Saturday 25 October 2014

When even the slagging stops

Published 16/04/2014 | 02:30

Tribute: Football fans’ scarves on the Shankly Gates before a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield yesterday.

Even the casual viewer can tell you that the Premier League is, quite frequently, a hard thing to love. Apart from the prohibitive prices, there are the antics of the players to consider and let's not forget the frankly evil machinations of those owners who like to treat their club as an investment and the fans as a menace.

But rivalries run deep and there is something so demonstrably absurd about an Irish fan having a massive argument with another Irish fan about an English club that you have to marvel at the game's ability to turn otherwise rational and logical grown men into dribbling buffoons.

That's why pubs have become such a no-go area whenever there's a big match on Sky Super Cider Sunday – do you really want to spend an afternoon looking at middle-aged blokes in straining jerseys behaving like children, even as their own children look on in mortification?

Rivalry and slagging can quickly give way to something more visceral, of course, and the casual hatreds of the hive mind are never far from the surface, particularly when it comes to United and Liverpool. That's why yesterday's commemoration of the Hillsborough disaster is such a timely reminder of the idiotic loss of perspective to which so many of us are prone.

The residents of Liverpool have often been accused of mawkish sentimentality and a sense of persecution that marks them out as the Cork of England – holding slights, perceived and otherwise, close to their hearts and fermenting in their own sense of grievance. But this? As yesterday's ceremony reminded us, this one is different. While the game itself has now become so sentimentalised and sanitised that every match seems to start with either a minute's silence or a minute's applause and teams may as well have a black armband stitched into the sleeve, this is still the one issue where absolutely nobody in their right mind even dreams of mocking.

That's not to say there aren't the usual smattering of knuckleheads, like a few Chelsea fans on Sunday, who jeered in the silence. But they no more represent the average football fan than the Scousers who make airplane gestures in relation to Munich or the person who vandalised Liam Whelan bridge in Cabra the other day. The little toe-rag responsible for that piece of art faces an uncomfortable few minutes at the hands of any fan, of any team, who get their hands on him. Because, like Hillsborough, Munich is off limits.

But Hillsborough is different because so many people watched it unfold on television and initially assumed that this was Liverpool fans repeating their behaviour from Heysel. As the days passed, the real truth emerged and the scorn stoked up by The Sun was replaced by a simple, sickening realisation that a terrible injustice was being perpetrated against those whose only crime had been to go to a match.

I honestly can't think of anybody telling a Hillsborough joke.

Football provides the darkest humour, but even amongst friends and colleagues who have a weird compulsion to tell the sickest gag possible (and they know who they are), I can't recall any of them making a Hillsborough gag, no matter how much they talk about despising Scousers.

Sure, you get those gags online, but for actual people with actual lives, it remains a no-fly zone for quips.

In fact, the only 'fan' who publicly mocked the tragedy that I can think of was a 20-year-old United supporter who thought it would be a good idea to get a tattoo saying '96wne' – 96 were not enough – on his shoulder.

It remains unclear who he was trying to impress, but even the hard lads from his own club promised to take the tattoo off with their bare hands if they found him.

And that is why the gods of football look to be smiling on them this season.

Being married to a Liverpool fan who takes more pride in a picture of her with Bob Paisley than she does with any from our wedding day, I should admit that this has been a trying season. (I should also point out that she was a very young child when posed outside the Shankly Gates for that pic, in the unlikely event that she reads this.)

Between the emotion of Hillsborough and their undeniably swashbuckling style of play and, of course, the joy it would bring Mrs iSpy, who has spent the last month wandering around muttering 'dare to dream' like some demented supplicant, presumably I can find it in my heart to wish them well in their quest for the league?

Are you mad?

Bugger that – empathy only goes so far.

That explains it!

Uruguay became the first country to fully legalise the production and consumption of weed last year. And now a reporter from Vice has taken that new liberalism to an interesting level – by smoking a joint as he interviewed Uruguayan leader Jose Mujic.

The move has caused fury amongst some people who see that as a step too far, so I should admit the controversy proves that you really do learn something new every day.

After all, I've never previously understood why former President Mary McAleese started shouting for security and had me removed from the Aras that one time I interviewed her.

And there was me thinking she was just rude...

Now this is what you call restorative justice

Proving that some people really should read this column comes with the news that a woman narrowly escaped jail after she spat in the face of a father and his child during a row on a bus. As you obviously know, I was the only columnist brave enough to come out against spitting when someone gobbed in the face of MEP Phil Prendergast last week.

So, seeing as I appear to be the only hack with the balls to publicly condemn such behaviour, may I suggest that the judge should have made the woman read iSpy everyday as part of her sentence.

Of course, some might say that punishment is cruel and unusual, but they'd be wrong.

Well, mostly wrong...

Irish Independent

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