The Last Word: Anfield's day to drive out the darkness
Fans can identify a malevolent minority and show football has moved on from the Eighties
Sunday 23 September 2012
Do not defame the dead. Stop parodying people's pain. Behave with human decency. If that really is too much to ask, on a day which will help to set the tone of football's future, darkness has already descended.
There's something karmic about Manchester United providing the opposition as Liverpool, club and city, invites the world to share unimaginable loss and understandable outrage.
A fixture which creates transient tribal heroes, from Norman Whiteside to Jimmy Case, is suddenly central to the legacy of the Hillsborough disaster, and subsequent scandal. It is a chance for cultural, generational change.
The platform is global, but the challenge for the vast majority of supporters at Anfield is uniquely personal. It involves a simple matter of choice: do nothing to stop the sociopaths, or seize the moment.
Self-policing, in helping to identify a malevolent minority, will prevent detractors peddling recycled half-truths and assumptions. It will reinforce the point that the game, and its natural constituency, has moved on from the hand-to-hand urban combat of the Eighties and Nineties.
Rigorous methods were needed then to confront a culture of criminality and hooliganism, but football has gradually become the Chief Constables' cottage industry, a guaranteed income stream in a recession. Policing major matches is ritualistic, lucrative and stuck in a time warp: road blocks for show, riot shields for dough. It leads to mutual antagonism, and perpetuates the myth that a major football match is inevitably a threat to public order. Complacency is inappropriate, since there are still moments of tension, orchestrated outbreaks of trouble, but this is an opportunity to redraw battle lines set in another century.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many fans, especially families, are deterred from attending high-profile away matches, when they are treated with suspicion. They should not have to see the resentment in the eyes of officers who would patently rather be anywhere else, or subject themselves to the casual obscenities of the crowd.
It is possible to recalibrate. The awful truths of Hillsborough should re-educate and re-sensitise us. The nobility of the campaign for justice cannot be expressed in the synthesised X Factor emotions which are increasingly used to frame our experiences.
We, in the media, must take our share of blame for that phenomenon. Europe's finest golfers will this week be invited to win the Ryder Cup "for Seve". The narrative has been set, unwittingly, by former captain Bernard Gallacher, who invoked the Spaniard's spirit when he previewed the bi-annual contest.
Proper respect will be, must be, paid to the influence of Ballesteros in popularising both the cup, and the European tour. He was an incandescent, irresistible character, but honouring his memory is not a fundamental purpose of the exercise.
That will not stop American TV turning his life into a country music song, with soft-focus fist-pumping and images of decline. It is that sanitisation process which makes the timing of the Being: Liverpool documentary series, launched in the UK on Friday, as crass as its content.
Billed as a ground-breaking study of a revered institution, it was a banal advertorial aimed at brand expansion in north America and Asia. At the precise moment Brendan Rodgers must match the magisterial authority of Sir Alex Ferguson, he was portrayed. falsely, as a shallow, jargon-obsessed middle manager.
A little honesty would not go amiss. The Paralympics were a triumph because they were authentically presented and accurately redefined. The temptation to indulge in maudlin self-congratulation was resisted.
Sport attracts because it is a hall of mirrors which distort and, occasionally, flatter. It illustrates the best and worst in human nature. Sometimes, these extremes are concurrent.
Football fans will always seek weakness, a fissure to widen, but we have reached the limits of acceptability. The malcontents seek legitimacy for empty lives. They are the ones who urinate through householders' letter-boxes, harass strangers and mock the sanctity of remembrance.
Drive them out. Make today the day we reclaimed the game.
Racism? It's small change to Platini
Michel Platini is on course to succeed Sepp Blatter as the most powerful man in world football. The fanciful notion, that he is a politician with principles, is about to be tested to destruction.
Platini denies that Uefa, the organisation he is moulding to his will, specialises in trivialising racial abuse. A history of lukewarm responses suggests otherwise.
Inconveniently, he was at White Hart Lane when monkey chants apparently emanated from the Lazio supporters, corralled in the South Stand.
He cannot cite presidential neutrality and the excuse of high office. To retain credibility, he must pro-actively pursue the truth.
The palsied nature of the process does not augur well. The case will not be heard for another month, way beyond the attention span of most observers.
The debate about Platini's much-vaunted, little-trusted Financial Fair Play proposal will dominate. It will be governed by cynicism and self-interest.
Expect Premier League clubs to highlight Paris St Germain's proposed €100 million (almost £80 million) Qatari shirt sponsorship deal, and to question the extravagant backing of Zenit St Petersburg by Gazprom, a Uefa sponsor.
In such a climate of fear and loathing, no one expects renegade Lazio fans to matter that much.
Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.
Roy on a loser
Roy Hodgson bemoans the marginalisation of England, because of the commercial muscle of club football. A reality check: are you looking forward to the next international break, when mighty San Marino visit Wembley? Thought not.
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