The first game at Anfield since the revelations of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report sees Liverpool play host to Manchester United in a game that will be preceded by tributes to the 96 victims of the disaster.
Had it been Liverpool against many other teams the reports going into the game would have been about the mosaic that will be held up across three sides of the ground and the presence of guests related to the 23 year campaign for justice, including members of the bereaved families. There’d have been talk about the 96 balloons the two captains will release and then the reports would have discussed the game itself.
The reports after the game would have been much the same. The tributes, the guests, the game.
And that’s pretty much how most of us, from both sets of supporters, would like today discussed – but certain elements of the media have their teeth into a couple of side stories.
It doesn’t help that the press are obsessed, and I mean obsessed, with pre-match handshakes. The handshakes aren’t actually easy for anyone actually at a game to see anyway – the players face the director’s box and have their backs to the vast majority of the crowd for that bit of football pantomime. That’s hardly showing respect to the supporters – and are those handshakes really heartfelt gestures of respect for the other side?
However trivial that little fake ceremony is in a normal game it’s not even worthy of a mention today – regardless of who’s involved in it. In fact maybe the cameras shouldn’t be following the players as this goes on, maybe this is a time to cut to a shot of the memorial to the 96 outside the ground.
The second side story is the possible singing of offensive chants or making of offensive gestures.
In recent weeks there were some defences put out of some chants that they weren’t about Hillsborough. One of them was a chant that started to be sung, they said, after last season’s Suarez-Evra controversy with the implication being that it’s a song about Suarez. Yet that phrase was being used by some fans of Manchester United (and some fans of other clubs) when having a go at Liverpool long before Suarez was even signed by the club. They just added a tune to it last season. And anyone who didn’t realise that it would – or could – be offensive to people who suffered as a result of a disaster surely realises now.
Anyone who engages in such chanting today – and in future – about any of the tragedies (not just football) relating to the two clubs knows that to do so is deeply offensive. It’s wrong to tar them with the brush of being supporters of either club, they’re not. They’re enemies of their own clubs and enemies of the majority of people who go to watch football. They’re the type of supporter that gets the attention of the media which in turn gives people who don’t care about the game the impression that all supporters are just like that.
Regardless of who they support there is no defence for them, they need to be condemned for it.
But they also need attention – that’s why they do it. So the less attention they get the more they’ll be ‘punished’ for what they’ve done. Internet trolls hiding behind anonymous identities or at their bravest using just their first names thrive on the reaction and those who sing such songs at the games can’t wait to see what reaction their actions get. If there’s no reaction they’ll be gutted.
Reports of today shouldn’t even mention handshakes and chanting – whether they happen or not.
Tributes, then football.