Last week Anfield rose to its feet to give a minute’s worth of applause to Nelson Mandela. A tribute in the form of a minute’s applause is a new thing and to be honest it usually tends to feel bit contrived. To not clap would draw dirty looks, so everyone claps. Everyone kind of mentally ticks off the seconds and the referee’s body language tends to speak of unease. As a rule of thumb the man in black gets the whistle blown after twenty seconds or so and everyone breathes out a silent sigh of relief.
But it wasn’t like that for Mandela. The ref could have hung fire for five minutes and nobody would have got tired. As I clapped, I looked around me. Football isn’t a young man’s game any more. Most of those in the stadium were like me. White middle aged men with thinning hair, thickening waistlines and over stretched credit cards. When you take a step back, it can be seen as slightly odd that such an audience should hammer out such prolonged and thunderous applause for a guerrilla leader from a country far away.
I guess there were a few reasons for forty thousand of us creating a rumble of appreciative sound that probably rolled all the way across
to Goodison. Stanley Park Liverpool
has always been a city of the left: a haven for rebels with or without causes.
We spawned John Lennon and Derek Hatton, so Nelson was always going to be seen
as one of us.
As we applauded, I guess many of us allowed our minds to wander back to the early 80’s when Thatcher sat in
Downing St and spat her venom at the beleaguered city. ‘Free Mandela’ T shirts were part of the fabric of
those times. We would never have equated the brutality of the Apartheid regime
in Pretoria with the vindictive Tories in . But we could feel
a degree of kinship with oppressed masses of London . Back in those days,
we Scousers were also viewed as a kind of lesser people. What do you call a
Scouser in a suit? …. Yeah, yeah… the accused. South Africa fans would always show up at Anfield
with fresh £20 notes to wave gloatingly in our faces. London
‘Hey rock ‘n Roll…Scousers on the dole….’
‘Feed the Scousers… let them know it’s Chritmastime…’
they look in a dustbin for something to eat…. they find a dead rat and they
think it’s a treat…”
The unemployment and poverty of the city was something that was fair game to turn into Saturday Night humour. In a way, in those days of Yosser Hughes, Liverpool was seen as
’s very own Township. A
British Soweto on the banks of the Britain Mersey. A
place of poverty and problematic people who were always kicking off. A place to
be policed with batons.
So no wonder Nelson felt like one of our own. I wonder if this partly explains why he chose
his team? I would like to think so.
Many of us clapped because it took us back to a time when we were much younger, a time when our anger was collective. Back then the bad guys were easy to spot. Back then there were also a few good guys around who warranted T shirts. Sure there were walls, but the walls were there to be kicked down.
Back then, there was still room in the world for a hero. And in the end surely that was the real reason why the sound of forty thousand plus pairs of hands was so overwhelming. We were applauding the passing of the last hero.
Will there ever be another? Maybe, though it is hard to see how. Heroes fight the odds. They take a tilt at windmills. They lay it on the line for the greater good. They know full well that things are unlikely to end well, but they forge ahead regardless.
Thank God Nelson proved to be the exception to the rule. Almost uniquely, he got to die of old age rather than raw violence. Most are not so lucky. Not Mahatma Ghandi. Not Martin Luther King. Not Bobby Kennedy. Not Che Guevara. Not Steve Biko. They burnt as bright as shooting stars on a crystal clear winter’s night.
Then they were stamped on. Stamped out. Crushed like beetles under hobnailed boots.
Sometimes mass public mourning can be contrived and tawdry. Self satisfied. Tabloid driven. Like the whole reality TV style gushing that went on and on after demise of Princess Diana. But this was different. This was real. None of us needed the tabloids to tell us to mourn the passing of such a genuine hero.
And once he is put into the ground this morning, the world will be a much poorer place. For so long as Nelson still lived and breathed, there was at least one genuinely great human being in our midst. Now? Well obviously there are endless thousands heroic men and women in every country of the world. But their heroism will be kept secret. They will wage their wars against oppression behind closed doors. We can find them in the obscure reaches of Twitter, but never on the Ten O Clock news. Unlike Nelson.
And many thousands such heroes will fade away in the empty hours of the night like Steve Biko. They will quietly bleed out on the damp concrete floors of basement dungeons. Far from the light. Far from the public view.
It would be nice to think that the world has moved on to better and brighter times. It would be nice to think that the serial lunacy of the 20th Century has joined the Dark Ages as a time passed. In the early 90’s a new dawn was supposed to have washed a warm light across the world. The era of the bad guys was over. No more Apartheid. No more Bolshevik communism. No more Maoist communism. The men in the white hats had finally prevailed. It was to be the time of the free market: democracy and McDonalds for all.
And for a while it seemed like this Disney fantasy of the triumphant corporations of the West might just come true. They had a poll in
mid nineties and included the name of Uncle Ben on the list of available candidates.
He pulled in over 70% of the vote. The Russians saw this avuncular black man as
the guy who had put affordable food on the shelves instead of the rotten
cabbages of the communist era. But the time for optimism came and went. Now if
Uncle Ben got on a bus in Russia
he would be beaten with iron bars wielded by Neo Nazi skinheads who would film
the whole thing on their mobile phones and post it on YouTube. Moscow
The new globalised world has made it easier rather than harder for evil men to thrive and prosper. The brutality of the last century was largely down to warped ideologies: Nazism, Bolshevism, Apartheid. The likes of Hitler and Stalin were into their hate for hate’s sake rather than getting their grubby mits of a pile of cash. Now the times are different. This is the time of the gangster. Drug gangsters and financial gangsters or just plain and simple gangsters.
When things kicked off in
, it was estimated that the
Assad family owned 70% of all the wealth of the country. Every night the news
shows us the catastrophic and unending misery that has been caused by a single
rotten to the core family hanging on to its treasure. In poorer than poor Syria ,
the ruling family has managed to rack up an off shore fortune of $4 billion. Last
week there was a family falling out, though it seems to have had little to do
with Christmas. The uncle was executed and the official government statement to
the people branded him as ‘despicable human scum: worse than a dog’. When your
government comes out with this kind of stuff through official channels you
really know that you have problems! Mugabe has £10 billion stashed away. And
how Nelson must have hated the sight of President Zuma and his lackies with
their snouts in the trough. North Korea
And for every one of these new century gangsters, there is a queue of accountants and bankers from the shining towers of the City of
waiting at the
door. Send us all of your ill gotten gains boys and we’ll wiz it around the
world for you. For a modest consideration, we will keep all of your trinkets
and baubles safer than safe. We’ll turn your blood money into an electronic
whirlwind that can never, ever be traced. Oh and there’s more. So much more.
You see, our chaps now own all of the world’s media. Lock, stock and super
duper barrel. You can get along with your dirty deeds and we’ll make sure
nothing ever sees the light of day. So long as you keep sending us your money,
we will make sure that the curtains continue to be drawn tight closed. London
Think about it.
On 21 March 1960 a crowd of 5000 took to the streets in the South African
demonstrate against the Apartheid regime. The police opened fire and executed
69 people. These were the days before 24 hour rolling news and Twitter and
hundreds of satellite channels. And yet within hours of the sound of gunfire on
a dusty South African street, the news had shot all the way around the world.
The story made the front pages from township
of Sharpeville Moscow to Manchester to .
Of course it did. A minority regime determined hang on to power had resorted to
cold blooded murder to make it happen. Milwaukee
And 69 people is a lot.
It is 50 more than the government cavalry hacked down at Peterloo in 1819.
It is 55 more than the Paras shot dead on Bloody Sunday in 1972.
But when you look at it in a different light, 69 isn’t all that many at all. In the last 20 years or so, over 4 million civilians have been murdered in the Congo as a variety of gangsters have fought it out for territory rich in copper and coltan and uranium. The Eastern Congo is the
Klondike of the new century and it has been cursed by
being home to troves of underground treasure that have generated the greatest
genocide since Hitler and Stalin. Is it on the news every night? No. Not even
Which of course begs the question, why?
Is it because the 4 million dead are almost all dirt poor black people? Christ I hope not. If that is indeed the case, then we really have gone backwards to a frightening degree. After all the 69 who were gunned down on the streets of Sharpeville were also poor black people and their fate warranted headlines around the globe.
Or is it actually all about all those billions and billions of pounds worth of copper and coltan and uranium; billions which flow through those gleaming towers of the City of London leaving fat commission payments every step along the way.
Maybe there is indeed a new Nelson Mandela somewhere out there in the killing fields of the
Maybe he or she exhibits the same courage, charisma and heroism as the great
man who was laid in the ground this morning.
But we are unlikely to hear about this new hero because the copper and the coltan and the uranium will always come first.
In a hundred years time, will historians look back on this Sunday in December 2013 and say “that was the day we buried the very last hero” ?
We can only hope it is not so.