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Football Philosopher, Mark Perryman

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.



'Football is, to me, a symbol of popular internationalism.' Fast talking Tottenham fan Mark Perryman wears many hats, one of them a woolly 'bobble' hat (as last seen on English football terraces circa 1965).

He's a Research Fellow at the University of Brighton on England's south coast. He's written and edited several books (the latest called 'Hooligan Wars'). He's a vocal member of the recently reformed England supporters' club. Whenever England play, he and his cohorts are to be seen laying out coloured cards for fans to hold up and thus display massive flags at each end of the stadium; the St George's cross for England, and one for the opposing nation (with a goodwill message printed on the reverse in the appropriate language). He also organises football festivals at London's cultural hub, the South Bank, whenever there is a World Cup or European Championship.
But most of all, Mark is known for selling football shirts.
As you might expect, these are no ordinary shirts. On the front appears a quotation from a famous thinker, footballer or football manager. On the back is the person's name and their imaginary squad number. For example, one of Mark's bestsellers is a traditional green goalkeeper's jersey bearing the name Camus and the number one. This refers to Albert Camus, the Nobel-Prize winning author who wrote The Fall and The Outsider, but who was also, surprisingly, an accomplished goalkeeper for Algeria. As quoted on the jersey, Camus wrote in 1957: 'All I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football.'
Now if this sounds a touch eccentric, it is.
So too is the company Mark set up in 1994 to produce these weird but rather wonderful creations (plus the bobble hats, don't forget). It is called Philosophy Football, trading under the ironic slogan: 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction'.
Only in England, you might say. And you'd be right.
Yet the Philosophy Football squad is highly cosmopolitan. Other members include Umberto Eco (Italian), Bill Shankly (Scottish), Bob Marley (Jamaican) and Jacques Derrida (French). Derrida, it transpires, was a regular fan of Paris Saint Germain back in the 1960s, along with fellow philosophers, Jean Genet and Louis Althusser. His shirt bears the quotation 'Beyond the touchline there is nothing.'
The most obvious question for Mark, philosophical or otherwise, is why?
'Firstly,' he says, 'I don't like wearing a football shirt that has a sponsors' logo across it. I support Tottenham, not a brewery. So the T-shirts allow wearers to identify with a style of football divorced from the marketing which, to some extent, has soiled the game. Also, the shirts are a way of saying that football is a culture, that it's more than simply a way of selling other products, and more than what goes on on the pitch. It's about what goes on in people's heads. I'm also interested in the fact that people like Camus and Derrida played and loved the game. Derrida's ambition as a young man was to become a professional player, not a philosopher. Imagine what he might have contributed to the game's development if that had happened!'
Although much of what Philosophy Football stands for is tongue-in-cheek - since football and humour are seldom far apart in England - there is a serious motive behind Mark's efforts.
'Football fans of different teams and countries have far more in common with each other than they have differences,' he insists. Thus, to build bridges he makes a point of contacting Philosophy Football customers overseas and meeting up with them when England are visiting. 'As someone once wrote, England has some of the worst supporters in football, but we also have some of the best. Philosophy Football sets out to soften the edges of football, to promote a different kind of patriotism. Football is, to me, a symbol of popular internationalism. We should make the worst excesses of xenophobia into an irrelevant sideshow. But we also hope to put a smile on people's faces.'


Simon Inglis, November 2001

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