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Literature / What If Gordon Banks Had Played

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Web Original Alternate History by Anthony Wells, located (in archived form) here.

In 1970, the British elections were scheduled to take place during the 1970 World Cup. In our timeline, a few days before the election, England were knocked out of the Cup by West Germany (whom, four years before, England had defeated to win the Cup); it's commonly believed that things would have been different had England goalkeeper Gordon Banks not been forced to drop out due to a stomach illness. Days later, Harold Wilson's Labour government — increasingly unpopular to begin with — was defeated by Edward Heath's Conservatives.


In the Alternate History, Banks plays, England wins and Wilson rides the surge of resulting patriotic pride back into office (albeit with a significantly reduced majority). Heath's kicked out, and he's replaced as leader by Enoch Powell (him of the infamous ethnos-baiting "rivers of blood" speech).

Things go downhill.

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This work provides examples of:

  • Dramatic Irony: Historians in-universe don't know why Powell decided not to resign as Prime Minister after the assassination of Queen Elizabeth. We know it's because the new King asked him not to.
    • In addition, the only people in TTL's post-Powell era who allege that MI-5 and other security services were responsible for keeping the turmoil going for the sake of increasing their power are conspiracy theorists. The reader, on the other hand, knows that it's all true.
  • For Want of a Nail: Gordon Banks plays for England in the 1970 World Cup quarterfinal, which leads to England winning the match, which leads to a patriotism-based Labour victory in the 1970 election, which results in Ted Heath being discredited as Leader of the Conservative Party, which leads to Enoch Powell emerging as leader and eventually Prime Minister, which leads to the Troubles in Northern Ireland heating up into borderline civil war, which leads to an IRA attack on the Houses of Parliament that decimates the Labour Party, which leads to a "state of emergency" being declared which gives the PM and his cabinet massive powers over the press, the judiciary, the army and the observance of human rights along with a huge majority for the Conservatives in the 1977 elections, which leads eventually to Powell and a couple of inner-circle cabinet members exercising unchecked power as the U.K. slides into a authoritarian police state with ethnic cleansing and internment camps in Ulster, a war with the Republic of Ireland, and constant unrest, rioting, inter-religious tensions, and government oppression on the mainland. That's one hell of a butterfly.
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  • Government Conspiracy: It's hinted that MI5 is behind most of the nastiness, as the increasingly authoritarian government means they have increased power.
  • Global Ignorance: The 39th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, remarks that most of the ignorant American people "probably think Botswana is in Africa", only to be told that Botswana is, in fact, in Africa.
  • Karma Houdini: Subverted. All the senior Powell ministers responsible for turning the U.K. into a living hell in the late '70s— Margaret Thatcher, Airey Neave, Alan Clark, and a few others— end up either dead or with harsh house arrest sentences.
    • Also subverted in that Powell's aggression, isolationism, racism, and belligerence eventually leads to a full-blown recession by 1980, killing the economic prosperity which was the only reason most of the public put up with his harsh rule.
    • Subverted once more, in that early on Powell and his government crush the trade unions as an effective political force. This action causes so much common anger from the unions against the government that when they all go on strike together in 1980, they are able to endure even with their leaders arrested, and soon succeed in bringing down Powell's authoritarian government.
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  • P.O.W. Camp: The Powell Government introduces concentration camps to Northern Ireland - and later, the British mainland. Near the end, this happens particularly for the crime of "DPM" - 'damaging public morale'.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The IRA stages a bombing attack on the Palace of Westminster that kills most of the Labour Party's talented leadership, leaving it unable to effectively challenge Powell as an opposition force. But why didn't the IRA plant the bomb on the other side of the Commons Chamber, where it would have instead killed the Conservative cabinet members that were waging the war in Ulster? Sure, there was the longstanding tradition that the opposition would support the government in its Northern Ireland policy, but the Labour Party included figures such as Roy Mason and Tony Benn who were known to be relatively sympathetic toward the Irish situation. Surely, it would have made much more sense to target the government rather than the opposition.
  • Shown Their Work: Throughout the chapters of this work the author demonstrates a strong ability to copy the style of British popular newspapers, official enquiries and underground Irish news-sheets, amongst others. The descriptions of action in the Palace of Westminster (including in lesser known areas like function rooms) are very accurate.
  • Vengeance Feels Empty: After Powell's government succeeds in destroying the trade unions as an effective opposition force (at least for the time being), it does not relish the triumph, instead feeling almost ashamed.
  • Villainous BSoD: After the assassination of Queen Elizabeth II, Enoch Powell falls into one of these. It enables Margaret Thatcher and her allies to take an increasingly powerful role, which ends up making things much worse.
  • Young Future Famous People: Several examples. Gerry Adams and Martin Mc Guinness, two prominent Northern Irish politicians of OTL, die young in this timeline. Iain Duncan-Smith, leader of the Conservative Party from 2001 to 2003, is shown as an Captain in the British Army, among others.


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