Going to the match: more thoughts on tolerance




I wonder what LS Lowry would have made of it. As a teenager in Calcutta during the 1960s and 1970s, I never quite experienced the sensation of “going to the match” the way that Lowry had portrayed.


We went to the matches.

Matches, plural. Not match. Because all the stadia were in the same area. To borrow a simile from the world of horse-racing, they were so close you could have covered all of them with a blanket.

In those days there were three main teams, East Bengal, Mohan Began and Mohammedan Sporting. The league only consisted of ten or twelve teams, so they played each other quite a few times. The sporting schedule had not been destroyed by the ravages of TV scheduling, so all matches took place at the same time on the same day.

And we all went to the matches. One stream of people, comprised of supporters of all the clubs. Intermingled. Unsegregated.


There was occasional violence, but it was rare. Keeping the peace was seen as a collective responsibility, a social responsibility. It worked. Because there were social brakes. We even called that violence “anti-social behaviour”.

When I came to England in 1980 I lived in Blundellsands, near Liverpool, for a while. It was only a matter of time before I made my way to Stanley Park for the first time and chose one of the clubs there as “my” club. I happened to choose Liverpool FC because the story of Bill Shankly had travelled as far as Calcutta, and because I’d heard of Keegan and Dalglish et al.


When I went for my first “derby”, I felt at home. It felt like Calcutta again. For sure Anfield was full of Liverpool fans, but there was a considerable number of Everton fans as well. And for the most part they sat together, unsegregated.

I have good friends who are Everton supporters, and I treasure the friendship. These things are important.

It’s not always perfect. I have seen violence at Merseyside derbies, it’s been there before and it will be there again. Despite those forays into uncivil behaviour, I think it remains largely true that Everton and Liverpool supporters heave learnt to live with each other, able to compete without the need for contempt.

If not for this, households and families would otherwise be riven beyond redemption. And that’s not a good thing.

This year, we’ve had one or two fairly significant “polarising” events: the “Brexit” referendum in the UK, the US Presidential election. Once again, households and families had the risk of being riven. If we allowed them to be.

We cannot allow that. We must not allow that.

I live with people who voted to leave and with people who voted to remain. I count both sets among my friends.

I work with people who voted Republican and with people who voted Democrat. I count both sets among my friends.

Democracy is about the 100% rather than about the 51% or the 49%. Or whatever other split you care to come up with.

There was a time when ballots were open, often oral. But that created the risk of corruption using force or finance or fear. The move to secret ballots was a partial response. It came with its weaknesses and corruptions as well. More recently, as ballots are often numbered and associated with registered voter numbers, the secrecy of the ballot is threatened.

What matters is not the secrecy of the ballot. What matters is the right and ability to cast one’s vote without fear or favour. If we lose that we lose some key aspects of civilisation.

I am not a deep student of politics, but I do get the sense that of late, politicians appear to be more interested in being re-elected, in ensuring their party stays in power, to the detriment of actually serving the electorate, which by the way is the 100% and not one side or another. So we see gerrymandering, the creation of landslide returning districts and constituencies, the concentration of neighbourhoods into homogeneous single-party voter groups.

Sustaining power that way comes with an ugly consequence, 21st century tribalism at its worst. I suspect it’s going to get worse before it gets better. More on that specific thread in the months to come, if I can bring myself to write in depth about it.

Today’s a day when tradition calls for wishing all of you peace on earth and goodwill to all. Whatever you believe in, I wish you peace. Peace and the ability to be tolerant of people you don’t agree with.

I have read reports that the ancient civilisations of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa showed no trace of weapons or warlike behaviour. That’s yet to be proven, the jury is still out. Cynics would say “and besides, the civilisations aren’t around any more”.

I wish you peace. And the ability to be tolerant of people you don’t agree with. That includes giving them the right to have their opinion.


Let me know what you think

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