Manchester United vs Liverpool.
Its one of the biggest fixtures in English football, two famous, iconic clubs who have a long held and bitter rivalry. The games between the two usually don’t disappoint and are high on incident.
This year’s Anfield fixture however, saw a cooling of the mind games and war of words which usually arrive as the fixture nears.
Liverpool were playing at home for the first time since the findings of the inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster, the report officially exonerating the club’s fans and exposing the extent of the police cover up.
For non Brits or those unaware the Hillsborough disaster was a tragic event that occurred at the Sheffield Wednesday stadium in 1989 when Liverpool faced Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup semi-final. Back in the 80s, due to hooliganism, many grounds had fencing between the fans and the pitch, and fans stood on terraces, rather than in rows of seating as they do now. Due to a small number of turnstiles the entrance to the Leppings Lane stand became overcrowded, leading to police opening an exit gate to allow more fans in. Sadly, as the fans poured in a crush developed and 96 supporters died as a result (94 on the day and two from injuries at later dates).
The event rocked all of British football and devastated Liverpool, a fact which was exacerbated when the Sun published fabricated reports about Liverpool fans, saying that they had robbed victims and assaulted police officers attempting to help treat the injured. Liverpool newsagents stopped carrying the paper and to this day among some Liverpudlians the paper is still loathed. As a result stadium design and safety was overhauled in Britain.
The recent report appeared to finally give the families some peace and will hopefully bring those in the wrong to justice, and the club chose to pay tribute to the 96 at its next home game.
There were fears that Manchester United fans, who’s rivalry with Liverpool is among the fiercest and most mean-spirited in the English game, might not respect the tribute and the club’s manager, Sir Alex Ferguson wrote an open letter calling for calm and respect, writing:
“Our rivalry with Liverpool is based on a determination to come out on top – a wish to see us crowned the best against a team that held that honour for so long,”
“It cannot and should never be based on personal hatred. Just 10 days ago, we heard the terrible, damning truth about the deaths of 96 fans who went to watch their team try and reach the FA Cup final and never came back.
“What happened to them should wake the conscience of everyone connected with the game.
“Our great club stands with our great neighbours Liverpool today to remember that loss and pay tribute to their campaign for justice. I know I can count on you to stand with us in the best traditions of the best fans in the game.
It was a classy move from Ferguson who has made no secret of his dislike of Liverpool and his desire to annihilate their standing as England’s most successful club.
Luckily, all the fans appeared to behave in a respectful way during the tribute and both teams wore tracksuits commemorating the dead.
Both teams and fans set aside the pointless sporting rivalry in order to honour those who tragically lost their lives.
So, why have I gone for a sarky, anti-Liverpool title?
Well, one of the sub-plots before the match regarded the pre-game handshake and whether United’s Patrice Evra would snub Luas Suarez.
For this you need to go back to last year, when Suarez was found guilty of racially abusing Evra during this fixture and banned for 8 matches and hit with a fine. When they next met at Old Trafford Suarez refused to shake Evra’s hand, an ugly footnote which drew out the whole unpleasant business and suggested that Suarez was unrepentant.
So, prior to last weekend’s game there were concerns that a repeat incident between the two might undermine the tribute. Evra shook hands with Suarez, and stated:
If I hadn’t shaken Suarez’s hand, I would not be respecting the stories of the clubs. In the end I am glad this time he shook my hand. More importantly, it was important to respect the families
It appeared that maturity and class would win out.
Until around 30 minutes into the game when Liverpool fans began jeering and booing Evra.
Here’s the thing, I wasn’t expecting the game to go off with the fans respecting the opponent throughout, and some banter and booing was to be expected. Its part of the football experience and hopefully the fans would have the good sense not to say anything offensive or unnecessarily cruel. But the conduct of the Liverpool fans really disgusted me in this incident.
They were basically booing somebody who had been the victim of racial abuse.
Let’s not sugarcoat it, that’s what happens. Now, Suarez might have tried to say that he used the word “negro” in “an affectionate and friendly way”, and that it was a cultural thing which didn’t translate, but that is quite frankly bollocks. I’m not sure if in Uruguay that’s the case, but Suarez has been playing in Europe since 2006, so he should really have picked up on the different attitudes by now.
There’s supporting your team, which I get, but what kind of idiot is going to side with a racist against their victim, just because they happen to be playing for the club you support? Maybe you’d continue cheering for Suarez, but there is no justification for booing Evra.
Both the club and the fan’s conduct in the Suarez-Evra affair has been distressing, with the club allowing their players to come out in t-shirts showing support for him before a game with Wigan, which seemed to suggest a disregard for his offences and seriously jarred with the “Kick it out” anti-racism campaign. It was ill-judged at best and had I been a Liverpool player I’d have refused to wear one, team spirit be damned, I wouldn’t support a racist.
So, its rather sad that among all the positives from Sunday’s match there would be this incident of sheer douchebaggery from a section of the fans. Its disgusting, and, in my view, indefensible.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.