Rivalries in danger of going too far

April 22, 2022 - 11:01

When I chanted and sang offensive songs back in 1990, I was an idiot who knew no better. It was also, without trying to justify my foolish actions, far more accepted and normal then.


LOCAL RIVALS: The rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United has always been strong. AFP Photo.

Paul Kennedy

Obviously, when I was 17, I knew everything. 17-year-olds always do, and I was no exception.

Despite being so long ago, I remember pretty clearly that season I was going to lots of away games following Liverpool.

I remember one game on a sunny Sunday in March 1990, when Liverpool played United at Old Trafford and won by two goals to one. John Barnes scored both for the visitors, and Liverpool’s Ronnie Whelan put through his own net in spectacular style with eight minutes to go.

Throughout the match, the Liverpool fans, myself included, sang what can only be described as abhorrent songs to the home fans, mocking and making fun of the Munich air disaster in 1958, in which 23 people, including 11 United players and staff, died.

I didn’t know any better and times were very different then. I sang at full pelt thinking I was being clever. After the final whistle, as was customary at the time, the away fans were kept inside Old Trafford to avoid any clashes as the two sets of supporters left the ground.

Manchester United v Liverpool in March 1990.

That didn’t stop hundreds of United fans waiting outside in the hope of getting to grips with their rival supporters. A strong police presence prevented any actually hand-to-hand combat and other than dodging a few bottles and cans that were hurled in my direction, I managed to get out of Manchester unscathed.

I also visited Maine Road that season too, Manchester City’s ground at the time. It was a 2-2 draw, Liverpool denied victory thanks to a late strike by Niall Quinn.

Once again, away fans were kept in the ground afterwards to avoid a baying mob in light blue, and once again, I dodged and ducked bottles and coins that were thrown in my direction as I exited the stadium.

Sounds like a horrible experience, right? Not a pleasant way to spend a weekend. But that was just the way things were 33 years ago. Football was a different game, particularly for the supporters.

Thankfully, most of that kind of Neanderthal, tribal loyalty to your club of choice has been eradicated from the game, and while supporters are still extremely passionate, a lot of the hooligan element and extremely offensive chanting are things of the past. Well, almost.

Before the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Manchester City last week, a minute's silence was held to remember the 97 Liverpool supporters who died at the same fixture back in 1989.

Referee Michael Oliver had to cut it short because it was marred by a minority of City fans who booed, whistled and chanted throughout.

Manchester City quickly, and rightly, issued an apology and their manager Pep Guardiola condemned the behaviour of those involved after the match.

Earlier this week, when Liverpool thumped Manchester United 4-0 in the Premier League, some of the visiting supporters sang chants mocking those who died in the Hillsborough disaster.

Manchester United said in a statement the following day: “Offensive chants about the tragedy are completely unacceptable and we will work with our supporters’ groups to educate fans on the issue."

What made this act particularly galling was it came moments after Liverpool fans had shown their support for Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo who lost his newborn baby this week.

When I chanted and sang offensive songs back in 1990, I was an idiot who knew no better. It was also, without trying to justify my foolish actions, far more accepted and normal then.

I like to think I’ve grown up, and moved on, and see rivalry in a far more different way than I did when I was a teenager.

I just hope those City and United fans who behaved the way they did were just dumb 17-year-olds who still have a lot of growing up to do. VNS