Which footballers have famous political views?
Politics and football rarely mix. In fact, perhaps the beauty of competitive sport in this day and age is the complete absence of political manoeuvre and personal societal gain. While elements of political gossip do still occasionally crop up in football, it is normally at board room level regarding off the pitch matters.
It is rare therefore that players assert their own political beliefs in a public manner, partly because there’s no point in dividing an audience which supports you, and partly because there’s a sense of apathy towards politics amongst the demographic of men who make it as professional footballers. Here are some of the famous footballers of the past who’ve had a thing or two to say about how things outside of sport should be done…
While Italy has always been a little synonymous with nationalistic viewpoints (Mussolini et al), reports that ex-Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati was a self-confessed fascist were still shocking.
‘I am not ashamed to proclaim my political beliefs. I share [the] ideals of fascism, such as the fatherland and the values of the Catholic religion’, he said in 2008.
Paolo Di Canio
Similarly, ex-Sunderland and Swindon town manager Paolo Di Canio allegedly stated that he was ‘a fascist, not a racist’ in 2005. He was also guilty of using a Roman salute towards Roma and Livorno fans, a 20th century fascist gesture, while playing for Lazio. In his autobiography he praised Mussolini, Hitler’s ally, as ‘basically a very principled, ethical individual’. Woof. Trade union GMB terminated its sponsorship of Swindon when they appointed Di Canio in 2011, while David Miliband, brother of ex-Labour leader Ed Miliband and former foreign secretary, stepped down from the Sunderland board upon his appointment at Sunderland.
On the opposite end of the political scale, West Ham manager Slaven Bilic has identified himself as a socialist.
‘If you know to share what you own, you live happily and with honor. I am a true socialist. I know I can’t save the world on my own; but if there is a struggle against unjustness, I always prefer to be on the frontline, and that is my attitude toward life’, he said.
During the recovery of the global recession, Eric Cantona, in typical Russell Brand style, called for a social revolution against banks, encouraging customers to withdraw their money in 2010 in protest. Moreover, in 2012, he also tried to garner 500 signatures from elected officials to make a genuine attempt for the French presidential election, with the idea of supporting a homeless charity called Emmaus.
Despite all of the baggage that has embroiled much of Joey Barton’s controversial career (prison, etc.), through his vocal outlet on Twitter and appearances on political programmes such as Question Time, the Rangers player has presented himself as a bit of a philosopher. He described the UK independence party (UKIP) as ‘If I’m somewhere and there was four really ugly girls, I’m thinking she’s not the worst – that’s all UKIP are’. He also discussed in detail the lack of gay footballers in the Premier League, where he explained he wants wants his generation’s legacy to ‘help not only change the game for the better, and change the teams that they played in, but also change the culture and change the society and the football clubs that they played at’.
Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex is a self-confessed socialist, born from his working class upbringing in Govan, Scotland.
He delves into this in detail in his My Autobiography, where he openly explains that his ‘political convictions have remained largely unchanged from my time as a shop steward in the shipyards of Govan. In my youth I acquired not so much a range of ideological views as a way of seeing life; a set of values. I would put my cross on the ballot paper and support (The Labour Party) in the visual way. You wouldn’t see me sitting beside (British Prime Minister) David Cameron, would you? You would see me alongside a Labour MP. That would be my impact.’
He even explains how Tony Blair (PM between 1997-2005) asked for his opinion on sacking Gordon Brown (PM between 2005-2010) when Brown was Chancellor in his early cabinet. While there are many easy ways of illustrating the staggering influence of Ferguson, the fact that a standing head of state asked for advice on a key political issue shows the extent of his reach. He was also against Scottish Independence in 2014.
This years’s 2016 Copa Del Ray final was again affiliated with pro-Catalonia independence messages, with the Spanish government banning the display of Estelada flags, political signs pertaining to Catalonia one day breaking off from the rest of Spain.
Not surprisingly, Pep Guardiola has expressly illustrated his desire for Catalonia to gain independence from mainland Spain. He confirmed last year he would vote for the ‘Together in Yes’ party for independence in the Catalonia parliamentary election. A minor issue for now, maybe, but a political issue that might one day see Barcelona play in a completely different league. Imagine.
McClean finds himself in a political storm every November for one simple reason: he doesn’t believe he should wear a poppy to remember WWI veterans. This Football Faculty article summarises this debacle fully.
Stoke striker Jon Walters expressed his delight for the Tories when they were re-elected last year. As one might expect, he received a myriad of abuse in return.
Likewise, QPR midfielder Karl Henry has expressed his support for the conservative party on multiple occasions.
Stan Collymore has spent much of his career fleeting between the back and front pages, where his political views have become apparent. Collymore is a republican (like Jeremy Corbyn, the belief that heads of state should be elected, an implicit way of opposing the British Royal Family) and a supporter of the Labour party.
That said, in December, in light of learning that the British government would support air-strikes on ISIS, he tweeted that he had joined the Scottish National Party.
Check out his twitter to see him tirelessly lock horns with right-wingers who often have provocatively different views to him.