Sports

As we wait for football’s return we remember those we have lost for ever


The plan was for Leeds fans to remember Kevin Speight and Christopher Loftus at Elland Road before tomorrow’s Good Friday game against Stoke.

Last Sunday, on the 20th anniversary of the two fans being stabbed to death in Istanbul, relatives and friends would have gathered by the plaque that bears their names to live out the dedication “Never Forgotten”.

But due to social distancing Leeds asked everyone to remember the murdered fans in their thoughts. Social media tributes proved that didn’t go unheeded.

Next month, thousands of Bradford City fans should have been gathering in the city’s Centenary Square, on the 35th anniversary of the stadium fire that killed 56 fans and injured more than 200.

But there will be no wreath laying, traffic stopping, singing of Abide With Me or supportive hugging in front of the Fire Memorial Sculpture.

Tributes outside Elland Road stadium to fans Kevin Speight and Christopher Loftus, who were stabbed in Istanbul 20 years ago

They too will have to remember the fallen in isolation. Just as everyone in Turin will, a few weeks later, on the 35th anniversary of the Heysel disaster.

Next Wednesday, Anfield’s Kop should have been packed for the final anniversary service to remember the 96 fans who died at Hillsborough, 31 years ago. Hundreds more would have laid a wreath at the Anfield and Old Haymarket memorials. But it’s not to be.

For those affected by football’s disasters it’s extremely hard to get through the worst day of the year without the physical and emotional support of like-minded people.

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There’s no game in which players wear black armbands and a ground obeys a minute’s silence. No putting your arm around the person next to you if you feel they need a human crutch.

Peter Scarfe, the chair of the Hillsborough Survivors Support Alliance, said: “A lot of survivors we’ve put through therapy are suffering really badly at the moment.

The Bradford City stadium fire that killed 56 fans and injured more than 200 in 1985

“Since we’ve had to stop our monthly support meetings their anxiety levels are sky high. Many can’t face the anniversary most years, but this year when they can’t meet up to support each other, it’s very tough.”

The group are planning to do a mini-service on the day through Zoom and are hoping to get survivors from as far away as South Africa to join in via their laptops.

“A couple of us will say a few personal words or read a passage before holding a two-minute silence. We’ll all have a candle and light it throughout the service then leave it burning so it gives us the connection with the eternal flame for the 96,” said Peter.

As it was at Leeds on Sunday, Bradford and Turin next month, it will be very hard for anyone affected by Hillsborough next Wednesday to remember in isolation, unable to give and receive much-needed assurance through a hug or an inquiry about how they’re doing.

Most of the survivors were in the Leppings Lane pens when the crush happened and witnessed their fellow fans dying. With court cases still going on after 31 years, their pain is far from diminished.

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A fan pays his respects at the Hillsborough memorial at Anfield

Some have suggested people put a scarf, shirt, photo or any symbol pertinent to the 1989 disaster in their window on the day as a show of support.

“Like clapping the NHS workers it would be great if people could do that. It would mean so much to those affected,” said Peter.

It’s important for all fans to remember that, although we’re badly missing football, it will return, unlike some of those in the past who didn’t come back from a game.

Those who believe we are sacrificing a great deal right now by not getting our footballing fix should remember those who sacrificed everything.

This year, more than any other, remember them and the ones they left behind and count your blessings.

McClean was stupid but trolls were so much worse

James McClean’s joke photo of him supposedly giving his kids a history lesson with a balaclava on was beyond stupid

James McClean was beyond stupid releasing that joke photo of him supposedly giving his kids a history lesson with a balaclava on, even though growing up in Derry’s IRA stronghold of Bogside that was the history he saw. He was rightly lambasted and fined for it.

However, those brave social media souls, no doubt with biogs describing themselves as true patriots, sunk far lower than McClean by telling him “I hope your kids get coronavirus and die,” and “it would be a laugh if your house burned down with your kids inside.” There’s no moral high ground in the gutter, people.

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Kyle dreading the chants

Kyle Walker is in for some trolling from the stands

If Kyle Walker says the season should be voided and started afresh in three months it won’t be because he wants the title to remain at the Etihad. But because he hopes by August rival fans will forget his novel mode of at-home social distancing, and he’ll be spared a brutal chant.

Season-ticket warning

Nobody can predict what will happen in football over the next few months, but there are a few things we can take a stab at.

First, there will be many a bargain-basement buy as clubs need to stay solvent, which will allow the wealthy to cherry-pick talent from the weak on the cheap.

Second, so relieved will we all be to see players kicking a ball again, few of us will give a damn about VAR.

Third, the second a ball is kicked, most clubs will send out season ticket renewal letters with a much-reduced payment deadline. I know this because, amazingly, at least one is already canvassing opinion on whether to send out the renewal forms months before any resumption.

FSG must not embarrass Reds again

John W Henry (R) and Tom Werner part owners of Liverpool FC
FSG must ensure their legacy isn’t soured

Thankfully, Liverpool’s owners U-turned on their opportunistic grab for a few million quid off the taxpayer during a time of national crisis.

It’s not the first time they have embarrassed their fans, whose collectivist identity they monetise – but they have to try to ensure it’s the last.

You can’t, as CEO Peter Moore did only five months ago, cite Bill Shankly’s version of socialism as a major part of the club’s ethos, then ask for a state handout you can cope without.

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Coronavirus in sport

And, if you want to have a cheesy This Means More slogan, don’t pick and choose when you want to mean more than other clubs. Fenway Sports Group will eventually leave Anfield with vast riches, much of it deserved through their astute management.

There’s no need to sour their legacy by pulling stunts that cheapen the club.





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