A chance for 'greatness' at Anfield

Sir Alex Ferguson has pleaded with Manchester United fans to “show greatness” in the run up to their imminent and emotionally charged fixture with Liverpool at Anfield next Sunday.

This comes after reports surfaced this weekend that United fans sang derisory chants, aimed at grieving Liverpool fans, at Old Trafford in their 4-0 victory over Wigan last Saturday.

Last week the Independent Hillsborough Panel published its findings of police corruption, media smearing and political cover ups, dating back over twenty years since the disaster – all seemingly devised to blame “drunken” Liverpool fans for the “avoidable” deaths of 96 people at Hillsborough Stadium on 15th April 1989.

“Always the victims. It’s never your fault” was allegedly chanted by a small section of the crowd on Saturday but was “clearly audible”, according to reports. Ferguson spoke candidly, urging fans of both clubs to rise above the long and bitter rivalry:

"I think it's a moment for those two great clubs to show why they're two great clubs."

The heated rivalry emanates from their relatively close geographical proximity – although not technically a derby match, it usually feels like one due to their history of successes, both domestically and on the continent, and has only been exacerbated by United eclipsing Liverpool’s record of 18 league titles with their 19th in the 2010/11 season.

United fans have claimed the chants are in retaliation to the Liverpool fans’ songs about the 1958 Munich air crash in which 23 people died, 8 of them members of the Manchester United team, known as the “Busby Babes”.

Manchester United released an official statement, backing the manager: "The manager has made the club's position very clear on this matter. It is now up to the fans to respect that."

Whilst there have been calls from ex-United player Joe Jordan that those fans should be “banned for life”, it seems the clubs are powerless to end the chanting, other than to publicly “deplore” it. Even Manchester United’s Supporters Trust (MUST) has publicly “condemn[ed]” any such chanting and, in fact, denied that it was present amongst supporters on Saturday.

It said: "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.”

If indeed reports of the chants last weekend are false, I doubt it will help diffuse the already tense fixture it proposes to be on Sunday. MUST do, however, point to the issue of media responsibility when promoting such fixtures.

Whether it’s to sell more newspapers or TV subscriptions, it could be suggested it’s in the institutions' interest to fan the already flaming fire between the two clubs, with inflammatory features and TV adverts. Let’s hope, in the interest of safety and security at Anfield, both sets of supporters heed the wise words of caution and take the opportunity for “greatness” from Sir Alex.

images: © Andrea Sartorati, © Sanjiva

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