One of my sons is a Sunderland fan. Since he’s in New York, I haven’t had a chance yet to ask him what he thinks of the appointment of Paolo di Canio as the team’s head coach. I know what David Milliband thinks of it, since, although he’s about to depart for New York himself, he was since 2011 a director on the Sunderland board. Now he’s resigned over “past political statements” that di Canio has made.
Which were? Well, Virginia, Paolo has declared himself to be a fascist. When he played for Lazio, he was pictured giving a Nazi salute to adoring fans. He has made no bones about being “a fascist but not a racist”. And he has received support from an unlikely quarter - Stan Collymore, former star of Nottingham Forest and other clubs. According to today’s Guardian, Collymore has tweeted :
“Faux outrage as always on twitter. No Italian ex footballer ever called me N*****. Just plenty from the wonderful UK shires."
Odd, the sources from which sane comment comes.
Which leads me to ask when it was the great British public started judging their sporting men and women by their political stance (di Canio)? Or private life (John Terry/George Best)? Or drinking habits? (Paul Gasgoine, Best again) or their belief in reincarnation (Glen Hoddle)? The defence is that these sporting heroes are models for youngsters,. True enough. But they’re modelled for their playing skills - not for their wife-beating or thoughts on the after-life. If a brain surgeon is operating on me, I just want him to be really good with that scalpel or drill. His views on other matters are his affair.
Paolo di Canio will be judged (I hope) on whether he can perform the miracle of keeping Sunderland from dropping into a lower division next season. That’s it - not, as Collymore puts it, “faux outrage”.