Look for offence, and you'll get it

Posted by John Brewin

This is an age where offence is too often pre-empted. No sooner had the findings of the Hillsborough Panel exposed one of the greatest cover-ups in modern British history than we had focus turned on Manchester United fans' songs about Liverpool supporters.

Twitter, a medium which does not lend itself to calm and considered cogitation of an issue, led the charge. Once the Liverpool contingent had launched their salvos, then we were back in the circle of hell that usually takes in Munich, Heysel, Hillsborough, Athens and Suarez/Evra. Days of low-grade debate continued, and it was little surprise when news arrived on Saturday from the Stretford End of a song guaranteed to offend. Give an idiot an inch, and he will take a yard to prove that idiocy.

"Always the victim, it's never your fault", has been explained away as a song about the Suarez affair, and may even date back to Michael Shields' fight for freedom from a Bulgarian jail. In the case of it being sung on Saturday, few could doubt a slant towards the events of April 15, 1989. Those who began the song will have known they could be misconstrued. The reported minority who joined in were either stupid, should have known better or both. The dim-witted and insensitive vocalists may not even use Twitter, but they had started off another tiresome cycle of outrage and insult.

no_source / Christopher Furlong/Getty ImagesLiverpool and Manchester United fans have long traded insults but the line must not be crossed.

We thus had a media storm of condemnation to fill column inches and discussion programmes. More fool the minority who joined in but they were not alone in playing a low common denominator. Up at the Stadium of Light, a group of Liverpool fans sang of their plans for a party for when Margaret Thatcher dies.

As so often in football, we were in the business of two wrongs making a right. Or perhaps in the case of Liverpool fans offended by the chants at Old Trafford, then perhaps three wrongs were being squeezed into that right. Whatever your politics, is it OK to wish death on a pensioner, or anyone for that matter? Right-thinking society would suggest not.

The importance of the Hillsborough findings cannot be allowed to be devalued by the seeking of offence where it can too easily be found. Justice and reparation so outweigh the hunt for misguided and childish fools who cannot see beyond a football rivalry as to be from a different planet, that of the real world. Perspective, that overused word in football whenever tragedy descends, should be sought, though it is too often side-stepped in the hunt for outrage.

Down at QPR on Saturday, offence was also being pre-empted. Up in Loftus Road’s cramped press box, journalists were divvying up duties to check out who shook whose hand in the pre-match handshake charade. It was only when we saw the pictures later that we realised that David Luiz had also joined in the 'fun'.

A chorus of boos rang out as John Terry and Ashley Cole made their way past their hooped opponents, past the sponsor's logo, with the Premier League's accursed anthem not hiding the rancour when the expected snubbing occurred. Ninety minutes of forgettable football followed, during which Terry, Cole and Anton Ferdinand received abuse that targeted not just them but their families too. To the credit of all three, they supplied performances of unruffled professionalism.

It would seem strange to point to the example of John Terry in almost any instance, but the turning of the other cheek proved far more effective than allowing himself to be offended.

The importance of the Hillsborough Scandal, as it must now be known, should not be waylaid by the petty side-issue of silly songs being sung by stupid people.

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