It’s been a funny old week in the world of sport, hasn’t it? Formula One chiefs have been deciding whether or not to stage a race in protest-torn Bahrain a week before the event is due to take place, relegation-threatened Wigan Athletic beat title favourites Manchester United 1-0 to keep the drama and excitement at both ends of the table alive and that nice-but-dim fella from QI incurred the wrath of an entire city following some ill-advised comments on a football podcast.
Comedian Alan Davies, famous for his role as the titular detective in the BBC series Jonathan Creek, made headlines this week when he criticised Liverpool Football Club’s refusal to play on April 15th, the anniversary of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster which cost the lives of 96 Liverpool fans. The Reds’ policy has meant that their FA Cup semi-final against fierce rivals Everton will be held on Saturday April 14th whilst Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea will be played on the 15th. Speaking on his football podcast The Tuesday Club, Davies was unimpressed when his co-host Ian Stone mentioned the issue.
“Liverpool and the 15th, that gets on my tits that shit,” retorted Davies. “What are you talking about, ‘We won’t play on the day’? Why can’t they? My mum died on 22nd August. I don’t stay in all day on 22nd August. Do they play on the date of the Heysel Stadium disaster? How many dates do they not play on? Do Man United play on the date of Munich? Do Rangers play on the date when all their fans died in that disaster whatever year that was – 1971?”
The QI comedian then went on to mock Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish for his notoriously apathetic demeanour in press conferences before ending on this note: “Hillsborough is the most awful thing that’s happened in my life, in terms of football. It’s one of the worst tragedies in English peacetime history. But it’s ridiculous that they refuse to play on that day anymore.”
Davies does raise an interesting point when he notes that Manchester United still play on the anniversary of the Munich air disaster and that Rangers still play on the anniversary of the Ibrox disaster. Both clubs hold their own services to commemorate the lives lost in each incident and both choose to play on the respective anniversaries as a form of tribute.
Liverpool however choose not to play on April 15th as their way of commemorating the 96 lives lost on that fateful day in Sheffield. This tradition is not a new occurrence and there don’t seem to have been any complaints from either Tottenham or Chelsea, who have had their semi-final switched to the 15th. Davies argued that the switch is largely unfair on Chelsea, who have a Champions League semi-final against Barcelona the following Wednesday.
But sometimes, fixture lists and priorities should come second.
I have been to Liverpool and seen first-hand the relationship the people of that city have with their football club. Anyone who knows football will know of the passion that comprises and defines the Kop. The Hillsborough disaster may have occurred 23 years ago but the events of that day are still fresh in the memory for many a Liverpool fan. The horrors of April 15th 1989 will live on in the minds of Liverpool fans for a long while to come and, at a time when official government papers on the disaster are finally set to be released to the public, Davies’ inflammatory comments could not have been more poorly timed.
I am in no way trying to undermine the devastation felt at both Munich and Ibrox. The choice of Manchester United and Rangers to play on their respective anniversaries is their prerogative as football clubs. Should Manchester United choose not to play on 6th February or Rangers decide to stop playing football on 2nd January I doubt many fans would consider it an outrage or begrudge the occasional fixture change. All three clubs choose to commemorate those lives lost in three terrible disasters in their own respective way, and that is to be applauded on all counts.
Alan Davies has since apologised for the inappropriate tone he took but not for the comments he made. Davies, like various others, believes that Liverpool should not dictate the fixture lists by refusing to play a game of football on April 15th. Davies evidently believes that, like Manchester United and Rangers, Liverpool should honour the 96 by playing a game of football should they be required to.
But for Liverpool fans 15th April is a date of remembrance, not competition. Many of those fans who make the trip to Wembley to face Everton in the FA Cup semi-final will be attending the annual Hillsborough memorial service at Anfield the very next day. That is how Liverpool Football Club and the people of Liverpool choose to remember. That should not be changed. Nor should it be questioned.
It was a Liverpool legend who once said “football is not a matter of life and death, it is far more important than that.”
I doubt even the most ardent Liverpool fan will agree with Bill Shankly’s words this coming Sunday.