You only sing when there’s dying: Lyrics about tragedies are fair game for some Manchester United and Liverpool fans
Intense rivalry between the two clubs means a few of their supporters have no qualms chanting about the Munich air crash, Heysel or Hillsborough
A coach carrying Liverpool supporters crosses the Bridgwater Canal on Sir Matt Busby Way by Old Trafford ahead of Saturday’s Premier League game against Manchester United.
For once, the game would justify its status as befitting England’s two biggest clubs. United would be exceptional in the first half and race into a 2-0 lead, Liverpool the better team in the second when they’d push for a late equaliser.
The noise level inside a stadium frequently criticised for its atmosphere would be the loudest for years.
Yet what happens on the pitch is never enough for a minority of fans of both teams. Fans on the Liverpool coach sing as they close in on the home of their biggest rivals, the sight slightly surreal as you can see them clapping but you can’t hear them.
One fan starts impersonating a crashing aeroplane – a reference to the 1958 Munich air disaster which decimated a great United side. Those plane actions were not an uncommon sight in the 1980s before Liverpool were hit by a tragedy of their own at Hillsborough. “Where’s your famous Munich song?” taunted United fans after that. There are many more songs.
Half an hour before kick-off on Saturday, police guard the away end housing the 3,000 away fans. They move United supporters on, wanting the area to be as free possible so Liverpool fans can reach the turnstiles. Millions watching on television around the world don’t see any of this.
A police helicopter hovers above, police dogs bark, surveillance cameras record, while police horses are a popular subject for photos by tourists who have no idea they’re in the path of the main potential flashpoint between rival fans.
Twenty minutes before kick-off, hundreds of United fans walk in a group across the forecourt close to the away turnstiles.
“Murderers! Murderers!” they holler, the anonymous faces who find power in a crowd. Innocent football fans died at the 1985 Heysel stadium disaster and at Hillsborough. Death is used as currency in the tribalism of a football rivalry.
There will always be supporters who thrive on hate and they’ll even justify it – usually anonymously – by claiming that the other side are “scum”, that “they started it”, an attempt for the immoral to claim a moral high ground like they’re on a crusade to stamp out evil. The truth is that they enjoy the goading and want a reaction.
The overwhelming majority of fans wouldn’t entertain such songs. A hundred yards away by a food bank, Liverpool fans hand over non-perishable foods to help feed struggling Mancunians. That doesn’t fit any narrative of the extremists on either sides.
The noise inside the stadium is magnificent. Liverpool fans are loud as they sing Fields of Anfield Road and Allez, Allez, Allez, a song about conquering Europe over and over again.
The roar of “UNI-TED” is deafening at kick-off. Some anti-Liverpool songs are fair game, ones about having never seen Steven Gerrard win the league, about Diego Forlan scoring to make the Scousers cry or Gary Neville being a red who isn’t particularly fond of Scousers. They add to the edge.
Nobody wants United and Liverpool to be the best of friends, nobody wants England’s two most successful clubs to start trading players. United fans boasting about a record 20 titles to Liverpool’s 18 is their prerogative, just as it is for Liverpool fans boasting of their five European Cups to United’s three.
Other songs are more questionable. United fans have long changed Liverpool’s You’ll Never Walk Alone (A song United fans used to sing in the 70s) to You’ll Never Get a Job. A song dedicated to the South Korean player Park Ji-sung went: ‘Park, Park, wherever you may be, you eat dogs in your own country. It could be worse, you could be Scouse, eating rat in your council house.’
Both were sung on Saturday.
Thousands of United fans joined in with: “We won it three times, without killing anyone”. Cue mimes of crashing aeroplanes in retaliation from a few Liverpool fans. Were those disaster songs needed? Did it help the team play better?
Sober, would they say the same to the face of a Liverpudlian in the office on Monday morning?
Songs about poverty are designed to cause maximum irritation in the heat of the moment. They are not a statement of political allegiance and football songs can be mindless but they are designed to annoy and upset.
And it won’t stop. Too many people enjoy the bile, the posturing and the paranoia in this never-ending rivalry which produced such a magnificent spectacle on Saturday in England’s north west,
one which continues to be tainted by the actions of a few who really should know better.