SOME football websites exist purely to create controversy.
Shock value is their currency, getting a rise out of a group of fans considered a good day’s work in the minds of their creators and contributors.
The Anfield Wrap is emphatically not among them. I’d be surprised if any of my fellow writers had ever set out to offend, to cause outrage or to provoke anything more than healthy debate and the odd cheap laugh.
A misconception, propagated occasionally by others, is that there is some editorial ‘line’ to be followed, a standard TAW response to any given situation.
Speaking from experience, I can tell you that’s not true. Not a word I’ve written has been shaped or influenced by anyone but myself. The mistakes, omissions and plain misjudgements are entirely my own.
In fact you can check for yourself – on almost every issue that’s arisen in this turbulent season you’ll find a multitude of views given house room.
I’ve agreed with many, disagreed with some, had the direction of my thinking changed by others.
We’re also not unequivocally pro-Liverpool FC, the corporate entity. In fact, TAW has probably been home to more criticism of the club’s owners during the Suarez-Evra saga than any other site.
Because we care about the club bequeathed to us we’re more likely than most to take issue with those enjoying its temporary stewardship.
We’re a critical friend of the club, a friend of the best kind. The kind who’ll tell you when you’re wrong, but still be there for you. A friend who’ll defend you against brickbats that come your way, but won’t shy away from having a quiet word when you’re out of line.
It’s in this context that I read Rob Gutmann’s recent piece, Us and Them – Time to Pull Up the Drawbridge.
I’ve enjoyed the pleasure of Rob’s company a number of times through the site and my occasional podcast appearances (another TAW myth is that we’re all just a gang of old mates who knew each other anyway and share the same experiences and prejudices).
Of all the TAW writers, Rob’s among the least likely to court controversy for controversy’s sake. A passionate fan? Yes. A talented writer? Certainly – at times frighteningly so. An articulate, bearded sophisticate with a taste for fine wine while watching the match? Guilty as charged.
And yet his piece has triggered a flurry of cyber panic. Held up as evidence of TAW’s one-eyed tribalism, branded ‘disgraceful’ and ‘shameful’ in the hothouse atmosphere of a Twitter storm.
The Football Ramble’s Luke Moore branded it ‘holier-than-thou’, before without a trace of irony making the Ferguson-esque claim that ‘if any of the Ramble wrote that, I’d never work with them again.’
Cue lots of Daily Mail-esque ‘look at this and be offended’ tweets between a few usual suspects. And yes, I’m aware there is irony in a Liverpool fan objecting to that.
This time, though, maybe they had a point. Maybe Heysel’s just somewhere we can’t go, not even to support the worthiest of arguments. In the heated atmosphere surrounding the Suarez case it just feels like a step further than we need to take.
It should be made clear that Rob, in both his original piece and his excellent follow-up, was clear in stressing he was in no way comparing the incidents in terms of gravity, merely pointing out how from his own experience the poisonous media atmosphere surrounding the club carried echoes of 1985.
Did he need to? While I disagree with parts of Rob’s original analysis, he made his point with clarity and force. With or without Heysel, the piece reflects and honestly-held and reasoned viewpoint. Unfortunately, in giving the very people the piece despairs of more grist to their mill, the Heysel reference could do more harm than good.
Does it, as Moore claims, ‘do great damage’ to Liverpool? I’m not convinced of that. But it creates a danger that valid points could be ignored by the very people who need to hear them.
The whole row raises important questions about responsibility and the unique grasp history exerts on Liverpool Football Club.
I’ve always voted Labour, enthusiastically and without a second thought. Does this place some responsibility for the Iraq war dead on my shoulders? I guess it does. The fact the Tories would have been, if anything, more hawkish over Bush’s war doesn’t change that. It was Labour’s call, people died in their hundreds of thousands (or millions, depending on whose figures you use), and like it or not it happened on their watch, in our name.
Does the same collective responsibility apply to Heysel? Technically perhaps it shouldn’t. Many of today’s fans weren’t even born. I was three years old. Are we directly at fault, ‘murderers’ as some more excitable fans of other clubs would have it? No, but that doesn’t mean we can’t accept that crowd violence was at the root of the tragedy, that behaviour common among Liverpool fans as well as those of other clubs contributed directly to – caused – the deaths of 39 people.
I suspect much of the criticism of Rob’s piece is based on the false assumption that none of us accept the ‘blame’, if that’s the right word, for Heysel. Many Liverpool fans do, from people who were there that night to those of us who’ve only heard the stories and seen the nightmarish TV footage.
The ‘amicizia’ efforts before the 2005 Champions League meeting between Liverpool and Juve were heartfelt, the Kop doing what it does best – rising to the big occasion. In truth, though, it was always in danger of feeling like a hollow gesture. Alan Hansen, speaking in 2005, admitted he rarely thought about Heysel even though he was in the Liverpool team that night. But then, what can we do?
A permanent memorial was unveiled outside the Centenary Stand in 2010, but even that drew criticism from those keen to accuse our club and city of seeking victimhood. Trying to make it ‘our tragedy’ was as bad as ignoring Heysel altogether.
It’s a double bind. We can’t win. And maybe that’s the point – who wants to win when it’s very far from being a game? What happened at Heysel was largely the fault of people who fell under our banner. It’s unfair for fans in 2012 to shoulder some of that burden, but shoulder it we must.
As a number of Juventus fans made plain at Anfield seven years ago, for many an apology is not enough. Nothing would be enough – no constructive means for resolution exists. Heysel cannot be undone. Perhaps the best we can do is to commemorate 39 Italians, Belgians and an Irishman who never came home from a game of football. To accept that sometimes unfairness is thrust upon you, and all you can do is walk on, bowing under its weight.