Sunday, September 20 2020


A time to realise football just doesn’t really matter

Update: October, 31/2018 - 15:00
Rest in peace: Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha led the club to their first Premier League title. — File Photo
Viet Nam News

Paul Kennedy

Tough-talking, no nonsense former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once famously said: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”

Sorry Bill, you were wrong.

Shankly was a legend at Liverpool and to many was more of a god than a man. Fans would bow down before him and hang on his every word. He was a cult leader adored by many.

Supporters would treat what he said as the gospel according to Bill. He was funny, smart, witty and cutting.

But when he said the game was more important than life and death, he was talking nonsense.

This really came home to roost for Liverpool supporters on April 15, 1989 when 96 fans died at Hillsborough during the ill-fated FA Cup semi-final.

Football wasn’t important then. It didn’t matter.

There were many times before lives had been lost over football. The Munich air disaster in 1958 saw 23 people killed, many of them Manchester United players.

On Saturday May 11, 1985, football didn’t matter when 56 people died after a fire ripped through the Valley Parade Stadium during the game between Bradford City and Lincoln City in the old Third Division.

It didn’t matter at the Heysel Stadium, Belgium a few weeks later when 39 Juventus supporters died after a wall collapsed during a European Cup Final against Liverpool.

Football didn’t matter in Glasgow in 1971 when 66 supporters were crushed to death trying to leave the Ibrox stadium following a match between Rangers and Celtic.

And football didn’t matter last Saturday either.

I was still reveling in a Liverpool win when I heard the news of a helicopter crash after the game between Leicester City and West Ham.

I knew immediately what had happened.

After most home games Leicester’s much-loved chairman and owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, leaves the game by helicopter. It lands on the pitch, on he gets with his colleagues and off it flies.

It’s fun and it’s cool. The fans love it.

On Saturday, for reasons we don’t know yet, the helicopter crashed killing everyone on board including the owner.

“The world has lost a great man,” a statement on the club’s website read this week.

“A man of kindness, of generosity and a man whose life was defined by the love he devoted to his family and those he so successfully led.

“Leicester City was a family under his leadership. It is as a family that we will grieve his passing and maintain the pursuit of a vision for the Club that is now his legacy.”

Vichai took a below average Premier League football team and turned them into champions. It’s a real Roy of the Rovers story that will never be matched.

It should have had a happy ending. An ending with Leicester crowed champions and building on their success.

Sadly, the scriptwriters had other ideas and the amazing fairytale story of Leicester City has turned into a tragedy.

But it’s not the end.

After Hillsborough, many people didn’t want to love football anymore. Players didn’t want to play and the manager didn’t want to manage. I’m sure the same was felt after the events in Munich, Bradford, Belgium and Glasgow.

And I’m guessing that’s just about the feeling everyone associated with Leicester City Football Club has right about now.

Life will go on. Football will go on. And supporters of The Foxes will enjoy the highs and lows of the beautiful game once more. But not right now.

Outside Anfield, the home of Liverpool Football Club, an eternal flame burns bright alongside the names of those who died in 1989.

Similar memorials are displayed at other grounds where disaster has struck.

In time, there will be one at the King Power Stadium in memory of the chairman and others who perished after Saturday’s crash.

It will be a permanent reminder for all who visit of what happened on the evening of Saturday October 27, 2018. And a reminder of all the good things the man achieved.

He won’t be forgotten.

Also outside Liverpool Football Club is a statue of Bill Shankly. A great man who said some truly remarkable things.

But sometimes, he was wrong. — VNS

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