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Men's Football Why did they boo the anthem?

The reason this question still needs to be asked is an indication of the way the media presents working-class issues, writes JAMES NALTON

ASKED for his thoughts and reaction to Liverpool fans booing the national anthem prior to kick-off at the FA Cup Final against Chelsea on Saturday, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp responded in typical fashion.

The German, who once described his political views as “on the left, of course,” gave an answer that not only backed the Liverpool supporters’ actions but also encouraged others to seek further understanding of their response to such ceremony.

“I think in these situations, it’s always best to ask the question: Why does it happen?” Klopp said. “I know our people that well, that they wouldn’t do it if there’s no reason for it.

“The majority of our supporters are wonderful people, really smart, understanding, go through lows, go through highs, suffer together. They wouldn’t do it if there would not be a reason, that’s what I know. Maybe we should ask this question.”

Rather than pass judgement, Klopp turned the question around and encouraged those listening at the press conference, the thousands watching on YouTube, and the many more reading the subsequent reports to look into the reasons behind the booing of God Save the Queen.

During and after the final there was an increase in search engine activity for the phrase: Why do Liverpool fans boo the national anthem?

That the question still needs to be asked is an indication of the way news is presented — or isn’t presented — in the wider media on working-class issues, and this was once again evident at the weekend.

Unsurprisingly, the Mail on Sunday criticised Liverpool fans. Perhaps more surprisingly, it was deemed worthy of a front-page headline: “Anger as Liverpool cup final fans boo William [Windsor].”

It said the actions of the fans had been denounced across the political spectrum: a sign of the state of affairs in Parliament and of where most MPs’ allegiances really lie.

“We have the most wonderful monarch, and those fans who booed do not represent their clubs or our country,” said Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, summing up how out-of-touch they are.

Further in, the piece promoted common anti-Liverpool and anti-working class tropes that are one of the reasons those on Merseyside hold the establishment in such disdain in the first place.

The article selected snippets from Twitter — where you can find any opinion if you look hard enough — but this one chose quotes such as: “Liverpool booing the National Anthem. Doing Merseyside no favours.”

This type of attack from the front pages of the nation’s most popular newspapers is, sadly, nothing new to Liverpool.

After the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989, the Sun newspaper targeted and blamed Liverpool fans and, in doing so, created a story that was the beginning of an establishment cover-up. 

The truth has only begun to be more widely revealed and more officially acknowledged in recent years after families and friends of the victims and others affected by events on that day dedicated their lives to making that truth known.

An article in the Spectator written in 2004 by Simon Heffer but signed off by current Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the magazine’s editor at the time, still ran with the original line manufactured as part of the cover-up.

“Liverpool’s failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground that Saturday afternoon,” it said. “The police became a convenient scapegoat, and the Sun newspaper a whipping-boy for daring, albeit in a tasteless fashion, to hint at the wider causes of the incident.”

The same article went on to throw in more anti-Liverpool tropes and more ruling-class fiction.

“A combination of economic misfortune and an excessive predilection for welfarism have created a peculiar, and deeply unattractive, psyche among many Liverpudlians,” it continued.

“They see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time, they wallow in it.

“Part of this flawed psychological state is that they cannot accept that they might have made any contribution to their misfortunes, but seek rather to blame someone else for it, thereby deepening their sense of shared tribal grievance against the rest of society.”

The victim line has since been used by opposition fans at Anfield, as fictions such as this succeeded in turning working-class football supporters against each other, even within the city, where a minority of Everton supporters have blurted the “always the victim” line at Liverpool fans during derbies.

But the Liverpool fans’ mistrust of the establishment goes back further than the Hillsborough Disaster. The infamous “managed decline” of the city, suggested by Tory chancellor Geoffrey Howe under Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s, saw the city go from a growing distrust of the establishment to actively needing to fight back against it.

Howe’s comment was not revealed until 2011 due to the 30-year rule, which keeps government documents secret for three decades, but those in Liverpool could see it happening first-hand at the time.

The book, Militant Liverpool: A City on the Edge, by Diane Frost and ‎Peter North, contains a passage where a senior civil servant and head of a Merseyside task force in the 1980s is quoted as saying: “There’ll be rats eating babies on the streets before we do anything to help Liverpool.”

The feeling that the city is ignored by the establishment, and especially, given it is a Labour stronghold, by Conservative governments, continues to this day, so rather than just being anti-royalist, the booing of the anthem is symbolic of wider issues.

And all of this is before you even get to the fact that the national anthem itself, as a piece of music, is one of the worst in the world and doesn’t celebrate the country itself or the people in it. Even if there was a sense of patriotism or pride in the families, communities, and groups of people who live on this island, there is nothing in the anthem to celebrate that.

There is not a concise single-line football-press-conference-friendly answer to the question of why Liverpool fans boo the anthem.

Jurgen Klopp will already know this, hence his hint that people would be better served questioning why it was booed rather than blindly condemning those who did.

And that those answers aren’t more readily presented by sections of the media or dealt with by politicians day to day is itself another reason for the booing.

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