This weekend Nottingham Forest will unfurl a 30ft banner in the away end at Anfield that reads, ‘No To Tragedy Chanting.’ It comes just after the 34th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, which saw 97 Liverpool fans lose their lives in one of football’s darkest moments.
That day they were set to play in the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. In fact, the game kicked off as normal before tragedy struck in the overcrowded pen behind the goal. The years since have been painful for the survivors and the majority of football fans are sensitive to the issue.
However, a minority of fans believe it is acceptable to make fun of these incidents in the stadiums. And it isn’t just Hillsborough focused. Manchester United fans have experienced multiple unacceptable jibes about the Munich air disaster and Liverpool’s role in the Heysel disaster is also used as a stick to beat them with.
There’s certainly been a move to eradicate this nonsense from the game in recent years. This season, both Jurgen Klopp and Erik ten Hag condemned the chants ahead of Liverpool v Manchester United.
“It makes no sense that there are still chants relating to tragedies including Hillsborough. This needs to stop,” Klopp said in his programme notes, while the Manchester United manager joined forces with his opposite number in a big to quash the chants before they started.
“The rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool is one of the greatest in world football,” the Dutch boss said. “We all love the passion of the fans when our teams meet, but there are lines that should not be crossed.
"It is unacceptable to use the loss of life – in relation to any tragedy – to score points, and it is time for it to stop. Those responsible tarnish not only the reputation of our clubs but also, importantly, the reputation of themselves, the fans, and our great cities. On behalf of myself, our players, and our staff, we ask our fans to focus on supporting the team on Sunday, and representing our club in the right way.”
But if football is finally going to see the back of tragedy chanting, after all these years, it isn’t going to be done by the managers, clubs or media. The reason this banner from Nottingham Forest fans is so important is because it will be those on the terraces that self-police any chants that may arise.
Football fans are far more likely to listen to a peer that supports the same club as them when it comes to this topic rather than the media. They can be lectured about the rights and wrongs of doing it, but the best way to get them to completely stop is to shout them down. Football fans are far more powerful than they realise when it comes to this sort of topic.
Tragedy chanting is unacceptable and that is understood by the majority. But when it comes to the minority of fans trying to start something - they will quickly be silenced if shouted down by their peers. The banner Nottingham Forest show will hopefully send a loud message out: the football community has had enough.
Some Forest fans chanted ‘always the victims’ against Liverpool at the City Ground in October and it is this, as well as the timing of the Hillsborough anniversary, that has sparked this important response. It’s a big step forward for English football, and the fans have the power to stamp it out completely.