Peter Dwyer explains why he and other Liverpool FC fans booed the monarchy at the FA Cup final in Wembley
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When I returned home from Wembley on Saturday night the Daily Mail was running headlines about MPs condemning the ‘shameful abuse’ of Prince William and social media was buzzing with discussions about the rights and wrongs of the tens of thousands of Liverpool fans booing the national anthem prior to the start of FA Cup final between Liverpool and Chelsea.
By Monday, ITV’s Good Morning Britain had former royal correspondent Michael Cole arguing it was ‘disrespectful’ and ‘appalling’, with Tory MPs also wading in. Conveniently, few, if any, in the mainstream media or parliament asked why the fans booed. When asked for his thoughts on the issue by the media, in his press conference on Monday, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp stood by the fans saying, ‘I know our people wouldn’t do it unless there’s a reason for it’. Klopp was spot on. There are plenty of reasons why the boos represented two fingers to the ruling class, of which the monarchy is a key ideological part and who the national anthem glorifies.
For some in Liverpool, the anger at the British ruling class is steeped in the tradition of Irish republicanism and opposition to British rule in Ireland that emerged in the eighteenth century. This was amplified by the racism towards the hundreds of thousands of Irish migrants who fled to England from the Great Famine of 1845-49, many of whom made Liverpool their home. Such was the size of the Irish diaspora that a poor area close to the docks elected an Irish Nationalist MP until 1929. Irish people continued to move to the city until just after the Second World War in 1948, and so today many still have relatives in Ireland and both of the city’s football teams attract a large Irish following.
But for many (old and young), I think the boos are also linked to a hatred of Margaret Thatcher, elected as Tory Prime Minister in 1979, and the establishment power and privilege that the Tory Party represent. This is particularly for how they treated the city region in the 1980s, and how they were part of an establishment cover up of the death of 97 fans at the Hillsborough football-stadium disaster on 15 April 1989.
To revive British capitalism, which at the time was referred to as ‘the sick man of Europe’, Thatcher’s government drew on advisors, some based at the University of Liverpool like Patrick Minford, others linked to the Chilean dictator Colonel Augusto Pinochet, and set about implementing radical economic and social policies (what we now call neoliberalism). To control inflation, running at 20%, the Tories raised taxes and cut public spending, with the equivalent of today’s Universal Credit slashed.
All of this would rock British society, and the impact still reverberates today, as, per head of population, the UK is still the poorest country in north-west Europe. The result was that between 1979 and 1986 unemployment in the UK rose to a record high of over three million, and in parts of Liverpool unemployment reached over 40% by 1981. Rapid economic change combined with deep-seated institutional police and state racism, resulted in a wave of multi-racial riots in 1981. These were the worst in the twentieth century, sweeping key parts of England, including London and Liverpool. After which, as confidential government papers revealed in 2011, the government implemented a notorious policy of ‘managed decline’ of Liverpool and the Merseyside region. For the Tories, the area was simply not worth wasting government money on.
On 15 April 1989, at the FA cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, 96 people died and hundreds of others were injured, as the result of a crush. This remains the biggest tragedy in British sporting history. The original inquest into the deaths controversially decided that they were an accident and that no one was to blame. So began a campaign to seek the truth.
In the days after the disaster, The Sun newspaper ran a notorious and scandalous headline. The paper lied by claiming that Liverpool fans were to blame. They were accused of rushing the gates, stealing from the dying, and beating up and urinating on a police officer, who was trying to save other fans. Other accusations included fans verbally and sexually abusing a dying woman. Given the treatment of Liverpool by the Tories and the establishment, families, friends and others knew these lies were no accident but were part of a cover up that began the night of the disaster to deflect the blame from those responsible for the death of 97 men, women and children. That the lies were promoted by senior police officers and the Sheffield Tory MP Irving Patrick did not surprise some. Much of this is captured well in the 2016 documentary Hillsborough and the recent moving drama Anne, about the mother of one of the victims, who together with others doggedly campaigned for over 25 years for justice.
It is not hard to see why anger and distrust at the Tories continues today. In 2004 in an editorial in the Spectator magazine, for which Boris Johnson was then the editor, the prejudice and bigotry directed towards the city continued. The people of Liverpool were accused of having ‘an excessive predilection for welfarism’ linked to ‘a peculiar, and deeply unattractive, psyche’, and that they always ‘blame someone else’ for their problems. In a later column on the 23 October, Johnson dismissed calls for an apology. This was just fifteen years after Hillsborough. In 2016, after the longest inquest in English legal history, a jury found that the 96 (now 97) people were unlawfully killed and that Liverpool fans were not to blame for the overcrowding that led to the deaths.
Since the cover up by the state and sections of the media, there has been a heightened sense of anger and bitterness towards the Tories and the establishment. This is reflected in the regular singing by Liverpool fans of ‘Fuck the Tories’. There has also been a big increase in the number of anti-Tory banners at games. As someone who has been regularly following Liverpool since the 1970s, I think many Liverpool fans, often very young, are more political and angrier than at any time since the height of Thatcher years in the 1980s. Little wonder so many booed last Saturday.
What the polls, like the one for Good Morning Britain, should be asking is what is more disrespectful: booing the national anthem or covering up the death of 97 innocent football fans, for which nobody has been prosecuted. The political and media uproar in the last few days will only deepen the anger towards the ruling class, in particular the Tories and the monarchy, and so the booing will continue. But we need to use the anger that rang out from Wembley into the homes of millions and turn it into anger on the streets, in workplaces and colleges. That is why we must all do what we can to build the ‘We demand better’ national demonstration on the 18 June called by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in protest at the cost-of-living crisis and the corruption and contempt of Boris Johnson’s government.
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