Football supporters who sing songs about the Hillsborough disaster are opening the deepest wound by mocking the deaths of fellow fans and the lack of justice that followed
I bumped into someone I’d got to know through football on Tuesday who was looking extremely down.
When I asked what was up, he replied: “I just want to get this April out of the way. They’re getting worse.” His anguish from him left me genuinely concerned.
The fiftysomething survived the crush in Pen 3 at Hillsborough and has lived with the mental torture for three decades, suffering many bad days mostly triggered by lies, smears and taunts.
This April, when time should have been a healer, the poison has been gushing at a record rate.
On the day after the 33rd anniversary of the disaster at the FA Cup semi-final, a section of Manchester City fans chanted through a minute’s silence in memory of the 97 victims, causing the referee to abandon it.
Three days later, Anfield’s away end rocked to Manchester United fans’ songs of “The Sun was right, you’re murderers,” followed with the usual disingenuous disclaimers that it wasn’t about Hillsborough but Heysel.
Despite everyone knowing The Sun accused Liverpool fans at Hillsborough of killing their own and urinating on the corpses.
Five days later at the Merseyside derby, inside and outside Anfield, were the usual chants of “murderers,” pushing gestures and hands placed over faces to signify the Leppings Lane cages. At this point an important truth needs to be made. The vast majority of United, City and Everton fans not only refuse to join in this despicable behavior they condemn it.
But the number of those who think it passes for acceptable banter is undoubtedly growing.
It’s as though younger supporters who don’t know the facts, or older ones who can no longer taunt Kopites for their lack of success, are choosing to open the deepest wound: The deaths of fellow fans and the lack of justice that followed.
It’s become more brazen and aggressive, exacerbated by Twitter where anonymous cowards spew bile at those still suffering from losing someone or surviving the crush, who have to face it on their timeline every day. It is a pain that no-one should be forced to endure yet it is being allowed to happen in plain sight.
It’s bad enough that 33 years on, despite a jury returning verdicts of Unlawful Killing on all 97 victims, not one police officer has been punished.
It’s even worse that people are allowed to revel in the deaths of fellow football fans, and the agony of those who mourn them, knowing that police and authorities will turn a blind eye, just as they did on that day in 1989.
Clubs and fan groups need to strongly disown individuals getting off on this and the law needs to treat it like other forms of criminal abuse. Instead of issuing mild statements rebuking the offenders, clubs need to hand out life bans.
The perpetrators of these chants and gestures don’t deserve to be in football grounds and neither do the fans alongside them whose silence facilitates their hate-spreading.
Can you imagine supporters being allowed to openly mock the memory of the 56 who died in the Bradford City fire or the 66 who perished at Ibrox? Would it be acceptable to chant through a minute’s silence at QPR for the 72 people burned to death in nearby Grenfell Tower?
Biting taunts are at the core of football rivalry but the Hillsborough slurs have real consequences for people still suffering mental torment from the complex consequences of that shameful day. Some have taken their own lives because they couldn’t live with it and many are still in therapy because of it.
Some, like the man I mentioned, feel so persecuted by an irrational guilt it doesn’t take much negativity for their mind to be flooded with dark thoughts. English football needs to stand up to this before there is another, even bleaker April next year. Because the consequences of allowing this poison to spread are many and fatal.