IN MANY former Warsaw Pact countries the once despised and recently deposed Communist Parties have returned to power. Capitalism has brought with it as many losers as winners and so there is a wave of popular yearning for the stability of a command economy that offered full employment, cheap and cheerful housing and access to health and education services for all.
The worst deprivations of the long dark night of Stalinism have been blocked out, along with the old regimes’ unpopular tendency to spin a grey, drab and creaking system as a triumph of technocratic systems over individual creativity. This irrational East European trend to escape from the problems of the present by retreating into the past is called “Ostalgia”.
And that it came to mind as an angry acquaintance – a long time committed and vocal Macophobe – today uttered the ultimate heresy: “I wish we still had McClaren in charge.”
But what about the defensive outlook, round pegs in square holes and baffling substitutions I asked? What about the lack of passion? What about collapsing crowds and angry fans? What about the poor league form? “Yeah, exactly,” he said. “We’ve got to put a stop to all that before we’re up [the] creek. I hated McClaren’s guts but right now I’d have him back tomorrow.”
I pointed to the downside of the once hated McClarenist regime that as a committed dissident he knew only to well and had so often harangued me about: the rigid party propaganda telling us that our system was better than other systems, the insistence that the five year plan was ahead of target despite disappointing results, that the people were being educated by the Great Leader and the prospect of me being whipped off to a gulag for disseminating a dangerous subversive samizdat.
Since the former leader was removed in a bloodless coup we’ve pulled down the statues, the hierarchy have denounced his crimes, the township of Macograd has reverted to its original name of Ingleby Barwick and the political police that once imposed a strict party line, the KGB – Keen on the Ginger Boss – have fallen into disarray. Surely there is no going back now?
But he wasn’t having any of it. He had already moved beyond the reasons for the old anger. Now he was more concerned with building an underground opposition to the new regime which had promised a bright new future of entertainment and creativity but had so quickly soured.
There followed a series of unsupported prejections that last season he himself would have dismissed as the ranting of a madman. McClaren wouldn’t have lost at Reading, Sheffield United or Watford. He wouldn’t have let Jimmy go. He would have attracted better signings. We wouldn’t have a had “a fanny on” over the badges that caused a distraction. The team would be better organised and play with a bit of passion. The boss and coaches would be singing off the same Prozone print-out sheet…. this was a complete reversal of every searing and vindictive polemic he had aimed at McClaren in the past. I can’t believe how a world view that was so fixed and passionately held could swing to the diametric opposite so quickly.
Of course, like Ostalgia, it is rooted more in disillusionment with the present course than any serious affection for the past and we must assume it is driven by results rather than ideology. Even those that stuck with Mac to the bitter end agree that his time had come. There was no outcry or waves of public mourning on his departure, either from the players or the fans. It was muted appreciation at best. There can’t ever be a serious restoration movement surely?