We may never know which is the real Alan Davies: the apparently lovable jester who plays the dumb schoolboy to Stephen Fry’s headmaster on the television series QI, or the would be shock jock who has recently been appearing on the Arsenal podcast The Tuesday Club on a variety of different subjects of varying relevance to the club that he supports. It’s possible – perhaps likely, even – that both of these are little more than personae, which play to appreciative audiences in differing constituencies, but Davies has found, over the last forty-eight hours or so that, in football at least, the audience might not necessarily be who you were expecting it to be and that throwing caution to the wind with your comments might have unforeseen ramifications.
Davies’ comments about Liverpool’s reticence to play their FA Cup semi-final against Everton on the fifteenth of April – the twenty-third anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster – are difficult to get to the bottom of, by no means at least because his club isn’t even troubled by this stage of the competition this year. Quite why an Arsenal supporter should be concerned about the scheduling of a competition which doesn’t involve his club and isn’t even having a knock-on effect upon his club may remain unknown. What we know for certain is that his attempts to apologise (or back-track, depending on your perception) seem to have been rebuffed by a majority of Liverpool supporters, as has his attempt to ameliorate his recent words with a donation of £1,000 by the Hillsborough Justice Campaign.
There may be an element of debate to be had over whether Liverpool Football Club should be allowed a free date on the fifteenth of April every year in perpetuity on account of the tragedy regardless of circumstance - after all, other clubs have suffered tragedies themselves and played on their anniversaries - but there are ways and means of doing so, a timbre to such any conversation which must understand that the feelings of the relatives of those that died should be paramount, above all other considerations. Football isn’t everything, after all, and it is critical to remember that the aspect of injustice about Hillsborough in particular which remains unsatisfactorily addressed gives this particular tragedy a political or emotional edge that other such incidents in football lack.
Emotive as it is, however, people should be allowed to discuss ongoing issues relating to the aftermath of the disaster, so long as they are not factually incorrect, abusive or insulting to the dead. This was, after all, a tragedy marked a defining moment in the entire history of the game in England, a point of no return for many aspects of the entire culture of the English football supporter. In this respect, Davies’ error may have been in the tone of his voice. In surrounding dismissive of the fact that Liverpool FC has long held a memorial service on the day of the disaster, he left himself open to the criticism – whether justified or not – that he doesn’t understand that finer points of the tragedy and the ongoing struggle for justice for those that died on the fifteenth of April 1989.
Such thoughtlessness can prove difficult to undo (and a tweet sent this morning seems unlikely to win him too many friends on Merseyside) and is indicative of a continuing and at times pathological trivialisation of the long-term effects of the disaster, but it is not deserving of some of the treatment that Davies has received through social media over the last couple of days. It occasionally seems as if there is, hidden from the view of normal people going about their everyday business, a hidden army of people that use social media such as Twitter to send out threats of violence or worse to anybody that utters anything that disagrees with their world-view. It should go without saying that these individuals aren’t representative of the broader support of the club, but those who do not pause to think through the wisdom of their actions before sending threats to anybody through social media and ends up in court or in prison deserves whatever comes their way.
Since the recent trial of Liam Stacey, who ended up sentenced to eight weeks in prison and, of course, plastered all over the national press for his troubles, for sending offensive and racist tweets - again, whether rightly or wrongly – there has been, as if such a thing existed in the first place, even less of an excuse for such behaviour than there was before. Moreover, such threats play straight into the hands of those that would, for whatever perverted reason, seek to debase or trivialise the disaster or the subsequent campaigns for justice for those that were killed that day and any right-minded Liverpool supporter, regardless of their opinion of Alan Davies and his ill-advised comments, should be seeking to distance themselves from them.
In a broader context, however, it is also worth taking a moment that making a mess of this weekends FA Cup semi-finals was avoidable from beginning to the end – not least the sheer, rank stupidity of playing them both at Wembley, as they have been since 2008. This particular state of affairs came to pass because of the spiralling costs of Wembley Stadium, which led to the sale of season tickets which guarantee FA Cup semi-finals – as well as all England home matches – being played in London for the foreseeable future. This has led to the absurdity of seeing Liverpool play Everton at Wembley, more than two hundred miles from their home city. It has also been suggested that the FA were keen to accommodate moving the matches to better suit the clubs concerned but that the television broadcasters and the police - ultimate paymasters and scheduling deciders that that they are – were not amenable to this.
Such rumours no longer cause a great deal of outrage, though - merely a wearied sigh and a shake of the head. So it is that this weekend of FA Cup semi-finals could a regarded as a microcosm of much that is wrong with match day arrangements in 2012. The best interests of the television companies, the police and those responsible for the mortgage on a stadium which long since came to resemble an expensive folly have all been taken into account. Match-going supporters, on the other hand, are being treated as at best an irrelevance and at worst an inconvenience. Why else, we might contend, are Liverpool and Everton playing on a Saturday lunchtime whilst the match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, two clubs with a fractious past at whose matches there has been depressingly regular trouble in recent years, is being played on a Sunday evening? Such absurdity is a part of modern life, but we can rest assured that it will be supporters – likely all supporters – will be blamed should there be unrest on Sunday.
This Saturday’s match between Liverpool and Everton will be marked by a commemoration for those that died watching a match in this very round of this very competition twenty-three years ago this weekend. Ultimately, Liverpool supporters may be best advised to do what they can to ignore the thoughtless comments of those that should know better and to retain the focus of their ire upon a subject which, in spite of baby steps in the right direction in recent months, remains agonisingly out of reach. When tomorrows chip wrappers are discarded, all that really matters is the ongoing fight for justice for those that died twenty-three years ago this weekend.
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