By Karl Coppack
“I disagree with everything you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it?” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall
I NEVER thought I would be using this quote (erroneously attributed to Voltaire incidentally) in conjunction with the dashing young shaver Nathan Eccleston but these are curious and paranoid times. Like Babel before him Twitter has got him into deep water.
Private Eye have a headline section where overblown news stories are whittled down to the most mundane of headlines. The McCartney/Heather Mills betrothal was cranked up to the max in Fleet St while the Eye simply gave us ‘Man Marries Woman’. Earlier this week we could have added our own: ‘Footballer Says Something Stupid On The Internet’. Had it been left there it would have passed with either a ‘Good for you, lad’, a disapproving scowl or a sniff of indifference according to taste before disappearing in the next news cycle but the flames has been fanned thanks to the club’s announcement that it is now ‘investigating’ his comments. That should be a long investigation.
‘Did you tweet those words?’
‘No further questions, your Honour’.
There are various ways of looking at this. Freedom of speech, even the freedom to speak shite, is a given right in a democracy and is often brandished to defend the EDL and the ‘call it as I see it’ rent-a-gobshites like Jon Gaunt. If Eccleston were to tell the world that he doesn’t like, say, Crème Eggs we can shrug our shoulders and move on. It’s his choice and it’s not going to affect the makers of those gooey sweetmeats. I’m going to stand up here and now and say that I don’t like Neil Warnock but he still prowls the dugouts of the nation unmolested. Many, many, many people will agree with my views should they be arsed to listen to them but Warnock himself couldn’t give a toss and my employers won’t be on my back about it. This isn’t quite the same thing though as Nathan has ‘said something controversial’.
Or has he? Did he wish the victims to Rest In Peace? Yes he did. Did he point the finger at an individual who is incapable of defending his or herself? Not really. Was he guilty of libel? Well, that would be a bit difficult to prove against an organisation that may not exist. Indeed had the Illuminati thrown off their cloaks and shouted back young Nathan would quite rightly have taken the credit for proving their existence and for unmasking the perpetrators of one of the greatest crimes in modern history. Was he offensive? Well, at that point the waters become a little muddied.
A few years ago I was diagnosed with epilepsy (bear with me here). It was a scary time for my friends and family and it was months before I could get back to work and normality. When I returned a work colleague, a good mate, took to calling me ‘Shaky’, not to unduly offend me but to take some of the fear out of the situation and make light of the illness rather than sit in blind fear, worrying about a darker fate. Word of this nickname got back to my manager who took him to one side and summarily bollocked him. Naturally I stood up for him, stating that it was my decision to decide what was offensive to me and what was not. My boss then asked what would have happened had one of my other colleagues, for example the poisonous witch who could irritate me more than ‘An Evening With Mark Lawrenson’, had called me that. I saw his point. Ultimately, if I fail to see Eccleston’s views as anything other the ramblings of a paranoid teenager it doesn’t necessarily follow that everyone else will agree. If the American members of the board are appalled at the tweet it’s not up to me to tell them that they’re wrong to be so. Let’s not forget that the first plane that day set off from Boston so maybe some of them knew some of those onboard. To be told that their own government, who they may have even fundraised for, were involved was too much to take from a mere underling. It’s over the top but if someone in my office was telling the world that The Sun were right about Hillsborough I’d take umbrage. I’m not sure I’d start an investigation about it, I’d just assume that he was a tit, but, that’s just me.
A far more likely scenario would be the club’s hope to keep the players from saying anything about any contentious issues. During the Hillsborough Petition days the players didn’t tweet their support until very late in the day. True, Kenny pretty much started the ball rolling but none of the players followed suit. Is it a club command to avoid the microphones? George plays the ‘Don’t Buy The Sun’ song but he’s not necessarily, and here comes one of the most nauseating terms of the modern age, ‘an ambassador for the club’. If this is the case and the owners prefer a nice sanitised ‘every thing’s juuuuuuuuuuuuuuuust fine’ attitude from the staff does that curb their right to express their own views? At what point can they justify berating a man for his opinion and, furthermore, how can they do so while the city is rallying against our own government for the release of the Hillsborough papers seemingly with the club’s support. If we, as a club, are accusing our government of a cover-up what is so wrong with Eccleston accusing another government of doing the same.
Hopefully the club will have a quiet word with him and leave it there. ‘If you’re going to come out with stuff like that, don’t put a picture of yourself wearing your shirt next to it’ or some such. If he’s dismissed, suspended or fined it’s treading on very dodgy ground indeed. Liverpool are not the moral guardians of 9-11 after all. Alternatively Eccleston could just remind his followers that his views do not necessarily reflect those of LFC. Nice caveats all round.
A case of foolishness being met by further foolishness. Let’s leave it there.
PS. My views on Neil Warnock do not necessarily reflect those of The Anfield Wrap.