In this Internet-fueled world, we are led to believe that we have never been so free. Free to get our information from wherever we want and apparently free to voice our opinions in ways that simply were not possible before the invention of the World Wide Web. This was great news for soccer fans. Now there were spaces for us to discuss our clubs and to speak directly with fans all over the world. The plethora of opinions would lead to greater understanding between fans and the Web would be used to have debates that were free from external moderation.
At least that was how it was meant to work.
This week has seen yet another example of the way that soccer has fallen prey to the disease that appears to be seeping through into every facet of our lives. It appears that there are still subjects that you are not allowed to have your own opinion on, subjects where straying from the accepted view will lead to abuse from all over the world. The latest, and possibly greatest example of this in soccer was brought to the surface this week through the words of comedian and actor Alan Davies.
Davies, an Arsenal fan, has his own soccer podcast. In last week’s episode he dared to suggest that Liverpool refusing to play on the anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster was not correct. At no point did he disrespect those who had died, nor did he trivialize the horrors of that day. In fact he said that that was one of his worst days as a football fan. Yet because he dared to suggest that Liverpool should start to play matches on April 15th he has been subjected to abuse and even death threats from mindless individuals on Twitter and Facebook.
Some of the comments sent his way were disgusting and, if precedent were to be followed after the Liam Stacey/Fabrice Muamba case then, I would dare to say that some were verging on the illegal. Whether that is the case or not is not the point. The point is that if the Internet is to be a force for good then there needs to be a lessening of dogma and a real freedom for people to put across opinions and a respect for those opinions even when you disagree. So I will start.
Alan Davies is right. Liverpool has every right to ask for their games not to be scheduled on the 15th of April. What they do not have the right to do is to expect that their request is granted perpetually and at the expense of others. This weekend Chelsea will have to play their FA Cup semi final against Spurs on Sunday, just 72 hours before their Champions League match against Barcelona. There is little doubt that an extra day of rest before that game would be helpful. However due to the Sunday being the 15th, Liverpool has to play on the Saturday.
I am not going to pretend to understand what it must have felt like to be at Hillsborough that fateful day, or what it must be like to lose a loved one at a soccer game. I understand that there is still a deep sense of loss and injustice amongst the Liverpool community and that those feelings are not going away. But I also feel that there can be little better tribute to those 96 who were lost than to play soccer, to continue on the great tradition of success that exists at Liverpool and to honor them by playing the game that those who died that day went to see.
The horror of that day will not be lessened by playing. The injustice of the situation and the issues that still persist regarding what happened then and in the aftermath will not be forgotten. Justice will still be sought by right thinking people whether a game is played or not. Abusing those who simply state an opinion will do more harm to the campaign for justice than any soccer game can.
Editor’s note: Alan Davies later apologized for his comments by saying, “The tone I took on the podcast was inappropriate for this subject. I support the campaign for justice for the 96 [victims]. I said the Hillsborough disaster was the worst event in modern peacetime history. I was on a terrace listening to a radio as it happened. Many disagree but I feel that the Liverpool v Everton semi-final could be played on Apr 15. Apologies to those upset by that situation.”
Unfortunately, Davies didn’t help his stance by later joking on Twitter that he was going to buy a scouser fancy-dress costume.
Davies did make a goodwill gesture by donating £1,000 to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. However, the donation was rejected by the HJC, stating “Whilst we accept his apology, we would prefer that he genuinely tried to understand why the decision never to play on the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster is so important.”