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Tragedy chanting: “Supporters have to show real leadership”

Sadly this season we’ve seen too many games marred by a minority using past tragedies – such as the Hillsborough disaster, Munich air crash or individual fans being killed on foreign soil – to wind up opposition fans.

To us, and every right-minded fan out there, it’s not funny, it’s not banter and those who do it are letting their club and fellow fans down. It has to stop and in the coming months we’ll be developing new work in this area – and Spirit of Shankly’s Joe Blott will be representing the FSA on a working group alongside the wider football family to begin educating fans on the controversy.

This week we spoke to Joe to learn more about the issue’s recent history and the work ahead…

Arsenal at Anfield: Positive steps

This weekend will be the 34th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, a tragedy that killed 97 football supporters and cast a long shadow over the game. As ever, Liverpool marked the home game closest to the anniversary with wreaths, a large display in the Kop end and a minute’s silence before kick-off.

Arsenal set the tone for the trip to Anfield by issuing positive messaging on club channels, visiting the Hillsborough memorial before the game and manager Mikel Arteta sported a pin badge on the touchline honouring the 97 who died..

“The club really helped set the tone by getting out in front of it,” Joe said. “It was exemplary from Arsenal.”

The north London club were also recognised publicly by local MP Ian Byrne, who said their work helped the game pass in a positive manner, free from tragedy chanting.

“It was a great atmosphere,” Joe said. “Loud, competitive – we supported our team, they supported theirs – with passion and no poison. Football as it should be.”

Post-Paris spike

The recent spike in tragedy-related chanting, particularly at Liverpool games, can be traced back to the events before the Champions League final last May, Joe says.

“We’ve definitely seen the Hillsborough chanting coming back after Paris,” he said. “There were clear parallels, the overcrowding and disorganisation evoked a lot of the memories of Hillsborough.

“Supporters were fully exonerated, we know it was an organisational failure and the authorities have all admitted that. Hopefully lessons will be learned.

“It was the actions of Liverpool fans last May that prevented a catastrophe. Despite that, we’ve unfortunately had people using it in bad faith and resurrecting these chants that should be long forgotten.”

Hillsborough songs targeting Liverpool supporters aren’t the only chants that linger on and should be forgotten – as crowds caught singing about the Munich air disaster, the Bradford City fire and the deaths of Leeds United fans in Istanbul prove.

Leeds United and Crystal Palace players observe a minutes silence in memory of Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight ahead of the Premier League match at Elland Road earlier this month. © Alamy

Ugly chants have also persisted around the Leicester City helicopter crash at the King Power stadium and Emiliano Sala’s fatal plane crash in 2019. Perhaps a new low was also reached at Loftus Road this season with chants about the Grenfell fire.

Joe said: “Obviously most people who hear these chants are appalled.

“You have to think about the survivors, their families and friends who hear this, the impact on them. They’re just out trying to enjoy the match like everyone else, and it must hurt.

“It’s not just banter, like we’ve said before, it has real world impacts. Real consequences.”

Working group to respond

As concern about tragedy chanting has continued to grow, cross-football work began at the start of the year to look at what can be done. And Joe says that supporters should be front and centre of the work to eradicate it.

“It’s important that the FSA is taking this issue up and it’s important for supporters to be at the forefront,” he says.

A working group has been established between the Premier League, EFL, FA and FSA to build educational materials and communications campaigns, as well as potential sanctioning policies, in the coming months to tackle the issue.

The group, which Joe represents the FSA on, has had initial meetings and will look to ramp up activity ahead of the 2023-24 season.

“Education is going to be vital to its success,” Joe says. “Part of that is developing empathy and understanding, talking about the negative impacts.

“But whether we like it or not we as football supporters are held to a different standard compared to other industries and sports.

“We have a long track record of policing ourselves so it’s vital once again that we show real leadership here.”

  • If you’d like to know more about the FSA’s work in this area please contact us [email protected]

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