17 June ~ The qualities many British football fans seem to admire most are those that bear a similarity to the contents of the average supermarket sausage: heart, lungs, guts, balls. A wide range of offal treats then, with the notable exception of brains. These characteristics are often corralled under the heading "passion" and enjoy an enduring reverence in spite of the humiliations routinely handed out to our national teams by countries who prefer to concentrate on things like "passing", "controlling the ball" and "not picking Gareth Barry". So when Paulo Di Canio stated in his first press conference at Swindon Town that he wanted "to have all players with two big bollocks", he was preaching to the choir.

His recruitment has, however, not impressed everyone. While the vast majority of fans are beside themselves with excitement, drooling at the prospect of players such a high-profile personality will attract to the Country Ground, there exists a small minority of us who argue that the brief period of publicity cannot possibly compensate for the irreversible damage done to the club's reputation by hiring a man so closely associated with fascism.

Naturally, our concerns at the selection have been dismissed as the complaints of Guardian-reading do-gooders, but at least one sponsor shared our disquiet and immediately withdrew their funding. The debate that followed the appointment revealed that most Swindon fans would apparently welcome anyone as manager if they believed he would steer them into the second round of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy (although when Graham Rix was briefly linked to the job, it nearly broke the internet). Reading the comments on Facebook pages and local newspaper websites can be a dispiriting exercise at the best of times, but when you see that people with whom you share a common bond have chosen the image of a man adopting a fascist salute as their profile picture, you begin to question whether you really want to be associated with the club and its fans.  

Elsewhere, the conversation has focused on the extent and relevance of Di Canio's political beliefs and the nastiness of his particular strand of fascism. It's a complex issue, but one that we probably wouldn't have had to consider if the club had simply appointed Paul Bodin (unless there hides a dark secret behind his amiable persona).

It goes against the grain of current popular thinking, but some things – most things – are more important than football. Although it eats up huge amounts of our time, jeopardises our personal relationships and has the power to reduce the best of us to clammy, incoherent wrecks, ultimately it's just a game. The appointment gave me the chance to consider my own moral compass and question whether I could disregard those beliefs and continue to support a club prepared to appoint a Mussolini sympathiser with a history of flicking right-arm salutes. It's something I'm still struggling with.

On purely football terms, the appointment is also questionable. Di Canio has not been involved in English football since 2004 and would presumably struggle to recognise a League Two player if he trod on his jackboots. He has spoken of his intention to borrow youth players from Tottenham and AC Milan, whetting the appetite of supporters with memories short enough to have forgotten the disastrous loan spell of Jonathan Obika last season and ignoring the fact that we have our own pool of talented young players from which to draw.

Of course, he may follow the path of previous young Swindon managers and enjoy great success. But history has taught us that this will simply lead to a swift departure and more turbulence. To coin a phrase popular among cynical wedding guests, I give it six months. David Squires

Comments (13)
Comment by Coral 2011-06-17 11:52:46

Brilliant article

Comment by foxychops1975 2011-06-17 12:40:35

Good article and it's a tricky one. I'm a Swindon fan and although I don't agree with his political views in any way, I am genuinely excited to see what he can do as a manager within the English game, as his passion for the game will shine through an otherwise turgid League 2 schedule (with all due respect to the other 23 teams, it's definitely a league you want to get out of)

I'm sure there will be the inevitable fascist salutes, taunts and assorted posters/flags from the opposition fans, and I'm sure this will be debated as the season progresses on this noticeboard & others, but League 2 football benefits from Di Canio's presence, not just at Swindon but at other clubs, from a football point of view if nothing else.

The days of managers taking teams through the leagues are over (eg Graham Taylor, Dave Bassett), so if Di Canio proves a success, takes us up and then leaves for bigger & better, I think most Swindon fans would wish him well. Plus we have a record of giving cultured international footballers their first break in management - Hoddle, Ardiles, Macari - so this fits with our 1980s & 90s philosophy.

I guess you could also argue that Di Canio's fascist outbursts haven't been in the UK but in Italy, and despite the odd incident here and there, his overall disciplinary record in the UK isn't overly poor, and in fact he won the PFA Fair Play award a few seasons ago. I would rather judge him on his playing record over here and give him the benefit of the doubt on his past, so long as he leaves the politics out of the game and concentrates on Crewe at home ...

Comment by G.Man 2011-06-17 14:34:39

Excellent article.

As for foxychops calling Il Duce Jr's disciplinary record in the UK not "overly poor", it's a bit like describing Eric Cantona's relationship with fans of London clubs "generally cordial".

Comment by Bobby Westside 2011-06-17 15:11:23

I think the introduction should be given 'Intro of the Month' in the next WSC

Comment by atlanticjaxx 2011-06-17 17:09:24

Some details on his political views would be helpful, Not making excuses for his apparent sympathies, but can someone point me to the article where he expands his views and reasons for the salute/love of Mussolini?

Comment by Craig van Fostinho 2011-06-17 23:04:31

We have to hope that Signor di Canio's political views don't come into his football. If however, he talks about mounting a "March on Oxford" when it comes to the yokel derby, then I'd start getting worried.

Comment by Craig van Fostinho 2011-06-17 23:10:43


gives a bit of an idea. In other areas di Canio talks about being a fascist but not a racist. Well, that makes it all right then...????

Comment by atlanticjaxx 2011-06-18 14:25:15


Thanks for the Spiegel link. I'm guessing he aint much of a racist or a fascist, more like a idiot Lazio tribalist. The man needs confronting anyway.

It all sits uncomfortably with the perception of him as a bastion of fairplay doesnt it?.. pity

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-06-18 16:52:18

From what I have seen and read of Paolo do Canio, I very much doubt if he is a proper, full-on fascist. That would require a level of social and political awareness that is probably way beyond him. A more likely explanation for his erratic behaviour is that he's slightly eccentric, he's extremely hot-headed and, most significant of all - he's not particularly clever.

Ideal material for football management, some might say...

Comment by Dalef65 2011-06-19 11:43:15


Thats what the author meant to say....

Comment by madmickyf 2011-06-20 02:40:37

Would he be acceptable as manager of Swindon if he was a Communist?

Comment by johntheface 2011-06-20 10:04:59

Gareth Barry is one of England and Manchester City's best players

Comment by placidcasual 2011-06-23 16:58:50

Fantastic article, addresses the ethical dilemmas of being a modern football fan. Would be great to see such a topic developed further.

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