No derby for gentle souls
The furore over United fans’ recent Liverpool ‘chant’ tells us the depth that tribal rivalries run in football
ON the surface, it looks like a standard blogger rant on a Manchester United fans website. Someone called Scott The Red seemed to be defending the Stretford End’s right to abuse Liverpool football club as they see fit.
WITH Hillsborough once again a huge story, it wouldn’t be a good thing to see the most popular Manchester |United fansite pumping rocket fuel onto an already crackling debate.
The Republik of Mancunia, unlike many other fansites, has a lick of organisation to it and a long list of bloggers and blogs which attract the kind of debate you expect on a message board.
Most ordinary mortals would find the content of the blog hard to fathom. History and tradition play a huge part in the interaction between rival clubs and incidents which may have barely registered in the real world are still parsed and debated ferociously when they have long since faded from the public consciousness.
Without foreknowledge of the depth of bitterness which exists between hardcore Liverpool and Manchester United supporters, it could easily be perceived as a mildly deranged polemic written by someone with too much time on his hands.
When you’re arguing over the fine points of whether a chant painting Luis Suarez as a racist b****** is legitimate and doesn't relate to Hillsborough, as was widely suggested after Manchester United’s game against Wigan, you’re in a place where those with a delicate constitution should not walk.
But Scott The Red has a point. The real issue at stake here is whether a fan is entitled to give full vent to what he considers a legitimate grievance but the rest of the world would stamp with an X-rating and that those who read Hillsborough into every anti-Liverpool chant are misreading the situation.
All the key players in Sunday’s big game have bent over backwards to fall into line with a more general plea to fans to tone down the chanting.
At the heart of that is the universal grief felt by everyone who was alive to watch Hillsborough unfold in all its horror and a deep empathy with the families who lost loved ones in Leppings Lane.
But the debate about what is acceptable and what is not at a football ground is a separate one. Fans will chant and throw miscellaneous abuse towards the opposition on the day or if they’re bored, historic targets feel the brunt.
For many years, a hardcore rump of Ireland fans liked to belt out a few |standard ballads about the IRA when the action on the pitch was poor.
Nobody ever asked them to stop and it seemed like part of the furniture until the world moved on and the chants faded into irrelevancy. That was international football and in this case, they did go away.
But club football’s intensely tribal nature means that many old wounds linger untreated and mainly because nobody feels the need for healing.
They actually revel in their mutual loathing and as long as that is contained within the four stands of a football stadium and internet message boards, it has always been deemed acceptable to the rest of the world.
Not any more, it would seem. Politicans have jumped on the issue in the wake of the Hillsborough report and another red herring flops around on the table while the families wonder will anyone ever be punished for the big crimes committed on that terrible day?
To quote Scott The Red: “Four minutes into Manchester United’s 4-0 win over Wigan, the Stretford End starting singing the Luis Suarez “racist b******” chant. The chant that followed was “always the victims, it’s never their fault”. This is a standard occurrence at
Old Trafford and United’s away games, dating back to almost a year ago following Liverpool FC’s refusal to accept that Luis Suarez was guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra.
“These two songs have been sung every week, not by a quiet minority but by thousands of United fans. It is also sung by Everton fans who have been widely praised for their respectful behaviour ahead of their game against Newcastle this week.
“Whilst it was Liverpool’s reaction to Suarez’s guilt that led to the creation of the song, there are deeper meanings behind it. It’s likely that some people singing it are purely referring to Suarez but I’d guess the vast majority are referring to the nature of Scousers in general. The stereotype being that they are a whining, grief-hungry bunch of victims, who revel in self-pity and aren’t prepared to take responsibility for their own actions.”
His central point is valid. The chanting about Suarez stands alone and is not relevant to Hillsborough, but it is still a perverse view of reality which can only be explained by Scott the Red’s devotion to Manchester United and the bitter rivalry which has existed for decades between the two cities.
It may be wrong and, to some, even sick and twisted, but such hatred between teams and cities exists all over the world. Townlands and parishes across Ireland are steeped in tribal disputes and rivalries run street by street in Junior soccer.
It’s in our genes and remains a strong imperative which has survived the gentrification of what was once an annual rolling riot in a mud bath, lubricated by firewater and beer, but has become a (mostly) non-violent, ritualistic 90-minute confrontation on and off the pitch so that injuries are kept to a minimum.
Remove fan rivalry from competitive sport and you remove a big part of the attraction.
Of course, it has a dark side and we may see some of that at Anfield on Sunday but even when fans are at their most cruel, there is humour.
Can anyone say they didn’t laugh when they heard the one about one-time Rangers goalkeeper Andy Goram who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had to listen to “Two Andy Gorams, there’s only two Andy Gorams” at an Old Firm derby.
Not nice if you are afflicted with schizophrenia but a perfect example of how fans often mention the unmentionable for the greatest impact. A football ground has never been a place for gentle souls.