Kicking Nick Timothy Out of Football
Sometimes “fuck off” is the only response. And it was my Twitter response to 1,000 words of hypocritical, contradictory and occasionally downright dishonest nonsense from a political has-been non-event called Nick Timothy, declaring via self-explanatory Sunday Telegraph newspaper headline, that “Football is no place for politics – it’s high time we kicked it out.”
Timothy was a special adviser to Conservative MP Theresa May during her five years as a right-wing Home Secretary, from 2010 to 2015, and her joint “Chief of Staff” after he worked successfully on the 2016 Conservative Party leadership campaign which made her Prime Minister. He was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE), commanding nothing in something which no longer exists – an “honour” which might as well have been for services to the far-left of the Labour movement given the results of the only General Election, in 2017, May fought with him joint-chiefing her staff.
But even if Timothy was a nice bloke with some worthwhile achievements to his name, his article this weekend was among the worst I have ever read on football, politics or any other subject. The worst, actually, if it wasn’t for the facts that Timothy can at least write and that he asked some pertinent questions, even if he came up with almost comically wrong answers to each and every one of them.
Events either side of Saturday’s Leicester v Chelsea FA Cup Final particularly vexed him, seemingly to the extent that he was factually incorrect about both. “Before kick-off, the players and match officials knelt in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. As they did so, a minority of fans booed. After the match, two Leicester players unfurled a Palestinian flag, presumably to share their views about the conflict between Israel and its terrorist enemy, Hamas.”
His use of language in this reportage was significant. And the inferences were clear. Kneeling in “solidarity” with a “movement”? Bloody lefties. Sharing views about a conflict involving a “terrorist enemy”? Terrorist sympathisers.
Timothy would say he was only reporting events seen by thousands at Wembley and millions on telly. But later in the article, he references Black Lives Matters’ “association with campaigns to defund the police, abolish prisons and radically remake society,” which doesn’t seem likely to be high on Cup Final referee Michael Oliver’s wish list. And Timothy’s linkage of Palestine’s flag and “terrorist enemy” was sledgehammer subtlety, with no evidence offered that flag unfurlers Hamza Choudhury and Wesley Fofana had any views at all to share on Hamas.
This framing punted Timothy’s idea that “football has been getting steadily more political for several years.” He suggested, with some merit, that the Premier League’s global reach means that “politics seems never far away from” football. “This might not seem like such a big deal,” he continued. “After all, don’t footballers have the same right to express themselves as the rest of us? Shouldn’t football use its enormous reach to help advance good causes? Isn’t sport, especially when it is international, unavoidably political?” All questions to which the answer is “well, yes.”
But, instead, Timothy trotted out the tiresome old trope about things not being ‘that simple,’ suggesting that last year’s campaigning by Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford showed “how complicated answering these questions can be.” Because, despite Rashford “forcing the Government to change its policies and provide free meals for poor children outside the school term,” he “never strayed into party politics, and was not particularly divisive.”
Timothy saw this as a contrast to then-Arsenal player Mesut Ozil’s criticism of China in December 2019, for incarcerating “one million Uighur Muslims.” Timothy declared this “ a more controversial situation,” without explaining what the “controversy” was. He noted that China “blocked the broadcast of Arsenal’s next fixture on Chinese television” (which might have been a merciful release this season). He condemned Arsenal for disowning Ozil and claiming to be “apolitical.” And he condemned the “blatant hypocrisy” of clubs letting players “take political positions…unless those positions interfere with (their) commercial interests.”
However, he un-necessarily diverted into Gary Lineker’s taxes, “Big” Sam Allardyce’s “corruption scandal” (singular) and Mike Ashley’s treatment of Sports Direct staff, which hinted at the sort of score-settling presumably found on Prime Ministerial SPADs’ job descriptions. And then he lost the plot entirely.
He claimed that “the football world” had “remained almost universally silent” about Qatar trapping “migrant workers in appalling conditions that amount to modern slavery,” to construct its 2022 World Cup stadia, which seemed to be a complaint about the LACK political activism attached to the game. Until you realise that minimal research would have unearthed the plethora of player protests on that very issue during the March round of World Cup qualifiers, when the Norwegian, Dutch, German and Danish teams wore “Football Supports Change” and “Human Rights, on and off the pitch” t-shirts during pre-match kickabouts and team photos.
Maybe Timothy’s research budget didn’t stretch that far. But he was more likely not really interested, as this was where his true colours (blue) were exposed. Like so many of his ilk, his beef isn’t with politics in football, per se. but the type of politics. Hence his reference, without comment, to the “minority of fans” who “booed” those taking a knee.
Because let’s be clear about what they were booing. The gesture is no longer linked to Black Lives Matter. The on-screen logo immediately before televised games kick-off says “No Room for Racism.” The BBC’s Simon Brotherton was at Stanford Bridge on Tuesday night, commentating on the Chelsea v Leicester Cup Final rematch, in the Premier League, setting up the game “as the players take a knee, prior to kick-off, showing their continued support and that there is no room for racism or discrimination of any kind” in football.
So, if fans were booing because they thought Oliver or, heaven forbid, Tuesday night’s referee Mike Dean, want police defunded, it was only because Timothy and co misled them that way. For a, political, reason. Timothy was a right-wing political advisor by trade for years, remember. So he is only angered by the fact that “across so many parts of life, politics is intruding” because it is “usually the politics of the radical left.”
He was not so vexed at gestures which couldn’t possibly be filed in that column, such as football’s commemoration the passing of the husband of this nation’s head of state. And nor should he have been (even if it jarred to see players making anti-racist gestures almost immediately after paying respects to a reported casual racist). But even though the monarchy is this nation’s primary political institution (however small that “p” might be), it was quite proper that respects were paid.
And the “radical left” are hardly responsible for the biggest recent politicisation in football, the transformation of its commemoration of war dead (for which I am a very strong advocate) from simple remembrance into garish nationalism and, very occasionally, a more open militarism. These commemorations has stretched beyond the two world wars into more modern, divisive and, sometimes, political conflicts.
Yet, however political such commemorations have become, they remain vitally important and appropriate. “Politics” is no reason to stop them. And if you don’t believe that this is politicisation, I invite you to consider the abuse James McClean receives for not wearing a poppy…and, more importantly, your response to this sentence.
And the McClean abuse emanates from the same sources as those who, frankly, just oppose anti-racism. “Football fans almost universally respect and support the long-running campaign to “kick racism out of football,” Timothy admits. But he EXCUSES those responsible for the “almost.” And it is this appalling attitude which underpins the whole article.
He ACCUSES players who kneel in “a gesture of solidarity in the face of racism” of “taking sides, which alienates many.” But if people think anti-racism is one of the issues which “abuses a captive audience, brought together to enjoy a spectacle together without the division of politics,” why NOT alienate them?
In fact, let’s not just kick racism out of football, lets alienate these fuckers out of football. Starting with Nick fucking Timothy. CBE. And his ill-researched, disingenuous (at best) article, pretending to advocate a noble apoliticism, while punting the blatantly political view that “showing that there is no room for racism or discrimination of any kind” in football is wrong. Sometimes, fuck off really IS the only response.