Much is being made today of the fact that during a game at Anfield last night, Manchester United fans were singing a song about the Hillsborough disaster. Or to be specific, they were singing ‘The Sun were right, you’re murderers’, amongst other things.
This is obviously unpalatable and on the face of it, unacceptable. Indeed, were you to walk along the average Liverpool street belting it out, you could reasonably expect either a kicking, a nicking or both. And quite right too.
However, we are not talking about a street, we are talking about a football stadium. And inside a football stadium, especially one holding two sets of supporters with a long standing and very bitter rivalry, the gloves are pretty much off. Which in my opinion, is exactly as it should be because to me, grounds are at the very best when they akin to fully functioning bear pits.
That might not sit comfortably with the over sensitive watchers of Sky Sports or the journalists sitting in their free seats moralising about fan behaviour, but speaking as someone who has been to hundreds of games over the years, it’s safe to say that the majority of the most memorable were played out in atmosphere’s which would have had Nero reaching for a cold flannel. I’m not just talking about the kind of rivalry that has always been a part and parcel of the game, I’m talking about outright hatred. That, in essence, is what my book Derby Days was about.
Of course, those days (or at least the worst of them) are long gone and in this politically correct football world where happy clappers and half and half scarves have become the norm at games rather than the exception, there is obviously a line to be drawn. The problem is, thus far, aside from the issue of racism, no one has ever been able to decide where it sits. Why for example, is Hillsborough a chant too far when songs about Munich -which ironically were allegedly being sung by Liverpool fans last night- aren’t?
And what about Heysel (more irony), Bradford, Istanbul, Yids, Jimmy Saville, Adam Johnson, Mathew Harding or any one of a hundred subjects which are routinely sung about inside grounds? Would they be illegal in this new sanitised and banter free environment? Even if you were able to work out what’s permissible, how would you let the fans know? Song sheets perhaps, or big screen subtitles? Would swearing be included? Or gesturing?
More importantly, how would you police it? And what would be the punishment for transgressions? Bans? Fine’s?
The sheer number and nature of the questions is proof enough that the very idea of any kind of ‘banter boundary’ is laughable and any attempt to enforce one would be doomed to failure and ridicule from day one.
Singing, chanting, shouting, screaming, moaning and even abusing are fundamental elements of the match day experience and the simple reality is that there is only one thing that will ever define what is and isn’t acceptable inside football grounds and that is peer pressure. Therefore if the clubs are genuinely serious about dealing with foul and abusive chanting then the only way to do it is to empower their own supporters and encourage them to get their own houses in order.
Because until they do that, none of them, not even Liverpool FC, have the right to bleat about anyone else’s.
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Liverpool, Man Utd, Hillsborough, fans, chants, football, soccer, supporters, racism