Manchester United And Liverpool's Rivalry Does Not Need Toxic Chants

In amongst the hyperbole surrounding United's 4-0 Anfield loss, some disgusting chants were heard in the away end
11:57, 20 Apr 2022

Manchester United’s players did little to coat themselves in glory at Anfield last night. The unravelling Red Devils lost 4-0 to Liverpool, suffering the latest ignominy of a season to forget. However if United’s players emerged with little credit, a small section of their travelling fanbase ought to escape with even less.

On the same night that the entire stadium rose in applause in the seventh minute as a mark of respect for the premature death of Cristiano Ronaldo’s newborn son, toxic chants referencing the Hillsborough disaster were heard from the Anfield away end. It was a disrespectful and distressing state of affairs lost to a night where most eyes were trained on a poor on-field performance from the Red Devils.

This is not the first time these most bitter rivals have gone beyond the realms of acceptability with their chants. Both clubs have weaponised each other’s tragedies as petty points-scoring tools for longer than most of the players on the pitch last night have been alive. For United’s support, the Hillsborough and Heysel stadium disasters are two arrows in their cretinous quiver. Liverpool fans have long chanted about the Munich Air Disaster that wiped out a generation of United stars in 1958. Beyond the chants, fans of the Merseyside club have taken to miming the flying of a plane in the past to try and rile their neighbours. 

None of this is acceptable. Excuses will be made, they always are. Already there are countless social media responses claiming “It’s only football, it doesn’t mean anything”. But the tragic losses of life suffered on both sides of the divide do mean something. This isn’t football banter. It cannot be compared to the ironic “Ole!” shouts from the home fans when United managed to occasionally string two passes together. People boarded a plane on a Munich airstrip 64 years ago and never disembarked. Fans filed into stadiums in Brussels and Sheffield in the 1980s and never saw their families again. People lost children, siblings, friends, partners. If you can’t think of a better way to outwit your rival fans than mocking those tragically lost, those who aren’t here to defend themselves, then perhaps you aren’t intelligent enough to be shouting anything at all in public.

The other already-tired justification for the chants is “They chant about Munich though!” Football is a heated atmosphere, there is no use pretending it is not. Humans as a species will fight fire with fire when backed into a corner. But two wrongs do not make a right. A far smarter riposte would be to allow those chanting such abuse to drown in their own bile without dignifying their disgusting words. In truth responsibility is shared. There have been so many bitter meetings between these two sets of fans, that someone on both sides will have started the chants before the other on countless occasions. It is time to care less about who started it, and for fans to take responsibility for finishing it.

Of course nobody wants to see rivalry stamped out of football, but defiling the metaphorical grave sites of the fallen is hardly a necessary component for such occasions to feel special. Mock the other team’s results, chant about opposing players who have flopped, sing about historic victories wrought on each other. Munich and Hillsborough, and the chants about inner city poverty that are often their rotten cousin when these two sides meet, must be consigned to history. Rivalries are a vital part of football. But please let the dead rest in peace.

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