I first became aware of the term ‘authentocracy’ about three years ago, although the concept had been doing the rounds on Left Twitter for a few years prior to that. Before looking at the ideology of authentocracy and its relation to football, it’s worth skimming over the historical context that produced it.
In the early second half of the 20th century (David Harvey puts the symbolic date as the Oil Crisis of 1973), the Fordist mode of production that had dominated since the interwar period began to break down as we entered a third, multinational phase of capitalism. In Britain, as elsewhere, this took the form of rapid and destructive deindustrialisation, while concomitant technological advances radically altered our perceptions of space and time.
The resulting cultural phenomenon that emerged was postmodernism, which defined itself in opposition to modernism, and in particular that movement’s belief in a meta-narrative of history — postmodernists rather prefer to highlight a multitude of conflicting perspectives and the difficulty or impossibility of finding objective truth in any of them. One of the positive achievements of the postmodernist movement was to emphasise the voices of previously marginalised groups of people — women, ethnic minorities, the LGBT community, and the rest of the list that we are by now all familiar with. The corollary to this was that the male, white manual worker, who had carved out a good standard of living under the Fordism, began to feel his relative loss of privilege.
Football, suspiciously coterminous with the rise of industrial capitalism, has traditionally been the domain of the white, male, manual working-class — the three o’clock kick-off time on a Saturday was the result of weekend concessions won by industrial trade unions in the nineteenth century. Nowhere else was a sense of unease over the new circumstances more keenly felt.
Football, of course, is a microcosm of society at large, and has been no more nor less prone to the financialisation, commercialisation, and commodification we can observe all around us. From 2019-20, Premier League matches will kick-off in any of eleven different time slots, excluding Bank holidays. In the early 21st century, much of the inevitable backlash to this congealed into the archetypal authentocratic movement — Against Modern Football.
While Against Modern Football contains many well-intentioned people concerned primarily with safe standing and lower ticket prices, it also contains a more politically dubious element. These are people with an understandable yearning for The Good Old Days – but these Old Days were, remember, Good only for the demographic outlined above. Anyone who has scrolled through the #AMF hashtag on Twitter or stood near a flat-capped man buying a Bovril will be aware of the movement’s tricky relationship with race, sexuality and gender. These are the authentocrats, and it’s entirely correct that the first use of the term in the national press was in relation to the (now ex-) UKIP leader Paul Nuttall.
The article by Phil McDuff, which appeared in The Guardian in February of last year, defined the term as “[invoking] the spirit of the regular working classes through the use of props, costumes and rituals, like a cargo cult of the common man”. I would quibble here only with the phrase “regular working classes”, which I hope McDuff has deployed with a touch of self-awareness, because it is not Deliveroo workers or single mothers that the authentocrats seek to imitate, but the miners and steelworkers of mid-20th century. Frederic Jameson famously argued that postmodernism — as he called it ‘the cultural logic of late capitalism’ — would inevitably collapse into pastiche and revivalism. The aesthetic trend for vintage replica shirts and the nostalgia industry that has grown around hooliganism would seem to bear out his point.
This article constitutes just a few preliminary notes on the subject. The point of writing it is to remind people that we cannot divorce football from the society it sits in. The tragic nerds behind the intensely tactics-focused football blogs like Zonal Marking are attempting, however consciously, to reduce football to simply what happens on the pitch, and to strip it of its entire social context. This trend is at least as worrying as the phenomenon of authentocracy and must be ruthlessly disparaged. I still believe that football has radical potential but we cannot limit our fight to football alone. Against Modern Capitalism. For Future Football.