Ahead of the Manchester derby in 2008, Manchester City requested that instead of having a minute’s silence to mark the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster, we have a minute’s applause instead.
“With a minute’s applause there would be less chance of any abuse,” said Alan Galley, chairman of the Manchester City Supporters Club. “There’s going to be 70,000-odd people there and 3,000 of us there. It only needs a mobile phone or something to go off during that minute’s silence to create a chain of events. My belief is that the vast majority of the fans will observe the minute’s silence but I have to say that we do feel that maybe there will be a very small minority who will mar the event. It was a very tragic event. A minute’s applause seems to be the norm these days to mark things like this. We want our fans to show a mark of respect for the Munich anniversary and we think it would be far better achieved with a minute’s applause.”
City were rightfully worried that their fans were going to embarrass them. Let’s not forget, this is a club that referred to United in their official match day programme as “Munichs” once before, the name that is commonplace amongst blues in reference to our club and fans, with their chants about the tragedy not just sung by a quiet minority. The eyes of the world were watching and all it would take was one scum bag for all hell to break lose.
United dismissed their request, rightfully stating that silence was the most appropriate way to mark the anniversary.
“Manchester United have given great thought to the best way of remembering those who died at Munich. We feel a minute’s silence is the most appropriate way of paying tribute. We do not feel that applause is appropriate given that 23 people died.”
City fans observed the silence and even sang “there’s only one Frank Swift” in remembrance of their former goalie who died in the crash, with his family in attendance at Old Trafford that day. Swift joined City when he was a teenager and ranks in the top 20 for most all time appearances. This was the first and last time this song was sung.
Later that year we played City away and the chants were back. They had behaved for 90 minutes on the anniversary but it was business as usual once they didn’t have cameras pointing at them.
Daniel Taylor summed up City’s behaviour in his article in The Guardian: City’s supporters did themselves proud. There is still an element of mystery about who let off fireworks outside the ground but, inside, the 3,000 people in the away end all respected the silence. “We are impeccable,” they later sang, and who could disagree? And, yet, wind forward nine months and suddenly it is all exposed as a one-off. A con. The game had not kicked off when the first City supporters in close vicinity to the away end could be seen doing pretend aeroplane gestures. OK, there were only half a dozen of them. But there were significantly more, 16 minutes into the game, who were calling Nemanja Vidic a “dirty Munich bastard” (after Micah Richards had actually sunk his studs into his opponent’s chest). And, again, five minutes later when we got a rendition of “same old Munichs, always cheating.” You get the idea.
It embarrasses the club. It embarrasses many of their supporters. And it embarrasses all those proud old players who grew up as mates of the eight members of Matt Busby’s team who died. Maybe the perpetrators don’t realise how it sounds to someone like Sir Bobby Charlton in the directors’ box. Or maybe they do, and that’s the point. “We are impeccable”?
United find themselves in a similar predicament to City in 2008 ahead of our trip to Anfield this weekend. Emotions have been heightened this week after papers like The Daily Express wrote articles under the headline “Manchester United fans mock Hillsborough tragedy”. The chant that lead to this false accusation was “always the victims, it’s never your fault” which started doing the rounds following Liverpool FC’s support of Luis Suarez and refusal to accept his guilt for racially abusing Patrice Evra. This song is an attack on the scouse mentality, the people who mourned a dead chicken, the people who were widely criticised for their reaction to the tragic case of Jamie Bulger, the people who blamed the deaths at Heysel on “Chelsea fans”, the people who rallied behind a man convicted of attempted murder who still hasn’t had his guilty verdict overturned just because he was “one of them“, and the people who claimed that Suarez was being “friendly” to Evra that day at Anfield when he called him “negro”. It’s far easier for the press to claim the song is about Hillsborough though, that United fans mock the tragedy en masse every single week, than it is for them to look at the real reasons for it being sung.
So, that is the backdrop for Sunday’s game and there will be some Liverpool fans inside Anfield that would just love for United to show themselves up and make fun of the fact 96 innocent people died at Hillsborough. They’d love it so much they’ll be more than happy to do their aeroplane impressions or get their inflatable aeroplanes out to provoke. Maybe they’ll chant Munich, not to provoke, but as what they see as a response to the Hillsborough chants they were wrongly told we sung last weekend. If Liverpool fans do those things on Sunday, it will be a few idiots and I sincerely hope the few idiots in the away section can control themselves. Some people on both sides seem to completely detach themselves from the fact they are laughing at people dying and will do or say anything to get a rise out of each other.
Nothing can be done to make the hatred go away and why would we want it to? That tribalism is what help makes football the most popular sport in the world. But we cannot have idiots in our crowd singing about Hillsborough on Sunday. Those going have to be self-policing, and give a clip round the ear to any kid that is tempted to make us all look like proper scum bags. Whilst I strongly oppose the notion that those singing “always the victim” are singing it with Hillsborough in mind, that is what the press have told us it’s about, so rather than being right on Sunday, it’d be better if we could be less stubborn and not give everyone a stick to beat us with.
Instead, let’s sing about Cantona, about nineteen times, about the Busby Babes, about Diego Forlan… then sit back and let them boo the victim of racial abuse.
I’ll leave you with this statement from MUST: Fans will be aware that there has been significant interest in the media about offensive chanting and gestures in reference to the Hillsborough and Munich disasters that befell the two clubs. As a consequence, we understand that Merseyside police and Liverpool stewards will be looking to take action against any individuals identified as engaging in this type of behaviour, whether they be United or Liverpool supporters.
Given the reaction to Saturday’s chants of “always the victims”, many United fans have pointed out that the song is not a reference to Hillsborough, which has also been acknowledged by Sir Alex Ferguson at his press conference. However in the current context, regardless of the motivation, it clearly may be perceived by Liverpool supporters, sections of the media, and indeed – judging by feedback – some United supporters, as inappropriate on Sunday.
It is not the role of MUST to tell any United supporter how to support their club but we do wish to reiterate the position of our organisation. We agree 100% with the statement made by Sir Alex Ferguson and wish is to leave no room for doubt – we unequivocally condemn chants mocking the Munich air crash, Hillsborough and indeed any other human tragedy.
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