Mindless few must not shift focus on justice

Posted by guest on September 22, 2012, 04:13:29 PM

Munich. Hillsborough. Death. It's what is known, in the psychology world, as semantic satiation. When a word is repeated enough times, it begins to lose its meaning. In the civilised world, it's what is known as despicability. Munich. Hillsborough. Death. So many times have those words been uttered, that those who use them as weapons don't understand the force behind them.

Here are the grim realities.

23 of the 43 people who boarded a chartered aircraft at Munich airport died in February 1958 after it crashed on its third take off attempt. It does not matter eight of the deceased were Manchester United players returning home from a European Cup tie in Belgrade. Football does not matter. The people who died were sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, their lives tragically cut short.

At Hillsborough in April 1989, 96 lives were also tragically cut short. Their deaths were due to the incompetence of those who were meant to ensure their safety; the reputations of those innocent victims tarnished by many as a by-product of a 23-year cover-up by authorities. It does not matter these were Liverpool fans, only that they were football fans. It could have been any club and any city at the Leppings Lane that afternoon; it could have been Nottingham, London, Newcastle, Birmingham or Manchester fighting for justice for 23 years.

Here are some other realities. Matt Busby, then-manager of Manchester United, was severely injured in the crash and given his last rites twice. He had previously captained Liverpool, and struck up a close friendship with Bob Paisley. He also recommended, just a year after the disaster, that his former club take note of Huddersfield Town manager Bill Shankly; he would later convince the Scot to stay at Anfield with the club still languishing in the second division of English football. The rest is glorious history.

The goodwill from Manchester did not just emanate from Busby. In Liverpool's darkest hour, Alex Ferguson was one of the first to contact manager Kenny Dalglish to extend condolences and offer support. It was a gesture that echoed the conduct of Liverpool four days after the Munich disaster, Anfield falling silent for two minutes in contemplation and remembrance before their match against Charlton Athletic.

But those who sing about human tragedy care little for Busby, Ferguson, Dalglish and the history behind them. To them, the tragedy it is just a word, another barb to fire at supporters to agitate. Munich can easily be replaced with calling Rooney fat; Hillsborough another wind-up alongside calling Gerrard a Scouse bastard.

Mindlessness can be infectious. “58 wasn't enough” was once daubed on the wall of an Old Trafford toilet, clearly in belief that Munich 58 related to the death toll rather than the year. Liverpool fans have recently stood in the away section of Old Trafford confronted with two sights: those making choking gestures to mock Hillsborough, and those with their arms outstretched, mimicking aeroplanes, gleeful at someone disrespecting Munich. Some were even in an attempt of goading Liverpool fans into doing so, just so they could retaliate with similar.

That’s not to excuse the behaviour on a lack of thought. A lot of the ignorance is wilful. It was when Liverpool sang about Munich in pubs and away grounds in the 1980s, it has been when United have sang about Hillsborough since the disaster. The findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel over a week ago were never going to change the mindset of those who sing “The Sun was right, you're murderers” – no one was waiting the Prime Minister to absolve Liverpool fans of blame before ceasing with the chant. Their consciences are ones that cannot be pricked.

That is why the chants at Old Trafford last week caught a nation's attention, despite being sung for a while. Though the families of the deceased and survivors of Hillsborough - along with the city of Liverpool – never let the injustices of 1989 leave their minds, the rest of the country did; a sizeable number consigned it under The Sun's erroneous headline of 'THE TRUTH'. The report' findings simply told the rest of the world what some already knew. Hillsborough was a crime perpetrated on football fans by South Yorkshire Police, its cover-up as extensive as it was callous.

When some at Old Trafford sang about how Liverpool were always the victims and it was never their fault, no longer were they words without meaning. Emotions were raw. Wounds had opened once more. Here were some to pour stringing scorn into them. As clubs across Britain supported Liverpool with renditions of You'll Never Walk Alone and Justice for the 96, the rebuttal of their song not relating to Hillsborough, however true that is, struggled to find acceptance. Regardless of intention, it's a song about Hillsborough now.

The clubs have made a sterling effort in a call for the minority to act dignified.  Mr. Ferguson, 23 years after making that initial phone call to Kenny Dalglish, allowed his hardened shell to fall once more in support of the club his working ambition has been to destroy. This is about more than football; it's about human loss. He understands that, as did Everton with their incredible, heartfelt tribute to the 96 before their game with Newcastle. Ferguson's belief that the Hillsborough report should “wake the conscience of everyone connected with the game” is astute; it just must be hoped the dispositions of some are not in a slumber that can't be shaken.

But there is another slumber that must be shaken – and soon. The build-up to Sunday's game has been focused on the supporters' possible actions, but there are actions that are still unpunished. Any unsavoury behaviour in the stands should not be ignored, but nor should it deflect the attention of those who have already harmed. There are chants, but then there is conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and cause death by gross negligence. The supporters of Manchester United have not done that; we know the names of those who have: David Duckenfield, Norman Bettison, Irvine Patnick.

No one in the away end on Sunday will have perpetrated that conspiracy. No one in the away end reacted slowly to the dead, dying and injured. No one spread lies across the media in an attempt to plant the sickening seed of blaming the supporters, nor did anyone block the 23-year struggle for the truth and justice. No one from Manchester United took blood from children in an attempt to find traces of alcohol. It goes without saying the songs are despicable and should be condemned, but their pathetic contribution is a mere footnote to the crimes committed on the dead.

When Sunday's match is over, let's hope all eyes are on the supporters – the three sides of Anfield which will hold up mosaics reading “truth”, “justice” and “96”.  The truth is out, but efforts should not stop to find justice for the 96. Because that is what really matters, and that is what should always be strived for, irrespective of the mindless minority.

Link: http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/liverpool/id/122?cc=5739

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