Robins Gamble on a Dux

14 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   May 26, 2011  |     11

When last we left Swindon Town, the Robins were putting the finishing touches on a lamentable 2010/11 campaign that saw them relegated from League One and undergoing the process of disassembly. Beneficent chairperson Andrew Fitton chose to step down after having cleaned up Swindon’s financial flubs from the past but exhausted after a long and disappointing season which was to have seen the Robins challenge for Championship promotion rather than battling the drop. Subsquently, Fitton’s partner and interim chair Jeremy Wray swiftly sacked interim manager Paul Hart with only two matches remaining despite Town’s relegation already having been confirmed and a glance at the remaining names of the club’s officials were mostly followed by the tag (interim). While the Robins stirred from a seemingly eternal funk to record only their third victory of the calendar year on the final day, it mainly served as a highlight for youth coach Paul Bodin’s résumé.

If Wray was seeking to maintain interest in Swindon Town lest they be forgotten in League Two for the 2011/12 season, he has certainly now piqued the curiosity of the casual football fan by appointing Paolo Di Canio as the new manager. When Wray held the press conference announcing Di Canio’s arrival, he began by saying, “It’s nice to see our three regulars here, and welcome to the rest of you” as nearly seventy members of the national press were on hand in addition to the local set covering for the home papers. This will be the Italian’s first bite of the poisoned apple that is a managerial career after having obtained his UEFA coaching badges in 2010 and not been rung up by West Ham United following the dismissal of Avram Grant in a tunnel.

Laying aside some of the initial skepticism that this appointment was in part motivated from a public relations view, there has already been a deeper criticism levied at Swindon Town for bringing in Di Canio. Of course, we are talking about Di Canio’s professed appreciation of fascism and his repeated gestures of the stiff Roman Salute to the fans of Lazio during his final playing days in top flight football. Often, when labeling a charismatic character a fascist these days, it could be a slight exaggeration or a sensational way to collect eyeballs to one’s words, but in the case of Di Canio, it is the designation he prefers. For the man who has two tattoos–one for West Ham United and the other as a tribute to Benito Mussolini–he clarified the matter back in 2005 when facing FIFA charges over one of his Roman Salutes by stating, “I am a fascist, not a racist.”

Robins fans should be awfully glad he went ahead and cleared that up.

Now, it appears a goodly number of the Swindon Town fanbase have been energized by the prospect of Di Canio in charge, joining Mr. Wray in his giddy anticipation as to what next season might bring despite the Italian having no managerial record for reference. Likely, performances at Upton Park and with Charlton Athletic that helped the Hammers and Addicks reach their highest highs over the past decade contribute to this euphoria. Also, as a player his 2001 Fair Play Award for stopping play rather than score an easy goal so an injured Everton goalkeeper could receive medical attention indicates there is a sportsman under that “Dux” tattoo that could teach the Robins something more about the game than just getting results (even though “achieving results” is probably tattooed on his contract). Having been an attacking player, Di Canio could hopefully bring his playing experiences to bear in an instructional capacity to a stagnant offensive squad that saw Town score nearly thirty fewer goals than the previous campaign when the Robins were challenging for Championship promotion.

All are not incredibly enthused with Di Canio’s appointment, though, as the GMB Trade Union followed through on its previous threat to cut ties with the club if they hired him by announcing over the weekend it had indeed terminated its annual £4000 commitment including the individual sponsorhip of one of Swindon Town’s reserve players once his appointment was made official. Although this is not a princely sum of money for a club to lose in this day and age, the organization that has made the decision is considerably robust. The GMB is a large organization with reportedly over 600,000 union members nationwide who have likely already heard or will be receiving a newsletter soon about the decision to withdraw support from Swindon Town, and this could possibly add a few more ripples to the pool that was disturbed once this first pebble was dropped.

Anytime the Robins take to the pitch this fall in a union-heavy League Two town they should prepare for a certain amount of banter to be directed at their fascist gaffer and hopefully it will end only in verbal scrums between fans. Even at the County Ground, feelings of euphoria amongst Robins fans might soon fade if Di Canio’s charges stumble out the gate, as his public admiration of all things Mussolini have already forced some club supporters to choose between him and the union with a strict anti-fascist policy. Losing tends to bring out any and all criticisms one could level at a manager, and Wray could swiftly find himself in a fix if supporters begin blaming his appointed “Il Duce” for a poor run of form at home. In the extreme, those on the fringes of polite society might look to Di Canio’s visit on away days as an excuse to mobilise for pro-fascist, anti-union rallies that could turn Swindon Town match days into busy weekends for the local constable.

Granted, none of this seems to have occurred before while Di Canio was playing in England and Scotland, so why the fuss now? Back then he was only one member of a team who all took to the pitch in the same kit, so he could blend into the crowd a bit better as opposed to now being the manager who will show up with a piece in the match programme or the club website, give regular interviews to the press, and likely to be seen barking out instructions to eleven players knocking a ball about. Being the manager makes him the key figure for information in good times and bad; therefore he will be a much more prominent feature when Swindon Town is discussed this coming season. Also, the public release of his fascist leanings truly came about after he had departed Great Britain and returned home to finish out his career with childhood club Lazio. The stiff arm saluting was directed to the Curva Nord in Rome and likely wasn’t given to those in the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand at the Boleyn Ground. Thus, a comparative examination between reactions to Di Canio then might not be entirely illuminating for what the future holds this fall.

Whatever the future holds for Swindon Town as they attempt an immediate promotion back to League One, it should be worth following–particularly off the pitch.

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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • May 26, 2011 at 9:51 pm


    Imagine your beloved hometown club has a new manager. What’s the worst he can be? A rapist? Paedophile? Murderer?

    Imagine something worse. You can’t?

    Swindon Town fans don’t have to imagine.

    See and please pass it on.

  • May 27, 2011 at 3:52 am

    Mick F

    Straw Poll, who would be the worst manager to be appointed to your club?

    Paolo Di Canio
    Steve Evans
    Sir Alex Ferguson

  • May 27, 2011 at 7:47 am


    “Granted, none of this seems to have occurred before while Di Canio was playing in England and Scotland, so why the fuss now?”

    I don’t think his political views were well known until the publication of his autobiography after he left West Ham.

    I’m a bit dubious about his fair play award which seemed to be more about him wanting to control the game and be the centre of attention than anything else. A more typical example was when he was red carded whilst playing for Wednesday disputing a clearly correctly awarded throw in. It will all end in tears.

  • May 27, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Paul D

    We spent 30 years driving snarling fascists off the terraces of English football; I’m completely ashamed my club has welcomed them back via the dugout.

    I wrote elsewhere, in response to those saying they disliked his repeated espousal of fascism but it had “nothing to do with football”, that football does not exist in a moral and ethical vacuum, however much it may like to think it does.

    Apparently (or so I’m told) I was wrong, and winning is, after all, everything, no matter how much you drag your club through the gutter to achieve it.

    I know I’m in a small minority of Town fans in saying this, but sorry, some things *are* more important than football.

  • May 27, 2011 at 8:21 pm


    A rapist? peadophile? murderer? Get a perspective man. People are free to have their opinions and the problem is that we confuse ‘fascism’ with ‘nazism’ and they are not the same. And Liverpool’s legendary manager was an open socialist and somehow nobody minds it.

  • May 27, 2011 at 9:51 pm


    There’s a big difference between facisim and socialism though isn’t there?

  • May 27, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    Paul D

    “The problem is that we confuse ‘fascism’ with ‘nazism’ and they are not the same”

    Yeah, cos fascists are just lovely cuddly people aren’t they? The mind boggles…

  • May 27, 2011 at 10:06 pm


    From a dictionary definition of fascism comes this:
    1. a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.
    2. the philosophy, principles, or methods of fascism.
    3. a fascist movement, especially the one established by Mussolini in Italy 1922–43..

    From the same reference comes this definition of socialism:
    1. theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.
    2. procedure or practice in accordance with this theory.
    3. (in Marxist theory) the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to communism, characterized by the imperfect implementation of collectivist principles.

  • May 27, 2011 at 10:44 pm


    Ok. You have your definitions. Now, shall I dig out numbers of victims of both systems? The problem is that Mussolini allied with Hitler while the West allied with the USSR. Now the West isn’t responsible for the crimes of the Soviets and why would Italians be responsible for National Socialists’ (nazis) crimes? Were the socialists in USSR, Cambodja, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, etc any less repressive than Italian fascists? History is written by the victors and the judgements we hold on ‘fascism’ and ‘socialism’ are the best example of this old truth..

  • May 27, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    Outside Mid

    Malinok: I posted the definitions only as a response to Stuart’s question.

  • May 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    Paul D

    malinok, are you seriously attempting to suggest that we shouldn’t be too nasty about fascism because “the other lot” are also pretty awful?

    Evil is evil; wrong is wrong. I don’t care what cap badge it wears, it has no place in football and I don’t want it associated with my club.

  • May 28, 2011 at 6:57 am


    Bunch of hypocrits.
    So it’s all right to wave the red flag, the hammer and sickle, to express admiration for Mao/Che Guevara/Trotksy/other commie murderers?
    But to praise Mussolini? Do a Roman salute? Booo! !Evil!
    Meh …

  • May 28, 2011 at 9:28 am


    No one’s waving any red flags, or even saying it’s OK to do so.
    The subject here is a self-proclaimed fascist and open supporter of Mussolini.
    “Booo! !Evil!”? Yes. Evil.

  • June 19, 2011 at 6:15 am


    Evil? Has is di Canio responsible for some heinous crime I am unaware of? The answer to that is no. Maybe he agreed with The Holocaust then in an interview? The answer to that is also no.
    Keeping an objective, open mind (A very difficult thing to do it would appear for the anti Paulo brigade) and looking at actions rather than words, he has publicly expressed admiration for certain aspects of a dictators personality and rule (Not a crime last time I checked) and been ‘guilty’ of using a salute (That has more than one connotation)on 3 occasions. Those are his ‘crimes’. Whilst the majority of people will disagree with his words and actions, most would also accept that in the grand scheme of things he hasn’t really done or said anything to provoke the reaction that some bigoted, self righteous zealots have displayed. In fact it’s pretty ironic that the ‘Right On’ gang, who are always the first ones to demand tolerance, freedom of speech and individual rights, can’t see anything wrong with what they’re saying.But then it’s hardly surprising when you see things in only black and white and are so arrogantly sure that you are right and everyone else is wrong.
    Welcome to Swindon Paulo. Sorry we have a few pompous idiots around, but the vast majority of fans are pleased to have you here, unless you are unsuccessful, because that’s what football is about. To paraphrase that great Socialist Bill Shankly: “Football isn’t life and death, it’s much more important than that2.

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