film – Somewhere In Hackney (Ron Orders, 1980)

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http://player.bfi.org.uk/film/watch-somewhere-in-hackney-1980/

A great 50 minute documentary at the British Film Institute site that covers a wide array of the community and cultural groups active in the Borough in 1980, including:

There’s also  lots of great footage of bits of Hackney which have since disappeared or aged gracefully…

Thanks to Good News Hackney on twitter for flagging up this up.

A few screenshots:

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Caribbean House

Lenthall Road Print Workshop and Hackney Womens' Aid

Lenthall Road Print Workshop and Hackney Womens’ Aid

Centerprise, 1980

Spin magazine on Hackney squatters and the CJA, 1994

spincover

SPIN was a glossy American music and style magazine which featured a six-page article on protests against the Criminal Justice Act and Hackney squatters alongside adverts for Jack Daniels and Levis in 1994.

Below is a scan of the introduction and Hackney squatter bits – you can read the whole article (and the rest of the issue if so inclined) on Google Books.

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There is more information on “skateboard squat” Lea House elsewhere on this site.

The Criminal Justice Act didn’t end squatting, but perhaps curtailed it slightly. Ditto the 2012 law against squatting in residential properties.

More info: Advisory Service for Squatters.

Woodberry Down: The People’s Story

Apologies, but I forgot to flag up yesterday’s Hidden River Festival, marking 400 years of the New River.

It was a nice event and I was pleased to see a couple of local history stalls amongst the cup cakes.

The comrades at Past Tense had their excellent pamphlets available, including the freshly published “Free Like Conduit Water: The New River, its moral and immoral economies” by John Tyre. I’ve not read it yet, but it looks fantastic and includes material about the New River’s route through Hackney.

There was also a stall by the Woodberry Down Community Organisation (the resident elected body that represents all residents and those who work from commercial premises within the estate).

They are working on a history project – here is the text of their leaflet:

WOODBERRY DOWN: WHAT IS YOUR STORY?

Woodberry Down Community Organisation (WDCO) is applying for funding for an oral history project – “Woodberry Down, the People’s Story” – and we would like your support and participation. We are looking for:

  • Personal histories and experiences of those who have come to live in Woodberry Down, from the 1950s to the present day.
  • Your high points and low points (if you had any!) of living here.
  • How you came to live in Woodberry Down
  • The people in the neighbourhood you remember best

Eventually we hope to produce a book and exhibition. Right now we are looking for people who would be willing to:

  • Tell us your memories of Woodberry Down
  • Take part in the project by researching the history of the area or recording people’s memories
  • Letting the project copy any photographs you have of Woodberry Down and the people who have lived here

If you can help or would like to be involved contact WDCO at 6 Chattenden House, Woodberry Down Estate, London, N4 2SG or e-mail: wdhistory at hotmail dot co dot uk (with “at” replaced with @ and “dot” replaced with a full stop.)

(See also – a recent post by Municipal Dreams on the history and regeneration of Woodberry Down)

A Radical History of Hackney Parks

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“The Park is called the People’s Park
And all the walks are theirs
And strolling through the flowery paths
They breathe exotic airs,
South Kensington, let it remain
Among the Upper Ten.
East London, with useful things,
Be left with working men.

The rich should ponder on the fact
Tis labour has built it up
A mountain of prodigious wealth
And filled the golden cup.
And surely workers who have toiled
Are worthy to behold
Some portion of the treasures won
And ribs of shining gold.”

An ode to Victoria Park, 1872
(from Victoria Park, East London: The People’s Park)

The text below was originally published as a pamphlet, bashed out for the Radical History Network meeting on “Community Empowerment and Open Green Spaces”, July 10th 2013. (I have a couple of the pamphlets left – drop me an email if you want one.)

It’s full of holes, a work in progress. Get in touch with additions, criticisms, comments.

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1275 The area that is now London Fields was recorded as common pastureland adjoining Cambridge Heath. In 1540 the name London Field is found recorded as a separate item consisting of around 100 acres in changing ownership of land. London Field was one of the many “commonable lands” of Hackney where the commoners of the parish could graze their livestock on the fields from Lammas Day (Anglo Saxon for bread mass), August 1st, celebrating the first loaf after the crops had been harvested, to Lady Day, March 25th. This arrangement was known as Lammas Rights and was protected by law. (from here)

1700s In the Marshes towards Hackney Wick were low public houses, the haunt of highwaymen. Dick Turpin was a constant guest at the “White House” or “Tyler’s Ferry” and few police-officers were bold enough to approach the spot.

1750 onwards Clissold House (originally named Paradise House) was built, in the latter half of the 18th century, for Jonathan Hoare, a City merchant, Quaker, philanthropist and anti-slavery campaigner. (His brother Samuel was one of the founders of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.). The grounds of the house went on to become Clissold Park.

1793 Big open-air demonstration on Hackney Downs, in support of the revolutionary gains in France. The tutors Richard Price, Joseph Priestley and Gilbert Wakefield organised lectures on the French Revolution at the New College, a non-conformist academy (“by-word for revolutionary opinion”) at Lower Clapton.

1840 Abney Park Cemetery opens as the first fully non-denominational burial ground in Europe (where anyone could be buried, but especially non-conformists, dissenters etc). Many anti-slavery campaigners are buried there.

1845 Victoria Park is opened following a petition by 30,000 local people to Queen Victoria. “There was no bathing pool provided and local youths were in the habit of bathing – naked! – in the adjacent Regent’s Canal.  Attempts to police such shocking behaviour were unavailing and within a few years a pool was provided in the park itself.” – Victoria Park, East London: The People’s Park

1848 Chartists meet at Bonners Park (near Victoria Park) to march on Parliament.

1860s Hackney Downs open space (originally common land) preserved as parkland as a result of pressure by the Commons Preservation Society.

1866 Widespread pickets and demonstrations for universal male suffrage as advocated by the Reform League during summer. After disorder at Hyde Park the Tory government banned all protest meetings throughout London. The ban was widely ignored; a huge “illegal” rally took place in Victoria Park.

1872 180 acres in Hackney are preserved as public open space and protected from the encroachment of development. Including Clapton Common and Cockhanger Green (now boringly called Stoke Newington Common).

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In the 1880s the grounds of Clissold House and the adjacent Newington Common were threatened with development, and two prominent campaigners, Joseph Beck of The City of London and John Runtz of The Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) persuaded the Board of MBW to buy the land and create a public park. (from Clissold Park User Group, as was the image above)

1885 William Morris speaks at Victoria Park:

The political culture of the day was not simply confined to the clubs and indoor meeting places. The open-air meeting, whether in the park, or on the street corner, remained the principal forum for addressing the uninitiated, convincing the unconvinced, spreading the word. William Morris was one of the mast well known public speakers for socialism of the period, and visited Hackney often. There is a fine portrait of him speaking to a crowd in Victoria Park in 1885 in Tom Mann’s Memoirs:

He was a picture on an open air platform. The day was fine, the branches of the tree under which he was speaking spread far over the speaker. Getting him well in view, the thought came, and has always recurred as I think of that first sight of Morris – “Bluff King Hal”. I did not give careful attention to what he was saying, for I was chiefly concerned to get the picture of him in my mind, and then to watch the faces of the audience to see how they were impressed…. Nine-tenths were giving careful attention, but on the fringe of the crowd were some who had just accidentally arrived, being out for a walk, and having unwittingly come upon the meeting. These stragglers were making such remarks as: ‘Oh, this is the share-and-share-alike crowd’; ‘Poverty, eh, he looks all right, don’t he?’ But the audience were not to be distracted by attempts at ribaldry: and as Morris stepped off the improvised platform, they gave a fine hearty hand-clapping which showed real appreciation.

(From Hackney Propaganda: Working Class Club Life and Politics in Hackney 1870-1900)

1887 Free speech demo in Victoria Park in March.

1889 Clissold Park was opened by the newly formed London County Council (LCC). The two ponds in the park are named the Beckmere and the Runtzmere in honour of the two principal founders.

1926 Victoria Park is the site for some enthusiastic speeches in support of the General Strike. The park is closed briefly to the public during the strike when the army is stationed there – for reasons which seem to be unclear.

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1930s Hackney Red Radio (a branch of the Workers Theatre Movement) perform agit prop and pro-working class skits and plays. The group performs in parks, streets etc, including London Fields, where they are pelted with over-ripe tomatoes by an unappreciative audience on one occasion.

“We are Red Radio,
Workers’ Red Radio,
We Show you how you’re robbed and bled;
The old world’s crashing,
Let’s help to smash it
And build a workers’ world instead.”

1936 British Union of Fascists holds regular rallies in Victoria Park including clashes with anti-fascists. Also a large anti-fascist meeting in July organised by the Trades Councils of North and East London: “A mile long procession headed by a brass band culminated in a large public meeting which declared its unalterable opposition to fascism and to the war which it would inevitably lead.” Fascists attempt to march through East London in October for another Victoria Park rally, but are prevented from doing so by anti-fascists: The Battle of Cable Street. They did not pass.

1939 Trenches are dug in Hackney Downs, Victoria Park and other open spaces at the outset of the 2nd World War.

(There is a bit of gap here! Can you help fill it? What happened between the 1930s and the 1970s?)

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1978 80,000 attend huge Anti-Nazi League concert in Victoria Park (apparently the stage was in Hackney but the audience was in Tower Hamlets!).

1980s Three GLC-organised festivals in Victoria Park. Two are themed around peace / against nuclear weapons – including one on Hiroshima Day, 6 August 1983.

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1981 Funk The Wedding concert takes place in Clissold Park on the day of the marriage of Charles and Di. (from History Is Made At Night, as is the image above)

1983 Clissold Park Free Festival, August?! (mentioned here, any further info welcome)

1990s The demolition of London Fields Lido is resisted by the people of Hackney, including standing in front of the bulldozers. Local people led campaigns to reopen the Lido and cleared away vegetation. The children’s paddling pool which was closed in 1999, was reopened by local people for summer seasons. In 1998 the Lido was squatted for housing, a café and communal events. In August 1998 there was the Carnival of the Dispossessed, a benefit for Reclaim The Streets. The Lido was squatted for a second time 2002-2005. (From Past Tense)

1990 Hackney residents burn Poll Tax bills in Clissold Park.

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1991 Anti-Fascist Action sponsor Unity Carnival on Hackney Downs:

“AFA had surprised everyone by organising the biggest anti-fascist event for over a decade, drawing 10,000 people to the Unity Carnival on Hackney Downs. Supported by a wide range of organisations, from the Hackney Joint Shop Stewards Committee, to the Fire Brigade Union, the Carnival programme again drew attention to rising levels of race attacks and urged people to become pro-active: ‘We have organised today’s event to draw attention to the growing number of racist attacks especially in east London. The fact that some sections of the community virtually live under siege is unacceptable and we hope you are prepared to do more than just come to this symbolic show of unity. Support the activities on the back of this programme to get organised and do something to stop racist attacks.'”

Sean Birchall – Beating The Fascists: The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action (Freedom, 2010) p250

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1994 Hackney Homeless Festival, Clissold Park – 30,000 people. Clashes with police afterwards. (image by Jamie from tribe.net)

1996 Hackney Anarchy Week, a ten day festival including a punks’ picnic and 3-sided football match in Clissold Park.

2007 After much resistance and protest, the Manor Garden Allotments (near Hackney Wick, but apparently not technically in Hackney!) are demolished to make way for the Olympics. Similar struggles take place on Hackney Marshes (where football pitches are closed to make way for a coach park)

2012 A small “Occupy London” camp sets up briefly in Haggerston Park.

Sources/Acknowledgements

http://www.londonfieldsusergroup.org.uk/

http://www.clissoldpark.com/park-history/

Victoria Park, East London: The People’s Park

Barry Burke and Ken Worpole – Hackney Propaganda: Working Class Club Life and Politics in Hackney 1870-1900 (Centerprise, 1980) (William Morris)

Barry Burke – Rebels With A Cause: The History of Hackney Trades Council (Centerprise. 1975)

History Is Made At Night (Funk The Royal Wedding)

Past Tense (London Fields Lido)

Getting Involved

Hackney Council’s list of Park User Groups.

Further Reading: Modern

The Rise of the Friends Groups Movements, by Dave Morris

Finsbury Park: A History of Community Empowerment, by Hugh – Friends of Finsbury Park

The Community-Led Transformation of Lordship Rec, by Friends of Lordship Rec

Further Reading: Older

Down With The Fences: Battles For The Commons In South London, by Past Tense

Subversive of Public Decency: Open Space In North / North East London: radical crowds, immorality, and struggles over enclosure, by Past Tense (not online yet)

Film: Hackney Anarchy Week 1996

edit Jan 2015: This is now available in better resolution:

Or worser resolution as orginally posted here:

Some kind soul has uploaded the Hackney Anarchy Week film to Youtube. You might want to view it as “full screen” though, as it’s slightly low resolution.

The film includes:

  • Alternative TV
  • Stewart Home
  • Anarchist Football
  • Mr Social Control
  • Small Press Book Fair
  • Class War
  • Reclaim the Streets & Critical Mass
  • McDonalds Picket in support of the McLibel Campaign
  • The Association of Autonomous Astronauts
  • Punx Picnic
  • Ken Loach at the Rio – Interview

and a host of others. The film necessarily focuses on the more visual and social aspects of the festival (demos, gigs, performances etc) rather than the meetings and discussions.

It was shot throughout the festival and then shown as a rough cut on the last night in the small theatre above the Samuel Pepys pub (next door to the Hackney Empire). A VHS video was available for sale shortly after the festival had finished.

It’s good to see a number of familiar faces appear, many of whom are still active in 2013 and a couple of whom have sadly passed away over the last 17 years.

hackney anarchy week vhs cover

Other HAW material on this site:

Hackney Homeless Festival, Clissold Park, May 1994

The always excellent “History is Made at Night” on this free festival.

It was a great day, and I’m relieved that my terrible haircut of the time is absent from the video footage. I seem to recall mainly hanging around the Club Dog stage, which was on the Green Lanes side of the park and included the awful MC Teabag alongside some great DJs and the awesome Test Dept. I suspect I also saw some or all of Back To The Planet, Dreadzone and/or Radical Dance Faction, because they seemed to be lurking at every festival going around then.

Without rubbing too much salt in the wounds of the younger generation, this was a much less tame affair than recent “Stokefests” in the park.

This site already has a photo of the aftermath of the police’s antics of the day:

From Hackney’s Anarchic Nineties.

People who witnessed or were victims of police violence were encouraged to contact Hackney Community Defence Association if I remember rightly.

Hackney Anarchy Week reviews/responses 1996

Hackney Anarchy Week flyer

Coverage below from:

  • The Observer
  • Earth First UK!
  • Gridlock discussion list
  • Goal! Magazine
  • The Fifth Times Book of Best Sermons

“Anarchy puts its house in order”
The Observer (UK) 26 May 1996

What do the following have in common: Ronald McDonald, a sandpapered testicle, a three-sided football match, Luis Bunuel and space travel? The answer is that they are all on the agenda at Hackney Anarchy Week.

This is a celebration of DIY culture that marks new interest in an ideology most had written off as dead or – in the year the Sex Pistols re-formed – sold out. Not true, say the ‘organisers’ of Britain’s biggest anarchist bash, who promise activities as diverse as a punk picnic, an anti-fascist football-match (no right-wingers) and a workshop on the Unabomber manifesto.

The McLibel Trial will be discussed, along with sexual freedom and the Operation Spanner case.

Anarchy – they insist – is alive and well and living in the UK. from the Twyford Down, Newbury and M11 protests to the anti-veal campaign, to the new frontiers of cyberspace, a new kind of anarchy is abroad – one that would have Tolstoy, Emma Goldman, Bukanin or the Barcelona syndicalists spinning in their graves.

Earth First UK
Action Update 28 June 1996

As part of the Hackney Anarchy Week in London there was a Reclaim The Streets action to draw attention to the fact that the Borough of Hackney has one of the lowest proportion of people owning cars in the country, yet still suffers from the ecological and social consequences of all the commuter traffic that passes through the area every moming.

A road blockade was planned and on Thursday 30th May an assortment of cyclists and pedestrians met at 7.30am to try to block rush hour traffic. About fifty people walked to a point where the road was due to be blockaded. Unfortunately the police had discovered the tripods and they couldn’t be used. Despite this everybody closed the main road and then walked and cycled slowly around the area.

There was a comparatively large police presence, both from local Hackney police and also quite a few from the Forward Intelligence Team there to gather infonnation about people involved.

Remember to keep your diary free on Saturday 13th July for the Reclaim The Streets festival in London. Contact Reclaim The Streets on: 0171 281 4621 for more information.

ANARCHY IN HACKNEY?
its coming some time, maybe?
(Nicked from here)

For ten days from May 24th Hackney anarchos enjoyed a festival “celebrating subversion in East London”.

It included a bookfair, a punks picnic, poetry, comedy, music, workshops and actions. Hundreds came to hear Ken Loach speaking about his films. A Reclaim the Streets action disrupted the morning rush hour traffic. There were different musical events every night. McDonalds was picketed. Class War won the football tournament (after nearly having a punch-up with the North London Buddhists). The workshops were interesting, varied and generally well attended. Our squat cafe was open and busy every night. Altogether it went really smoothly and was much appreciated by a lot of people. people came from France, Belgium, and even South London. the only intervention of Stoke Newington cops (who should have been more involved as they break the law more than any anarchos) was to trash two punk gigs, beat people up and nick them.

In many ways it could be interpreted as something of a barometer on the state of the anrcho scene in Hackney. All the known groups and individual organisers in the area had been contacted and invited to organise something. The resulting programme reflected the current range of interests and activities.

Few people were interested in organising actions apart from around environmental issues. Most wanted to put on cultural events which invariably cost money but were pretty good.

We received glowing coverage in the Hackney Gazette:

“(the organisers) are hoping the special week will highlight their positive work”

“CYCLISTS SHOW WAY. Pedal-pushers brought anarchy to Stoke Newington on Saturday……. one of the highlights of Hackney Anarchy Week.”

It seems that anarchism has become a recognised and relatively respectable position.

But what has all this got to do with revolt, revolution, transforming our lives and our world? Not a lot I’m afraid. There’s a lot of struggles going on in Hackney and elsewhere, and plenty to be angry about, to rebel against, and you don’t have to be a fulltime activist to be involved. The problem is to get together those who are fighting and who want to fight, who want to find a way to rebuild the world, to find what we really have in common instead of hiding behind labels and scenes that are scared even to confront internal problems.

The Anarchists’ Ball – 3-Sided Football
Report by Michael Hodges
Goal! Magazine 1996

Three goals, hexagonal pitches…The rules have changed over the years, but FIFA would have a field day with this lot. Goal shrugs off the shackles of organised leagues and hangs out with the anarchists.

It is unlikely that Luther Blissett is even aware of the fact that he’s the inspiration behind three-sided football, a form of the game that ‘deconstructs the mythic bipolar structure of conventional football’. But then Watford is not a hotbed of class war and, although it is rumoured that he organised a three-sided football league during his playing days, Blissett probably isn’t attending Hackney Anarchist Week in east London. Goal is, however, and it is here that we encounter the Luther Blissett 3-Sided Football League, named after the man himself. The game has been further developed by anarchist group the London Psychogeographical Association (LPA).

Played on an hexagonal pitch between three sides, each defending one goal, the aim is not to score the most goals, but concede the least. Goals are conceded when the ball ‘is thrust through a team’s orifice’, so dissolving ‘the homoerotic/homophobic bipolarity of the two-sided game’. Put simply, three-sided football is, ideally, an exercise in co-operative behaviour, with one side persuading another to join in a campaign against the third – thus breaking down the very basis of capitalist organisation – and all before teatime.

Hmm. Today’s game involves fellow anarchists the Association of Autonomous Astronauts (AAA) who are developing an independent space-travel project based on the premise that all we require to travel the universe is imagination and a map of another planet. Accordingly, today’s match is to be played on the surface of the moon, or Hackney, depending on who you believe.

Gathering in St. Barnabas church hall, the assembled anarchists, amateur astronauts, baffled hacks and the merely curious are asked to form three groups, autonomously of course, and issued with Bartholomew’s maps of the moon’s surface.

John Eden of the AAA joins our side, Group One. “We’re going to the moon now to find a suitable site to play three-sided football. We’re starting from one of the lunar seas, the Mare Heraculem.” So, we begin milling around looking for a football pitch and resisting all bourgeois notions of imposed order. Consequently we fail to get anything together. Perusal of the map suggests that the north end of the moon is flattest, and thus more suitable for a pitch. Eventually, following what suspiciously sounds like an order to get on with it, we start out, and immediately get lost. No wonder. According to the map, we are in a 20-mile crater with no obvious way out.

A friendly local stops to offer assistance. “What you looking for mate?” The north end of the moon. Unimpressed, he walks off to the pub, muttering. It’s tempting to join him but at that very moment one of our number finds a street corner and, according to the map, Apollo 13’s landing site. Appropriately, the American flag is found – or at least a pair of trousers on a line. Beneath them, uncannily, at some point in the past goalposts have been painted on the wall. John looks triumphant; his plan (sorry, autonomous collective decision) is working. Sadly, if not strangely, the playing area is only the width of an east London pavement. Defeated, we return to the Mare Heraculem (let’s call it the church hall for convenience).

Groups Two and Three report back. A serious and politically committed conversation ensues, punctuated only by the mobile phone of another journalist. He is, perhaps, a man who hasn’t got the hang of the property-is-theft side of anarchism. Group Two report that not only did they find a spaceship (to be expected on the moon) but also a ‘No Ball Games’ sign, which is something of a blow to our hopes.

The third group have found a part of the moon which bears astonishing resemblance to Grove Street Park. One astronaut thinks carefully, “It’s probably better to play on grass.” Conventional? Probably. Bourgeois? Perhaps. Sensible? Definitely.

We head for the park. Richard Essex of the LPA gives us a short lecture. “Three-sided football offers unique problems. How do you keep your team together? What is your identity? The very boundaries of what a team actually is can loosen; we can discover new ways of organisation.”

It is at this point of anti-hierarchical anarchist debate that the correspondent from another football magazine chooses to ask Richard Essex if he is in charge. This really is the wrong question. Essex, kindly, lets it go and continues. “This is not just a case of scoring goals and its not just about footballing skills, other skills are required, too.”

Mainly, it seems, the skill to trick people from another team into thinking you are going to form an alliance with them. This is illustrated early on in proceedings when Jason Skeet of the AAA, calling for the ball, takes delivery of the pass and promptly scores in the goal of the side the pass came from. Embarrassingly, this is the end that Goal is defending. More embarrassingly, it is one of our representatives who has been so obviously and completely duped. Worse still, it’s me. It has taken a very short time to realise that with three sides playing one is going to be picked on. It is us.

Both the other two groups press towards our goal, indulging in an orgy of free-scoring libertarian collectivism. The attempt to defend is made all the harder by not knowing any of the people on your side, while furthermore most of them are turned out in gear that could best be described as ‘New Age’. Gradually I recognise the man with the purple spiral on his head as being on my side. We start to develop an understanding down the right-hand side. Unfortunately, it isn’t an understanding of three-sided football.

We remain under the cosh and the score reaches 4-0-0. But then Group Three let in a goal and suddenly the wisdom of their pact with Group Two seems less sure. Tentative steps are taken to reform the on-pitch alliance, but talk of oppressive structures and fascistic centre-forwards gets us nowhere. Then a burly Australian in a rugby shirt, who’s come for the fun, barges through and lays it on. The goal may be no more than a discarded Cure T-shirt and a smelly black jumper, but it’s there in front of me. I shoot, I score, the Australian cuddles me. We’re 4-1-1 and the game is anyone’s.

A singular feature of three-sided football is that casual passers-by are as entitled to play as the original participants. Before long an Italian runs on and proceeds to push, dig, goal-hang and score with all the flamboyance and petulance his footballing heritage can muster. Ignoring one third of the pitch, he’s either a fascist or he doesn’t see the third goal, but as his only words of English are “Goal! Goal!”, it’s difficult to find out which.

The man runs riot and soon the scores are in the region of 5-3-6, but no one is really sure. The more professional of the anarchists respond to the challenge in a suspiciously organised way. John, however, maintains a rigorously un-ordered democracy, regularly swapping keepers and giving the ball away whenever the build-up looks promising. Jason, in Group Two, has no such qualms, taking advantage of a pitch which allows him to be both libero and striker.

The correspondent from another football magazine, unable to play because he is wearing an Armani suit of doubtful provenance, looks on from the sidelines, baffled. Our Italian guest, unaware of three-sided football’s commitment to the non-fostering of aggression or competitiveness drifts off when it becomes apparent that everyone else is ideologically unwilling to fight for victory at all costs, or in my case, simply too knackered to carry on.

The cure T-shirt is recovered, breath is regained, and ‘homoerotic/homophobic bipolarity’ declared soundly beaten. We head off autonomously and literally, over the moon.

Christmas, King Herod and Anarchist Football
Rev Mike Starkey
Appears in The Fifth Times Book of Best Sermons (Cassell, 1999), edited by Ruth Gledhill

[Needless to say this includes some dubious 3rd hand reporting embellished with some outright nonsense about goals being ripped down, which of course didn’t happen at Hackney Anarchy Week. Just goes to show you can’t trust a man of the cloth!]

One of my favourite stories from the Hackney Gazette this year was their report on the annual Anarchists’ Five-a-side Football Tournament. No, this is serious. Every year the local Anarchist community celebrates Hackney Anarchy Week. And the centrepiece of the week is a grand picnic in the park and football tournament. Now, you might think the idea of Anarchist football is a contradiction in terms. After all, anarchy means the absence of order or rules. It comes from the Greek word anarchos which means ‘without a ruler’. And all my fears were confirmed when I read the Gazette’s account of the games.

During the football matches, said the reporter, ‘anarchy prevailed’. It all came to a great climax as the matches ended with the goal posts being symbolically ripped down. Presumably by way of protest against people dictating to them where they ought to be kicking, or drawing oppressive distinctions between real goals and missed goals. Far better, thought the Hackney Anarchists, to rip down the goals altogether so that everybody could do their own thing.

I enjoyed the report. This was partly due to some unintentional irony. The reporter informed us that all the Anarchists wore ‘bright Mohican hairstyles’ and ‘trademark safety pins’. Now I find it oddly heart-warming to think of Anarchists having a rigid dress code, or trademark anything. Anarchist uniform does rather seem like a contradiction in terms. I would have thought any consistent, self -respecting group of Anarchists might wear a chaotic mixture of pinstripe suits, cassocks, boiler suits and pyjamas- the only ‘rule’ being that there are no rules. If I were an Anarchist leader (which, of course, I couldn’t be since they don’t have leaders), I’d excommunicate as a heretic any member who dressed remotely like another one.

But there was a deeper irony afoot. Before the event, posters went up around Hackney promoting it. And on these posters the event in the park was billed as a ‘celebration of subversion in east London’. The young anarchists were claiming to be subversives: in other words, challenging the basic values of our society, undermining all that the rest of us hold dear. In fact, their soccer tournament turned out to embody, in miniature, all the central values of their generation. It was another utter act of conformity. Why do I say that?

Well, we need to look at what these anarchists were claiming: through their attitudes, their doctrines, and even the way they played football. They were claiming that no external authority should have power to determine people’s lives. They were saying that there are no absolutes in life. They were saying that the only morality or rules are whatever we can piece together for ourselves. And that’s what you’d expect them to do-because that’s what Anarchists have always stood for. The problem is, to say these things just isnt radical or subversive anymore. To most of todays young adults, the ideas behind behind Anarchism – that authority is oppressive, there are no absolutes, the only morality is what we concoct for ourselves – these are no longer subversive. Theyre simply the new common sense. Its what practically all my contemporaries were bought up to believe. Its what most academics in our universities believe. Its what most of our media promotes. Its what most of our neighbours in Finsbury Park believe as well.

We live in a culture today where all the old certainties of the past are crumbling away. People no longer automatically trust the police, the monarchy, the judiciary, the social services, the Church. All the moralities of the past are questioned too. Our culture works on a supermarket shelf model of truth, where you simply cobble together whatever works for you, whatever happens to make you feel good. We like a personally-defined truth, which prefers words like relative to words like absolute. It prefers words like rights over words like duty or obligation. And ours is a society whose favourite concept is freedom of choice.

So you see why it struck me that the Hackney anarchists seem rather safe and predictable. Theyve chosen to make a political ideology of something that most of my contemporaries believe anyway. Wheres the radicalism in that? Let me suggest what a real celebration of subversion in East London might look like. How about this: an event which undercuts everything my generation has been bought up to believe, which challenges our most basic assumptions from the roots up. An event held in honour of a great King, who has supreme authority. An event which announces uncompromisingly that he alone is Lord, and that to him every knee should bow in service. It would be an event which tells us the only sure path to freedom is complete submission, putting yourself out of the picture and putting others first.