Response and responsibility

September 16, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 44 comments

Strange thing, morality. Set in stone, yet so easily swayed by the prevailing wind. This week’s events at Old Trafford are a case in point after the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report into the disaster in which 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives 23 years ago.

More than two decades after the event, the Panel’s report rightly exonerates Liverpool supporters of any blame in the crush at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, while uncovering an extraordinary police conspiracy to bury the truth from public view. It is a modicum of justice for the 96, far too late for families that have suffered more than 20 years.

Rivalries wait for no grief though, and on Saturday after manager Sir Alex Ferguson called for ‘a line to be drawn in the sand’ regarding hostilities between Manchester United and Liverpool fans, a section of the Old Trafford chanted an oft-sung refrain; the ditty claiming Liverpool supporters are ‘always the victim’ and ‘never at fault’. You know the one.

The song, which taps into a long-held and patently offensive stereotype of Liverpudlians, does not mention Hillsborough, nor will United supporters recognise it as ever having related to the tragedy. Yet, in the context of the week, and an upcoming match at Anfield, it was morally and ethically wrong of fans to have given this particular song an airing, at this particular time.

United had little choice but to condemn the chant on Saturday night, claiming in a statement that “the manager has made the club’s position very clear on this matter. It is now up to the fans to respect that”.

Media outrage from the fourth estate is predictable; so too a misunderstanding of the song’s origins and meaning to the point of crass misinformation. Repeatedly, broadsheet, broadcast and tabloids alike have painted the chant, and United supporters as a whole, as seeking to besmirch the memories of Hillsborough’s victims. Neither claim is remotely valid, and the untruth, together with selective coverage, has irked plenty of Reds this weekend.

Good though that the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust joined the condemnation party, while clarify a hugely misrepresented event.

“Following this week’s developments and release of revelatory information on the Hillsborough tragedy, MUST wishes to make it absolutely clear that just as we condemn chants mocking the Munich air disaster we also condemn any chants relating to Hillsborough or indeed any other human tragedy,” said MUST chief executive Duncan Drasdo.

“We did hear the usual anti-Liverpool chants at the match today but we’re pleased to say, despite some reports to the contrary, there was nothing that was specifically referencing Hillsborough. Any attempt to suggest otherwise is irresponsible given the forthcoming fixture between the clubs and furthermore risks needlessly upsetting the bereaved families further at a time when they are understandably trying to find closure. We enjoy a fierce rivalry but these issues transcend that rivalry.”

Yet, United fans must also be honest about why the chant, which has received an airing at almost every match, without media comment,  since the Suarez-Evra race affair erupted last year, was sung once again on Saturday. Defiance and offence the design.

In the wake of this weekend’s drama collective responsibility is a watch-word United supporters must now heed, especially with tensions likely to be high at Anfield next weekend.

But amid the media’s moral outrage our nation’s press also bears a weight. Media shapes opinion as much it reflects it. Misinformation serves only to raise tensions, while failing readers in a duty of truth. The press cannot, as some have suggested this weekend, absolve itself of partial culpability for the febrile atmosphere between two of the world’s most venerated clubs.

And the truth is this: there are genuinely few Reds who wish to offend the friends and family of Liverpool’s departed. The masses caged, supporters of football in the 1980s know only too well there but for the grace went they. More to the point, tragedy is a subject so very close to home for those starboard of the East Lancashire Road.

In the wake of renewed interest in Hillsborough it is more important than ever that supporters show restraint at Anfield next weekend. There will, no doubt, be provocation from the Kop, with Patrice Evra, a victim of racist abuse, likely to bear the brunt of it. So too will references to Munich be heard or seen.

But this is absolutely no time for moral relativism. It is a time for United supporters to remember the great institution that they follow, and behave in a manner more fitting. The same, some might add, could be said for sections of the media this weekend.

Even so, few can genuinely expect hands across the water on Sunday, and not because of what United fans sang or meant during the Reds’ 4-0 victory over Wigan Athletic at the weekend. Rivalry between United and Liverpool has suffered nothing in intensity despite the Merseyside outfit’s fall from domestic hegemony.

Of more pertinence still is the degradation in football’s moral compass, where there are no longer boundaries in lowbrow opportunism. And that’s a candle that can be held to supporters of all denominations. United, Liverpool and others alike.


Damian Garside - September 16, 2012 Reply

What I posted on a Twitter follower’s blog earlier today: I am one of those people least affected by the horror of the Hillsborough tragedy. Which is, I suppose, another way of saying that I am a Manchester United supporter. At the time of Hillsborough we United fans were really trading memories of our glory moments in the 60s and (such as they were in probably the team’s worst decade, Munich tragedy excepted, the 1970s). Of course, we did not know it at the time,and in our wildest dreams could not have foreseen it,  but the triumphs of the 60s: two league championships, a cup final victory and a European Cup victory, would pale into insignificance during a period of not just unparalleled success, but almost total dominance of the English game. Of the kind that Liverpool had established beginning in the 1970s and which they had consolidated in the 1980s. 
So the day of the Hillsborough semi-final neutrals (not to speak of rivals and bitterest rivals if all) could perhaps be excused and forgiven if they were hoping, perhaps praying for this double-chasing footballing  machine to meet with a fall. On the field that is. When fans of other clubs, excluding the dinosaurs and psychotics, saw the horror and later learnt the full extent if the tragedy, the response in human terms was overwhelming. At this moment the human connection between fans of different clubs became painfully and beautifully clear. Except if course for the British government, which not for the first time in the history of British governments, lied and denied its subjects their humanity. The fans of other clubs were united with the Liverpool fans both because they were able to enter a common conceptual space and identify with their pain and loss, and because the Government has labelled the Liverpool fans, and thus by implication/extension all fans as drunken, subhuman degenerates. And why? All to protect the integrity of a uniform: that if the police, and (more strangely) that of the ambulance service.

And now we see how big the lie. Such a big one it suggests that the fabric of British society would have ripped apart had it not be told, had the guilty (mainly if crass stupidity, negligence and inhuman callousness) not been protected from exposure. Certainly, however bizarre it seems, we can safely conclude that the British government thought that if they did not do thus disaster would happen. Trouble is, sometimes what Governments see as absolute national disaster, total breaches if national security etc etc, we see in far milder, less alarmist terms as simply a government getting a bit of egg in its face.

So not for the first time the British people see how deep the lie and the extent to which those in power were committed to protect it. For once it would be nice to hear apologies and expressions of shame from those concerned. I will not hold my breath: it is in the nature of power to find a sense if shame a redundant weakness. 

tony - September 16, 2012 Reply

Please can we display the hidden meanings. The chant ” always the victims”, brought about by Evra/Suarez , plays on the justified and unheard, until Wednesday, pleas of HFSG of total innocence.
Can people surely realize that the word ” always” includes the
media and tribal football opinion of Liverpool from 1989 and then
consolidated , as they saw it by the pleas of Luis Suarez.
Please do not try to look the other way in order to attempt to excuse the inexcusable.

Ed - September 16, 2012 Reply

Tony – not looking the other way. This isn’t about Hillsborough. There are other songs which are about Hillsborough, which generally are only ever sung by cunts in pubs.

BluenoseD - September 16, 2012 Reply

Where does the stereotype of Liverpool as a self pity city have its origins other than hillsborough?
To suggest that the song in question isn’t a mocking reference to the attitude adopted by LFC fan and scousers in general, who refused to meekly accept the way in which the police and media wished to portrait them is disingenuous in the extreme.
As an everyone fan even I can recognise that. United fans, and the author in particular need to accept that fact and stop lying to themselves….maybe even come up with a song or two that isn’t about LFC or the great city of Liverpool.
Justice for the 96.

Ed - September 16, 2012 Reply

Bluenose – sorry but you’re wrong. It’s enough to condemn what happened in the context of the week without fabricating additional meaning.

Marty - September 17, 2012 Reply

Bluenosed, you really need to accept the truth when given. The “Always the victim” had only surfaced since the Evra/ Suarez rubbish last year, when every football fan in the world but the Liverpool fans accepted what Suarez said was racist in this country! Liverpool fans and Suarez in particularly wrongly claimed he was being victimised. I sing this chant all the time and will continue to sing it with no guilt because I don’t for one second believe it’s related to Hillsbourgh! The fact that the media and the Liverpool fans want to believe that it does only goes to prove the intent of the chant! Poor Liverpool “always the victim never at fault”! Get over yourself! Respect for the 96 and their families “yes” respect for the poor Deludted victimised Liverpool fans that always believe they’re in the right “no”!

Joe - September 16, 2012 Reply

When Luis Suarez admitted to referring to Patrice Evra’s race, he sealed his own fate. He was a racist and so were those who stood by him. Context or intent didn’t matter. Nor did evidence. It was an open goal for a press and a public (and a football association) who wanted a truth.

When sections of the Manchester United support sang “always the victims…” about Liverpool supporters 3 days after the HIP report, they sealed their fate too. Their actions were deplorable. Context or intent didn’t matter. It was an open goal for a press and a public who wanted a truth.

MUST should have followed the lead of the club. Condemn the singing and leave it there. That’s all anybody can do without making matters worse.

Ed - September 16, 2012 Reply

Joe – until we set the parameters for the debate we’re not talking about the same thing. This is not the same as Luis Suarez. Insulting Liverpool fans is not the same as insulting the victims of Hillsborough. Same song a week ago would not have been labelled as having anything to do with Hillsborough. The context changed this week and those fans who didn’t realise that are receiving the condemnation they deserve.

Joe - September 16, 2012 Reply

The wording of the song alludes to a stereotype that conveniently helped to suppress the truth about Hillsborough for 23 years. That was as true last week as it is this. So I think it’s disingenuous to suggest the song has nothing to do with the disaster – whatever the context.

I agree that probably no offence was meant (or none more than usual) and the focus was probably the Suarez/Evra case.

So it’s ironic because this is a taste of what press coverage was like during the Suarez/Evra case. To watch Manchester United supporters now display the same characteristics that their “always the victim…” song accuses Liverpool supporters of is perfect.

Any other week, I might have taken some satisfaction from that.

Ed - September 17, 2012 Reply

Joe – the Evra/Suarez comparison is painting you into a corner.

The chant was wrong at OT – not sure what part of my very clear statement you missed but I’ll help you out why I think so:

in the context of the week, and an upcoming match at Anfield, it was morally and ethically wrong of fans to have given this particular song an airing, at this particular time.

You’re retrospectively attaching meaning though. That’s simply revisionism – the chant can be wrong without doing that. It makes your point weak and, to use your word, disingenuous.

Just so we’re clear did you believe this chant to be about Hillsborough prior to this week? If so can you point to a tweet, article, comment, post or anything that solidifies this belief?

Joe - September 17, 2012

Ed, I’m not the one in a corner here.

Your piece is about press coverage of the singing. It compares to press coverage of the Evra/Suarez case because intent and context didn’t matter then either. This is your opportunity to see things from the other side. Take it.

Please appreciate that as a Liverpool supporter, that song has never meant anything different to me. I didn’t learn anything new this week. The ambiguity of the song does not give you licence to attach whatever meaning is most convenient.

No disclaimer is sung at the end, is it? If somebody interprets it as a Hillsborough reference (as the press have), that’s what it means.

And now, that’s what it will always mean.

If it wasn’t before, that song is now a reference to Hillsborough. I’d advise you to distance yourself from it.

Ed - September 17, 2012

Joe – wonderfully patronising, always the sign of a winning argument. You’re attributing a convinient meaning, to use your words, and being a hypocrite to boot. No need to distance myself… you’ve chosen to make this point over and over. The song is nothing to do with me – see response to Tony. But we can’t have a sensible debate based on a lie. Unfortunately with you we can’t have a sensible debate full stop.

DamnedUnited - September 16, 2012 Reply

My post has nothing to do with the Hilsborough event. Not commenting on that AT ALL.

Not expecting a good result for United this weekend, after all United don’t treat it like a cup final.

I pity Rodgers too. Strange how anyone going to Liverpool manages to develop a massive chip on their shoulder immediately. Rodgers was talking about how the whole ‘history’ of the club is so evident around the grounds and the people working there. If you look at his comments, they dont sound like the one from the guy who managed Swansea but rather from someone trying too hard to fit in.

And we all know how blinkered Benitez got. That RANT is up there with Roberto Martinez’s weekly whining.

wayne - September 16, 2012 Reply

If this vile chant was during a week concerning a debate about suarez/evra then to some it could be understood BUT it wasnt it was during revelations about hillsboruough were this chant had no place at all…disgraceful so stop trying to find reasons & excuses!

Ed - September 17, 2012 Reply

Wayne – sung the week before too. And the week before that too. Explain that.

Clearly you don’t understand the term moral relativism – I couldn’t be clearer in where I stand on the chanting. It was wrong. But be honest about why it was wrong – there is no need to fabricate a back story for it to still be wrong. In fact it makes your argument a lot weaker to retrospectively attach a new meaning.

This article is neither a reason nor an excuse – but if a critique is based on a falsehood we can’t have a reasonable debate. Since you didn’t get the premise in the first place I don’t expect you to understand that.

Tony - September 17, 2012 Reply

Can we please agree on the fact that the word ‘Always’ is an inclusive word for more than one incident ? It is not relevant that it is sung every week regardless of what is in the news that particular week. Logic and grammar demands that the word ‘always ‘ refers to more than one example, i.e. Evra/Suarez. Which example could it possibly refer to prior to Suarez ?

Ed - September 17, 2012 Reply

Tony – the socio-economic rivalry between Manchester and Liverpool for four centuries in which Manchester won, and Liverpool lost … and a hundred other things.

I don’t like the song and I don’t sing it. Ever. A point I’ve made clearly here and on this site’s pod, But I know thousands of Reds who do but wouldn’t dream of singing about Hillsborough. And who don’t believe for a moment that it is about Hillsborough.

As I said there are songs about Hillsborough that some fans/ idiots sing. This isn’t a morally relativist argument. Im not seeking to defend anyone. It’s the point you and Joe so stubbornly refuse to get.

But we can’t have a debate that’s based on a lie and not have that challenged.

Andy - September 17, 2012 Reply

Now we’re saying the word ‘always’ means it MUST include Hillsborough, does that mean west ham fans actually think they’re the ‘greatest football team the world has ever seen’? Don’t give football fans do much credit as to suggest every word sung is with its absolute definition

Joe - September 17, 2012 Reply

Ed – the song has always been wrong for the same reason. Moral relativism doesn’t come into it.

All that’s happened is the nation has a new found compassion and empathy with the actual victims of Hillsborough. The nation understands how wrong the “victim” stereotype is now, how wrong it was last week and how wrong it was 23 years ago.

That song is now about Hillsborough whether it was before or not.

Ed - September 17, 2012 Reply

Joe – which just goes to underline the point that you’re attributing meaning after the fact. You’ve recently found moral outrage that you didn’t have before. It’s completely dishonest. I’d have respect for your argument, whether I agreed with the content or not, if it was consistent, but it’s clear now it is not. Repeating a fallacy over and over doesn’t make your point any firmer.

Joe - September 17, 2012

Ed – cut out the ad hominem attacks. They do you no credit.

Did you consider that perhaps your argument is too consistent for a song that is clearly ambiguous?

My duality is because I see it from both sides. You can claim “Always the victim…” isn’t a reference to Hillsborough and I can take your word for it but if that’s somebody’s interpretation, who are you to tell them they’re wrong?

Ed - September 17, 2012

Joe – for somebody who isn’t getting this you don’t half think you’re smart. Quite amusing really. I’m helping you out here with some facts. Choose to find your own interpretation if you like. Its wrong but its obvious you wont accept that.

But look this is going round and round and you’re becoming increasingly personal. So it’s best we end this here before I start taking offense at your repeated attempts to belittle me. It’s not a good style.

Alex - September 17, 2012 Reply

There is one missing piece to all these arguements about ‘meaning.’ The chant ‘murderers’ was also heard at OT against Wigan. Whatever the ‘always the victim’ chant refers to, there can be no doubt what the ‘murderers’ chant refers to. The Wigan game was a wonderful chance for United fans to make a huge positive statement of morality, understanding and respect. Sadly, they failed.

Ed - September 17, 2012 Reply

Alex – yes to Heysel. I’d rather United fans cut that one out too – we shouldn’t be using the deaths of anybody as a stick to beat rivals with. When it comes to the ‘shining light’ let’s hope the candle is held up to Liverpool fans too. Won’t look very pretty though, not with Munich chants echoing round Old Trafford next Jan 12. We’re all culpable for a degradation in fan behaviour.

swiller2004 - September 17, 2012 Reply

Since the song was sung by united fans long before the suarez/evra incident I don’t understand how it can be reference to the incident. the fact that the suarez/evra incident was a one off where does the “always”, how can “always be referenced to one incident?

Ed - September 17, 2012 Reply

swiller2004 – long pre-dates Suarez/Evra although that did spark a revival. As I say in my piece, it taps into a stereotype of Liverpudlians widely held. It’s crass and tasteless, but it really isn’t about Hillsborough. There are songs that are – but those are basically never sung as a group at matches. We can go round and round on this, but as a United supporter who doesn’t find any humour in the chant you should probably take my word for it. Or don’t. But there’s no point repeating a lie.

Alfonso Bedoya - September 17, 2012 Reply

Just because it is sung other weeks doesn’t alter the fact that this would have been a good week “NOT” to sing it.
The fans singing this song, on this day, knew exactly what they were doing… just for once, it would have been a good time to rise above the bitter rivalry, and let it be… but no… showing your hatred of the enemy was more important than showing some respect where and when it really was due.
The press is the press… always looking to stir shit and inflame passions… that’s what they do… they’ve shown their complete lack of morality very consistantly over the past few years… and we shouldn’t be surprised at anything they do… but as a United fan, I can only say that I’m ashamed of those pissy little cunts who chanted, who just for this one time, couldn’t hold their bile in check… if for no other reason than to show some class.

“Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching’ tu madre! Come out from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you.”

Ed - September 17, 2012 Reply

Agree Alf

Adam - September 17, 2012 Reply

Excellent article – probably the best commentary I’ve read on this topic.

On the chant: it’s not “about Hillsborough” but the words are, and always have been, very suggestive of Hillsborough whatever the intent and it is clearly open to easy misinterpretation, deliberate or otherwise. For that reason, this particular chant has always left me feeling very uncomfortable – long before this week. Rightly or wrongly, it’s now badly tainted by association. It’s only a chant – time to let it go and find a new one.

Damian Garside - September 17, 2012 Reply

Alf, you are so on the money with this comment. This is something which goes beyond the little, parochial us/them (Utd/L’pool) and goes to the big us/thems: supporters v officialdom and ultimately, the Government v the people. We cannot afford to even remotely look like we have double standards, or argue that we’ll sing what we like about them (or sing what remains open to the worst interpretations) because they sing about Munich. If we do, then won’t again plea of ignorance start to sound like the spurious defences of Suarez
that came out of Anfield?

Dean Jackson - September 19, 2012 Reply

Well put Alf and in my opinion the best way to look at the situation.

Mongoletsi - September 17, 2012 Reply

It’s only a chicken!

Matt - September 17, 2012 Reply

As a United supporter, I think this chant does encompass Hillsborough, Hysel and the Evra / Suarez race row. I’ve never thought of it in any other terms. You can argue some supporters might not realise that Hillsborough is implied in it but I don’t really believe that people are that naive.

Just because the chant doesn’t mention Hillsborough or the 96 directly, doesn’t mean it isn’t referencing the disaster or could be interpreted that way.

Following the events of last week, it needs to stop. Using the deaths of supporters, regardless of who’s at fault, is in bad taste to say the least.

I’ve never joined in any of those chants but it didn’t offend me as much as it should have, if I look at myself honestly. I read the accounts of what people went through who lost friends and relatives that day. We’re talking about people. Real people – who they support doesn’t matter. Look at your children, parents, siblings, friends and put yourselves in their situation on that day.

Read Brian Reade’s article here:

I’d rather we didn’t give the press and other supporters the opportunity to paint us in a bad light. I’ve no problem having a go at Suarez and Liverpool and Dalglish’s handling of the Evra incident, but let’s make sure there’s no ambiguity about it.

Also, if I heard a Liverpool supporter singing a Munich or Shipman song, my natural response wouldn’t be to sing about Hillsborough in retaliation. The people who indulge in this chanting need to take a step back and look at themselves.

I’d like to think we’re better than that.

Caroline - September 17, 2012 Reply

I think this link shows why singing “always the victim – never your fault” is easily interpreted as being aimed at the whole of Liverpool & Hillsborough related and not just Luis Suarez – the sterotype pedalled by the press for many years seeps into peoples consciousness without realising it. If the chant is ok then why did no-one sing it in the second half?

Ironic also that we are complaining about media / establishment lies & twisting of the truth – this is what liverpool supporters have been complainig about for 23 years – only about a far more serious issue.

AC - September 17, 2012 Reply

It’s distressing to see that a Man Utd blog and its readers can write more sense about this ongoing fiasco than any uk broadsheet journalist.

BiscuitBarrell - September 17, 2012 Reply

Most of what I feel has been said by others. It’s sad that the powers that be have managed to pit us against each other, rather than against those who seek to manipulate and exploit the public with their web of lies.
Every single one of those who sang that song on Saturday should hang their head in shame. Not just because of the pain it caused, but because it deflected the public gaze and vilification away from those who perpetuated this injustice – even for a single moment.
On a side note, the club’s attempt to set the moral barometer for the fan is failing, mainly because the club take fuck all notice of them at any other time.

Just passing through - September 18, 2012 Reply

A few select quotes from your debate with Joe –

Ed to Joe: “you don’t half think you’re smart. Quite amusing really.”
Ed to Joe: “with you we can’t have a sensible debate full stop.”
Ed to Joe: “wonderfully patronising”

You then followed that up with: “you’re becoming increasingly personal. So it’s best we end this here before I start taking offense at your repeated attempts to belittle me. It’s not a good style.”

While I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment of your article – it seemed to me that during the course of your debate with Joe, after making a few belittling comments yourself, you decided to end the debate because Joe was apparently making belittling comments.

Ed - September 18, 2012 Reply

Just passing through – Not really sure what your point is? It was a pointless circular debate ended when Joe, sadly predictably, started swearing (deleted). He had an opinion that wasn’t about to change. No point going on.

UtdWeekly - September 18, 2012 Reply

Great article, Ed. I am in love (no homo). You cover every point with great analysis, more so than these puerile journalists.

Tom - September 19, 2012 Reply

Just to clarify then – are we expecting United fans to be singing this ditty on Sunday – seeing as how it’s nothing to do with Hillsborough ?

Nostalgic Red - September 19, 2012 Reply

I am a Liverpool Red of long standing. I remember Munich vividly and the shockwaves it sent around the country. I abhorr these chants – they are a relic of the seventies – but I would like to say I agree with most of the article on here. It’s too much to hope for vitriol to be toned down by either side, methinks, but we live in hope. As a postscript, if Suarez had denied making any comment to Evra, this whole saga would have died away by now. There weren’t any witnesses to the comment, were there?

Add your comment