Liverpool fans who booed Prince William should not be banned – but we should sing more lustily than ever at next FA Cup final, says Colin Brazier
If you’re a certain age, and life now involves more funerals than weddings, you’ll recognise the comforting power of the human voice united in song
One hymn, in particular, has offered solace to many millions of Britons over the decades. It became so popular that in 1927 the Football Association decided it should even be sung at the English FA Cup Final.
The experiment caught on. Six years later cameras and microphones recorded 92,000, supporters of Manchester City and Everton forming the world’s biggest choir — singing Abide With Me.
Fast forward to the weekend just gone. Fans from Merseyside were again involved, but this time from Liverpool, not Everton. We can’t show you the footage – we don’t have the rights – but you may have heard about what happened. A section of Liverpool fans not only didn’t sing Abide With Me, they actively booed it. Along with the National Anthem and Prince William.
It’s important to start by saying that the majority of Liverpool fans didn’t go along with this. And that there’s no law in Britain – as there is in some countries – which says that displays of public disrespect for things like the national anthem amount to an act the state feels fit to criminally sanction.
But while it’s important not to go overboard about this, there was something singularly depressing about hundreds of young men booing a hymn which their grandfathers considered sacred and sang with such pride. Many of them sang it when they went to war. Others sang it for them when they didn’t come back.
Some will say, and they’d be right, that conventions change. But change is better sensitively handled. Which is why the sight of Liverpool’s German manager Jurgen Klopp, seeking to account for the actions of booing fans, was so utterly bizarre.
Asked about the booing, he said: “I know that our people….wouldn’t do it if there was no reason for it.”
“….the majority of our supporters are wonderful people. Really smart, and all these kinds of things, they understand, they go through lows, they go through highs, they suffer together all these kinds of things, they wouldn’t do it if there was no reason.”
Setting aside the idea that Klopp thinks that the highs and lows of a football season entail ‘suffering’ – a verb he might better have kept for something more important than a game – it’s obvious that behind Klopp’s broken-English lies something bordering on the disingenuous.
He must know, surely, that there may be a reason why some of the people who help pay his three and a half million pounds a year salary – choose to boo cherished symbols of British national life. And, by not condemning those crackpot theories, he aligns himself with them.
And what are these conspiracy theories? Apparently, that the Establishment has conspired to do-down Merseyside. So much so that flags have been flown at Anfield bearing the slogan ‘Scouse Not English’.
The idea of a separatist movement for Merseyside must, surely, spring from the sense of humour which Liverpudlians often congratulate themselves for having. Long may they do so. And long may they boo whatever they like, whenever they like, about whomever they want. Football crowds have long been places where strong counter-cultural views find a place.
Just as long as they’re the right views, of course. Fans, for instance, who boo players who Take The Knee are routinely excoriated. Last year the FA produced a video to educate supporters who weren’t falling into line – who just keep on booing Taking the Knee, when they ought to be clapping.
Maybe the FA can now produce another video explaining why booing cherished hymns or the national anthem isn’t appropriate either. Better still, do nothing. Accept that a crowd of tens of thousands will have dissenting views within its multitudes, and let those of us who love our country and yes – even its choral history – stand up for ourselves.
The answer to Liverpool fans who boo Abide With Me isn’t to scream at them or call for them to be banned; it’s to learn the words of Abide With Me and sing them more lustily than ever at the next FA Cup final.
That’s the Brazier Angle.