The entire football world was thrown into disarray this week when the self-proclaimed ‘Big Six’ of the Premier League signed themselves up to a new European ‘Super League’ breakaway project.
Six English clubs [Arsenal, the two Manchester clubs, Spurs, Chelsea and Liverpool] joined several other football giants cross Europe in doing so, in what would have represented the most radical change to football for over 30 years.
It would have seen the aforementioned clubs join an elite European league, with access hinging on wealth and status, rather than success. The teams would never have been faced with relegation, and opportunities to enter the league were insultingly small.
The plans were met with an unmistakable backlash from leading voices across the football landscape; Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher tore the plan to pieces live on television, while ex-footballer Rio Ferdinand labelled the project a ‘war on football’.
The response from within the game itself was no different. When asked about the plans, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp proclaimed that he and his players had nothing to do with the breakaway project, while vice-captain James Milner said: “I don’t like it, I don’t want it to happen”.
Football organisations from the Premier League to UEFA and FIFA also spoke strongly against the plans, threatening to ban players from competing in domestic and international competitions.
Perhaps the most hard-line response came from the UK government, and was led by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. He threatened the plans with legislative action, ranging from the removal of work visas for international players to an outright ban on the league going ahead.
While we will never know whether such levels of government intervention could have got through Parliament, Johnson did send a special envoy to the United Arab Emirates to warn its government that Manchester City’s involvement in the plans would put a strain on UK-UAE relations, given the status of City’s owners within the nation.
Though several sources, including from within UEFA itself, have confirmed that Johnson’s staunch opposition was crucial in bringing down the plans, there is little doubt that ultimately, it was the collective voice of football fans who made the difference.
Within 24 hours of the league being announced, hundreds of Liverpool fans gathered outside Elland Road ahead of their game against Leeds United to make their opposition heard.
The following day, thousands of Chelsea fans congregated outside Stamford Bridge and chanted ‘Fuck the Super League’. They blocked the team bus from entering the ground, leading to former goalkeeper Petr Cech engaging with the fans and a delayed kick off.
Within hours, Manchester City announced that they would no longer join the Super League – all six clubs had withdrawn by the end of the night. Just like that, the whole project came crumbling down like a pack of cards.
Apologies to the fans came pouring out of each club – Liverpool owner John Henry released a three minute video, while Manchester United owner Joel Glazer wrote an open letter to the fans expressing his remorse.
And yet, while Boris went back to his usual business and UEFA and the Premier League were relieved to see the status quo maintained, the fans remain as hungry as ever.
Just this morning a group of Manchester United fans broke into the club’s training ground waving banners around hailing ‘Glazers Out’. The group only left after they were confronted by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and several other coaches and players.
While some may disagree with these methods, no one can dispute the power that football fans still hold within the game. The symbolism of owner apologies show just that – while it may be a surprise to those not involved in football, fans rarely, if ever, hear from their club’s owners.
They are shrouded in mystery, and this is no accident. It allows them to carefully pull the strings from behind the scenes, whilst drawing out as much money as possible to line their own pockets. It would not be out of line to say that for these owners, it is money first, football and fans second.
So the fact that the fans managed to draw an apology from these usually absent owners is a victory in and of itself – though an apology is the bare minimum to be expected.
Perhaps, though, there is something that society can learn from this this saga – that is, the power of effective group mobilisation. When you disagree with something the government is doing, for example, make your voice loud and clear.
Protests are nothing new – they have worked before and they will fail in the future. What made these protests so successful so quickly was not only because of the outrageous nature of the project but because almost every single person who spoke on the issue viscerally opposed it – every fan, every ex-footballer, every player, every manager, every politician.
Naturally, this dominated social media for days upon end, to the point where companies felt they had to get involved too. Two broadcasters, Sky and BT, who may have benefited from the project, said they could not support it. Gary Lineker, former player and current football TV presenter, also vowed never to work on such a job.
The backlash was so large, so collective and so powerful that club owners were left with no other choice but to withdraw their support for the plans. And yet, not a single bit of violence ensued, not by the fans nor by the police.
It is easier said than done – clearly, the fans had those in power on their side, from the government to celebrities and football organisations. If the government had supported these plans, the outcome may have been different. Yet, they did not because it was abundantly clear what the implications would have been for football clubs, fans and their communities.
When the message is loud and clear, and when mobilisation is collectively strong, the people can win. Ultimately, power still lies with the people.
The Christmas number one has become a long-standing tradition in the music industry and has infiltrated wider British culture – first formatted in 1952, it has been claimed by legendary artists such as Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Queen and Michael Jackson throughout the decades.
Winners of The X Factor have also typically enjoyed success in this festive race – particularly between 2005 and 2010. Listeners keenly tune in on Christmas Eve to discover the winner of the tightly-contested race – with fan classics competing with newer tracks, unexpected outsiders, and talent show winners.
2020 was very different. The coronavirus pandemic has greatly altered the practices of the music industry – artists are no longer able to tour or perform live to earn an income, and are more reliant on social media to promote and distribute their music.
Fans have become used to tuning into YouTube to watch their favourite artists perform – the roles of Facebook and Twitter have become far more central too.
A Guardian report in November, quoting figures from UK Music, predicted a loss of £3billion to the music industry across the year – the same report also estimated an 85% slump in the live music sector, with job losses of up to 170,000.
Furthermore, the public mood was not one of traditional festive cheer and jubilance. The public are frustrated and stressed, bored and fearful, uninspired and exasperated.
According to YouGov, whilst 72% of the public believed the government was handling the pandemic “very” or “somewhat” well on 27th March, 11 days after the first national lockdown was imposed, this figure effectively halved to 37% on January 19 this year. In mid-September, this figure was meandering around a low of 30%.
Feelings of “frustration” increased from 35% in March 2020 to 46% in January this year, a similar trend was evident in feelings of “happiness” – falling from 50% to 34% in the same period. “Boredom” also nearly doubled from 21% to 40%.
With his political style of constant U-turns, cronyism, and delaying decision-making until it is almost always too late, Boris Johnson has been the subject of a huge amount of this public dissatisfaction. Whilst 55% of the public believed he was “competent” in April 2020, this figure fell to 34% this month. Almost exactly contrarily, views of “incompetence” increased from 31% to 52% in the same period.
Also, whilst 28% of the public believed Boris was “indecisive” in April 2020, this increased to 69% this month, whilst those believing he was acting “decisively” fell from 58% to 21% in the same timeframe.
Amongst this backdrop of public malaise and anguish, and unprecedented changes to the way consumers interact with artists and consume music, The Kunts rereleased “Boris Johnson Is A Fucking Cunt” from their July album “Kunts Punk In Your Face” on 10th December.
Just 81 seconds, and containing only 8 words repeated in a catchy hook, the song reached 5th in the Official UK Charts at Christmas, and was the 20th best selling single of 2020.
As of right now, the song has been streamed on Spotify nearly 7,500,000 times, has spawned several remixes featuring other high-profile public figures, and was endorsed by Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker.
With zero TV or radio coverage, and without the help from a promotion company or record label, the song represented a howl of pain from the public and a desire to spin the usually light-hearted Christmas race to a vote of no confidence in Boris, especially after the late-notice cancelling of Christmas household mixing provisions, and the introduction of Tier 4 restrictions across the south.
The song has also come to represent the strength of people power and collective action in the post-COVID music industry, capitalizing off the pure contagion of a social media campaign to propel the song into the top 5. In the words of the Kunt himself, ‘the whole campaign cost a tenner’.
I spoke to the man behind the act (who made it clear he wanted to be referred to as ‘Kunt’) about the history of the track, promoting the song, and his wider views on the political state of Britain in 2020.
Before entering the musical world, Kunt spent several years working for his local council, “putting some tiles around a sink, fixing a broken toilet in a youth centre”, and it was these mundane tasks that “generated the (song) ideas and gave the ideas a chance to percolate”
“I’d go home, work on the song, then the following day when you’re back working and doing things, the ideas come through like that. I’d normally get a melody, or an idea of the topic of the song, and then go and write the music on the computer, and record it from there”.
When asked whether his experiences working for the council has shaped his own politics at all, Kunt gave a mixed response. One huge issue for him was the bureaucracy and level of waste in local government.
“I could see there were lots of ineffective people, something that shocked me was the amount of waste. One of the worst wastes of money was if you needed a lightbulb changing, you had to call in the contractors. The contractors charge £60 of taxpayers money just for some bloke to come in, change a lightbulb, have a cup of tea, and go again”.
“The council had money leaking out of it left, right and centre, and you’d see them spend £1,000s on equipment that they didn’t really want or need, just so they didn’t get their budget cut for the next year”.
“When you think of all the money that’s gone down the drain on red-tape and bureaucracy, that could’ve been channeled into having a proper health service”.
Kunt admits there is no easy fix to this issue: “No-one is prepared to go to ‘year zero’. People are scared of change. It’s like the people who were employed by Michael Jackson. They know something wrong’s going on, but they’re worried about their jobs so they keep quiet and no-one says anything”.
In July last year, The Kunts released That’s Why I Voted Brexit, from their 10-track EP Kunts Punk In Your Face, which Kunt revealed was originally entitled That’s Why I Voted UKIP. This marked the band’s first foray into music with a clear political spin, as opposed to previous crude and light-hearted tunes such as Fucksticks and Use My Arsehole as a Cunt that built the bands following over several decades.
“It was just about the ridiculousness of looking at people with foreign cultures and being scared of things that are different. I think a lot of the reason we left the EU was to do with fear of anything different. People are scared, I don’t even know what they’re scared of. I even had friends talking about ‘taking back control’, that slogan Cummings made up, and I thought ‘fuck, it’s actually worked!”
As a band with only two songs entering the top 70, in 2010 and 2011, Kunt was hugely surprised by the popularity of the song, both in terms of the charts, and wider public reception.
“As someone who’s been making music for 30 years with no success, I was surprised. I was really fucking surprised”.
“A mate of mine, Jon Morter, who was behind the Rage Against the Machine campaign to go up against the X Factor 10 years ago, he sent me a message saying ‘Fucking hell mate, nice one!”
“I said ‘maybe we’ll just give it a go’, and release it in the run-up to Christmas. The week before, it was quite quiet, and I thought ‘I’m not really sure anything is gonna happen’. The minute I went with the release, my fans went really proactive and started spreading it – it was like COVID in that every person had a good R number, and it spread from there”
“It was completely people power. There was no promotion budget, no record label, no promotional company, it was just me, in lockdown, doing it from the shed at the end of my garden. I was so short of time, working the social media, doing 14 hour days just to keep up”.
“When Boris cancelled Christmas halfway through the week, I thought ‘fucking hell, he’s doing my promo for me!”
However, the Kunt’s sentiments regarding Boris and what he represents are not new at all.
“I thought Boris was a fucking cunt a long time ago, a long time before the lockdowns, and a long time before he cancelled Christmas”.
In fact, Kunt draws certain parallels between his own musical act and Boris’ political style.
“This is my whole live act – if you can deliver quite offensive, hard-hitting things, but you can do it in the style of a kids presenter, people get on board with it and take it as a joke. I think Boris has made a whole career out of that – he looks ridiculous, he acts like a buffoon, but actually, he’s got really sinister undertones”.
“I actually think the guy’s a psychopath and a compulsive liar, and someone who isn’t actually in control of what comes out of his mouth, and then he just bats it away, and he gets away with it”.
When asked whether or not Boris has in fact made any correct decisions throughout the course of the pandemic, the Kunt struggled. “I feel like he always seems to get it wrong somehow. I just don’t know how he does it, he’s like a fucking magician, he waves his hand, and everyone has forgotten about it”.
“We’ve got the 3rd worst per capita death rate in the world. I don’t know how much worse he could’ve done. I never really considered this to be a political song, I just presumed everyone would think he’s a fucking clown”.
In fact, it hasn’t just been Boris who has been subject to The Kunts musical wrath. Throughout last month, the band released various remixes – targeting figures such as Xi Jinping, Matt ‘Wankcock’ Hancock, Prince Andrew and Donald Trump.
“I thought calling Xi Jinping was a ‘fucking cunt’ was justified because he’s a fascist dictator. Prince Andrew is a dodgy, sweaty cunt as well”.
There was also a Jimmy Saville remix (The BBC Turn A Blind Eye To It Mix), and I asked the Kunt about his views regarding the BBC. The Beeb did not play the song at all throughout the promotional campaign, despite the band releasing a ‘clean’ version – with expletives replaced by “sausage roll”.
“Throughout the whole campaign, the BBC didn’t mention it once. It got mentioned in the chart rundown, there was a clean version they could’ve played, but there was clearly some directive at the BBC to blackout on it, because it was too uncomfortable to deal with”.
“The BBC produces a lot of good content, but I don’t know why we have to fund it now. Also the idea that they’re completely politically neutral, I just don’t buy it. I just think it’s an institution for a bygone era, and it needs breaking up and sorting out. I’m not saying I’ve got the answer to it, I’m just some bloke that makes songs in his shed”.
Kunt also took aim at Facebook and Twitter, which were central in his promotional campaign and granting the band a platform to spread and distribute their music.
“I miss the days of MySpace, the internet was more naive then. When people wanted to become a fan of your music, there were no algorithms in place to stop the people that wanted to connect with you being able to do so”.
“It was a much more free arena to express yourself. For example, when I was doing the Boris Johnson song, I had lots of people tell me they were serving Twitter bans just for posting in the name of the song, because of hate speech.”
“If you call your friend a ‘cunt’, it’s not something of great offence, it’s a term of endearment and could be used for 100 different reasons, but the social media platforms can’t pick up the nuances of conversation, and things kind of get shut down”
“I feel monetization has been a real killer of creativity and has stopped some things that were really good finding an audience. I’m so old and out-of-date I’ve not even worked out why TikTok is a thing, what the appeal of it is, I haven’t really got my head around it.”
In terms of the future, Kunt hopes to return to his older style of music, and feels he has somewhat exhausted the political avenue.
“I wasn’t really interested in politics for a long time, it’s only really been in the last few years that politics has interested me, I’m very late to the party.”
“It was fun to do for a while, but I can see it becoming quite wearing. I’m not saying I’m going to give up the political spin, because once you’ve had your eyes open to how rotten the whole system is, you’ve got to do something. But I think the next lot of stuff will be a return to the old Kunts”.
Furthermore, Kunt admitted the promotional campaign for the song became quite draining.
“I don’t like promoting things. My favourite thing is to sit here at the computer, fiddling around with songs, and making albums. When it comes to promoting them, you always feel like you’re selling a bit of yourself”
“When people are fed up with it, they’re fed up with you, so I don’t want to be that bloke because that’s not what I’m about, I’m about making songs that make me laugh and hopefully make a few other people laugh as well.”
Kunt has spent this lockdown performing a live show every Saturday, recording a song everyday, and watching Cobra Kai. “As someone firmly stuck in the 80s, it’s fucking great to see this bloke who’s also stuck in the 80s and an even more flawed character than me. Love it.”
At the end our conversation, Kunt warned me “not to stitch him up” with this article. I really enjoyed speaking to the man behind the song – a valuable insight into the promotional campaigns behind viral hits, and a microcosm of the public political mood over Christmas.