Captain's Blog: Ignorance Driving Di Canio Circus, Not Politics Or Morality

Ian MacNicol

Paolo Di Canio is here and his so-called beliefs are dominating the debate. But don't kid yourself that politics or morality are driving it...

Apparently, political history is ‘in-vogue'. I am as surprised as the next person, but it seems that every single person has suddenly become an expert.

Not just an expert, either. A deeply principled expert, sitting atop their Ivory Towers and latching on to any excuse to declare themselves the enlightened moral compasses of everything.

In fact, such is the sudden mass-penchant for historical hegemony it has even reached the point where by they can go further than any career historian on the planet has ever gone and manage to assign absolute and succinct definitions to various terms - terms which have throughout time encompassed a wide and diverse variety of distinct ideologies and grey areas within them.

Kudos to them, I am seriously impressed.

Therefore it is to my considerable surprise, as you can imagine, that none have chosen to mention the Moscow Show Trials of the late 1930s. You know, the ones where Stalin turned on his allies, accused them of fascism, desperately sought and extracted false confessions from them whilst singularly dictating the context against which they would be judged, and then staging elaborate public show trials with a pre-determined verdict of guilty before, ultimately, having them shot.

Because, let's face it, it doesn't sound all that different to the circus that has been going on at Sunderland since Paolo Di Canio was appointed as head coach.

The word ‘fascism' is an emotive one. We all know that. I don't for one second expect anyone to accept or welcome anyone to Sunderland AFC who openly subscribe to the extreme wing of the fascist doctrine. In fact, I applaud whole-heartedly anyone who would make an informed principled stand against it. I would hope that I would be amongst their number.

But no matter what you think you know or what your various opinions of Paolo Di Canio are, there is one fundamental truth that must be accepted: Fascism does not equate to Nazism. There is no debate there, no agreeing to disagreeing or begging to differ. If you consider that statement to be false, then you are simply wrong.

It is, without any form of exaggeration, a quite staggering quantum leap from a solitary and largely ambiguous Roman salute or two and a carefully extracted ancient confession to condemning a man for subscribing to an extremist political ideology. Is that really what we are going to do here?

Apparently it seems that many are.

We have seen significant sections of the support threatening to boycott the club amidst claims that they are the victims as the nefarious Di Canio divides the supporters and distances them from the club they claim to love. Meanwhile, the Durham Miners' Association have gone so far as requesting their banner be returned which had been on display at The Stadium of Light.

Others have, far more reasonably, demanded ‘clarification' on his views and past headlines. Now that I can understand.

What I find a little less easy to fathom, though, is the fact that many - the more fervent members of the national press very much included - are still seeking this blessed ‘clarification', even after it has been given. Twice.

I should stress at this point that I don't think the club handled that especially well. I applaud their intentions, as something needed to be said and it needed to be said quickly, but the execution was sorely lacking.

The situation demanded a careful degree of tact. Every word was going to be scrutinised and every line sifted through with a fine tooth comb. That was simply the situation, like it or not.

Therefore to just throw Di Canio's pidgin-English comments from an on-the-spot interview out to be savaged by the pidgin-history press for sensationalist headlines was an extraordinary show of naivety on behalf of the club. What was needed was a carefully constructed written statement which had gone through multiple drafts to ensure it was fit for purpose.

The frustrating thing is that there actually IS a very clear denial within Di Canio's words, which goes a long way to explaining why he is so seemingly perplexed at the continued inquisition.

Something can happen many years ago but what counts is the facts. This didn't come from me, it came from a big story that people put out in a different way to what it was.

I expressed an opinion in an interview many years ago. They took my expression in a very, very negative way - but it was a long conversation and a long interview and it suited their purpose to put big headlines.

I don't know why I have to keep repeating my story, to be defending myself on something that doesn't belong to me.

I am not a politics person.

All Di Canio's own words, all in direct response to a question over his notorious 2005 comment. There is your clarity. The actual sentiments stripped of the surrounding fat. The statement that Sunderland should have released.

If people wanted even more clarity, then they just had to switch on Sky Sports News a little later on where they could have seen Di Canio repeat himself.

In the past, something was manipulated. An interview I did a long time ago was twisted; some words were picked.

So for those obsessively asking ‘why won't he apologise for his beliefs?' - the ludicrously embarrassing journalist at the press conference, I'm looking at you - the answer is that, according to him, the beliefs attributed to him are not actually his to apologise for.

His story checks out, too. We have all had the extract from his autobiography in which he describes Mussolini as a "principled and misunderstood man" pretty much rammed down our throats now. It was used to support every single article people are outraged over. It wasn't the full quote, though. The context in which it needed to be seen was carefully removed.

I am fascinated by Mussolini. I think he was a deeply misunderstood individual. He deceived people. His actions were often vile. But all this was motivated by a higher purpose. He was basically a very principled individual. Yet he turned against his sense of right and wrong. He compromised his ethics.

Seen it its full context it is a very different conversation. Whether people want to believe it or not, those are not the words or beliefs of a hard-line fascist extremist and Nazi sympathiser.

To me, that is ample clarification. The topic comprehensively covered. The accusation dispatched the boundary authoritatively on the back foot. And yet some people still want more. Some people suggest they won't be satisfied with anything less than five simple words: ‘I am not a fascist'.

Fine. That's been provided too by Andy McSmith, a senior reporter at The Independent by directing our attention to an interview with Di Canio in the 2002 book Irons in the Soul:

I never said I was a fan of Mussolini but for the media it is more easy to make the polemic. I said that after Mussolini no one political man was a patriot or a nationalist because nationalism is not equal to being a Nazi. English people are very proud of their nationalism too; my nationalism means you are proud because you are Italian...

In Italy if the right or left win the election they don't think in three or four years time we will give the people a better society...They don't think tomorrow we are going to work for the people, they think tomorrow we start the publicity for the next election. They have no vision. With Mussolini I'm sure we would have had a better situation, but not in a wrong way, not with a union with the Nazis because I am not a Fascist. Then was a different time, nobody wants war, now we want peace...

Such views are not anything especially unusual in Italy, where it remains quite common to admire the leader that Mussolini was before he ‘turned against his sense of right and wrong'. He rebuilt the economy, provided jobs, fed a staving population, and loosened the grip of the mafia. As Italian blogger Gino De Blasio commented, ‘For many, Mussolini was, and remains a saviour of the land'.

If you are one of the fans who were seeking clarification yet felt you had none, then I hope this has settled the matter. If you are one of those genuinely outraged and disgusted with the club, then I hope this has changed your mind. I can understand the trepidation.

All the information is out there. All I have done is collate it for people's convenience.

But if you are one of those, have read this, and still insist upon grafting your own preconceptions onto the beliefs of Paolo Di Canio and then condemning him and the club for them, then you probably need to start asking yourself who the real bigot is in all this.

Make no mistake about it - it is not Paolo Di Canio's beliefs, whatever they may be, or the alleged ambiguity of his denials that is driving the media agenda. If it was, there would have been a similar, or even greater, fuss when the BBC paid Di Canio tax-payer's money to write a regular web column. It is the fans and their glass protestations driving the agenda.

Similarly, it is not Paolo Di Canio who is dividing the Sunderland support. The division is not between superficial fascism apologists and principled defenders of freedom as the vocal dissenters would have us believe.

There are simply Sunderland fans and the rest. Those sticking with the club and those deserting it upon a sanctimonious and poorly informed whim of self-serving judgemental conjecture.

If you are the latter, then good luck to you. To each their own and all that. But just know that your Stalin-esque Show Trials have brought more shame to our football club than anything Paolo Di Canio has ever said.

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