The atmosphere at a football match is always something to savour. It doesn’t matter whether you’re at Anfield, Celtic Park, Camp Nou or Sincil Bank – you are guaranteed a fantastic atmosphere because a group of people making the same noise in unison is something special to behold.
Sometimes, though, that noise can turn nasty. Or rather, the producers of the noise can turn nasty. Too many times have we seen football fans direct vitriol towards their rival supporters, only to complain bitterly when any abuse is directed back at them.
In the last two weeks there were incidents at an FA Youth Cup Tie between Liverpool and Manchester United, two sides who love to hate each other. Chants about Hillsborough, Heysel and Munich could be heard and, thankfully, have been condemned by the masses. These three disasters, which rocked English football to the core, saw many innocent people lose their lives.
The deaths of those innocent people are now used to score points against a rival side. In the Youth Cup game in question it is not clear who made the first provocative and sickening chant, with most fans defending the actions of the minority with: “they started it”.
Clearly, Manchester United fans are not going to like Liverpool fans. And I don’t expect them to. Heck, part of what makes the North West derby one of the best games in English football is the rivalry, which goes back to a time before any current fan of football was born.
But is there really any need for the pure abhorrence that enters football day-in, day-out? Taunting Liverpool fans about the fact that they haven’t won a trophy since 2006 is fine. Heckling Manchester United fans for coming mainly from Surrey is also fine. But there is a line that should not be crossed.
Of course, this isn’t just confined to Manchester United and Liverpool fans, or even English football. Leeds United, Bradford City, Juventus, Boca Juniors and Kaizer Chiefs have all, unfortunately, experienced footballing disasters. Luckily, in the modern game, cases of disasters and football hooliganism, especially in England, are very rare, but the hatred remains.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen fans spew stereotypical views all over Twitter, Facebook or even at matches themselves. Sure, there may well be a man in Liverpool steeling hub caps, but that doesn’t mean every Scouser’s doing it. (Sorry to use Liverpool as an example again – I can assure you this isn’t an attack on Liverpool).
Comparing the conventions and rules of two sports is often a weak argument because they are, usually, completely different and therefore making the argument irrelevant. But, just for a moment, let us consider how a rugby crowd behaves. Or how a cricket crowd acts. Most of the time, the fans will not be segregated in these sports. They’ll sit together, enjoy each other’s company and maybe even share a drink after the game. Can you imagine Birmingham fans sitting in amongst the Villa Park faithful? No, thought not.
I’m obviously not, for one moment, suggesting that rivals fans should be thrown into the same stand and forced to get along. But fans bemoan the lack of respect shown by players, and sometimes managers, to referees yet they find it acceptable to hurl abuse at the away end and call the officials, opposition players and managers all sorts of expletives. Not all fans do it, but the majority will and then not own up to it, which suggests that they know they are wrong.
Yet they still do it, and will continue to do it. Football has, and always will be, full of hate and lacking in respect. Why? “That’s just the way it is” will undoubtedly be the reply. Tradition doesn’t make it OK; in fact that’s one of the weakest replies you can possible make in an argument.
Rivalry in football is, to an extent, needed. It adds to the excitement and gives fans something to look forward to. But pure, vile hatred is something completely different. Keep the innocent taunting, keep the banter – but kick hatred out of football.
This article originally appeared on sports website Sports Haze, which is now unfortunately defunct.