A Fat Guy in Shorts

A review of Stewart McGill and Vince Raison, The Roaring Red Front: The World’s Top Left-Wing Football Clubs, (Chichester: Pitch, 2022).

Titles and subtitles don’t always match. In this case, The Roaring Red Front is great, The World’s Top Left-Wing Football Clubs is terrible. While the former is a nice reference to the left-wing football supporters portrayed in this book, the latter resorts to an unhealthy obsession with rankings and a random definition of what a left-wing football club is. Is there even such a thing? You can define supporters as left-wing if they have political views that fit the picture, but what makes a club left-wing? Even St. Pauli, unsurprisingly hailed as the toppest left-wing club of them all, is, as a club, just that: a club. More democratic than others, more in tune with its fan base, but also embracing the business model it needs to embrace to survive in professional football.

As far as the top eleven (of course) selected left-wing clubs and the “bench” (another eleven) are concerned, it’s pointless to argue who should have been included and who shouldn’t have. The list cannot be anything but subjective, and the authors have the right to pick who they want. With the said, the inclusion of the Glazer-owned super club FC Liverpool seems preposterous, and that of Boca Juniors misplaced, unless being “popular” suffices for being “left-wing”.

The authors, Stewart McGill and Vince Raison, present each club on their list by mixing background info, travel tales, interviews, and match reports. It works well enough. The seasoned left-wing football supporter won’t find too much news in the background info, but you can’t build a target audience around seasoned left-wing football supporters alone. How much you’ll enjoy the book depends on the kind of storytelling you like. There are good quotes by some of the people interviewed: “Ultra? It’s just a fat guy in shorts.”

No beating around the bush. As the author of Soccer vs. the State, whose first edition was released in 2011, I reserve the right to react to “Professor Tony Collins” stating the following in his foreword: “This is a story about the game you won’t find in the mainstream media, and no one has told it with so much passion and insight as the authors of The Roaring Red Front.” Cheeky. Then again, “international friendship and human solidarity” are “intrinsic to the everyday experience of being a football supporter”, as McGill and Raison point out. So, in the name of international friendship and human solidarity, give this book a try.

Gabriel Kuhn

(December 1, 2022)