What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called the The Robert Donat Blog-A-Thon being hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. If you take a peek at my blog-a-thon pages, you see her name about as often as anybody else…if not more. So be sure to check out and follow her page so she will at least get some reward for tolerating my non-sense 🙂
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If you recognize the name in this film’s title, that’s because “Captain Boycott” is a fact-based drama telling the tale of the 1880 Irish farmer revolt against the land-owners.
The rebellion begins with a speech by Irish politician Charles Stewart Parnell (played by Robert Donat). Parnell is the leader of the Irish Land League, an organization dedicated to establishing and defending rights for the tenant farmers. Like many such groups, it is divided into factions favoring peaceful versus violent means.
Parnell’s speech urges the peaceful approach to dealing with landlords. A farmer named Hugh Davin (played by Stewart Granger) is pushing for a violent approach to the situation. Davin cites the actions of land-owners, specifically Captain Charles Boycott (played by Cecil Parker). With a reputation as the worst of the worst, Boycott is known for charging extortionate rents from his tenant farmers, and when they can’t pay, he calls on the army or the police to forcibly evict them.
In response, Parnell counters Davin’s call for blood by stating the use of force against the landlords is little more than an engraved invitation for reprisal from the army and/or the police. Parnell’s argument wins the day; both the current tenant farmers and those who have already been evicted agree to take Parnell’s approach. Captain Boycott is to be shunned; doing so involved three parts. First, no farmer would speak to Boycott. Second, no farmer would work for him. Third, nobody would harvest his crops, sell anything to him, or provide any kind of service.
The concept of the non-violent approach is set in stone when the local Catholic priest Father McKeogh (played by Alastair Sim) throws his support behind the idea of a peaceful protest. Parnell’s plan is put into action and in no time all, Captain Boycott is feeling the effects. He resorts to hiring workers from outside the county to to pick his crops and requests army protection for himself and his laborers. He also alerts The Times to his plight, which in turn attracts international news coverage. That attention added a new term to the English lexicon:
boycott – Verb
boy·cott | \ ˈbȯi-ˌkät \
boycotted; boycotting; boycotts
: to engage in a concerted refusal to have dealings with (a person, a store, an organization, etc.) usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of certain conditions
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
Do “boycotts” really work? In a bit of fortunate timing, here’s where I can mention Liverpool’s recent first-ever English Premier League title and first top-flight championship in 30 years. That’s because the Merseyside Reds know a thing or two about boycotting.
The first example was more of a protest than an act of “boycott” per se, but the message the Liverpool supporters were sending was received. In 2016, the club announced that the top ticket prices in the new main stand would be increased to £77 ($96 USD). During a February match at Anfield hosting Sunderland, about 10,000 Liverpudlians walked out at the 77th minute. Those who didn’t walk out joined the protesters in the singing of the club anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” then chants of “Enough is Enough.”
At the time, Liverpool’s club chief executive officer Ian Ayre dismissed the fan protest saying “No-one is being priced out of the stadium.” In all honesty, Ayre was right noting that over 60% of the seats did not change in price; hence the protest literally lasted just over fifteen game minutes; the fans were back for the next home match. For what it’s worth, those few minutes saw the eventually-relegated Sunderland mount a comeback from being 2-0 to steal a point by drawing Liverpool 2-2.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Liverpudlians have been running a boycott against a particular British tabloid for over three decades. Being an LFC supporter from a foreign shore, my plan had always been to get to England and take in a match at Anfield. Unfortunately, my first trip to the British Isles landed me on the wrong side of the country on a short-term military training exercise at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk. Since there was no time for a trip to Merseyside, it simply wasn’t in the cards.
But about ten years later, my post-military career saw me working for a multi-national “big board” tech firm, and I was assigned to a project requiring me to live in the UK for about 18 months. I’m back in the UK, and now time was no longer a problem; it was just a matter of those last few miles. Now, if you’re a “Yank” who not only drives on the wrong side of the road, but has no license to do so in Great Britain, the easiest way from London to Liverpool is to ride the rails.
For the experienced traveler, train stations have similar characteristics as well as their own individual charms. The first time you walk out of the Lime Street station in Liverpool, you will see one of those common characteristics; lines of taxicabs waiting to take you anywhere in the city. But the thing you won’t see anywhere other than in Liverpool…every goddamn one of those cabs is emblazoned with “Do Not Buy The Sun.”
Being from America, I haven’t the foggiest notion of why that message exist and in such numbers. With the exception of the last decade, world football did not get much mention in the American sports media. In those days, “Yanks” might get 60 seconds of highlights for a league/cup final, and that would be all. Even the Hillsborough disaster only got two minutes of television time and a few pages in Sports Illustrated, complete with the pictures of those people getting shoved through that sercurity fence like soft cheese through a screen. The aftermath mustered even less media coverage.
In other words, being an American I had no idea why Liverpudlians hate The Sun. Thankfully, my cab driver was more than happy to explain it to me. Now I’m here to tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard this story in a “Scouser” accent so thick it could have used sub-titles needed, and with a usage of the “F-Bomb” more liberal than “GlenGarry Glen Ross.”
I knew that the British tabloids far out-strip their American counter-parts in terms of “sleaze factor,” but this was the first time I had heard of so-called journalists flat out fabricating stories. Three decades after the Hillsborough disaster, the American media now does it constantly. The difference was The Sun got called out for it.
For those of you that don’t know, 1989’s Hillsborough disaster took place in Sheffield’s Hillborough Stadium during a 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. It occurred during in the two standing-only central pens in the Leppings Lane stand which had been allocated to Liverpool supporters. Shortly before kick-off, in an attempt to ease overcrowding outside the entrance turnstiles, the South Yorkshire Police match commander David Duckenfield ordered an exit gate opened. This created a human stampede; the result being 96 Liverpool fans killed and 766 casualties; to this day Hillsborough remains the worst disaster in British sports history.
In the immediate aftermath, The Sun published stories painting a picture which not only blamed the entire incident of Liverpool fans, but spun tall tales about them urinating on police officers and other fans, assaulting first responders tending to the victims, and picking the pockets of the dead.
The truth eventually found it’s way into the official record 27 later, when in 2016 a British jury exonerated the fans of any wrongdoing, and condemned the South Yorkshire police present at the match of unlawful killing by gross negligence. That ruling earned the South Yorkshire police a Dubsy Award for Cover-Up Futility.
To this day, Hillsborough remains a contentious topic, and in many ways it has been politicized…but then again, what hasn’t been in this day and age? Some point a finger at former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as she opposed inquiries into the disaster, while others point out that Liverpool fans made easy targets as they became the face of “hooliganism” after the riot at Heysel in 1985, after which all English football fans were banned from Europe for five years, all English clubs were banned from European competition, and 14 Liverpool supports were found guilty of manslaughter.
No matter the way one views the issue, eventually it all circles back to the original question; do boycotts work? Liverpool fans sent their massage over ticket prices, but the prices stood and the fans came back…so much so more seating has been added to Anfield. Liverpudlians refuse to buy The Sun, but it still exists in large circulation. And in a sense, Europe boycotted English football in the late 1980s, but in 2019, all four finalists in the European competitions were English clubs, and the scourge of them all were the “Scousers” of Liverpool, who won the 2019 Champions League title and finished atop the 2020 English Premier League.
This leaves the question about boycotts in the same realm as “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?”
The world may never know.
The Moral of the Story:
Whether it’s farm land or seats in a football stadium, the mortar that holds the bricks of free-market economies together is pricing. The exchange of goods and services works incredibly well when a price point is in place which benefits both sides. Once pricing loses that equilibrium, in the immortal words of economists ranging from Adam Smith to Milton Keynes…shit happens.
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