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Man Utd fans should sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ at Anfield this Sunday

2012 September 21

Rodgers and Hammerstein are not generally associated with hymnody but it seemed apt when the organist at our local Methodist church decided to play “You’ll Never Walk Alone” during Communion last Sunday. In its original context in the musical Carousel the song is sung to comfort a newly-bereaved widow. But it is also the anthem of Liverpool Football Club where the families of the 96 fans who died in the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster finally found some succour last week.

What made it all the more poignant was that the organist was playing in a church in Manchester, a city just 30 miles from Liverpool, but where a deeply entrenched rivalry divides the two great cities and their football teams. You might think it trivial to talk about a merely sporting antagonism in the face of such issues of life and death. So it ought to be. And yet it is not.

The day before I had been at Old Trafford to see Manchester United. We were playing Wigan. And yet anti-Liverpool chants from a small section of the crowd showed that the unfolding of the evidence of the Hillsborough Independent Panel had done nothing to assuage the visceral hatred of some United fans. Rather the national outpouring of sympathy for Liverpool seemed to have inflamed a hardcore minority.

In the pub afterwards more boors screamed the same chants at the television screen when the Liverpool players appeared ahead of their match at Sunderland. “Murderers,” they chanted repeatedly, and “Always the victim; it’s never your fault”, peddling the 23-year-old calumny that those who died were killed because of the bad behaviour of fellow Liverpudlians.

The findings of the independent panel exonerated the Liverpool fans on such a charge but, as Winston Churchill once put it “a lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on”. People will persist in believing a lie if it suits them.

What hope for football yobs when a senior policeman does something similar? Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison in a statement acknowledging that the disaster was the fault of the police felt compelled to add: “Fans’ behaviour… made the job of the police… harder than it needed to be”. Sir Norman has denied being a member of a black propaganda unit set up to impugn the reputations of those who died in order to shift blame away from the police. But there can be no doubt of his poor judgement in this injudicious statement.

Poor judgement abounds below the public surface. The tribalism of the policeman or football fan is rooted in the seductive idea of defending one’s own. Twitter was awash with it. I had an extended altercation with one United fan who denied that the tasteless chants had been heard, and then admitted his primary concern was to defend the reputation of the club. South Yorkshire Police used the same argument 23 years ago.

All this is why it is essential for those in authority to lead by example. At the match between Reading and Spurs this week the club authorities played “You’ll Never Walk Alone” before the game to a standing ovation from both sets of fans. Everton preceded their last game with a rendition of “He Ain’t Heavy…He’s My Brother” in tribute to their fellow Merseysiders.

United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson had called for an end to the hostility between his club and Liverpool. He was not heeded by some. Perhaps he should remind his fans that when eight Manchester United players died in the Munich aircrash in 1958, Liverpool offered United five players so the Manchester club could finish the season.  Ahead of the match between Liverpool and Man Utd on Sunday he needs to make a gesture of considerable magnitude. And on the day the United fans should know what to sing.

The Church Times

How the victims of Hillsborough were betrayed again and again and again – all across the institutions of the British state

Why the Hillsborough Independent Panel is a model for uncovering the real truth

Time for a judicial inquiry into the culture of the British police

Finally vindication for the families of the 96

Hillsborough: A litany of lies – 2011

2 Responses
  1. Serbs permalink
    September 21, 2012

    Seriously, if you are suggesting that United sing YNWA you need to have a look at yourself. Last week doesn’t absolve the rest of their fans from the years of Munich chanting, Aeroplane gesturing, Stanley Knife slashing, ambulance rocking, faeces throwing, CS gas spraying barbarism.

    As a match goer (albeit as a ST holder at OT….do you not feel dirty going these days??) you should know full well that the ‘Never your fault song’ is a direct result of the Suarez racism incident last season and refers to other clear instances of wrong-doing such as Heysel and the Michael Shields scandal. It has nothing to do with Hillsborough and nor does the ‘Murderers’ chant.

    I appreciate that this post isn’t going to make it through to your publicised comments. Despite it containing zero profanity you are no doubt only interested in sycophantic, hand-wringing concurrence. However I hope that my cynicism is ill founded.

  2. September 22, 2012

    The impact of a chant lies in the way it is perceived. Those who invented it may intend one thing but listeners – the rest of the world, not just Liverpool fans – hear something different. Perception becomes a new reality. So it would be a great gesture recognising the common humanity of all supporters, whatever our tribal team loyalties, to join in with You’ll Never Walk Alone tomorrow. It doesn’t mean we don’t want United then to go on to hammer the Scousers on the pitch. As to all the wrongs you list, I can’t change them, all I can change is my own behaviour. I don’t want to chant Murderers or Victim chants whatevre their origin; they mean something too unsavoury now.

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