Monday, 19 October 2015

Why Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs deserve plaudits


I was rarely one to give Gary Neville plaudits as a footballer and still find it difficult to believe he's the fifth most capped England defender in history, but I have to say that I'm impressed and encouraged by his refreshing stance on the occupation by homeless people of the building he intends to develop as a hotel with his former Manchester United team mate Ryan Giggs next year.

Background

During the last parliament the Tories and Lib-Dems pushed through draconian new legislation against people occupying vacant buildings. This meant that Neville and Giggs could have used the courts to force the homelessness support group out of their building. 

It's also worth noting that the Tories in central government (and their Lib-Dem enablers) are not the only bad guys in this scenario. Greater Manchester Police, Manchester City Council (Labour controlled) and Manchester Metropolitan University have all been guilty of taking harsh measures against the homeless in the city. This backdrop of increased intolerance towards the homeless across UK society makes the footballers' approach that much more refreshing. 

It's a heart-warming surprise to see that it takes a pair of footballers to lead the way in taking a humane and common sense approach to homelessness, when the government, the police, the local council and the city university have all preferred to adopt the stance that property rights over-rule the welfare of human beings.

The agreement

Instead of initiating legal proceedings to evict the Manchester Angels homelessness support group, the footballers decided to let them stay on the proviso that they don't disrupt any of the surveying/building work while they're there.

A representative for the Manchester Angels has spoken about how delighted they are that the footballers have chosen not to force them out using the harsh anti-squatting laws brought in by the last government. His statement is a brilliant example of what can be achieved when people reach amicable solutions rather than resorting to a legal system that has now been so heavily skewed in favour of capital by the Tories.
"We undertake not to cause any damage to anything and to leave the building in as good if not a better state than we found it in. I have ordered smoke alarms to keep the building safe. I even suggested to Gary that he might be interested in employing some of the homeless people who are living here as labourers to help with the redevelopment work on the hotel."
The fact that both parties could come to such a simple agreement sets a really good example that life in the UK doesn't always have to be as bad as the Tories want it to be. 

These guys have set a great public example by coming to an amicable agreement instead of making a terrible public demonstration of the sickness of our society by having a bunch of desperate people evicted by the courts, which would have shown that in Tory Britain property is considered far more important than people.

Political footballers


I've often thought that elite footballers should try to do more social good with their fame and their extreme wealth: That instead of buying another brand new Bentley or adding another house to their extensive foreign property portfolio, they could do something with more social utility instead. I'm not the kind of guy to tell people how to spend their money though, nor ignore the fact that many footballers already contribute to all kinds of socially beneficial projects. It's just that elite footballers have such immense wealth these days compared to ordinary folk that their power to have a real political influence on society has never been higher.

I think one of the things that makes this case interesting is that it's one of the most overt forays into the political sphere I've seen elite footballers make. I wouldn't be surprised that Gary Neville's generation of footballers might be hesitant to take bold political stances. Giggs and Neville will both remember how their old Liverpool adversary Robbie Fowler was browbeaten and punished by the FA 20 years ago for daring to show solidarity with the Liverpool dockers


Deciding not to have the homeless people evicted from their building is a much bolder political stance than routine footballer stuff like setting up a charitable foundation, or telling the press how much of a wonderful guy they think David Cameron is (as Frank Lampard did just before the Tories handed him a vast income tax break while they simultaneously introduced Bedroom Tax on some 600,000 families with disabled members).

The factor that makes it such a bold political stance is that there are many wealthy property owners and defenders of capital who are going to react with disgust at the idea that anyone might actually help people who are occupying their vacant buildings, instead of throwing them out onto the streets.


How some right-wingers react

If you've seen any of the public reaction to this story, the overwhelming response has been "good on them" which is great to see, especially from the supporters of rival clubs. However, interspersed between the flood of positive reactions are a few incredibly bitter comments from people who absolutely hate that these footballers have wavered their own property rights in preference for behaving like decent human beings.

You might think that people bitterly criticising Neville and Giggs and predicting the ruination of their building because all homeless people are all "disgusting lazy scum" are just terminally miserable kill-joys, but in many cases there's more too it than them just wanting to pour scorn on the concept of showing a bit of basic human decency because they happen to be miserable gits.



It seems that several of these people really perceive the footballers' wavering their property rights as an attack on the whole concept of property, and by extension an attack on their own property rights. These people come across as absolutely terrified that some guys reaching an amicable agreement instead of launching eviction proceedings is setting some kind of awful precedent that it's preferable not to go around treating desperate people like inconvenient "scum" who deserve to be shoved back out onto the streets and turned into somebody else's problem, as they themselves would undoubtedly behave.

What seems to have passed a lot of these bitter cynics by, is that the building belongs to Giggs and Neville, so they can do with it as they please. If it suits them to allow homeless people to use it through the cold winter months, that's obviously their decision to make. To force them evict the homeless people out of blind adherence to the Tory principle that property rights are more important than human beings (as some people would apparently prefer) would be an obvious infringement of their right to do as they please with their own building.


Why footballers?

It's worth pointing out that the main reason this story has captured the public imagination is the fact these guys kicked a bag of air around in front of cameras to make their millions. If such an agreement had been reached with people who had made their millions designing computer software, running a taxi firm, speculating on the property market, selling plumbing supplies or whatever, the story would have been unlikely to go further than the pages of the local press. The fact that Neville and Giggs had high profile public careers is the main reason we've even heard of the story.

As for the actual reason they chose to take a non-confrontational approach, I think it would be churlish to say that they did it to avoid bad headlines about former Manchester United players evicting homeless people in the city. I prefer to think that it's because both guys grew up in ordinary backgrounds, and that doubtless they know several former team-mates from their youth and academy days who have fallen on hard times, so they did it out of basic human empathy. I'm pretty sure they both know that if their lives had panned out differently (they'd suffered a career ruining injury when they were young for example), they probably wouldn't be in the position to develop an exclusive hotel, and there's the chance that they might have ended up poor, and in need of a helping hand at some point.


Legacies
   
Having never met either of them I don't know Gary Neville or Ryan Giggs personally, but I imagine that when they're old and looking back at their lives, there's a chance that if this venture works out well, they'll feel a lot prouder of what they did for some of Manchester's most vulnerable people when they didn't have to help at all, than the fact that they owned a 35 bedroom luxury hotel in the city. 

I hope their decision to let the homeless support group stay in their building works out well, and that the Manchester Angels can be found a permanent home at some point in the future. I also hope that it encourages other footballers and ex-footballers to consider helping out the needy in their own communities. A couple of grand in support from a bunch of guys who earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a week might not seem like much to them, but it would be a huge contribution to a homeless shelter, food bank or soup kitchen in the community their club is based in.

It's not just financial contributions either. Many elite football players have enormous social media followings. I know from my Another Angry Voice Facebook page that it's possible to reach out to millions of people per week with fewer than 200,000 followers. Many footballers have millions of followers. Neville has 3 million Twitter followers, his former Manchester United colleague Wayne Rooney has 12 million Twitter followers and 25 million more on Facebook! 


Just imagine the number of people these guys could reach if they used their social media platforms to promote worthy causes and talk about social justice every now and then. I'd love to see more footballers get involved in politics, after all - being good at kicking a bag of air around actually seems an awful lot more meritocratic than the Westminster establishment practice of continually stuffing the unelected House of Lords with failed/retired political allies and millionaire party donors

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