Time To Draw A Line In The Sand...

Hillsborough could so easily have happened to Manchester United, so Daniel Storey agrees with Sir Alex Ferguson when he said there should be a line drawn in the sand...

Last Updated: 17/09/12 at 17:07 Post Comment

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"You would hope that maybe this is a line in the sand in terms of how the supporters behave with one another. You hope that fans do behave themselves and support their team and that will be the end of it."

Alex Ferguson was not the only manager to offer his thoughts on last week's shocking revelations, but he perhaps went further than most. As opposed to simply stating his shock and disgust at the cover-up, Fergie clearly made reference to the relationship between fans of Manchester United and Liverpool, a timeline littered with unsavoury incidents. The manager saw this as an opportunity for a truce, an end to the escalating verbal turf war that has engulfed a joint minority.

So, was Sir Alex offering a rose-tinted view of the future or can the revelations of last week, whilst abhorrent, help to sculpt the behaviour of a marginal portion of football supporters in this country?

Firstly, we are told that this could have happened to any club, and this is undeniably true. Fans of Nottingham Forest must be thankful that their fans were sat in alternate parts of the ground. Fans of Spurs must be thankful that there was no disaster when they were forced into the same middle pen for an FA Cup semi-final against Wolves in 1981. Brentford fans must be thankful that they lost their quarter-final tie with Liverpool in March 1989. And fans of Manchester United should be grateful that they lost to Forest at the same stage that year. It could, so easily, have been them.

The oft-used statement is that something like Hillsborough should force us to disregard which club we support, because such horror transcends such comparative trivialities. We must remember that alongside being supporters of clubs, we are all fans of football and that in times of trouble we must unite.

We all go to football matches for pleasure, for a release of tension, to forget the Monday to Friday and the nine to five. We go to feel part of a team, to see our friends, to worship our heroes. These emotions are not club or division-specific, but instead apply to each of the 682,000 fans that attended league matches in England this weekend, and indeed at grassroots level. If I was born ten miles down the road I might support Derby, and if your grandfather had made a different decision you might support City rather than United. As much as we aim to act differently, we are all the same.

Indeed, the treatment of Liverpool fans during the last 23 years is not even about football. This is simple humanity. We look to the police and emergency services for a helping hand, the safety blanket of modern life. We feel assured by their presence whilst hoping never to require their assistance. When, inevitably, they are needed, their response is to be both efficient and exemplary. Negligence is possible (although unacceptable), but the least we desire is respect and honesty. The most horrifying aspect of last week's events was the realisation that in the 21st century in England, if enough people of authority decree it so, the common man can still be f*cked over to the nth degree. Again, here, we are all the same. The futility of our importance in the eyes of power should be a basis for togetherness.

Initially, it seems that Ferguson's remarks had struck a chord. Sunderland fans applauded their Liverpool counterparts during their pre-match calls for justice, Everton supporters joined in with Wednesday's vigil to those lost, Newcastle United fans wrote an emotional joint article, Middlesbrough fans chanted 'justice for the 96' and supporters of multiple clubs broke into applause at the six-minute mark during games this weekend. These are tentative steps at an emotional time, but such community spirit must be cherished and consistently evoked. It seems a shame that basic decency should be applauded, but that is the stage we have reached.

The actions and inactions revealed in full last week were repulsive almost to a point beyond imagination, but perhaps a watershed moment has been established, and at such times we can source hope. The issue to which Ferguson alludes is that if we wish to be treated like humans and demand respect from authority, then we must learn to treat each other in the same manner. If we don't want to be shat on by the powers that be then we must stop sh*tting on each other or, to put it more politely, treat others as you would have them treat you.

If we can now sympathise with Liverpool FC and its fans for the denigration they were forced to suffer, can we now agree that we must put a stop to the hate-filled diatribe that has filled our grounds? Over the last ten years, chants have been heard surrounding the Munich air disaster, the Hillsborough disaster, the deaths of millions in gas chambers, racial slurs involving Sol Campbell and Emmanuel Adebayor, the death of Matthew Harding, the loss of David Murray's legs and salacious lies about Arsene Wenger. Such a disgusting list could go on. If we all agree that Hillsborough or an air disaster could have happened to any club, where is the logic in such chanting?

The time for the playground outcries of "they started it" and "it isn't our fault" is over. If we hear fans of our own club engaging in something that we consider to be deeply offensive, we can no longer bite our tongues. We must report such individuals, for the greater good of our club, the game and our society. Ignorance is not bliss. If appropriate life bans are given out, these warped moralities will be quietened. Everyone has the right to an opinion, but not all have the right for such shameful opinions to be respected.

Although a small minority of Manchester United fans managed to disgrace themselves and their club with chants of "Always the victims, it's never your fault", and they were swiftly vilified by their own club, there is a feeling among the non-braindead that Hillsborough can be a seminal moment. Football is nothing without passion but the word, like its evil cousin 'banter', has been skewed to incorporate the unacceptable and unsavoury.

It simply shouldn't take the horrors suffered by so many for so long to establish a turning point, a moment of clarity amongst the madness. But perhaps the universal recognition that the death of fans could have happened to any of our clubs may just communicate to the lowest among our society that, finally, we will not let the minority tarnish the majority. After all, Bill Shankly was wrong. It shouldn't be a matter of life or death.

Daniel Storey - follow him Twitter

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