A political football

legs of a soccer or football player on ball on stadium, warm colors toned

The campaigns on both sides of the referendum debate – Britain Stronger in Europe and Vote Leave – hoped that football would help them win the tournament.

The beautiful game may not be as significant as the UK economy, but in a tight contest, campaigners knew they needed every tactical advantage, and anything that could mean a last minute score was crucial.

Both hoped that regulars at Deepdale, Turf Moor, the DW Stadium and others would hear their message.

So what were the campaigners saying about Brexit and our teams?

Both sides were arguing that their campaign goal is best for English football.

And while the message mainly focused on the Premier League, it’s clear that campaigners think that all professional clubs could be affected by a Brexit.

Burnley is among the clubs that Britain Stronger in Europe (BSE) claimed would be particularly hit if we voted to leave.

The claim is based on free movement of people.  If we are not in the EU, the argument runs, clubs will find it harder to bring in top players. BSE is so keen to target football supporters that it offers a form (via Facebook) which allows you to get a reply focused on your particular team. And while on one level this is a data collection exercise (you have to give your e mail) it is a creative way of campaigning.

Vote Leave agreed that pulling out of the EU could make it harder for clubs to bring in European players, but says this is a good thing.  Vote Leave has signed up Sol Campbell. He claims that “along with the star players, we are seeing teams load up with too many mediocre overseas footballers, especially from Europe, crowding out young English and British talent. Because of European rules on freedom of movement, it is virtually impossible for us to get a proper grip on the situation.”  Campbell argues that this in turn has an effect on young people considering a career in football, having a ripple effect all the way through the game.

Some managers have entered the debate with outspoken Sam Allardyce (whose long career includes managing Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers and playing for Preston North End) prominent among them.  Big Sam says Brexit will benefit our clubs.  But football fan, and Sussex Politics Professor Dan Hough says Allardyce’s own past, bringing in players to Bolton Wanderers, contradicts him.  Writing on the London School of Economics’ Brexit Vote blog Hough explains “…, ask any Bolton fan now – as they find themselves facing the 2016-17 season in the third tier of English football – about how Allardyce used the EU’s free movement of labour laws and they are likely to go bleary eyed very quickly.”

So what do football supporters think?  Something tells me that the referendum has not been the main topic of conversation at Deepdale or Bloomfield Road.  But Brexit has though made its way onto some of the blogs and discussion fora such as Back Henry Street and Vital Latics.

Earlier this month bookmakers Coral surveyed members of a loyalty card scheme linked to Euro 2016.  The result – a majority for Leave.  But if one of Burnley’s most famous fans has his way, that won’t be the result.  Former Labour spin doctor and Turf Moor regular Alastair Campbell has pledged to convert at least one person each day to the cause of Remain. On his blog he describes starting this mission in a chat with travelling Milwall fans when he, and they, were en route to support their teams.

So what does it mean now we have voted to leave the EU?  Will it be all over or will it be time to do a Hodgson and bring on the winning substitutes?  Neither campaign’s arguments were clear enough on football for us to know for sure.  But I doubt that the arguing will stop now the whistle has been blown.

Published by

Paula Keaveney

Paula Keaveney

Paula Keaveney is a Senior Lecturer in  Politics.

A former journalist and PR professional, her research interests include political communications, public affairs and PR and marketing in the charity sector. She is the Chair  of the  Political Marketing Group of the Political Studies Association. She is also a former leader of the opposition on Liverpool City Council.

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