The footballer Colin Kazem-Richards was born thirty years ago in east London to a Turkish/Cypriot Muslim mother and a West Indian Rastafarian father. He has played for 13 clubs in as many years, in seven countries, winning titles in Turkey, Greece and Scotland. He currently plays for the Brazilian team Corinthians, is married to a Brazilian woman with whom he has two children, who are their mother’s nationality. His national team is Turkey. Kazem-Richards is an embodiment of what the philosopher, Kwame Anthony Appiah (himself of mixed-heritage and has lived on three continents) calls ‘cosmopolitanism’; being a citizen of the world through shared values and culture.
It could be argued that today’s elite football at least, is one of those shared cultural experiences, being played and watched by billions of people across the world (China is the latest country to spend big on the game). In the UK, the Premier League is a polyglot of players from different countries (in 2015 it was 64 countries, compared with 50 in Spain’s La Liga). But whilst this is a positive illustration of cosmopolitanism, it is also a negative illustration of globalisation in terms of the economic foundations that prop it up. If the Premier League is the London Square Mile of football, the lower leagues are the forgotten inner city and rural pockets of deprivation (ask any fan of my team Coventry, or Leyton Orient). Where players in the Premier League can command long and rich contracts (they are paid five times more than a Championship player), a League Two player will not only be paid much less but will have much more precarious employment conditions (short-term/loan). And then there is the totem ‘tea lady’, who is barely paid a living wage.
Rishi Dastidar gives us a wonderful carousel of images of today’s modern Premier League players in his poem “We are Premier League”. The lines “We are Nando’s skin on X-box wings/We are charitable visits, making dreams come true”, shows the seeming contradictions of characters who command such wealth but still enjoy the ‘finer’ delights of chicken shops whilst visiting hospitals and schools. Many of these players themselves come from disadvantaged backgrounds, with little education (they were too good at football in their teens to worry about A levels, if not GCSEs) and travelled little. But like a lottery winner, the money can go to their head, and without proper guidance, they become: “We are court appearances in Armani suits/We are playthings of offshore corporations.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say they should be the foundation of a social mobility strategy, but neither should they be made the scapegoats of global capitalism. Many of the leading players, when retiring do a lot of good work supporting different communities. But there should be a way in which the benefits of cosmopolitanism can spread the income from globalisation more equitably; the football authorities are in a position to show leadership here, especially in these times of a resurgence in reactionary nationalism.
Rishi Dastidar’s poetry has been published by the Financial Times, Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre amongst many others, and has featured in the anthologies Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins) and Ten: The New Wave (Bloodaxe). A fellow of The Complete Works, the Arts Council England funded programme for BAME poets in the UK, he is a consulting editor at The Rialto magazine, a member of the Malika’s Poetry Kitchen collective, and also serves as chair of the writer development organization Spread The Word. His debut collection, Ticker-tape, is published by Nine Arches Press.
We are Premier League
We are Nando’s skin on X-box wings
We are charitable visits, making dreams come true
We are role models and bandwagon drivers
We are baby Bentleys on private roads
We are gold tattoos on choking necks
We are orange spider mohicans on the backs of heads
We are dating on TOWIE and fit well jel
We are boys made good on our roasts
We are court appearances in Armani suits
We are playthings of offshore corporations
We are sponsored elite, and we are endorsed
We’ve parked the bus and we want more
We are the wages of underachievement
We are 17th place and we are class
(“We are Premier League” is taken from Rishi’s debut collection, Ticker-tape, published by Nine Arches Press)