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United for peace

03/23/2013

Peterloo

There’s been much talk this week about the tenth anniversary of British and American forces invading Iraq. As a namby pamby, muesli munching pacifist I prefer to remember the events of a month before when over a million people took to the streets of London to demonstrate their opposition to going to war in Iraq. Many carried placards bearing the words “not in my name”.

It’s remarkable in these largely politically apathetic times in the UK that so many people, from all over the country, gathered together on 15th February 2003. Like many protests in London, thousands towards the back of the march never made it to Hyde Park to hear politicians and others denounce the impending war. But it wasn’t the speeches that mattered. In fact, apart from Tony Benn, I can’t remember who else was scheduled to speak that day. It was the solidarity and comradeship that came from standing shoulder to shoulder with so many like-minded folk that warmed the cockles. Well, that and taking a quick swig from the hip flask of a complete stranger.

Of course the march didn’t stop the war but it sent a very clear message to the government that their war-mongering rhetoric definitely did not speak for us all. Indeed, it’s arguable that Tony Blair’s government was never quite the same again. It felt woefully out of touch that day.

The march was on the same day as Manchester United’s FA Cup fifth round tie with Arsenal. I missed the match to go on the march. As we snaked slowly through the streets of central London I nipped into a pub on a couple of occasions to check on the score and warm up on a bitterly cold grey day. United lost 2-0, of course, and Giggsy missed a sitter. But it was only later in the day that I learnt about, what was for me, the most significant aspect of the match.

A group of United fans unfurled a banner at the Stretford End proclaiming them to be “24 Hour Peterloo Peace People”, an obvious reference to Michael Winterbottom’s film 24 Hour Party People about Factory Records and the Mancunian music scene. The banner also recalled one of the most significant moments in the history of peaceful protest in Britain; the Peterloo massacre in 1819 when soldiers on horseback charged into a crowd of thousands who had assembled peacefully in St Peter’s Field in Manchester to demand parliamentary reform. 15 people were killed and hundreds injured.

Even though I wasn’t at the match, hearing about the banner made me feel immensely proud to be a Red. There were many football supporters on the march but I think I’m right in saying that this was the only incidence of anti-war protest inside a football ground that day. Ah, those pesky Reds.

Of course, there was no mention of this on television or radio. Football fans aren’t really meant to concern themselves with events in the wider world are they? A shame because I like my football sprinkled with a bit of politics. After all, the sport doesn’t exist in a social vacuum. The very act of forming a football club in the first place is a political one.

Ten years on and FC United of Manchester, the club formed in 2005 by some of the bolshier elements of Manchester United’s support, will be playing a couple of friendly matches in Germany at the end of May. One is against Dynamo Dresden and the other versus the lesser known SV Babelsberg 03 from Potsdam. The latter play their home games at the Karl Liebknecht stadium. Liebknecht was a German socialist MP who opposed Germany’s participation in the First World War and was the only member of the Reichstag to vote against further loans to support the war effort in 1914. He was imprisoned and later executed for his troubles. Think of that eh? A football ground that doesn’t have the name of some big business plastered all over it but one that’s named after a socialist hero. I haven’t been to Babelsberg yet but I like them already. And apparently Babelsberg’s fans use Karl Liebknecht’s face on many of their banners. I bet these banners don’t get hauled down for being too political.

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From → Politics, Sport

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