SKIP TO MAIN CONTENT

Matthew Le Tissier and the Cosmic Right

ECOLOGIES | Culture Is Ordinary  }

Tom Williams / October 16, 2021
The former Southampton number seven has repeatedly disgraced himself with a series of public pronouncements. How does this connect with the way he played football? 5754 words / 23 min read

Image: josie sparrow.


Content Note: The final section of this piece contains mentions of the sexual abuse of young footballers.

Is football culture? Yes. Is football art? It is if it’s played the way Matthew Le Tissier played it.

To remember Matthew Le Tissier the footballer is to picture an overweight man with a neanderthal gait and a big nose playing with a panache and spontaneity that dragged the blood to the back of my skull. At times it seemed he could barely run, let alone run fast, yet a fortuitous combination of unearthly balance and an enormous backside seemed to allow him to barrel past defenders, before using his instep to unfurl arcing, laser-guided shots with almost no backlift.

Few players can have scored more spectacular, audaciously improvised goals.

Even as a younger, more svelte man, he had the appearance of being distinctly un-athletic. This perception should be contextualised within the mores and prejudices of British football, which tends to prize physicality over technique. Le Tissier made his debut at a time when English clubs were exiled from European club competitions thanks to what football-despising prime minister Margaret Thatcher called “the English disease”- football hooliganism. Isolated and cut off from networks of intellectual exchange and with little coverage of or interest in foreign football, the domestic game ended up siloed into a rigid formula of kick and rush and 4-4-2. The game in England seemed to be played in straight lines, fast wingers zooming in straight lines down the wings, balls launched in straight lines either at the heads of tall, sinewy target men or lithe, whippet-like poachers. The curves of Le Tissier’s figure were later derided, but the sweeps and swerves of his play provided a welcome incongruity. Yet within the nativist, stultifying framework of the old Football League Division 1, where did they fit?

Le Tissier did possess some physical attributes that were useful. Balletic poise, for one, but also core strength and explosivity- it’s important to remember that Le Tissier was not Gabriel Batistuta, who by his own admission became exceptionally good at shooting from distance because he wasn’t good at running with the ball. Le Tissier could dribble, and dribbling requires a change of pace. From around 1991 we seldom saw him swaggering and slaloming over more than 20 yards, but he did still bustle his way through defences. There was sleight of foot involved too though. Although I don’t recall him ever deploying a stepover, Le Tissier was adept at one of football’s oldest techniques, the body-swerve or ‘drop of the shoulder’; feinting to the left to unbalance an opponent before bursting past them on their right. Although his poise and balance must have helped even if it wasn’t obvious, Le Tissier- pear-shaped and hunched over the ball- was perhaps at his least elegant while dribbling the ball on pitches that were significantly less conducive to the art than the modern Premier League’s grass-synthetic blends. Perhaps this is part of why he developed the art of effectively dribbling in the air.

Le Tissier was at his least elegant while dribbling the ball on pitches that were significantly less conducive to the art than the modern Premier League’s. Perhaps this is part of why he developed the art of effectively dribbling in the air.

A famous goal against Newcastle is a case in point- stop the video at the point at which he is deftly, delicately propelling the ball over Kevin Scott’s head- the grace and equilibrium are exquisite. This method started out as improvisational but became a situation that Le Tissier would seek to manufacture. See this goal against Tottenham for an example of him receiving the ball and flicking it up as for the Wimbledon free kick, but this time in order to run past defenders by keeping the ball away from them- a reasonable definition of dribbling- but with the ball in the air instead of on the ground.

My sense that Le Tissier played partly out of a desire to create beautiful moments is derived from that iconic free kick against Wimbledon in 1994. Casually, seeingly lazily, he achieved the perfect union of force and projectile, in the process scoring the only goal of an otherwise dire game. He never so much as tried it again. It was as if trying and failing to paint a similar picture might have sullied the memory of what has ended up a seminal, singular moment.

But why did a player capable of such feats — from the anti-gravity leans of this goal against Norwich to the anti-gravity ball of the goals against Newcastle, Liverpool and Spurs — continue to play in front of 15,000 people for wages commensurate with the income these attendances generated? Why would a player this talented, this effective (a remarkable 60 league goals in 3 seasons between 1992 and 1995), this good not have played in front of bigger crowds for much, much more money, greater fame, and a much better chance of winning trophies?

Solidarity and freedom.

It seems to me to have been a combination of these that kept Le Tissier at Southampton- and they were facets of his career that went way beyond the numbers.

There is a liberal argument to be made about football and its inherent competitiveness, but there is also a libertarian socialist or communist claim that can be staked; that in a fluid team sport, the collective is always the priority, but that the collective tends to thrive when the individual is actualised.

The reactionary reading of Marx and Communism more widely is that it is opposed to freedom. This, of course, misses the rich concept developed particularly in Marx and Engels’s early works. In the Communist Manifesto in particular it is clear that their attitude towards the bourgeoisie is largely determined by the question of freedom. On the one had respect for the ways in which capitalism has extended freedom as a collective capacity to act, on the other contempt for the capitalist mode of production and bourgeoisie for the fettering of freedom, particularly of the working class. In the classical formation then, it is that “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”. In this reconciliation of solidarity and freedom — and freedom understood as a capacity to act, including with others, all of whom are also free — we can find at least one perspective on understanding Le Tissier and Southampton FC.

The need to win is often used to present sport as an argument for capitalism and justify liberalism’s woolly claims about human nature, but playing to win can be a welcome release from working to produce. Competing on a football pitch as a pursuit of temporary happiness is not equivalent to competing in a marketplace when the alternative is starvation and death.

That said, winning football isn’t always enjoyable or aesthetically pleasing in and of itself, which suggests that authentic happiness is only achievable through freedom, as opposed to narrowly-defined success. Perhaps this is why fans tend to enjoy seeing their teams playing flamboyant, risky football that might lead to defeat more than they enjoy seeing them eke out wins through defensive rigour designed to minimise the likelihood of conceding goals. I may be unusual in this, but of three excellent seasons for Southampton between 2013 and 2016, I cherish memories of Mauricio Pochettino’s flowing, aggressive Saints team (which finished 8th) more than those of Ronald Koeman’s more efficient iterations (which finished 7th and then 6th).

Solidarity

Le Tissier has said many times that he stayed loyal to Saints because he felt he could achieve what he wanted to achieve without leaving. In other words, it was mutually beneficial; he got a platform on which he could prove himself and be adored by supporters, and we got him. It was a relationship of shared interests, interconnected struggles and shared possibilities- a version of what socialists might recognise as solidarity. We all wanted him to be able to play to his full potential, because if he did so it would lead to a world in which Matt Le Tissier played for England and Southampton were still in the Premier League. Very simply put, acting in solidarity means acting in support of the struggles of those whose interests we share. Le Tissier’s struggle was to play for England, but it was also, from a Marxist-humanist perspective, for a sort of aestheticised self-actualisation; for a relationship between his freedom and the totality of the team that might have been impossible elsewhere. Southampton Football Club’s struggle was to stay in the Premier League. But in practice, these struggles melted into one another.

Le Tissier’s struggle was also, from a Marxist-humanist perspective, for a sort of aestheticised self-actualisation; for a relationship between his freedom and the totality of the team that might have been impossible elsewhere.

Freedom

When Le Tissier was denied freedom on the pitch by opponents like Martin Keown looming menacingly over him, with a face that appeared to have been set on fire then stamped out with a golf shoe, we were deprived of his brilliance and our team never functioned as well.

Sometimes he was denied freedom by his own managers (as so many of us are by the managerial class); most famously the hated Ian Branfoot, whose sacking I rather shamefully celebrated by dancing a jig past the McDonalds on Southampton’s Above Bar Street because I knew- knew — that his successor would have to pick Le Tissier. When he was able to freely express himself, it wasn’t just him who was better off — it was the whole organisation and the community around it.

Sure enough, former England and Southampton midfielder Alan Ball was appointed, and set about implementing a simple plan- get the other players to give the ball to Le Tissier and give him the freedom to self-actualise.

This freedom was facilitated by a lot of unseen work and provision. He was provided for in the sense of having teammates who were willing and able to do the things that he couldn’t or didn’t like doing. During all the most fulfilling spells of his career he was provided with willing runners in players like Gordon Watson, Neil Madison and Neil Heaney, and players like Jimmy Case, who were able to pass the ball to him AND act as his bodyguards. The moustachioed, occasionally somewhat… overzealous local boy Francis Benali- since reinvented as a civic hero thanks to his predilection for nearly killing himself to raise money for charity - would often take it upon himself to execute what amounted to professional hits on opponents who sought to deny Le Tissier that all-important liberty. Here then, to take another formulation of Marx’s imagining of a Communist society, we have a team as a community based on “from each according to their ability”, something like a freely chosen division of labour, and, at the very least, if not exactly, “to each according to their needs”; participation in a shared project in which all succeeded together.

This freedom was facilitated by a lot of unseen work, the moustachioed, occasionally overzealous Francis Benali would often execute professional hits on opponents who sought to deny Le Tissier that all-important liberty.

It’s difficult to reify football in a way that allows a coherent politics to be mapped onto it. Football clubs aren’t always value-producing, or even intended as such, in and as of themselves, there’s very obviously no meaningful labour movement in it as an industry. Clubs tend to exist fairly comfortably within capitalism as entities that are quasi-capitalist, constrained as they are in any pursuit of surplus value by the need to remain competitive on the pitch, as well as the very soft (and increasingly softening) power held by fans. Football as an activity though- the act of trying to win matches through physically incarnated creativity- is easier to see through a political lens, and can fairly reasonably be described and understood as a collective struggle, even if the fruits of that collective labour aren’t equitably distributed among workers. Precisely what form this takes will be subjective, of course. Fellow New Socialist contributors Joe Kennedy and Trevor Bastard have, in conversation, lamented what they call the “Guardiolaisation” of football, in which, they contend, players are now coached to the point of robotic and denied the kind of freedom of expression Le Tissier flourished through. Guardiolaisation, then, is perhaps imbued with an authoritarianism that places fairly severe restrictions on the personal freedoms of players and leads to a stilted over-rehearsed model of play. While not particularly disagreeing with this, my own political, instinctive, experiential interpretation of football-as-activity is that too much in the way of individual freedom can cause it to be an experience that lacks collective joy. To be blunt, when I could still play (my amateur ‘career’ has left me in a physical state in which I’m not too decrepit to play, but unable to derive enough pleasure from playing to make it worth the agony of the following morning), I got annoyed when I’d made a gasping box-to-box run to support a teammate who then battered the ball into one of the tributaries of the River Test in pursuit of the perfect goal. It’s not quite as galling as colleagues crossing picket lines, but I can’t help my understanding of even culture and leisure being informed by trade union organising, and the mantra-like conviction that too much individuality and too little discipline allows a more powerful adversary to thrash you.

Perhaps this is wrong, but as when making music, I’ve always found the cooperation and collaboration involved in football as enjoyable as getting on the scoresheet. My political interpretation of a successful, mutually fulfilling team is of something that is an ecosystem of living, breathing organisms, but is simultaneously a machine for winning, or at least for collective enjoyment. I accept that this might be excessively utilitarian, yet it’s certainly one interpretation of the Southampton teams in which Le Tissier played well although those teams could equally be seen as a hierarchical, organic community (from each according to their ability, sure, but everyone knowing their place, sacrificed for Le Tissier’s self-actualisation) or as a sort of Blairite neo-welfarism, with Le Tissier a deregulated business whose success trickled down for the benefit of society as a whole. I suspect the latter of these interpretations is closer to how Le Tissier would conceive of it, were he minded to do so. He could be seen to embody the idea that individual flourishing benefits all, and there is a Left interpretation of this, too. To a socialist, the liberal goals of self-emancipation and the authoring of our own lives can only be provided through ends that are recognisably socialist. It’s not implausible that if Marx hadn’t been writing prior to the mass consumption of live football, he might have advocated for a world in which we play five-a-side after dinner.

Althusser, too, offers a theoretical framework that works here, I think:

For example, the cultural ISA [ideological state apparatus]: the ideology that it realizes is anchored in practices either aesthetic (the theatre, film, literature) or physical (sport) that are not reducible to the ideology for which they serve as a support. The same holds for the political and associative ISAs: the ideology they realize is ‘anchored’ in a reality irreducible to that ideology – here, the class struggle. The same holds for the ISA we are calling the scholastic apparatus: the ideology it realizes is ‘anchored’ in practices that make it possible to acquire and use objective ‘know-how’ irreducible to that ideology.1

The ideological and economic aspects of football- or any professional sport- are “anchored” in a set of practices that aren’t themselves ideological, and can generate resistances, counter-ideologies. Just as capitalism finds ways of existing alongside things that aren’t capitalist, football — its cultures and practices, the desires it creates — exists alongside things that are capitalist. The physically incarnated aesthetic of football — that which governs its understanding of beauty and success — is perhaps present in the mantra of Tottenham Hotspur- (who at one point had Le Tissier signed, only for him to insist that then-manager Terry Venables tear up the contract) that “the game is about glory”. Some footballers play, compete, on and off the pitch, for money. Many more, I think, play for honour and distinction, and there may exist in this the potential for resistance and counter-hegemonic praxis.

For all the attempts over the years to turn football into a means of “fostering chauvinism”, or, more recently, a ritual celebration of consumer capitalism (most obviously via the World Cup), capital has been less successful on the terrain of football than almost any other cultural terrain. While literature, music and cinema are fairly efficient for converting surplus value into profit, football clubs themselves (as opposed to the right to broadcast their games) are still more often used by capitalists in the pursuit of goodwill than anything riches. The common refrain that the “game’s gone” has become cliched to the point of fatuous, and it’s also plain wrong; football remains a site of struggle and a potential vehicle for challenge.

Althusser said himself, that football is an “island of communism”, in a rare television appearance in 1980, that playing football,

is not about market relationships, it is not about political domination, it is not about ideological intimidation. There are people from [different] teams that oppose each other, they respect the rules, that is, they respect each other. Communism is the respect for humankind.

This understanding of the game stands in monochrome contrast to liberal capitalism’s attempts to claim football.

Irrespective of the truth or otherwise in all this, Le Tissier’s creativity often helped Saints to triumphs over much more powerful opponents, and during the course of the 1993/94 and 1994/95 seasons, Le Tissier scored 45 league goals. He wasn’t even a striker. As well as allowing the club to sustain its status as a Premier League team, the enmeshed and interconnected struggles of Le Tissier and his teammates offered Sotonians moments of intense aesthetic euphoria. It brought relief and release from the drudgery of the Major years, after Thatcherism had allowed the reverse expropriation of the city’s commercial port and managed decline of its other traditional industries. “Le Tiss for England please,” urged the graffiti near the docks, the “please” so plaintive that it seemed to speak to the desperation of a city on its knees with many of its workers thrown on the scrap heap.2 The Dell, our dilapidated old ground, had been, in years gone by, where Southampton dockers would go to express themselves, and what fans expressed in those days was a joyful solidarity with their home-grown hero. “Le Tiss,” they sang, “When he gets the ball he takes the piss”. It felt like an expression of defiant working class confidence. In this context, although Le Tissier probably wasn’t thumbing his famously large nose at those who were immiserating us, his insouciant, shambling genius acted as a conduit for what remained of our civic pride.

“Le Tiss,” they sang, “When he gets the ball he takes the piss”. It felt like an expression of defiant working class confidence...Le Tissier's insouciant, shambling genius acted as a conduit for what remained of our civic pride.

When Southampton were finally relegated in 2005, Le Tissier — by then retired — was crushed. My mum recalls seeing him slumped in a chair at the back of the Kingsland stand shortly after it happened, and tried to console him by patting him on the knee. He briefly squeezed her hand in acknowledgement. Again, there was an incorporeal solidarity in this. The club’s failure didn’t damage Le Tissier in any material way, but football clubs are community hubs charged with energy and meaning, and there was a shared sense of something having been lost in that moment. This was a collective pain.

The Cosmic Right

Depending on your perspective, it may be too harsh or too charitable to Le Tissier to associate him with the Cosmic Right, but my sense is that the baggier category of ‘libertarian right’ may not be adequate here, due to the paranoid critical thinking he both engages in and encourages. Keir Milburn has written and spoken about the term, dreamt up by his friend Dave Eden, but here I want to focus on the specific utility of cosmic right wing thinking to Le Tissier’s material interests, and speculate about the pathologies that might have led him from his raffish playing style to this, as well as proposing a left turn.

The contention of the Cosmic Right is that their core belief- exemplified most famously by US-originating phenomena like Infowars and QAnon — a vivid commentary on which is provided here by Erik Davis — is in freedom. Le Tissier has been critical of Donald Trump, so presumably does not, unlike the QAnon acolytes, believe that Trump is an heroic representative of the divine, leading the fight against a pagan, vampiric cartel whose deadliest weapon and source of energy is state-sponsored paedophilia. He does, however, share some of their key positions and oppositions, in particular climate denial, Covid truthing and opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement. He could be generously described as at least adjacent to the anti-vaxx current, and also shares the QAnon conspiratorial-critical thinking, whereby he will urge those critiquing his increasingly bizarre claims to “Do some research!” or “Think about who benefits!”. Most recently, he has casually implied that the Covid vaccine sceptic president of Tanzania, John Magufuli, had been assassinated at the behest of Bill Gates, and blamed the vaccine for the near-tragic collapse during a Euro 2020 fixture of Denmark playmaker Christian Eriksen.

Le Tissier’s positions and oppositions are typically animated by opposition not simply to restrictions of certain freedoms, but to a fundamental reorganising of society. The kind of freedoms Le Tissier tends to champion now are freedoms that impinge, or risk impinging, upon the freedoms of others. There’s an inherent conservatism to Le Tissier, but also the peculiarly adolescent belief common in men his age in his own entitlement to do as he pleases. At heart, it is an inability or unwillingness to distinguish between freedom to and freedom from. Not that this is complicated. An easily digested example is that if Le Tissier is free to board a train without a mask designed to limit the spread of Coronavirus, this impinges on the freedom of other passengers to travel without a heightened risk of contracting a potentially deadly disease.

There’s an inherent conservatism to Le Tissier, but also the peculiarly adolescent belief common in men his age in his own entitlement to do as he pleases.

This is perhaps the link to and rupture with Le Tissier the player (although the understanding of that remains subjective and as I have argued, perhaps, essentially indeterminate).

Footballers have, over the decades, tended to share the politics of the majority of people their age. In the 1980s, even many Liverpool players — idolised by Scousers who were being battered by Thatcherism — were Tories.3 Now, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford is actively campaigning for a redistributive policy that would benefit the economic group he came from, possibly at the expense of the one he occupies now, while every Premier League player is (publicly at least) supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement. Le Tissier, on the other hand, has taken to social media to express reservations about BLM.

The Black Lives Matter movement is transparently and inextricably linked to demands for freedom. A belief in solidarity and freedom is integral in support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Even as a cisgender, heterosexual, white, male socialist, I recognise the moral imperative to act in and express solidarity with Black people, but also recognise in BLM a struggle upwards towards a world that would be better for everyone. The obvious reality is that black people still don’t have the same freedoms as white people. BLM’s struggle is for freedom from police violence, but if we all support that struggle, it can, in practice, become inseparable from ALL upward struggles for freedom, whether for freedom of speech, freedom from exploitation or freedom of expression. The struggle for freedoms articulated together, for freedom being collective and rich, not a nihilistic freedom from, is a struggle again, for a world where the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all. White people, however, including working class white people, have both an interest in the radical overturning of the social order and — absent the horizon of freedom as solidarity, solidarity as freedom — in maintaining it. Refusing to support BLM would amount to support for a social order in which I — as a white person aligned with the working class — am still worse off than the capitalist class and those aligned with it, but still better off than black people whose material conditions are otherwise the same as mine. Sadly, this tacit agreement is one that many white people have made, exemplified in recent years by votes for Brexit or Trump.

The Le Tissier of the 2020s is not so much arguing for freedoms so much as protecting his own privileges. When Le Tissier the player was free to express himself, we all benefited. But no one can score from 30 yards or dribble through the sky with a boot on their neck, and it’s impossible to emphasise too strongly how deplorable his various stances are.

If you want to call yourself an anti-racist, it is not enough to simply ‘abhor racism’, as almost everyone claims to. You have to actively oppose racism. The bare minimum in that regard is to concur with the suggestion that something should be done about it. To object to even the milk-and-water incarnation of BLM that appears on Sky television is to object to doing even the bare minimum in gesture politics. The feeble spectacle of Le Tissier shamelessly trying to elicit sympathy from his Twitter followers having been dropped from his no doubt lucrative Sky Sports gig (as a cost-cutting measure linked to the Covid crisis, not because of his views) was absolutely nauseating after he’d bumptiously announced that he would be “reviewing” whether to continue wearing the BLM badge he’d been asked to wear by Sky producers, due to the movement’s anti-capitalist ethos and demands to defund the police. This self-styled freedom fighter then continuing to wear the badge in spite of his supposed moral convictions was pathetic and laughable. So too is his continued campaign of misinformation and outright bullshit about climate change, which is surely underpinned by the desire lines on what Jameson might call a ‘cognitive map’4 and it’s a map that leads him to a destination at which he can drive around in a series of enormous cars and prat about on golf courses created despite disastrous consequences for the environment, all without having to feel any guilt about fucking up the planet for his own children and grandchildren. As for the brittleness of anyone who gets a hemorrhoid because they’re asked to wear a bit of cloth over their mouth, they deserve nothing but ridicule. As is so often the case, right wingers who whinge about ‘cancel culture’ and ‘snowflakes’ are in reality the most fragile, easily offended sophists of all, particularly when they are melodramatic and tasteless enough to draw an equivalence between themselves and Anne Frank, as Le Tissier has.

Le Tissier slots into Generation X, which has to be understood in relation to the preceding generation- the now notorious Baby Boomers — whose ‘I stood on my own two feet’ mindset is completely at odds with the reality of the Keynesian paradigm in which they grew up, generally benefiting from unprecedented public provision. A working class Boomer could be born in an NHS hospital and raised in a council house, which, thanks to the paradigm changing to that of Thatcherism, they may later have been able to buy for a song. Gen Xers like Le Tissier then entered the labour market before the housing bubble, when debt was cheap. He was probably able to buy property by the early 90s, and the same would be true of many of his cohort who weren’t England international footballers. For people my age, this has been more difficult. For people ten years younger, more difficult still.

There’s something thought-provoking in Le Tissier’s set of beliefs and assumptions, something that seems to somehow tie him to a certain kind of Gen Xer. Indeed, while we must acknowledge that not everyone of that generation had these material grounds, the extremity of some of his positions can perhaps both disclose something about the material basis and coherence of that generation as a whole; we are dealing with a level of generality or a tendency that can only be understood in the context of something wider. If, as a generality within the hegemonic ideology of liberal capitalism, Boomers define themselves through struggle, Millennials could be said to define themselves through their oppressions, and Gen Exers through freedoms. This is not to legitimate the stereotype of Millennials as self-pitying, entitled wimps. If anything, that stereotype could be more accurately applied to Generation X, the self-professed ‘Jilted Generation’, or ‘Bastards of Young’, to reference Gen X groups the Prodigy and the Replacements, respectively. But what these two generations share is having grown up in historical periods informed to some degree by liberal identity politics. I have italicised the word ‘liberal’ here as it is not my intention to critique socialist iterations of identity politics — which I support — but their liberal equivalents, informed as they typically are by the sense that any imposition of restrictions on individual freedoms should be considered taboo, that collectivism and Stalinism are the same thing, and the most important freedom of all is freedom from having to pay your taxes.

The idea I’m extrapolating from here is borrowed from my friend and comrade Paul Ewart, a historian who explores this with much more rigour than I could in his as yet unpublished ‘Narrativising the 1970s: from Modernity to Presentism’, but applying my interpretation to Le Tissier, he’s a stereotypical Gen Exer; he grew up in the 70s and 80s, he probably never had to fight for his freedom, he probably never had any trouble acquiring property, and unlike Millennials, he has a higher quality of life than his parents.

Le Tissier, growing up in Guernsey, may not necessarily have enjoyed quite the same level of public provision as someone in the UK, but as discussed earlier, he was provided for in the micro-society of Southampton Football Club, which gave him his football education.

However, it’s important, if unpleasant, to acknowledge here that something awful happened at Southampton during Le Tissier’s adolescence.

It is now known that during the 80s, the youth coach and now convicted paedophile Bob Higgins was routinely abusing young footballers, and Le Tissier appeared on regional BBC news programme South Today to describe his own experiences of Higgins.

Everyone was kind of naked and getting thrown on this bed… and a very quick massage - it was uncomfortable.. it’s very, very wrong for a start - looking back on it, you think it’s wrong but as a young boy you thought ‘is this normal’? It’s pretty disgusting. What went on is not normal behaviour. When you hear the stories of naked soapy massages, hairy bum competitions… you look back at it now and think ‘Hang on, what was going on?’. Obviously boys talk at that age, they take the Mickey, it kind of gets covered up as a bit of banter at that stage. But as you grow into an adult, you look at it and think ‘That’s not right’.

Le Tissier would later say on Twitter “I’ve never felt like I’ve been abused. Still don’t”. We must respect that understanding of his lived experience. Yet he praised “the bravery of the boys that have come out,” and expressed a wish that “the people responsible [perhaps implying that there were others at the club who enabled Higgins’s depravity] are brought to justice”.

Hopefully It is not beyond Le Tissier to change his mind, about BLM, climate (St. Mary’s — the stadium that hosted his testimonial — could be underwater within twenty years), Covid, or any other issue. Despite feeling let down by him over his various political positions, I feel the nerve endings around my eyes prickle when I remember watching as my boyhood hero sat, ashen-faced, describing what Higgins did.

In his empathy with Higgins’s victims we can find another solidarity. And while maintaining that he himself was not a victim, Le Tissier has used his platform to express and act in solidarity with those who did. Gestures like these- gesturing, as I think they do, towards compassion and shared common interests- mean we shouldn’t write him off entirely, as galling and reprehensible as his recent behaviour has been. He understands the need to support measures to protect children from being abused by adults in positions of power and authority. Perhaps he’ll one day make the leap from that to understanding the need to support measures to protect Black people from being beaten and killed by police.


  1. Louis Althusser. 2014. On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. Translated by G. M. Goshgarian. London: Verso. p. 77. 

  2. Rather less plaintively, Jonathan Meades wrote an invective strewn letter to Terry Venables: “you, Tel, were assumed to have a spot of nous as well as a laddish grin, a reputation as a crooner and a track record (extraordinary, this, given your syntactical ineptitude) as a ‘writer’. You were supposed to possess an eye for talent. But your animus towards the only gifted and fit player in England suggests that you are out of your depth, that you’re the wrong man for the job…What is your problem? Could it be that Le Tissier is simply not one of the lads, that he doesn’t hang out in your tacky nightclub, Scribes, that his face doesn’t fit?”. Jonathan Meades. [1995]. 2021. Pedro and Ricky Come Again: Selected Writings 1988-2020. London: Unbound. p. 864. 

  3. As Keir Milburn notes here, in the 1983 election more 18-34 year olds voted Tory than Labour. 

  4. Fredric Jameson. 1988. “Cognitive Mapping”. In Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds): Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. pp. 347-60. 


Author:

Tom Williams (@shirleymush)

Tom Williams is tutor in trade union studies and an editor for NS.