You’re not West Ham anymore: The death of an identity

The end of the 2017/18 Premier League season marks two years since West Ham United left their historic home in Upton Park. The seemingly constant state of crisis the club has been in since moving into the former Olympic Stadium has been a much documented, much criticised part of the Hammer’s subsequent two seasons. The disconnect between the board and the fans, highlighted by recurring protests both physical and online, seems to only be widening as memories of the Boleyn Ground fade. While on the surface this seems like a fanbase wrongly ungrateful for a taxpayer funded 60,000 seater stadium, the resentment much of the Hammers faithful have stretches beyond even the realms of the beautiful game.

When Upton Park was sold to property developers for £35,000,000, it saw the severing of a cultural connection between many and a vastly changed area of East London. The majority of West Ham’s core support live in Essex and Kent, the children or grandchildren of East Enders removed from their traditional heartland during slum clearances and the New Housing projects of the post-war era. During this process, a traditional London working-class culture was removed to the towns and suburbs of the Home Counties to make room for the gentrified middle-class culture East London is famous for today. For many of these expatriate East Enders, the fortnightly visit to Upton Park was more like a pilgrimage to an ancestral homeland rather than just the attending of a football match. Green Street, Queens Market, Ken’s Café, The Boleyn Tavern, Nathan’s Pie and Mash, the entire matchday experience was an intrinsic link to a traditional Cockney culture, one which came ‘home’ every time West Ham played at The Boleyn. The experience at Stratford City could be no further away for that which Upton Park represented to so many.

Rather than travelling down the archetypical East End thoroughfare, Green Street, fans are now herded towards the stadium by disinterested staff in high-vis amongst Missguided and Primark shoppers in the Westfield Shopping Centre. Instead of Queen’s Market one walks past a Hugo Boss and an Urban Outfitters. Instead of Percy Ingle, fans eat at restaurants owned by Jamie Oliver and Gary Neville. The whole Stratford City complex could really be anywhere in the world, and fans get no sense of traditional London culture in the build-up to the match. Once past the maze of Mr Pretzel and Bubble Tea stands, London Stadium approaches. While the underlying problems with the current ‘home’ experience are largely not a product of the stadium itself as opposed to where it is, there are some issues which only fuel fans contempt and views that the board assume mass naivety.

West Ham legend Bobby Moore takes a rest at Upton Park.

London Stadium is an athletics stadium poorly adapted for footballing purposes. The running-track is covered by an oh-so-obviously temporary set of ‘retractable seats’ held together with cable ties. The exposed track is then covered with a shockingly green felt carpet that looks like it was bought hooky by a punter at Queen’s Market. The exterior decorative cladding is tied onto the stadium frame and looks ready to be taken down at a moment’s notice. While the views from the stands are not as bad as have been made out, the cavernous bowl-shape and resultant echoing makes chanting in unison difficult, save for small groups and random bursts of clapping more commonly seen at England games or a Little Mix concert. This isn’t aided by the pockets of empty seats throughout the stadium, a result of season tickets having been sold by the club to fans of football rather than fans of West Ham. Cheap season ticket prices and a need to fill the stadium led to those with the money buying a seat at the London Stadium as a non-partisan mode for watching Premier League football. These are more inclined to come and watch the top six than show up for a Monday night game against Stoke, although they’d have missed a cracking Andy Carroll volley during the latter.

Compare this to the Boleyn Ground, which despite significant redevelopment retained much of its historic character and reputation as a ‘proper’ football stadium throughout its entire history. Despite enduring rotten seasons involving relegation, Avram Grant, and Emmanuel Pogatetz, West Ham were famous for their atmosphere and self-depricating terrace chants. This was best observed during floodlit night matches, with the three tower blocks and fans on garage roofs on Priory Road really making it feel like the East End had stopped to watch West Ham play. Yes this could sometimes turn nasty, with the 2009 ‘Upton Park Riot’ during a cup match against arch-rivals Millwall vindicating an often unjustified associated between the club’s fans and football violence, however for most matchday was all about loving Upton Park. The place was home, and for now London Stadium feels like a three-star hotel room.

It is likely that things will improve at the stadium itself, with there being a strong possibility that West Ham will eventually buy the stadium, given that Birmingham will have a purpose-built athletics stadium for the Commonwealth Games in 2022. However, the crisis at the club runs much deeper than the stadium. The Nathan family, owners of a pie and mash shop on Barking Road, announced this week that they are to close after 80 years in West Ham’s heartland. The shop depended upon it’s fortnightly visit from expatriate Cockneys for its livelihood, and the demolition of Upton Park heralded the end for that family’s business. It is likely that many more formerly match-day dependent businesses, such as Ken’s Café and the various local pubs, will close in the near future. This is symbolic of what the West Ham move has meant for so many Hammer’s fans; the loss of a culture, a history, an identity. It is hard to see how the connections people had to Upton Park could ever be replicated in the sprawling glass metropolis in Stratford, and that is something that will loom over the club for the foreseeable future.

Sources:

Cover and Body Photo – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3581963/Farewell-Upton-Park

 

Indigenous Caribbeans: America’s Forgotten Natives

The indigenous peoples of the Caribbean are the forgotten natives of The Americas. The much-documented civilisations of the Inca, Mayans, and the Puebloans dominate the common perception of the New World’s first peoples in a similar way to which the Latino and Afro-Caribbean communities dominate the common perception of today’s inhabitants and culture of the Caribbean islands. Often lost in this paradigm are the diverse peoples who existed on these islands prior to European contact, and who despite conflict, displacement, and disease remain an intrinsic part of Caribbean culture.

Continue reading Indigenous Caribbeans: America’s Forgotten Natives

Western Sahara: Africa’s Last Colony

Go to Google, search for a map of the world, and take a look at north-western Africa. Wedged between Morocco and Mauritania on the Atlantic coastline, you’re likely to see a country labelled Western Sahara. This is peculiar, because if you travelled to that area and asked the locals where they are from, they are unlikely to reply with anything other than Morocco or the Sahrawi Democratic Arab Republic. Continue reading Western Sahara: Africa’s Last Colony

Ist Südtirol Italien? A Brief Explanation of The South-Tyrol Problem

Nestled in Italy’s scenic north-east, amongst the Dolomite mountain range, lies the autonomous province of Alto Adige. While such a description may encourage the intrusion of any number of stereotypically Italian images into one’s mind, thoughts of pizza, pasta and wine would be misplaced here. Continue reading Ist Südtirol Italien? A Brief Explanation of The South-Tyrol Problem

The United States, Japan, and the Subjugation of Okinawa

The relocation of the United States Marine Corps Base at Futenma, Okinawa, has long-been a controversial subject within Japanese politics. Plans to relocate the base to Camp Schwab, in the island’s far north, have stagnated in recent years as a result of prolonged local protest. Now, following the election of the pro-Tokyo mayoral candidate Taketoyo Toguchi in Okinawa’s Nago City, PM Abe has expressed intention to press ahead with the American relocation. This does not however reveal the full story of Okinawa, former independent Kingdom turned Japan’s poorest prefecture, and their century of subjugation.   Continue reading The United States, Japan, and the Subjugation of Okinawa

Pax Sinica: China Goes Global

We are living in the Chinese century. This is what economic forecasters would have you believe. With economic pre-eminence often comes cultural hegemony, evidenced by the Americanisation of global society. Jeans, burgers, hip hop – America is everywhere. Conservative forecasters estimate that the Chinese economy will surpass that of the US by 1930 . Could this result in a proliferation of Chinese cultural influence around the world? Contrary to the historical isolationism prevalent in Chinese culture, evidence of such an emergence is already apparent. Originally manifest in Han encroachment into traditional Tibetan, Uyghur and Mongol lands within the boundary of what we would now define as China, Beijing’s reach is now going global.  Continue reading Pax Sinica: China Goes Global

Landlocked in Latin America: Bolivia’s Fight to Regain A Coastline

The Bolivian Navy boasts around 5,000 sailors. In some indexes it ranks 13th in the world in terms of commissioned naval craft, between the military powers of Turkey and South Korea. Día del Mar, or ‘Day of the Sea’, is held annually on the 23rd of March and is one of Bolivia’s largest national celebrations. Such a fixation with the sea may seem bizarre for a country without a coastline, however Bolivia was not always landlocked, and this was rather the result of territorial losses during a late nineteenth-century war. The reclamation of the nation’s lost coastal lands remain a key political issue, as well as a defining principle of Bolivian national identity.  Continue reading Landlocked in Latin America: Bolivia’s Fight to Regain A Coastline

Pitcairn: Britain’s Paedophile Island

The story of the Mutiny aboard William Bligh’s HMS Bounty is perhaps the most documented mutiny in naval history. Far-less known however is the story of what became of Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers. In their bid to evade capture by the Royal Navy, the mutineers stumbled across an uninhabited island isolated in the expanse of the South Pacific – Pitcairn – where their descendants live to this day. A blend of Old English, Scots and Tahitian – Pitcairn language and culture is a living history.

Supplied annually from New Zealand, the islands have a population of around 50, are free of television and cars, and are a three-day-boat journey from the nearest serviced airstrip. The seeming tranquillity of this isolated island paradise is not reflected in the over 225 year social history of Pitcairn, which has been defined by violence, depopulation, and, more recently, child-sex scandals. Subsidised by taxpayers 14,500km away, this last outpost of the British Empire serves as a social experiment, revealing the perils of sustained generational isolation.

Pitcairn Location
Pitcairn’s isolated location in the expanse of the Pacific Ocean

When the mutineers arrived on Pitcairn in 1790 they comprised of nine Bounty crewmen, eleven Tahitian women, six Tahitian men, and one baby. Knowing the alternative to refuge in isolation in the far reaches of the Pacific was capture and imprisonment or death at the hands of the Royal Navy, the community embedded itself into Pitcairn, one of four islands which would eventually become the British Pitcairn Island Colony. Previously inhabited by Polynesian peoples, the island was adept for the sustenance of a small, permanent community. This did not however prevent violence from breaking out amongst the settlers, who fuelled by ethnic divisions, alcoholism and sexual grievances began warring with one another. The fighting was so intense that within five years, John Adams was the community’s only surviving male.

Granted amnesty for his part in the mutiny, the Adams-led commune began to flourish. By the time of official British colonisation in 1838, the population was recorded at 193. This explosion in population size within such a narrow pool of breeders, within such a short period of time, indicates a culture of inbreeding, a problem which continues to define Pitcairn and its people. The extended population stretched the island’s resources to the extreme, and under pressure from the Crown the islanders agreed to relocate to Norfolk Island, a flax-growing outpost of Australia. However, after a few years 44 had returned, drawn by their cultural attachment to the rocky Pacific outpost.

Largely left to govern their own affairs throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries, the islands existed in isolation for over a hundred years. Brief contact came with a visit from an American sailor, who converted the islanders to Seventh Day Adventism. Economic self-sufficiency was achieved through the export of collectable stamps.  Unaffected by the advancements of modernity, Pitcairn society changed little, and became a time-capsule of early 19th century Britain. This all changed in 2004, when a young islander girl informed a visiting British Police Officer of a deeply entrenched culture of rape and under-age sex.

Upon investigation during Operation Unique, headed by DI Peter George and Rob Vinson of Kent Police, a number of Pitcairn women revealed that they had frequently been sexually assaulted as children by men in the community. These allegations, which stretched back years, unveiled an archaic paradigm in Pitcairn society – a striking inability to grasp the concept of statutory rape. Girls had been having sex with men as far back as any islander could remember. Testaments made by the men accused- seven on Pitcairn, including the mayor Steve Christian, and six abroad – stressed that in Polynesian culture, girls are seen to mature at an early age, and that this was something a British judge could not fully understand or officiate upon. This was exacerbated by the fact that the islanders had set their own laws throughout the twentieth century, laws which did not explicitly forbid murder or rape. Such activity was seemingly often perpetrated, seldom spoken about, and generally accepted as simply the way things were.

The British, represented by a distant governor based in New Zealand, were conflicted in their approach. Should mediation be employed in an appreciation of the peculiarity of Pitcairn custom? Criminal charges would lead to the imprisonment of a third of the islands male population, severely impacting the islanders chances for survival. Or, should British law be enacted in full? The latter was opted for, and an official assault trial took place. The men accused helped in the construction of a prison in anticipation of the verdict. Six men were convicted, all of whom were living back at home by 2010.

The sexual assault trials on Pitcairn are bizarre in that judges were required to enforce 21st century laws upon men with 18th century attitudes. That is not to take away from the islander women, who while raised in a society which endeavoured to dismiss such crimes as ‘normal’, took their opportunity to end historical sexual injustices within their community. This came despite the implications it would inevitably have in the short-term for men they had lived with in isolation for their entire lives, and who they were often related to in some form. Believed by some to be a conspiracy conjured by the British to depopulate the islands, the trials have left deep divisions between those islanders willing to listen to the testimonies of the outspoken women, and those who outright deny any wrongdoing. More often than not, denial is a refusal to accept that minors cannot consent to sex with an adult.

The issue persists: in 2010 Mike Warren, Mayor of Pitcairn, was charged with the possession of indecent images of children. Children aged under 16 must apply for an ‘entry clearance application’ prior to visiting the island, while the Foreign Office forbids any island-based staff to be accompanied by their children.

Rocked by the assault trials, the islanders now focus on survival. Emigration of their young, primarily to Australia and New Zealand, is casting doubt over the sustainable future of Pitcairn. Invitations for British immigrants have largely gone ignored. The creation of a Marine Reservation has fuelled hopes for tourism, but high costs, long distances, and negative publicity are preventing this from being significantly profitable. Moving forward as a community from the paedophilia scandal will take time. As a tiny democracy, both the victims and the convicted will have a say in the island’s future.


Sources:

Frontline Gibraltar: The Evacuation of the Rock

Gibraltar is a thriving British Overseas Territory, situated at the gateway to the Mediterranean. The local population are a blend of Maltese, British, Moroccan, Genoese, Jewish and Spanish cultures, and speak a distinctive dialect known as Llanito. A successful democracy, Gibraltarians enjoy some of the lowest unemployment figures in the world, with infrastructure supported by bunkering and an booming online gambling industry. Students study at universities primarily within the UK, for free, with much of their living expenses subsidised by the local government. An extensive government housing programme means very few Gibraltarians are homeless. This acute social awareness within Gibraltarian politics and democracy has not evolved as organically throughout the peninsula’s extensive history as it might be assumed. The importance of individual and community rights within Gibraltarian culture can be traced directly to the Second World War, when the territory was almost entirely depopulated by the British to make way for military fortification. The experiences of the evacuated population, who were ferried between three continents throughout the conflict, form the bedrock of modern Gibraltarian culture and politics.

Quick Facts Gibraltar

Having been invaded by the Moors in the Fourteenth Century, surrendered to the British in 1704, and besieged by the Spanish and French in 1782, Gibraltar is no stranger to military conflict. In all of these instances the civilian population endured, with the siege of 1782 on record as the longest in British military history. Gibraltarians were relatively unaffected during the First World War, but the all-encompassing nature of the Second World War did not overlook La Roca. The involvement of Fascist Italy in the conflict meant that the Mediterranean, and control of it, was a key aspect of British strategic policy. This was exacerbated following the Italian invasion of British territory in North Africa. The need for a military staging post in the area led to a declaration by the British in June 1940, that all women, children, and elderly of Gibraltar were to be evacuated to French Morocco. The British assessed that the presence of a civilian population would impede the productivity of the base, which was to be expanded for use by the RAF and Royal Navy. Therefore, without significant deliberation, 13,500 Gibraltarians were escorted onto boats away from their homeland.

The situation in Morocco soon became untenable. The French territories in North Africa came under the control of the Vichy regime, who collaborated with the Nazis, following French surrender in May 1940. The evacuated Gibraltarians were now living in enemy territory. This situation turned hostile following an often documented incident at Mers-el-Kebir, where the British sunk the French Fleet to prevent its use by the Axis powers. The evacuees were forced out of Casablanca as a result, and were herded by rifle-wielding French soldiers onto British ships not equipped with provisions for a large civilian population. Return to Gibraltar was impossible as fortification of the territory was in full swing; the Gibraltar Defence Force were formed, an airfield constructed, and the Rock of Gibraltar itself extensively fortified, with miles of tunnels, hospitals, power stations, and barracks built inside. A return of the civilian population would risk the compromising of this extensive strategic development.

As such, despite protests from the fatigued evacuees, the transports navigated the Atlantic war-zone to Britain. Had the transports been attacked, one British Admiral claimed it would have been the worst maritime disaster in history. Most evacuated Gibraltarians remained in London throughout the war, where they would endure the worst of The Blitz within houses rendered empty by occupants who themselves had fled to safer locations in the British countryside. Luckier were those sent to Madeira, who enjoyed a relatively peaceful war. Many more were sent to Jamaica, where they inhabited a camp now comprising part of the University of the West Indies. Exposure to the English language and the western world would profoundly impact the evacuees. Pre-war, the Spanish language was used in education, and also within the most popular newspaper of the day – ‘El Capense’. Western exposure, as well as participation in Britain’s war, led to the distinct anglicisation of Gibraltarian culture visible today.

Gib Searchlights
The Rock of Gibraltar, lit by British searchlights during WWII

The success of the 1942 Allied invasion of North Africa negated any realistic possibility of invasion or attack of Gibraltar. This prompted calls from evacuees and those locals who had remained for repatriation. The civilian population was still regarded as a potential nuisance by the British. Gibraltar retained its strategic importance, and Britain saw its dominance of Mediterranean commerce and the associated Suez Canal zone as a lynch-pin in its post-war cling to great power status. Moreover, many homes had been demolished to facilitate militarisation, and an extensive homelessness crisis was feared should the evacuees return too soon. As such, the return was delayed. Many were moved to camps outside of Belfast, within which conditions were said to be appalling. Over 6,000 evacuees remained within camps such as these by the war’s end, with the last Gibraltarian returning home in 1951.

This denial of basic human rights and exodus from their families and homeland led to a heightening of the Gibraltarian social consciousness. Along this vein, the Association for Advancement of Civil Rights was established by Joshua Hassan and Albert Risso. The AACR called for improved working conditions, access to healthcare, and improved working conditions under the slogan ‘with Britain, not under Britain’. It is no coincidence that the rise to prominence of the AACR coincided with the rise of Attlee’s Labour Party in Britain, who were elected on a manifesto broadly comparable to that proposed for Gibraltar. Gibraltarians returning from London had been exposed to the grievances of the British working class and could see these issues reflected within their own society. These demands continue to form the basis of modern Gibraltarian politics, with access to free education, healthcare, and government housing dominating the demands of the territory’s inhabitants. This focus on basic rights forms one of two key components of Gibraltarian culture, alongside the commitment to partnership with Britain. This was perhaps best demonstrated in 2002, when 98% of voters rejected the principle of shared sovereignty with Spain. While the changes in Gibraltarian society may have evolved organically given time, the experiences of the evacuees accelerated the process. Gibraltar is the way it is today because of the territory’s unique wartime experience.

J G Middleton and B Bagu


SOURCES:

  • Constantine, S., Community and Identity: The Making of Modern Gibraltar Since 1704
  • Finlayson, T.J., Gibraltar and the Spanish Shadow
  • Finlayson, T.J., The Fortress Came First: The Story of the Civilian Population of Gibraltar during the Second World War
  • Gingell, J., ed Beiso, D, We Thank God and England
  • Jackson, W.G.F., and Cantos, F.J., From Fortress to Democracy: The Political Biography of Sir Joshua Hassan
  • Photos; Cover Photo: www.gbc.gi/news/75th-anniversary-wwii-evacuation-be-commemorated-next-month; The Rock Image: WikiCommons

Chagos: Refugees of the Special Relationship

 

In November 2016, a community of people based in Crawley, West Sussex, travelled to Whitehall in order to protest a government decision which would have extend the now fifty year exile from their homeland. Almost unheard of within the country they now predominantly reside, Chagossians are a people without a home. Hailing from a group of islands in the geographical centre of the Indian Ocean, they are the enduring reminder of a 1966 land-grab, whereby the British government authorised the expulsion of the inhabitants of the Diego Garcia island group in order to facilitate the construction of an enormous US military base. Their story ever since has been one of abuse, neglect, and an overriding fight for preservation and recognition.

Quick Facts Chagos

The political decisions behind the expulsion of the native Chagos Islanders were heavily influenced by the decline of empire, the Cold War, and late twentieth century US hegemony. Throughout the 1960s, as the winds of change swept through the old world order and colonialism gave way in the face of rising worldwide national consciousness, the need for the west to preserve some sort of military presence east of Suez was stark. This was exacerbated by the perceived threat of both the Soviet Union and a rising China. To counteract this, the ‘island chain strategy’ was developed. The strategy perceived the containment of communist expansion via the fortification of islands throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans. To this end, prior to the UK’s granting of Mauritian independence, the US requested that the Chagos Archipelago be annexed, reconstituted as a separate colony labelled the British Indian Ocean Territory, and leased to the United States Navy. The British, assuming their junior role in the special relationship with vigour, accepted. The decision would anger the newly independent Mauritian government. The UN immediately passed a resolution which condemned the detachment. Protests were ignored and the resident islanders, the Chagossians, were removed to prevent any resistance to the military presence.

The Chagossians can trace their roots back to East African slave labourers transported to islands by the French. The defeat of France during the Napoleonic Wars saw the islands handed over to the British, who imported labourers from India. Over generations, the peoples on the island integrated and a distinct Chagossian culture emerged. The islanders persisted on the islands for generations, uninterrupted until men in distant lands decided their slice of paradise was a prime location for a military base. These same men decided that the presence of the islanders would inhibit the functionality of that island base. In order to facilitate their expulsion, the British government endeavoured to deface the Chagossian culture and any generational attachment to the islands. This came despite the fact that the islands had been populated around the same time the white man arrived in Australia, and in similar circumstances. To claim the Chagossians have no rights or connection to the islands is also to deny such rights to those populating the Falklands – rights which Britain went to war to protect in the 1980s.

After a blockade of imported goods, as well as intimidation by UK and US military personnel, the Chagossians were compelled to leave to the neighbouring Seychelles and Mauritius. UK aid packages were far from adequate, and islanders often lived as refugees in conditions of abject poverty. More recently, lacklustre efforts have been made by the government to provide islanders with British passports, and many have settled in Crawley, where an exiled community has emerged. Many Chagossians remain separated from family members as a result of complex British citizenship laws. This does not mean however that a reversal of the expulsion has been likely, and any concessions are rather an admittance of guilt. A guilt which has always been overridden by the dependence of the UK upon its cousins in Washington.

Public pressure has come close to trumping realpolitik in the past. In 2000 the British High Court judged the eviction of Chagossians as illegal. While this decision was celebrated amongst campaigners, it proved inconsequential. The government used a Royal Prerogative to reverse the decision, using an obscure law  to bypass Parliament in a manner very rarely seen within 21st century British politics. While Foreign Secretary in 2010, David Miliband created a Marine Protected Area around the archipelago. Leaked memos subsequently revealed that this was heavily influenced by the need to undermine the repatriation campaign. The practicality of such a reserve was immediately called into question, and the decision gathered criticism from high profile members of the Green Party and Greenpeace.

Heading into 2016 there was hope, as the US lease over the islands was up for renewal. Under Obama, the US had often hinted at its desire to step back from its extensive overseas commitments. Moreover, the return of the islanders would have reflected well upon the Conservative government, both within the eyes of the British public and the international community. However, in November 2016 the Government announced that the US lease would be extended by twenty years, and all requests for the islander’s return were rejected. Some suggested that Chagossians could live on the islands and support the US military presence, supplanting the Filipino workers imported to conduct low-level maintenance tasks. Standing in the way of this however is the reality that native populations often hinder operations at a number of the 909 overseas facilities administered as part of the US military empire. Local grievances have limited the effectiveness of bases in the Philippines, Japan, and Turkey. As such, Chagossian exile suits American military aims in the Indian Ocean perfectly. The islanders fight on.

One of the main problems facing the islanders, particularly following the November 2016 decision, is the lack of publicity that the struggle gets within the mainstream media. Significant public pressure might be the key to precipitating a reversal of the British Government’s decision, however exposure is needed in order to achieve this. This is well known by the exiles, who endeavour through social media, protests and other mediums to promote their cause. The participation of a Chagos Islands Football Team within the 2016 Confederation of Independent Football Associations (Conifa) World Cup in Abkhazia, Georgia, is testament to this. While the Chagossians were knocked out in the group stages, their real success was the raising of the island’s profile and with it their struggle to return home. The islanders undoubtedly face a significant challenge, as the special relationship shows no signs of strain, even with Donald Trump in the White House. Wider public pressure remains the key to their return to paradise.


Sources: