never have guessed it; I heard no rejoicing in the result nor willingness to reconcile with those who had gone against what was perceived as the obvious choice. My social media feeds reflected much the same attitude.

This reconciliation has been my struggle for the remainder of the day. 51.9% of my voting compatriots have taken a decision which flies in the face of everything I believe in. I firmly believe that people are not completely irrational and there is always a way to understand another’s perspective, even if you can’t find a way to agree with it; nevertheless, every time I have tried to direct my internal monologue to construct a rational narrative for people’s reasoning for voting to leave, it descends into expletives and rage and frustration, as though trying to argue with your partner on the phone in a crowded place and being just unable to withhold your frustration until the end of the sentence.

Do I think everyone who voted to leave is bigoted and racist? No, not really. I heard far more reasoned arguments than that during the campaign; I simply cannot see how those arguments outweigh the other side. Stupid, then? Again, some may be, but this would be patronising to assume.

The word that I keep falling back to is ‘selfish’. The only way I can make sense of how reasonable people can come to the conclusion that leaving was better is the base instinct to watch one’s own back at the expense of others; it is the misguided idea that by walling ourselves off against the outside world, by avoiding rather than engaging with the Other, by putting the English language and the Union Flag on anything that moves, we will somehow be more secure despite all the evidence to the contrary. This is perhaps a natural human instinct, but one I had hoped enough of society had overcome.

What does MP’s murder mean?

Like many others, I was thinking in the days leading up to the vote about Jo Cox, the MP tragically shot dead in her constituency. The were some – particularly professional tosser Nigel Farage – who accused members of the Remain side of politicising her death, as she had been shot by a man spouting far-right views. They may have had a point.

Nevertheless, refraining from using her death to persuade others to vote your way does not make her murder irrelevant; to me, this woman about whom I had previously known next to nothing became a symbol for how politics should be conducted. Not only was she an earnest MP who believed in humanitarian causes, but she had also previously worked for charities seeking to make people’s lives more bearable, and it is rare in the political world that someone exists for whom nobody seems to have a bad word.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, I had asked myself why this incident seemed to be affecting me more than other such horrors. Perhaps it was that her views and some of her background reflected my own and I associated with her, I thought; in response, I wanted her demise to be used as a beacon to quell the venom in the debates.

It may just be the mood that the result of the referendum has put me in, but looking back it seems that the reason I felt the news so keenly may have been something far less rose-tinted. In the end, the vote became a question of Hate vs Fear, Lies vs Lies, and a tag-team of Hate and Lies won. Jo Cox represented the politics that I want all our leaders to hold themselves to – and her murder at the hands of an extremists now feels like the strangulation of that politics too.

And now…

It has been 804 days since Sunday 13th April, 2014.

I am tired. Yes, I’m obviously tired of Liverpool and England being unable to regularly kick balls into nets better than other teams, but moreover I am tired that the worldview which I and almost everyone I know holds dear – one built on compassion, equality, collaboration, optimism, tolerance, diversity, understanding, worldliness and patience – has been repeatedly, consistently and decisively stamped into the mud. Over 800 days of running into a headwind while being convinced it should be behind you.

I know that I will not feel this way forever. I have been scrabbling around for some kind of hope, coupled with some kind of strategy. What follows is the closest I’ve got.

I am hopeful that my generation – the so-called ‘millennials‘ – voted to remain. I am hopeful because everything you read about us tells you that we are more collaborative and socially-minded than the generation that came before, angry at the baby boomers’ emphasis on accumulation over community, comfortable and welcoming of those with different backgrounds. I am hopeful because this is the generation that is slowly taking the reins and in the years to come will be driving our economy, our business, our government, our culture.

In doing so, those of us on the left of the political spectrum need to define a new, 21st-century idea of what the left looks like in order to unite us and challenge a right wing which may seek to transform its stuffy, Home Counties image for a more palatable, cosmopolitan conservatism fronted by the likes of Ruth Davidson and Stephen Crabb. Not some third-way Blairite bullshit, but a reasoned philosophy which we can all get behind: a vision of a UK that takes the time to understand the views of disagreeing parties rather than writing them off as insane, bigoted or idealistic; of a London that engages with the disenfranchised parts of the nation instead of bemoaning their inability to keep up, but an England which supports each other rather than being built on envy and spite, of a policy direction that allows for the aspiration intrinsic to all of us without it needing to be at the expense of the society that has cradled us; a culture which means our generation will make the world a better place for our children rather than reaping its resources and then torpedoing our descendants.

I have hope that this will come to pass. Today it feels like it is hidden deep down, but I have that hope.

What’s the first step? Well, if England could win the Euros, that would be a really good start.

Addendum: Two days after this post was published, England were knocked out of the Euros by Iceland. Ahem.

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