Today marks the 22nd anniversary of one of the most tragic days in Sporting history. 96 sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, fathers, uncles and cousins, not to mention friends and soul mates were killed trying to do what they loved: attend a football match. On a day when we are paying our respects to those who lost somebody in that tragedy I couldn’t help but think that moments like that can, and should be able to unite everyone. But somehow, and as a Manchester United fan I’m ashamed to say that some of my “kind” have been guilty of this, events like this are used as part of sick jokes and chants.
Needless to say Manchester United fans aren’t the only ones, and they will point to the chants of “Munich” and the sick plane crash jokes visited upon them because of the tragic part of the club’s history. The intention of this article isn’t to try and single out one group of supporters, or start a row over “who started it” because frankly that would be almost as pathetic as the chants themselves. Nor am I looking to say that because some supporters of a club do it, then they all do. That’s clearly not the case. Every club has idiot supporters. Every single club. For me the difficulty comes in understanding where all that hatred comes from. Because you’d have to imagine that only a bitter, bitter hatred would drive people to behave the way that they often do.
For some people it seems, being a fan of one club means that you have to hate another. You have to hate that club, its players, what it stands for, its history, its managers and especially that club’s fans. My Great Uncle is fromGlasgowand supports Rangers. He once told me that my Great Aunt wasn’t his first love. In fact his first love had been a holiday romance that ended the second his father found out that her father was a Celtic supporter. As this story was told to me by my Great Uncle I just find it intriguing how much one person can dislike another football club. Had it been my Great Grandfather telling me I’d be asking all sorts of existential questions like “If my Great, Great Grandfather wasn’t so anti-Celtic would I have been born?”, and considering I was seven at the time I heard this story I’d have preferred to be contemplating which stick would float faster under a bridge.
Personally I don’t think hate is a particularly healthy emotion, especially not based on a fan’s colours. There are exceptions of course, if you are a Roman General and a corrupt Emperor tries to have you killed, but you escape and hope to have your revenge, be it in this life, or the next, then hate will help you to achieve this. But that hate may also drive you to your own death, so be careful.
So, for me, with hate not a viable option, we’re left with another, far more fun, far more healthy option: Rivalry.
Friendly Rivalry is one of the truly great things about sport. Before banter was bastardised first by Robbie Savage and then by Richard Keys it’s the word I would use to describe the playful digs, the mocking of poor results, worse signings and underachievement of your rivals.Derbymatches (as in local derbies, notDerbyCountymatches) mean that much more because of the stick you could get at work. Personally I look out for the results of my friend’s teams, not just because their results could affect the league position of my club, but because I want to be able to give them stick if they lose. But never at any point do I find myself hoping that they crash and burn, that they get relegated or go into administration, that their best players get injured.
So where does healthy rivalry stop, and hate begin? Where is the line in all of this? Are you less of a fan if you want a rival to win a particular game, not because it benefits your team, but because theirs deserves to win? They’re questions that people will have differing opinions on, but for me, being a football fan is about wanting the best for my team, whilst enjoying watching, talking about and joking about the game. IfChelseaare pushing Manchester United close for the title, I’ll want them to lose. Not because I hate their fans or their club, but because it means Manchester United will be closer to winning. IfChelseaare playing Liverpool and aLiverpoolwin would mean that United get closer to the title, then by Thor I want Luis Suarez to pull John Terry’s pants down. But if the reverse was true I’d want Frank Lampard to start scoring for fun again. That’s the case even though historically Manchester United has a far, far greater rivalry withLiverpool. It’s one of those rivalries that in so many cases really does go past the line and into hatred, except I knew for certain that I don’t go past that line in 2005 when Liverpool played AC Milan inIstanbul.
As a Manchester United fan I was fairly amused with the first half. AC Milan 3 – 0Liverpool. It looked like being one of the great spankings of football history. Considering I had tolerated days of gloating about the number of European Cups Liverpool had won and would go onto win it felt pretty good to know that I’d be able to pay back that gloating with some smug looks of my own. I wouldn’t actually say anything, that would be harsh, I’d just look, and they’d know from that look that I knew that they knew that I knew. That would be enough. But thenLiverpoolbrought on a midfielder with some positional sense, giving Gerrard licence to do what he had been doing anyway and run about doing what he wanted. Except with Hamann on it wasn’t costing his team the game, in fact it seemed to be helping them get back into it. Alonso was at his majestic best and from 3-0 it became 3-1 and suddenly, the underdog lover in me somehow did the unthinkable and started cheeringLiverpool. By the time the equaliser threw in I was high fiving theLiverpoolfan next to me. By the time penalties came along I knewLiverpoolwere going to win. A team with Igor Biscan was going to win the European Cup in a comeback that would eclipse that famous night inBarcelona. At that point my emotions became a little mixed. Would AC Milan winning on penalties count as a counter comeback? Tough to say, but somehow my desire for aLiverpoolwin held and so did their nerve. They won and I genuinely was delighted for their fans. But instantly I reminded myself “it’s a hell of a comeback, but it’s no Treble”. I’m lucky that at the tender age of 14 I saw my idols do the unthinkable and go from losing to winning in the space of a minute. The final minute at that. Had it not been for that game, who knows if I would have felt so magnanimous aboutLiverpool’s triumph?
Those are my thoughts on rivalry and on a very famous night for one of my club’s most bitter rivals. As my thoughts are often as trustworthy as a married footballer in a whorehouse I decided to ask an assortment of football fans how they felt about some of the most glorious moments in their rival’s recent history and their responses are listed below.
Lewis, – aka @beathelastman on Twitter is a blogger of the highest quality and if you don’t already follow him, you should, even if he knows nothing about Batistuta and I refuse to let that go.
I admire Man Utd. I really do. I was raised in a scouse household (Liverpool Dad, Evertonian Mum) But in SAF they have an incredible manager who, whilst he can irritate at times has the right to act (in my opinion) bigger than the club. The 99 final was an incredible game and an incredible adrenaline high. I was only 10 and that was the first season I’d really paid attention to Football and memories of watching Utd win everything was all I knew growing up. Did it annoy me that Utd were winning, yes. Is that the reason I ‘hate’ Utd, no. The rivalry is there because…well because we’re two proud historic clubs – I don’t think it’s more complicated than that.
For me success is neither here nor there as a reason to like or dislike a club or me. It comes down to small fickle things – personnel (I dislike Utd more for G Nev than anything else), playing style, disrespectful comments that sort of thing.
Simon Pilkington – editor of www.talkingsports.co.uk and @simonpilkington on Twitter
My thoughts on the CL final in 99′. if you need something more in depth then let me know:
My everlasting memories of the 1999 Champions League final were completely bittersweet – at 17 years old I was lucky enough to have seen an English side blast their way through the competition and win in dramatic circumstances to beat, of all teams, the Germans in the beautiful footballing arena that is Camp Nou. However the fact it was Manchester Utd, just securing the treble, and with it, bragging rights over all domestic fans along the way, left a very bitter taste.
As a Liverpool fan too young to remember any of the 4 European Cups that we’d already won and the 2005 victory still 6 years away, it wasn’t hard to realise that what Utd had achieved was special. In fact, despite watching numerous replays of our previous victories, it wasn’t until 2005 and the sheer utter ecstatic joy that I felt, that I realised how Utd fans must have felt. If you take away the rivalry, you can’t begrudge any football fan that feeling.
At the time though it was tough to take. I was half wishing the ref would blow his whistle, then when Sheringham scored, I was hoping for leg-sapping extra time but bizarrely when Solskjaer scored the winner there was apart of me that was happy for them. Maybe it was the fact that Solskjaer was one of those rare ocurrences – a Utd player I actually liked and respected – or maybe it was that it fit the Utd stereotype of scoring late, late injury-time winners. Most likely it was that is was an excellent game of football with a phenomenal climax that epitomised everything I love about this sport.
I’m not bitter, not bitter at all, we can elave that for the Everton fans; however, it was no Istanbul, was it?!
Robert Marrs – author of the fantastic http://leftbackinthechangingroom.blogspot.com as well as being @MarrsioFootball on Twitter.
At the time I was furious. As soon as United scored their first goal, I knew instantly that they would go on to win the game and do so in normal time. That United team always did – I’d seen it so often.
It seemed like an utter robbery because it was an utter robbery. Bayern Munchen had dominated the game but hadn’t killed it off. I was so furious I threw a cup of coffee at the wall.
As a youngster, at points, I probably hated United more than I liked Liverpool. Odd but that’s teenage football fandom for you.
I don’t mind so much. United lucked out but the team, in hindsight, probably just about deserved a European Cup around that time. They were a far finer side than many winners that have followed.
Simon, Rob and Lewis are clearlyLiverpoolfans and they give a great example of why I couldn’t ever hate somebody just because of their club – these guys are great writers and if I were to ignore them purely because of their club then it would be my loss, not theirs.
Tome Obaro – otherwise known as @ACMilandrew is quite clearly a Milan fan, and he’s a funny one at that. Joe Jordan would have been more worried about him than he was about Gattuso
Personally I’ve always loathed Inter but without too much venom.I enjoyed when they lost with childish glee.I’d enjoyed Massimo Moratti buying a plethora of expensive forwards over the years and still failed to win the league.Enjoyed getting Clarence Seedorf and Andrea Pirlo from them and sending over duds like Francesco Coco and Umit Davala.We were obviously more successful than our neighbours and it didnt seem like changing.Then Calciopoli happened.Milan Fiorentina Lazio and Juventus were all weakened by bans and points deductions.Inter automatically assumed a position of power.They got a title handed to them thereby breaking their long league drought and they just took off from there.From being 4 Scudetti ahead they now had 1 more than we did.Was still able to wave our 07 CL victory in their faces but it just wasn’t the same.
Watched last year’s CL final.frankly didnt care what an Inter victory did for Italy European co efficents.Wanted them and their smug preening coach to be thumped into oblivion.Didnt happen off course and was gutted but hey an least thats one arena we’re miles ahead of them…for now.The fact a former Milan player and coach is now managing them has ratched up the rivalry a notch.Victory on Saturday would be an absolute delight but trumping them to this Scudetto would be so much sweeter.
I guess the conclusion for me would be that everyone is going to feel slightly differently, and as long as you aren’t resorting to the kinds of disgusting chants that we sometimes hear, then there’s no real problem, it’s just a personal thing. I guess for me, it doesn’t matter who the team is, if they put in a great performance, if they overcome adversity, then I’m a sucker for it.
If anyone has read this and wants to contribute to the blog by describing their feelings on it, be it a rival club’s successes, failures, or even if you just have some comments on the blog then please post away, it makes the blog look more popular.