Of Hillsborough, hate-chants, and high stakes…


I know that it’s de riguer to hate on Liverpool, espcially as we’ve seen Liverpool’s recent spell of success come at our expense, with various hidings happening at their hand. Those of us who remember Liverpool’s dominance of the 70’s and 80’s might further fuel the fire…yet there’s a disturbing element to fans’ chants that I hope we earn a chance at spurning. Yes, I hope we can find a famous win or even a creditable draw. I just hope we don’t curdle the milk along the way.

For those of you who don’t know, Liverpool enjoyed a period of almost unparalleled success from 1973 to 1991, winning the First Division eleven times and finishing second seven times. There was only one season in that 19-year spell in which they finished lower than second–and in that season, they won a treble, which included defeating Real Madrid to win the European Cup. It’s toward the latter end of that period of dominance that we step in.

It was during the 1988-89 season. Liverpool were playing an FA Cup semifinal against Nottingham Forest when things went sideways in the worst of ways. Due to a series of appallingly bad decisions before, during, and after, overcrowding resulted in the tragic deaths of 97 Liverpool fans. Almost 800 more suffered serious injuries. Originally, most if not all of the blame was placed on the fans, as if they were all drunken hooligans who may have even deserved their demises. For decades, the families and friends of the deceased, as well as those who survived the trauma, had to live with the salt rubbed into their wounds and vinegar poured on as well. There may even have been an application of sandpaper. It wasn’t until almost twenty years later when inquests laid the blame squarely at the feet of those responsible, the failure of police and ambulance services to fulfil their duties. That’s twenty years too late.

How does this affect us? After that unspeakable tragedy, Liverpool went on to win the FA Cup. We went into Anfield barely a week later, needing to win by two goals to win the title. Michael Thomas scored that goal to see us win the title in one of the most-epic, memorable title-deciding matches in top-flight history. Along the way, I’m sorry to say, we denied LIverpool what might have been a wound-salving domestic treble (they had won the season-starting Community Shield as well).

We fast forward from there to the present. In the last week, countless Man City and Chelsea fans have chanted “murderers”, “always the victims”, and “sign on'” to taunt Liverpool’s players and fans. This is not banter at one end nor is it a hate-crime at the other as one online petition has insisted. Those whose indulge in this kind of “hate chant” or “tragedy chant” should face at a minimum a lifetime ban from any stadium. It may not be fashionable for me as a Gooner to side with Scousers ahead a high-stakes clash, but I’m okay with that. If you see the deaths of almost 100 fans as fair game for a chant, I want nothing to do with you. I’ll go one further and state that I want you to have nothing to do with this club.

We’re going into a high-stakes match on Sunday, as close to an anniversary of that tragic event as we might get short of Liverpool facing Nottingham Forest in another FA Cup semifinal. For us, we have a chance to strengthen or squander our hold on winning the Prem for the first time in almost twenty years. For Liverpool, they have a chance at climbing into the top four after a season of malaise. Should we somehow seize this match the scruff, I beg of you Gooners who travel north to Anfield: please, please do not engage in this awful chanting, no matter how many pints you imbibe.

Liverpool have dedicated their matchday programme to commemorate this tragedy. Let’s do what we can to honour it as well. For context, it wasn’t even a week ago that we were able to share a moment with Leeds United over the all-too-soon passing of David Rocastle. If we can set aside our rivalry with them over the passing of one player, surely, we can set aside our rivalry with Liverpool over the passing of 97 fans.

After all of this, I suspect that I may lose the support of various Gooners who equate compassion with weakness, and I’m more than comfortable with that. Form, after all, is temporary. Class is forever.

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4 thoughts on “Of Hillsborough, hate-chants, and high stakes…

  1. Tony

    Thank you for the article, it means a lot. I was at Hillsborough and the final game where you became Champions in more than a footballing way. We who were there that evening remember the Arsenal fans’ amazing generosity with their turnstile collections for the Hillsborough Support Fund and we remember the incredibly moving actions of Tony Adams – at the final whistle instead of running to the away end (as he had every right to do) he went round to console Liverpool players, drained physically and emotionally – as were we, the crowd. Thank you again – and I hope Arsenal once again finish the season as Champions. Tony McC.

    1. Jon Shay Post author

      I’ll always carry profoundly mixed feelings of that match. For as amazing as the outcome was for Arsenal, I can’t set aside the belief that Liverpool winning might have have offered a valuable salve to the pain. I”m heartened to hear that, in the context of an otherwise bitterly-fought match and season, there was so much compassion extended from Arsenal, from the club, fans and at least one player.

    2. palladio43

      Very generous and appropriate post, Jon. It is sad that you even have to ask supporters to behave in a civilized, compassionate, and understanding manner. One would have to believe that even the hooligans (and sadly the football world seems too full of them) have the ability to act in a mature manner when it comes to incidents such as this. Unfortunately, as the Chelsea and City fans proved, and have many others in both England and other countries, they cannot. Whether life-time bans are sufficient means of instilling understanding is doubtful, but it may serve to keep them out of the stadia and permit the adults to never see or hear them again.

      1. Jon Shay Post author

        Indeed. For as much as I hope that we can finally win at Anfield, I hope even more that there won’t be any of that kind of stuff from our traveling fans. People are going to say “it was almost 45 years ago– move on!” but those same people will point to injuries to Eduardo, Diaby, and Ramsey among others to complain of how we were denied moments of glory without batting an eye at the contrast.

        If there were a way for the FA and clubs to identify and ban these fans, I would certainly support that. As with any punishment, you can’t catch everyone, but maybe you can catch enough of them to deter the rest.

        As with racist chants, it might come down to the players rejecting their own fans. If it’s only the target/victim that reacts, that’s giving the idiots more ammo. If our fans were to start one of these tragedy chants, I’d love to see our players take a knee until it stops or remonstrate with the away section to stop immediately.


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