Such a fragile peace: A day for decency but still the morons have their moment
22:17 GMT, 23 September 2012
The fragile truce never felt like it would last. And when the decent fans had gone, and all that was left on three sides of Anfield were the discarded bits of paper used for a mosaic to honour 96 people who went to a football match and never had a chance to go home, the morons had their moment.
Both sides were to blame. Until then, Manchester United’s travelling supporters had stopped short of any direct references to Hillsborough — just about.
But when one idiotic Liverpool fan, frustrated at his team’s defeat and provoked by their taunts, responded by spreading his arms into the wings of a plane in the time-honoured way of mocking the Munich air crash, the gloves were off.
Truth and justice: Tributes are paid to the 96 who lost their lives at Hillsborough
‘Murderers!’ and ‘Justice for Heysel’ they chanted, in reference to that other awful tragedy to befall Liverpool Football Club. Several stewards and a policeman hustled him down the steps and out of view. Two more home fans among the few still scattered around the main stand followed suit and spread their arms wide.
‘It’s never you’re fault,’ sang the visitors. ‘Always the victims, it’s never you’re fault.’
It was the song heard at Old Trafford a week earlier, one that had raised even greater concerns that Liverpool v Manchester United was absolutely the worst fixture for the first game at Anfield since an independent panel had exposed the full horror of Hillsborough.
Those who believed the poison and hatred that festers between the hardcore elements of these two great clubs could be put on hold — even for a day — with some balloons, a bunch of roses and a letter from Sir Alex Ferguson, were kidding themselves.
Overall it passed off without major incident. For that we should be both relieved and thankful. But those people who praised supporters for their behaviour were obviously not sat near the Anfield Road End on Sunday afternoon.
Gesture: Ryan Giggs and Steven Gerrard release balloons at Anfield on Sunday
The ill feeling was evident beforehand despite the signs that read ‘Welcome Man United Fans’ above the turnstiles providing entry to the away end of the ground.
The letter from Ferguson calling for good behaviour and handed to each away fan as they entered the stadium served as the only indication that this game was different to any other between these two clubs down the years.
When the teams came out there was a chorus of ‘One Bobby Charlton’ for the United legend and Munich survivor who presented former Liverpool striker Ian Rush with a bouquet of red roses, and sporadic applause when captains Steven Gerrard and Ryan Giggs released 96 balloons into the grey sky.
But throughout a rousing chorus of You’ll Never Walk Alone, while the words ‘Justice’ and ‘The Truth’ appeared in a mosaic across the Centenary Stand and the Kop, the United fans defiantly sang their own songs.
Well behaved: The fans of both sides were largely respectful throughout
The sound was drowned out but, sadly, when the end of Liverpool’s anthem was greeted with warm applause around the rest of the stadium the away end launched into a rendition of ‘You Scouse b******s’ accompanied by more than a few obscene hand gestures.
It’s important to remember that United are no different to any other club in having an unruly element, particularly away from home, and that close scrutiny of any set of fans is unlikely to show them or their club in a good light. They have had to endure horrible taunts about Munich in the past, and you can only admire the way Ferguson and his club as a whole conducted themselves in the build-up to this game. But this was more than a mindless minority.
There is a line between the usual football banter, like the predictable barracking of Luis Suarez and the abuse showered upon Gerrard when he came over to take an early corner, and the kind of sick taunts we feared might be heard on Sunday. At times the United fans were dangerously close to it.
Respect: Sir Bobby Charlton brings out flowers in honour of the Hillsborough tragedy
When a public announcement urged supporters who stood throughout to sit down, they responded by singing ‘if it wasn’t for the Scousers we could stand’. It was because of Hillsborough that all-seater stadiums were introduced.
‘We’ll sing what we want,’ was another worrying chant that did not bode well following the pre-match calls for sensitivity, before they goaded their rivals with ‘Where’s your famous Munich song’
Thank goodness we didn’t hear it on Sunday.
But as United fans poured out of Anfield, separated from their rivals by snarling police dogs and ranks of mounted officers, you had to wonder just how far football has moved on since Hillsborough.