Even prior to Saturday’s 4-0 defeat of Wigan, attention at Old Trafford had already turned to next weekend’s clash with Liverpool at Anfield. Following the publication of the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel that cleared Liverpool’s fans of any blame in the disaster, the rivalry between the two most decorated English clubs has come sharply back into focus.
Sir Alex Ferguson has already moved to calm tensions between supporters, speaking on Friday of his hopes that a line can be drawn in the sand that has borne witness to many years of hatred and taunts. The rivalry between Liverpudlians and Mancunians is deeply ingrained in the people of both cities, stemming principally from the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal at the end of the 19th century, which brought increased wealth to Manchester and unemployment to the Liverpool Docks.
Football has subsequently acted as a vehicle of continuation for the rivalry, but Ferguson is hoping that the bitterness can be eased due to the mutual suffering both cities have endured due to fatalities to players and fans. He said on Friday: “We
However, despite the desire from many for the tragedies to transcend football and help bring people together, the fact remains that Munich occurred 54 years ago, Hillsborough 23, and an event like last week’s findings won’t change the mindset of those that use the pain of others to abuse their rivals with.
The real problem is the deep rooted tribalism and hatred that exists, often independently of, but frequently exacerbated by the influence of football. It gives people chance to shout about their hatred in an environment that usually offers no recriminations. It was great to see the Liverpool fan that was arrested and charged for aiming a monkey taunt in the direction of Patrice Evra last season, but this only happened because of the luck involved in it being caught on television.
People in huge crowds are liable to follow mob mentality, and do and say things that they wouldn’t normally dream of in everyday life. Things are aimed at rivals to provoke a reaction, and whilst there is a reaction to be provoked there will always be the abuse.
Despite this, the truth behind the ‘always the victim, it’s never your fault’ chant that has been the subject of criticism over the weekend, is that it has been sung by United fans at every game since the Luis Suarez affair. Whilst it could be construed as insensitive to sing the chant following the events of last week, the chant was not mocking the Hillsborough situation, as the BBC’s Match of the Day programme attempted to portray. Such false observations only serve to inflame an already precarious situation prior to the Anfield clash next weekend.
All parties, except perhaps for some elements of the media, will be hoping that Sunday’s game does not provide the wrong sort of headlines. For the real fans, and the compassionate human beings, football can bring a solidarity that can be hard to find. It would take a particularly cold-hearted person to disregard the pain and suffering caused by the loss of the 96, or who doesn’t find a tear in the eye when watching the gravely images of that fateful Munich runway. These tragedies should be respected between English football’s greatest rivalry, not used as incendiary bait.
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