Leading Article: Latent ugliness on the football terraces

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The Independent Online
AMINUTE is a long time for football fans to stay quiet. So it speaks volumes that supporters across the country - even those with no love for Manchester United - observed a 60-second silence this weekend in honour of Sir Matt Busby. In grounds where fans paid their respects so solemnly, the bad old days of hooliganism seemed long banished. Indeed, bulging terraces testify generally to the game's return from disgrace. As the threat of violence has receded, football lovers have forsaken living-room spectating for the thrill of watching from sidelines that are once again safe.

But there is still an irrepressible ugliness about some football fans. This shows its face far more rarely these days as heavy policing, security cameras and tough sentencing deter all but the most determinedly yobbish. It gained its voice at the weekend when, as most fans mourned Sir Matt, the would-be troublemakers dishonoured the silence. The worst case was at a match on Sunday involving Leeds United, whose one-time manager Don Revie was at his best a great rival to Sir Matt.

'There's only one Don Revie,' the Leeds fans shouted for the full minute in memory of their own manager hero, much to the embarrassment of the club. The chant was less distasteful than the reply often given when Manchester United fans sing their hymn: 'Always look on the bright side of life.' To this comes back the response - recalling the 1958 Munich air disaster - 'Always look on the runway for ice.' But the irreverence of Leeds fans shows how hard they find it to behave themselves, even for a minute.

It may look like quibbling to take offence at the weekend's singing. But the failure of Leeds fans to honour football's dead properly should be seen for what it symbolises: a nastiness that has in the past besmirched football's reputation and remains latent. Chanting never broke any bones. Yet the sentiments that underlie it can erupt into the violence that periodically scarred the game during the twilight years of the Busby era.