Tomorrow, Anfield will once again host a domestic football match, and once again there’s little doubt that there will be abusive chants hurled at the respective supporters. The only question is whether the chants will be over normal football banter about the number of titles—domestic or European—won, or if one or both sets of supporters start chanting about one or all of the tragedies that have struck these two proud and historic football clubs.
Sadly, it is likely that the tragic disasters of Hillsborough, Munich, and Heysel will be among the lyrics chanted as hostilities heat up on and off the pitch. However, if a segment of supporters do “go there” they will do so against the express wishes of both Liverpool and Manchester United managers.
“One of the main reasons why the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United is so special is that it is so intense and no one should ever want to change this,” Jurgen Klopp explained.
“But at the same time when the rivalry becomes too intense it can go to places that are not good for anyone and we do not need this.
‘We do want the noise, we do want the occasion to be partisan and we do want the atmosphere to be electric. What we do not want is anything that goes beyond this and this applies especially to the kind of chants that have no place in football. If we can keep the passion and lose the poison it will be so much better for everyone.”
Klopp’s counterpart down the M-62, Erik ten Hag agreed, and also voiced his concerns.
“The rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool is one of the greatest in world football,” Ten Hag said.
“We all love the passion of the fans when our teams meet, but there are lines that should not be crossed.
“It is unacceptable to use the loss of life — in relation to any tragedy — to score points, and it is time for it to stop. Those responsible tarnish not only the reputation of our clubs but also, importantly, the reputation of themselves, the fans, and our great cities.
“On behalf of myself, our players, and our staff, we ask our fans to focus on supporting the team on Sunday, and representing our club in the right way.”
It is good that both managers are addressing these chants, and hopefully more supporters will think twice before hurling non-football related abuse at the other supporters.
However, the statement doesn’t go far enough. In addition to the regular Hillsborough and Heysel chants that arise from visiting supporters, there has also been a increase in frequency in chants and songs about poverty on Merseyside. These chants about poverty, which is also a tragedy and a failure of government policy, just as much as Hillsborough was, get far less attention from the media, despite nearly all Premier League clubs partaking in the abuse.
Sadly, the league has shown little appetite in stamping out these kinds of chants, so it is up to the clubs to self-police. Words from both sets of managers is helpful, and Klopp has had a positive influence in the past, as exemplified by the tamping down of the terrible, homophobic “rent boy” chant leveled at Chelsea fans and players.
Of course supporters can and should shout down any such abusive chants, but this can only be so effective without some top-down support. Until the clubs or the FA get serious about stamping out these abusive chants, and with real consequences for supporters and clubs themselves, they won’t stop, no matter how many times Klopp and other managers condemn them.