IT was scripted as the weekend that football would grow up. The songs about dead fans, football stadium disasters and plane crashes would stop and a football rivalry billed as Britain’s bitterest would become a tiny bit sweeter.
It was a big ask. A minority of Liverpool and Manchester United fans have been trading the sickest of insults for decades, be it relating to Hillsborough, Heysel or the Munich air disaster.
The vast majority of supporters on both sides haven’t. That continued to be the case on Sunday despite what some in the media would have you believe.
The game between the North West rivals was Liverpool’s first chance to acknowledge the landmark moment that the world woke up to the truth about Hillsborough.
That the moment came against United was manna from heaven for the shit-stirrers among the media, of which there are many.
For a week, it was endlessly discussed – can the fans put the bitterness aside to pay their respect to something much deeper than football rivalry?
In a week that deep-rooted corruption and an orchestrated smear campaign against football fans was exposed, you’d think there would be more pressing issues to discuss.
As it was, fans filed into a sombre Anfield knowing that just a handful of morons among the 44,263 present could make the doom-mongers’ day by shouting or singing the wrong thing.
So it proved.
Munich was never referenced, except by the United fans that sang: “Where’s your famous Munich song?” That a website that revels in stoking the rivalry between the clubs is now pinning its hopes on dodgy audio on a dodgy video allegedly showing ONE fan shouting ‘Munich’ when Robin Van Persie took his penalty really is quite sad. It’s desperation for conflict.
The more offensive “Always the victim, it’s never your fault” and “Murderers” came later from some supporters in an away end containing 2,700 fans shouting at an empty stadium.
This was in reaction to a couple of idiots that decided taunting the United end with plane gestures was a fitting way to behave on a day charged with emotion. It wasn’t. It never is.
And so that’s been the focus. Again and again footage has been shown on Sky Sports while it’s a topic that has been hammered relentlessly by those shouty morons on TalkSport. Anything for a bit of controversy, it seems.
But what about the good stuff? Where’s the balance? The context? One of the leading Manchester United fanzines, United We Stand, called for calm and respect to be shown before Sunday’s match.
Other United supporters delivered talks on coaches headed for Anfield to spread a similar message.
And many United fans paid their respects to the 96 who died at Hillsborough by tying shirts and scarfs to the Shankly Gates and laying tributes at the memorial on Anfield Road. One read: “There but for the grace of God go we – Rest in Peace. The Silent Majority at MUFC.”
Inside the ground, the United end applauded the ‘Justice for the 96’ song that rang around the ground before kick off while the Manchester United team ran out at Anfield wearing tracksuits with 96 on their backs. The captains of both sides released 96 balloons, while Kenny Dalglish had earlier reiterated Alex Fergsuon’s immediate support in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster.
There was plenty of mutual respect on display, plenty of dignity and plenty of basic human decency – but that doesn’t make for a good story, does it?
The Liverpool and Man United fan base were both collectively smeared – the Mancs for their chants, the Scousers for TWO tools waving their arms around, and two others who thought tweeting ref Mark Halsey with sick stuff about cancer was a good idea.
It’s ironic that thousands of fans are having their reputation painted black for the actions of a few when that very problem was a contributory factor to the Hillsborough disaster.
Then – in the 80s – it suited to treat fans as a problem, as thugs. Now – well we should have moved on from these sweeping generalisations, shouldn’t we?
It’s a dangerous game and those stirring the pot should know better.