Four minutes in to Manchester United’s 4-0 win over Wigan, the Stretford End starting singing the Luis Suarez “racist bastard” chant. The chant that followed was “always the victims, it’s never their fault“. This is a standard occurrence at Old Trafford and United’s away games, dating back to almost a year ago following Liverpool FC’s refusal to accept that Luis Suarez was guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra.
These two songs have been sung every week, not by a quiet minority but by 1,000s of United fans. It is also sung by Everton fans who have been widely praised for their respectful behaviour ahead of their game against Newcastle this week.
Whilst it was Liverpool’s reaction to Suarez’s guilt that lead to the creation of the song, there are deeper meanings behind it. It’s likely that some people singing it are purely referring to Suarez but I’d guess the vast majority are referring to the nature of scousers in general. The stereotype being that they are a whining, grief-hungry bunch of victims, who revel in self-pity and aren’t prepared to take responsibility for their own actions.
Last weekend, the press decided to tell us that we were in fact singing about Hillsborough, after previously unreleased documents about the tragedy had been made available to the public earlier that week. Ben Smith from the BBC was the first to stir it up and then other media outlets followed. The Daily Express went with the headline: “Manchester United fans mock Hillsborough tragedy”. It’s incredible that they could publish an article with such an emotive, irresponsible, but most importantly, untrue headline.
Mick Dennis, The Express, wrote: They chanted about Liverpool supporters during the match against Wigan, singing: “Always the victims, it’s never your fault.” Later, the Manchester United Supporters Trust issued a mealy-mouthed statement in which they said those chants “didn’t refer to Hillsborough”. But you cannot clarify the meaning of abusive songs several hours later. And the point about the report of the Hillsborough disaster was that Liverpool fans were absolutely not to blame. They were victims of a truly terrible disaster and then victims again of a reprehensible cover-up. And so the chants at United were wretched and base. No ifs and buts. No debate.
I’m not writing this to claim that United fans are whiter than white. Unfortunately, no football club can claim to have fans who have never sung about something they shouldn’t have. I’m writing this because no media outlet has attempted to explain the reasons behind the chant, instead parcelling it off as sick and disrespectful, suggesting that United’s fanbase is full to the brim with people who would mock the deaths of 96 innocent people, and have been belting that song out every single week with the thoughts of those that died at Hillsborough on our mind. That quite simply is a lie and only serves to make it almost certain that this weekend there will be chants of the clubs’ tragedies from both sides. Liverpool fans will (rightly?) want to react, although they are reacting to something that didn’t even happen, which will (rightly?) mean United fans respond.
Of course we have some idiots who chant about Hillsborough and they bring shame on the club, but to suggest that 1000s of us are chanting about Hillsborough every game, and have been doing for almost a year, is beyond ridiculous. All clubs have an idiotic minority but this song is sung en masse by people who wouldn’t ever consider using Hillsborough as a tool to wind up a rival. Yes, we hate scousers, but Hillsborough was about sons, daughters, mothers and fathers, it was about people, not Liverpool FC, and if you can’t differentiate between the deaths of human beings and the deaths of Liverpool fans, thinking one is worthy of ridicule and mocking, there is something very wrong with you.
In reaction to the claims from the press, the Manchester United Supporters Trust quickly released a statement to clarify that despite what had been reported, the “always the victims, it’s never your fault” chant did not originate with thoughts of Hillsborough.
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.
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. We agree 100% with the statement made by Sir Alex Ferguson – this is the time for supporters of these two great clubs to represent their clubs with the integrity and honour that our glorious history demands.
However, there seem to be some fans and sections of the press that want the chant to be about Hillsborough. Rival fans want a stick to beat United with and the papers want to have a tasty story to write about. They have pointed to the words “always” and “never” which certainly suggest that the chant, whilst first sung because of Suarez, isn’t just about him.
So, if the song isn’t about Hillsborough, what is it about?
Suarez changed his story several times when giving evidence to the FA and was caught in a lie when he claimed he pinched Evra’s arm to “defuse” the situation, before admitting that wasn’t the case at all. He admitted to calling Evra “negro” but claimed that he meant it in a friendly way. During a game between United and Liverpool, after kicking Evra in the knee, slapping the back of his head, and pinching him, the FA deemed that his defence was nonsense, there was nothing friendly about his actions towards Evra that day, and he intended for the word to be provocative and insulting.
In reaction to Suarez being found guilty of racially abusing Evra, Kenny Dalglish and all the team wore t-shirts with a picture of Suarez on the front and his name and number on the back. To offer their full backing to Suarez despite the findings of the FA was incredible, a total PR disaster, but Dalglish continued to argue that Suarez had done nothing wrong.
James Lawton, The Belfast Telegraph: Dalglish has always been an obdurate character but what he said of the return of Luis Suarez after his eight-match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra brought a new edge of corrosion to his contribution to an affair which in a few days’ time will give us fresh evidence of a football culture saddled with hate.
There was some hope – though admittedly it was not high – that Dalglish might draw some kind of line under the case when Suarez reappeared against Spurs on Monday, especially with his player and Evra coming face to face again at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Instead, the Liverpool manager declared: “It was fantastic for Suarez to be back – but he should never have been out in the first place.”
So, it is not enough that he approved the wearing of Suarez T-shirts that scandalised so much of football outside the Liverpool enclave or expressed disbelief when asked if in any way he regretted that Evra was jeered and booed every time he touched the ball when he returned to Anfield.
Now Dalglish refuses to close the door on the issue. Indeed, he provokes a new sense of injustice, a new certainty that the dispute remains a raw, untreated sore on the face of football. This would be a lot easier to accept if Dalglish and the ownership of Liverpool had shown the courage of their belief that Suarez was innocent and fought his conviction. They had that option but they compromised. They chose the role not of fighters for truth but victims of injustice.
Always the victim, it’s never your fault.
It wasn’t just the club and fans, but the press too. Liverpool supporting journalists went on to claim that Suarez had been found guilty in a case that was one man’s word against another. They published this as fact in papers like The Guardian, despite Suarez’s own lawyer conceding that wasn’t the case at all in the FA report. Another journalist wrote that lip-readers couldn’t prove what Suarez had actually said, again trying to put doubt on his guilt, despite the FA report revealing that Suarez had confessed to calling Evra “negro” every time he was questioned. Had these Liverpool supporting journalists at The Guardian honestly not read the report? Or were they just lying to cover up Suarez’s wrong-doings in attempt to suggest he was innocent?
Dalglish was sacked at the end of the season and Sir Alex Ferguson believed his woeful handling of the Suarez case contributed to this.
Michael Shields was arrested and later found guilty of attempting to kill a Bulgarian man with a paving slab whilst celebrating Liverpool FC’s European Cup win in 2005. The victim, father of two Martin Georgiev, didn’t die but suffered significant brain damage. Georgiev worked at Big Ben fish and chips and had come outside to intervene in a dispute between Bradley Thompson and his friend Anthony Wilson with other English people at the chippy.
Three Bulgarians witnesses, as well as Georgiev, all identified Shields in a line-up as the man who dropped the slab on Georgiev’s head after he had been punched and fallen to the floor. Whilst on the floor, he was kicked by two other men, who were identified by the witnesses as Wilson and Thompson.
Shields’ defence was that he was in bed by 3am at the Kristal hotel when the attack took place in a room with his friends Kieron Dunne, John Unsworth and others. A witness claimed he heard the three men who had attacked Georgiev say they were staying at this hotel and this is where the police seized their passports the following morning. Who was staying in the room next to Shields? Wilson and Thompson.
Thompson confessed that he had attacked Georgiev, along with Shields and Wilson, and received a six-month suspended sentence. However, when the trial began and Thompson was called to give evidence, he gave a highly contradictory and muddled account of events. It wasn’t just his changed story that was suspicious, but the testimonies of lots of defence witnesses who had all happened to stumble in to Shields’ room and see him asleep at the time of the attack. One said they had entered the room, apparently unlocked, because they thought there was a party there. Another said they went to retrieve a mobile phone, and so on.
His family began a yellow ribbon campaign and called on the Government to intervene to save their son, insisting that he was a “gentle giant”.
“I felt sorry for him at first,” Unsworth said of Georgiev, “but by insisting it was Michael that attacked him he is just trying to get his compensation money. Anyway, he only came out of the fish-and-chip shop to help out the Germans who were out there.”
Whilst Shields was in prison, Liverpool FC players warmed up wearing t-shirts in support of a criminal who had been convicted of attempted murder and Jamie Carragher even dedicated a goal to him!
“If I’d have known I was going to score I would have worn a t-shirt under my Liverpool shirt with Michael’s name on it,” he said. “I want to dedicate that goal to Michael Shields and all his family who are suffering so badly right now. When we got the news that he’d not only be found guilty for a crime he didn’t commit but actually been sentenced to 15 years, our hearts sank. For myself, Steven and the other local lads in the team, it really hit us. He’s one of us. He should have been here in Lithuania cheering us on but instead he’s locked up. Me and Stevie are heartbroken for the lad because it’s obviously an injustice.”
Always the victim, it’s never your fault.
After four years in prison, Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary at the time, gave Shields a Royal Pardon, the first for any British Citizen who had been convicted overseas. Straw claimed he had been made aware of “new evidence” but would not reveal what it was. The pardon came three weeks after news emerged that Shields’ father was planning to stand against Straw for his Blackburn seat, and would have received huge backing from Liverpool fans. A Royal Pardon is not the same as being not guilty of the crime but merely being forgiven for it, yet Shields has never attempted to clear his name, despite the supposed “new evidence” that apparently convinced Straw of his innocence.
On May 29th 1985, 39 people died in the Heysel Stadium after Liverpool fans charged at a wall which collapsed. The stadium wasn’t fit to host a game of this magnitude, the European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool, and Liverpool fans used this as their excuse. It wasn’t their fault that those fans died, it was the fault of the stadium.
Tony Evans at The Times, a Liverpool supporter who was at Heysel, touched on the denial more recently in his article “Our Day Of Shame”.
[Many Everton fans] feel that in some way they are the real victims of that dreadful day because their title-winning team could not play in the European Cup the next season. It taunted Liverpool supporters, some of whom still feel that they had nothing to do with the deaths of 39 people on that May night nearly 20 years ago. “A wall collapsed, that was all.” I have said it and heard it countless times. Except it is a lie.
Evans claimed that many Liverpool fans were still angry after attacks by Roma fans when they played in a victorious European Cup final the year before.
After the game, Rome erupted in rage, and the bloody events around the Olympic Stadium left everyone who was there — and those who had only heard talk of what happened — determined not to suffer again at the hands of Italian ultras. “The Italians won’t do that to us again,” was a refrain repeated in the weeks since the semi-final. It was not a matter of revenge. It was a wariness, a fear that built itself up to an enormous rage that would spill out at the slightest perceived provocation. The anger was palpable.
In conclusion, again discussing Liverpool’s attempt to relieve themselves of any blame, Evans concedes that they were at fault.
We limped home, quickly throwing off any shame, repeating the mantra that it was a construction problem, just a wall collapsing, hiding from the scale of what had happened. The disaster has a long causal chain — stabbings and beatings in Rome, hair-trigger tempers, aggression on both sides, excessive drinking, poor policing and a stadium ripe for disaster. Remove any one link and the game may have passed off peacefully. But it didn’t. So, Evertonians sing, with pathetic self-pity, “Thirty-nine Italians can’t be wrong.” Well they weren’t. We were. I was.
It wasn’t just the fans who denied they were at fault though. The official line from the club, as voiced by the chairman at the time, John Smith, was that Chelsea fans in the crowd were the cause of the deaths, not Liverpool fans. On the 19th anniversary of Heysel, Red and White Kop published some accounts of fans who at the game.
“Some lads had newspapers, they did not make nice reading. Painted as the scum of the earth by everybody who had anything to say, there was no real understanding of what had gone on, I don’t think there is to this day. John Smith had told reporters that he believed the trouble to be the fault of ‘Chelsea fans’ – it was nonsense, clutching at straws. There had been fans of other clubs there, there always is in major cup finals, but not in any significant numbers.”
Always the victim, it’s never your fault.
The press have told us the song is about Hillsborough, not even attempting to provide a rational argument concerning what else it could be about. I am now being told by the papers that when I’ve sung that song for months, what I have actually been singing about is Hillsborough. How on earth can out of touch journalists, who have no clue about the ill-feeling between rival fans, determine what I am singing about, what you are singing about? They know us better than we know ourselves, apparently.
Likewise, I’m not going to make the same mistake of saying that every single United fan who sings that song is coming from the same state of mind as me. I can’t categorically say there aren’t some United fans, that idiotic minority, that may sing the song with thoughts of Hillsborough in mind. For that reason, it was stupid for fans to sing it on Saturday, as even though your intention might not be to mock Hillsborough, it is easy to draw conclusions that singing “it’s never your fault” is in direct reference to what Liverpool fans have been saying about what happened in Sheffield for the past 23 years. The fans who may sing the song with Hillsborough in mind would argue that Liverpool fans had been singing about Munich for years before Hillsborough happened. The picture above shows a “Munich 58” banner displayed by the Liverpool fans in the Heysel Stadium before the tragic events unfolded and obviously before Hillsborough too. But seriously, is that the best we’ve got? They started it? They were proper scum bags for mocking Munich for decades, it was sick and twisted, but is that justification for our fans to behave equally as badly? Of course not.
Whilst the media and clubs can bang on about how it’s time for the chants to stop, they are fighting a losing battle. There will always idiots on both sides who have little respect for their own dead and will use jibes of Munich/Hillsborough to provoke a reaction. The release of the Hillsborough files won’t stop that. Do you think the people who sing about Hillsborough care less that Liverpool fans weren’t at fault? The eight players who died at Munich weren’t at fault for the plane crashing, what difference did that make to Liverpool fans laughing at their deaths?
That song isn’t “mocking” Hillsborough though and I imagine there were plenty of reds who sang it on Saturday who were scratching their heads when they heard that’s what they were being accused of. The fact that some may interpret it as a dig at Hillsborough means that we should have skipped past it following the “racist bastard” chant last weekend though. Whilst the vast majority of people in the ground wouldn’t even think about mocking Hillsborough, there will be some who would, and now we’ve all been lumped in with them, regardless of our intentions or feelings about the song.
You’d like to think that the journalists in this country have just been too lazy to think of the alternative and the real motives behind the song, taking a dig at the scouse mentality, but surely they can’t all be that incompetent? It can’t just be a coincidence that every time Everton fans are heard singing it on derby day that it never gets reported. We won’t be seeing an “Everton fans mock Hillsborough on day of shame” headline any time soon. It doesn’t suit the agenda. If journalists acknowledge that Everton fans sing the song they will then have to acknowledge the song isn’t about Hillsborough. They’ll print anything to sell a story, whether it’s true or not, and that’s something we’re all a victim of.