Rebellion in society may be an unusual source for change in football, but after looking at the Dutch 'Total' revolution & the Provo movement, Paul Gleeson wonders how a little anarchy might just help the English game.

In retrospect, perhaps the social manoeuvrings, attempts at subversion and bewildering dictum abound in Holland during the 1960’s, exerted an influence beyond the parameters of expectation. If so, could the forthright student protests currently proliferate in England cause a similar outcome?

Perhaps: perhaps not. It is entirely circumstantial. Holland’s form of protest, to which I refer, is that of the white clad Provos – a group of carnival-esque anarchists – who adjoined themselves to Robert Jasper Grootveld, himself an anarchist in the Dutch tradition of surrealism. England’s own protest movements though, err on the side of traditionalism, displaying less of the surrealist tendencies abound within Holland and more good old English chanting and placard waving.

Protest theory suggests that the Provo movement of anti-bourgeois sentiment, whilst acting as a challenge to hegemony, does not quite define itself as ‘Protest’, quite as freely as the current-day student tuition fee protests. The defining element between a protest and a social movement is that of unity and of having a unified objective. So, where the student fee protests hold one ideological aim – to lower tuition fees – the Provos upheld a haphazard collation of whimsical ideas: ranging from free chickens for the poor, to police dressing in white and offering lights to those in need of a smoke.

What the Provo movement lacked in cohesion, though, it compensated for with artistry and rebellion: challenging socio-cultural norms and questioning the establishment. Meanwhile, within the context of football, a young artisan named Johan Cruyff was gracing De Meer and challenging those same epochs of power. The duality between the two instances of rebellion is oft refuted, but in a broader context, both instances of anarchy drew a parallel to the broader sense of liberation, burgeoning in 1960’s society.

So, in came long hair – the semiotic poster-boy image of sticking it to the man – out went short hair. Beatle-mania became social dictum for a generation, there every act inducing society to follow trend.

Football, though, had Cruyff, and Cruyff had Ajax. Symbolically, the club, the player, gave football its first globalised rebellion. On the pitch, fluidity, liberal-artistry and spatial manipulation flew in the face of conservatism and rigidity, whilst tactically they challenged almost all expected discourses. Off the pitch, Cruyff’s innate neoliberal appreciation of his own worth – to Ajax and the KNVB – was no less a remonstration to social elites and long held socio-cultural norms, as the Ajax school of football was to the 4-4-2.

As so often in football, dance was a ready-made-metaphor for the Ajax model of play. Their smooth, uncomplicated transitions, understandably, expulsed a bodily virtuosity hitherto only seen in dance halls and, coincidently, on the streets of Amsterdam, as the Provos danced to their own anarchic beat. For some the virtuosity displayed by Ajax and the Provos was inseparable, with both encapsulating the new wave of freedom and classlessness that was sweeping through society, post World War Two.

John Fiske, in Understanding Popular Culture, believes that the body is key to representing socio-political contexts prevalent at a given time. He deliberates the point superbly, when he notes that ‘the struggle for control over meanings and pleasures (and therefore the behaviours) of the body is crucial because the body is where the social is most convincingly represented as the individual and where politics can best disguise itself as human nature’. The body then, with Ajax, as with the Provos, is a key site where social positions can be expressed.

Within Ajax, however, they pointedly denounce any links with the Provo movement, insisting their style of play was an organic creation, facilitated via Rinus Michels and Cruyff – although, Vasović, the teams libero, also claims to have been heavily involved in its conception.

Organic it may have been, but for those outside the club there is a distinct correlation. Whilst society liberated itself from the tawdry, post-war fifties in the form of rebellion and surreal subcultural behaviour, Dutch football reacted similarly by shaking itself free of mediocrity and tactical conservatism, to bring the world a new, innovative style of play.

Could then, English football culture be irrevocably changed due to the fall out of the recent tuition fee protests, as Holland’s was by the Provo movement?

Post – the tuition fee protests – apocalyptic England. Society now dances to the new beat of dub-step and whimsical string instruments, amalgamated with florescent tones and lucid dreams. With Whitehall conquered, the cadaverous elites cower, fearful of Charlie – of Cenotaph climbing heroism - Gilmour, the pre-eminent figure of the new order.

In living rooms across the country, the susceptible youth digest what they see and hear, embedding in them a sense of rebellion and anti-hegemonic sentiment. From offices to high street retailers, workmen and women now query their bosses; in schools, pupils counter their teacher’s dictum and the way things are done.

Football does not escape the social shifting of power, though. From Sunday league to professional institutions, a revolution is occurring of a magnitude hitherto unseen in England. At the forefront of the professional subversion is Jack Wilshire, of Arsenal, whose ingenuity has long countenanced the bullish nature of English youth products. With his acute special awareness and technical acumen, he sees things that others simply cannot fathom, until he explains the situation.

Within this brave new world, tactical innovation is key. Many a whimsical opinion is abound; some purport the idea of keepers as an eleventh outfield player, acting as a sweeper or an auxiliary centre back. Others suggest adoption of the Dion-Dublin-Model of goal poaching, which consists of hiding behind the goal and sneaking up to tackle the keeper as the ball is released. Genius. More left-field theorems suggest camouflaging ungainly strikers as goal posts, unbeknownst to the opposition, who can then emerge to surprise the opposition in the final third.

Movement in tactical systems will progress from vertical to lateral. Left backs will be capable of playing right midfield; centre forwards will be utilised, on occasion, as sweepers, or left backs, or right midfielders. The possibilities are endless.

Or, maybe not.

To read more from Paul & see his quite brilliant artwork, visit his excellent site here

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