It never went away, did it? The hate and bigotry that plagued our game throughout the 1970s didn’t disappear when big business bought football, putting it behind a TV paywall, pretending that this was a brave new world. Sky wasn’t able to airbrush the past and in the last few days, the past collided with the present. Nothing has changed.
On Tuesday night, a gang of balaclava-wearing Manchester United supporters gathered outside the home of United CEO Ed Woodward, singing songs about how he was going to die and lobbing a flare at his house, presumably to hasten the event. If that wasn’t unpleasant enough, at last night’s League Cup semi-final at the Etihad stadium a number of Manchester City supporters moved their arms in the motion of a plane, mocking the 23 people who died in the Munich Air Disaster in 1958. United supporters retaliated by throwing seats at City fans and as the game came to an end rival fans had to be separated by stewards and the police. But it was only a few people, right? Wrong.
I suppose I could say that I don’t understand how people could carry around such industrial quantities of hatred. When I think of the Munich Air Disaster, I think only of those who lost their lives and the lifelong effects suffered by the families and friends. I do not think, for one moment, how funny it would be to mock tragedy. The only club I have truly supported, Bristol Rovers, did not turn me into a heartless bigot. Much as I loved the rivalry we used to enjoy with our big city neighbours, Bristol City, I never wanted any of their players, officials or fans to die. Some of my best friends etc etc. Banter, yes. Hatred, never. And yet, it’s still there, exploding the myth perpetrated by media people who don’t want to tarnish their brand with negative stories.
Can we not simply take the piss? Mockery, without abuse, is an essential part of rivalry. We can be provocative without being offence. And we can use humour to enormous effect. Throwing flares at the home of an official and mimicking the tragedy of Munich are steps too far.
My motives for walking away from ‘live’ football have little or nothing to do with all the hate and bigotry you find at football, although once I felt the need to stop attending, I noticed that hate even more. But from a distance, in a society that has in recent years become engulfed by hatred, my love for football has faded. Not gone away – I’ll still watch some of it on the telly – but I can’t see me going to a game anytime soon.
The events at Ed Woodward’s house and at the Etihad have made me question my attitude to football still further. In the past, we just hoped it would all go away. It won’t, will it?