Where is the love?

2 04 2008
When I was about 8 years old my family and I were in the house of another family. The father of the other family said to me; “Look there’s another murderer!!” This was news to me. The trigger for the comment was me wearing a Liverpool shirt. It was the summer after Heysel and the father was an Everton fan.
I was reminded of this when I was on Facebook the other day and I came across the group “Justice for the 39”. 39, I tried to remember the significance of that number. Yes that’s right, the number of victims in the Heysel stadium disaster. The families of the victims obsiously deserve something. I clicked on the title to find more information. Aside from the group’s title there was no other mention of justice to be found.
There was no space to leave your messages of condolence. There was no plan to pressure the European Parliament, Liverpool, Juventus or Uefa for compensation. No plan to pressure for even a monument, there was absolutely nothing constructive, all I could find was vitriol.
The group made me despair, feel angry and pitiful in roughly that order. Firstly you had the aping of similar groups concerned with the Hillsborough disaster. Then you had the actual messages left, “Murdering Scouse bastards” this, “Them murderinRedshites” that. How the hell could some people use the occassion of the death of 39 people to score cheap points in an argument?
Basically this group just exists to vent your spleen about Liverpool FC. You might say hating Liverpool FC is thriving. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can leave a message. While you could regard all of this as slightly off key the worst thing about the message leavers was their age; hardly any of them would have been old enough to have witnessed what happened on television.
To anyone that has perused to online portals for red-hot soccer chat the level of hostility espoused in the group would probably not come as a surprise. Online fanzines and message boards seem to present the idea that hating a rival is all part of being a fan. Other media outlets, such as the god-awful radio phones (except for Baker and Kelly obviously), fuel this by allowing people to put forward the most free-from-logic utterings heard in the media. The hosts actively encourage people to vent their spleen; “We’ve heard Arsenal’s side now it’s the Spurs fans turn, phone in please.”
Is it that easy to find the root cause of the problem? Are people just the passive recipients of culture? Can’t they think for themselves? Can’t they decide not to act like this? Obviously the answer is yes. However the evidence of my own eyes a week last Sunday leads me to conclude that certain people can’t, they have bought into the notion of hating the dreaded “other” is all part and parcel of contemporary fandom.
You can witness these feelings if you go to matches. Anything from The songs people sing to the banners they make to the slogans they print on Shirts to the t-shirts they wear etc etc etc will point you in the direction of which club is the hated other. You can even see this in the Welsh Premier. Rhyl fans seem to sing an awful lot of anti-Bangor songs, even when they’re not playing Bangor. They even go to the trouble of making videos on You Tube. When you’re confronted with such hatred it makes you wonder which is more important for some fans; supporting their own team or hating others?
I must admit that I find the idea of hating someone for simply supporting another club a wholly absurd concept. Hating someone for something as arbitrary as that is ridiculous. How can someone be scum just because they choose to follow another club?
In itself the act of following a club just means that, it’s only a matter of choice. Why do some people invest this act with magical qualities. They seem invest their own clubs fans with noble qualities and invest the fans of other clubs with negative attributes. Surely people supporting different clubs is an undeniable part of the game.
Different sides are an inherent part of the structure of football. There are always two sides and they are both trying to win. Besides how boring would it be if we all supported the same club? One of the attractions of football is the rivalry. A bit of good natured joshing about results and relative success can really pep up a boring Monday. What has started to become difficult to swallow is the pressure to hate the “other”. How did the hate take over?
Was it always this way? Well, no it wasn’t. A friend of my Dad hails from Wallasey and is a Liverpool fan. In his youth he used to go and watch the reds when they were at home and the blues when they were at home. From what I can tell there are many examples of men from this generation doing likewise. Mark E. Smith, a Man City fan once remarked how he used to go to watch United infrequently.
You couldn’t imagine this happening now, this strikes me as a little sad. In fact it’s more than a little sad, it’s downright off putting. Instead of breeding fans that are knowledgeable and philosophical about football, we seem to be breeding fans whose only knowledge is of sick songs and whose only philosophy is hate.
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