My team beat Manchester United this week. Correction; they destroyed them. Ok, it was only two-nil but anyone who knows anything about football – by the way that doesn’t include some of the commentators or summarisers on BT Sport – knows that two-nil really flattered United. *Cliche alert: it is of course only half time in this two-legged Europa League tie but we go into next week – I love saying “we” – it will always be “we” until the day I die such is how I feel about my city and my club – in great shape and I went to bed on Thursday night feeling happy with life.
I was shaken from this revery on Friday morning after a call from one of my closest friends – one of the most important people to me. He told me that there had been some ugly singing by United fans at the game. He is a lifelong United fan – a proper fan with a deep love for his club but without the rose-tinted glasses so many fans of so many clubs wear. I responded to this story the way I have so many times before – it is by far from the first and sadly will not be the last time the memory of my 96 brothers and sisters has been desecrated in this way – with the usual disclaimer about a small minority spoiling it for the rest. I can say this because I have seen and heard “fans” of my club doing the same thing in besmirching the grief and tragedy of the Munich air disaster – the darkest, saddest day in the history of Manchester United – and I know they do not represent me – they do not do this in my name.
This joint ugliness has been going on for years – chants about The Sun, aeroplane gestures and more – it is repeated at other clubs with Chelsea “fans” making gas chamber noises as Tottenham players take to the field and – actually, I don’t have enough space to detail what happens in Glasgow. It happens at most games between the two biggest clubs separated by the M62. It has become the shame that dare not speak its name. The collective attendees ignore it. The media rarely reports it. Commentators pretend not to hear it. Ignoring it means it didn’t happen. It doesn’t need to be tackled. Nothing needs to change.
Well, on Thursday night and Friday morning, the BBC and then others did report it and gave it the sort of coverage that makes it impossible to ignore.
I commented on social media that I would love to been surprised by it. My tone of resignation was my natural reaction and yet on reflection I should have been outraged. I have clearly become desensitised. I have come to accept that “this is the way it is”. A Manchester United fan challenged me about giving it air time – about making a comment – he suggested I should have just ignored it. He also pointed this out – it must have been important to him to do this – with reference to a piece of media coverage from four years ago – that Liverpool fans dragged themselves into the gutter in similar fashion at a previous game. The whole exchange has left me a little cold.
None of us who care need to be told there is more than enough vileness to go around. None of us who care need to be reminded of how long this has been happening. None of us who care need to be given a history lesson. And I don’t believe that we should be told to ignore it when it happens. We should still be outraged whoever behaves in this disgusting way. I am still outraged. I am still angry. I am still ashamed when I hear fellow scousers plumbing those depths and I was ashamed to be a football fan when I heard about the events at Anfield on Thursday night.
Some of the most important friends I have support Manchester United. I lived in Manchester for four years. It is a great city – one of the greatest in the world. I know my history. I know how Manchester United behaved after Hillsborough. I know the friendship they showed. I know them. And I know about the gestures Liverpool made to United in the aftermath of 1958.
I will always think of these things when I hear about the ugly minority but I will never stop being outraged. I will never stop feeling sick when I hear of it. I will never ignore it. I will never think that two wrongs could ever, ever make a right.