by Amrita Singh
The fixture of Manchester United v Liverpool is a highlight of the football calendar for me and many other fans of both clubs. However much as both sets deny it is a ‘cup final’ of sorts any United or Liverpool fan who view it as just another three points does not understand the rivalry. This is a rivalry fuelled by hate and for many, like myself, who are too young to remember Liverpool’s dominance, it is accepted without question that we hate Scousers. They hate us, it’s mutual.
Football is a funny little world though. When I say we hate Scousers, it is confined to people who support Liverpool Football Club. It’s not like I’d deliberately treat someone at work badly just because they were from Liverpool. What we have to realise is that as football fans, we adopt a tribalism that we wouldn’t in most other aspects of our life. We wouldn’t shout and scream, randomly burst into collective song or shout abuse at people in most other scenarios. Football and match days give us a chance to express ourselves and in a ‘hyper sensitive’ reality. Anyone who crosses these boundaries and takes ‘football behaviour’ out of context we condemn. If someone starts shouting at me or you on a night out we call them a ‘lout’ or a ‘bully’- threaten violence and they become a ‘thug or ‘hooligan’. And so there is a clear distinction between our acceptable behaviours as a football fan. A majority of us accept this and that is why our game has become so much safer than it used to be. I was recently in France telling an elderly Frenchman that I go to United games with my nephew and he was in disbelief that a woman and child would willingly attend such an atmosphere. I had to explain that it is so different to how it was (and still is in parts of France). And while we should praise the police for their part and presence, we shouldn’t forget that it is the fans who have changed. It is the fans who have adapted and become more tolerant and less violent. Frankly the people that cannot separate their ‘fan behaviour’ from their normal behaviour have been pushed out of the terraces, stadiums and into the fringes of society. Like it or not, we are a civilised lot.
The changes in our game make this week’s fixture with Liverpool even more relevant. This week gives the fans (both sets) a chance to combine their fan behaviour with their human compassion. In light of recent revelations concerning Hillsborough, the truly shocking nature of those events are what should unite us as football fans. That could have been fans from any club, any football fan should read the details of the horrific incident and imagine ‘ that could have been me or my family’. And with that in mind, those who oppose a tribute to the 96 because Liverpool are our biggest rivals should consider why. If it’s because you can’t put tribalism aside for one week then I feel you are blurring those lines of football behaviour and human decency. There is no place for disrespecting the dead in civilised society and like it or not that’s what football is.
The media also need to take responsibility for their actions, in a week where we have witnessed the damage irresponsible coverage can do. Reporting that United fans mocked the Hillsborough incident was completely irresponsible seeing as though it would depend on their interpretation of the truth ( The chant goes “Always the victim, it’s never your fault”). That would be like me reporting on my interpretation of a Rihanna lyric as cold hard proof that she’s off her rocker. Let me be clear though, I absolutely condemn the chanting that took place last weekend. It is something I hear every week and have been doing since the Suarez/ Evra incident but the timing was insensitive and crass. And just like that, we have been made to look small, by smaller clubs. We should be grieving with our fellow football fans. The media however – ever hungry for a scandal – are making something out of nothing. What angers me about this though is that they already have their scandal. They have a 23 year old scandal, the biggest of all scandals and they sit and attack football fans singing.
Go for the institutions who let this happen; the government, the tories. Rip them limb from limb like they deserve to be. Show no mercy. They are the ones who really need to apologise to Liverpool not some people singing in a football stadium.
I truly hope that United and our fans can rise above any chanting that can be seen as disrespectful. Firstly, because they disgrace the club but more importantly so they do not detract attention from the truth, from justice and from the memory of the 96.