Morality lectures grate

icon sunderland27 April ~ Sunderland head to Chelsea today with hopes raised of at least seeing a shot on target, following the events of Easter weekend. Most Mackems fans would agree that, with Martin O'Neill in charge, they were gone. This was an awful team, playing awful football. Strangely, there had been little movement against O'Neill, the boyhood fan with genuine managerial pedigree. If he couldn't succeed, it was time to slink quietly off to the far more enjoyable Championship. What's more, no one seemed to care. We were leaden with apathy.

Well, the apathy has been obliterated. Paolo di Canio is exotic, articulate, bonkers and, most importantly, not Mark Hughes. Shame about those "Roman" salutes and that fascist claim in his autobiography. For sound family reasons, I have good cause to despise fascism. I would prefer my football club not to be coached by a man with a pro-Mussolini tattoo.

But then, I'd also prefer my club not to be owned by a hedge-fund manager fattened on capitalism's grubbiest fare. I'd prefer my club not to be sponsored by a murky organisation with links to the African oil industry. I'd prefer my club not to wear shirts manufactured by a company with a "sweatshop" history. I'd prefer my club not to have appointed a vice-chairman who finds blood on his hands every time a bomb rips apart innocent Iraqi shoppers. I'd prefer my club not to play in a league bankrolled by a media organisation that prints pictures of naked women in its flagship newspaper.

Sunderland supporters have reason to feel ill at ease even without the presence of a fascist on the touchline. We're not alone though, are we? Supporting most teams, these days, requires moral compromise. Having dubious morals is one thing, being lectured about them is another. That's why Chelsea will find themselves playing a strangely regalvanised club.

Those who come through the turnstiles will not be cowed and mute, as they have been for the past six months. They feel picked on. They detect the scent of hypocrisy. Was Di Canio a fascist or not, they ask, when he joined Swindon? Was he a fascist or not when the BBC gave him a column on their website? Was he a fascist or not when West Ham named a hospitality lounge after him? Where were Newsnight and the radio phone-ins then?

Football psychology being the curious thing it is, that defensiveness might translate into points. In these perverse times, the deluge of outrage might actually contribute to Di Canio's greatest success; drawing supporters and players around him. Joe Boyle

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