LABOUR Party activists in South Tyneside have denounced the appointment of Paolo Di Canio as the new Sunderland AFC boss – despite the Italian insisting last night he did not support “the ideology of fascism”.
A meeting of Jarrow Constituency Labour Party (CLP) this week backed South Shields MP David Miliband in his decision to quit as the club’s vice-chairman, as a result of Di Canio’s political past.
The party also supported Durham NUM in its call for the return of its banner from Sunderland AFC, in protest at the controversial appointment of Di Canio, who has previously expressed pro-fascist views.
And there are warnings that some Labour Party members could quit as season ticket holders and that future party functions at the Stadium of Light could be scrapped.
In an attempt to quell the storm that has followed his arrival in the North East, Di Canio issued a statement saying: “I am an honest man, my values and principles come from my family and my upbringing.
“I feel that I should not have to continually justify myself to people who do not understand this.
“However, I will say one thing only – I am not the man that some people like to portray.
“I am not political, I do not affiliate myself to any organisation. I am not a racist and I do not support the ideology of fascism. I respect everyone.
“I am a football man and this and my family are my focus.
“Now I will speak only of football.”
But it made little difference to Wilf Flynn, secretary of Jarrow CLP, who said: “To be honest, I don’t think it’s worth the paper it’s written on.
“It has been put out to prevent any potential business damage and I feel it’s rather cynical.
“He must have forgotten elements in his own biography.”
Mr Flynn added: “There was quite a debate about the appointment when members met at the Alberta Club, Jarrow, and there were members who said they didn’t want Di Canio and his views influencing schoolchildren.
“If he had come out at the press conference and been open about his political views, it would have helped, but instead he seemed to hide behind the idea that ‘this is all about football’.
“There are some Labour Party members who are season ticket holders and may quit, and there are events like the regional Labour Party dinner at the Stadium of Light in June, which will now be under scrutiny.
“It’s not so long since the BNP was putting up candidates in most wards in Sunderland and anti-fascist events have been staged recently, with the support of the club, so we find this appointment very surprising.
“Plus, I feel the whole issue has been a PR disaster.”
A statement issued by Jarrow CLP after its meeting this week said: “Jarrow Constituency Labour Party supported Durham NUM in seeking the return of its banner from Sunderland Football Club, and exposing the appointment of a manager who is an Italian fascist.
“We applaud the decision of David Miliband, severing links with the club.
“Individual party members are reviewing their own position as season ticket holders.”