Seldom has there been a more tantalisingly ironic football saga than that of Paolo Di Canio and Sunderland. After that devastating sensational win at all places as nearby Newcastle – even if the Magpies did have a perfectly good goal ruled out by an over zealous linesman – there is a great ambiguity about Di Canio’s managerial position.
There is no doubt in my mind over where the huge majority of Sunderland fans now stand; they will want him passionately to stay. At last to win and after so many barren years at Gallowgate, to win against Newcastle, was surely beyond the remote hopes of Sunderland fans.
At Chelsea, where a bright first half had followed by an indifferent second. Di Canio had opined that his players were not fit enough. By last weekend, he certainly seemed to have got them in far better condition.
My own surmise is that for Sunderland fans, Mussolini himself, had he ever been appointed, would have been welcomed had he saved the club, which Di Canio still might, from relegation. Call it pragmatism, call it realism, call it if you wish blind obscurantism, but surely this is how football fans are made.
So was his appointment a wise one? No in terms of its huge insensitivity, given the anti Fascist traditions of the mining communities in that North East area. Yet in all probability, and certainly at Swindon, Di Canio’s often-flaunted Fascist background would scarcely have been noticed. Not the least prolix development of the affair is that under sustained pressure Di Canio, Fascist salutes, huge Fascist tattoos, tributes to Mussolini fervently and shamelessly evinced, he ultimately had to deny his Fascist sympathies. To the predictable disgust of his former Fascist associates.
For my part, I have liked him on acquaintance deplored his bigoted, irrational political beliefs but believe that in his highly unorthodox, lively, autocratic ways, he is a manager of consequence. And should he save Sunderland, that’s where he will surely stay.
Leopards don’t change their spots. Millwall’s hooligans who so horribly disgraced themselves at Wembley – fighting viciously among themselves, for Heaven’s sake – have a torrid history going well back into the 1920s; when dockers formed a substantial part of their support.
Other than kick Millwall out of football, which would be monstrously unfair to a club which has done its utmost to extirpate hooliganism and, though, oddly enough, it was the last of the established London clubs to achieve the old First Division, it has had not only the robust teams of the Cripps and Kitchener era but many a team which has played elegant, progressive football.
Would it have helped had the kick off not been so late in the afternoon? Why would it? Alcohol no doubt played its part in the fracas, but then many a match at Wembley begins as late as eight o’clock. Were the police at Wembley slow to react? They could hardly have been expecting Millwall fans to fight among themselves though actually there was a precedent, at a Highbury semi-final where Queens Park Rangers fans from reportedly Notting Hill and Shepherds Bush fought each other: on the North Bank.
And Newcastle? Straightforward city centre hooliganism no doubt engendered by the cataclysmic defeat by Sunderland. The sad truth is that despite much improved police surveillance methods, violent soccer hooliganism has never gone away. It’s been known often enough for hooligan “firms” to arrange a clash before a game, somewhere that the police are unlikely to find them.
But Millwall’s thugs are a fact of history. Seemingly there is some tension between those from Bermondsey and Peckham though not, it seems on this occasion. What can poor Kenny Jackett do? Or anyone else.