The following article is a summary of events this summer regarding the American football radio show World Soccer Daily, which went off the air last weekend after a sustained campaign of protest by Liverpool supporters’ groups. In the interests of brevity, it skips over some of the finer details of what has become an extraordinary story involving alleged death threats, anti-semitism and even the involvement of the FBI. Should you wish to read about it in greater – to the point of almost exhaustive – detail, I would suggest that you head here.
It took four months, but Steve Cohen was finally made to pay the ultimate price for his comments about the Hillsborough disaster when his show, World Soccer Daily, broadcast its last episode on Friday. This is the culmination of a lengthy boycott organised by Liverpool supporter groups over Cohen’s continuing involvement in the show which ended with several of the show’s largest sponsors withdrawing their support from it, but it has been a summer of accusation and counter-accusation which has occasionally bordered on the ridiculous and ended up involving the FBI – or not – and ended with a bizarre and petulant final non-statement from WSD.
Cohen was certainly the target of a great deal of anger from Liverpool supporters. That much is clear. However, after a half-hearted apology (which began with the line, “Let’s put this crap to bed”), Cohen seemed to spot an opportunity to shift the blame for this whole sorry mess away from himself and onto Liverpool supporters. Of the emails that he had received, he stated in an interview with Bnet at the end of June that, “The ones who are against us I would say about 30 to 35 percent of emails I’m getting courtesy of the Liverpool supporters’ groups have some sort of racist, anti-Semitic overtones to them and by the way were handed over to the FBI on Sunday”.
But had they been reported to the FBI? There is no evidence so far to suggest that they have been. Cohen had made a great play of one particular email that he claimed had been sent by “an official member of an official supporters group which is sanctioned and an official supporters group of Liverpool Football Club” (his exact words). Liverpool supporter groups in America were quickly onto it. They didn’t want an anti-semite as a member of their groups. So, they scoured their records and could find no reference to the existence of the person reported to have sent the message. Of course, when they returned to Cohen to establish what proof he had that the sender of this email was, as he had stated, a member of an official supporters group. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he didn’t have any.
At this point, things took a turn for the strange. Mel Abshier, the co-ordinator of the boycott on behalf of American Liverpool supporters’ groups, received an email from one Mark Sawyer, an associate professor at UCLA, who had been requested to mediate between Cohen and the supporters’ groups. It is, perhaps, no surprise that Cohen wanted to negotiate. Many of the of the show’s biggest sponsors – FourFourTwo magazine, Heineken, FADO (a chain of American-based Irish pubs) and RuffNeck Scarves – were, by now, withdrawing from the show. The groups stated that they would negotiate on three conditions:
1. Evidence as to how Steven Cohen knew that the individual was “an official member of an official supporters group.”
2. Proof that the anti-Semitism was condoned or supported by Liverpool FC, Heineken, FourFourTwo and Ruffneck Scarves.
3. The case officers and numbers of the FBI/LAPD reports in order to co-operate fully with them.
Sawyer, however, was not (or at least did not act like) an independent observer. In this article on the Soccer Universe networking site, he erroneously took the phrase “gets the bullet” to mean a death threat, stated that George Gillett “has also fanned the flames of the anti-Cohen movement” and speculated over Gillett and Hicks that “serving them up Cohen holds the angry fans at bay while they sort out their multimillion-dollar debt crisis”, when all that Gillett and Hicks had done was to issue an official condemnation of Cohen’s initial comments on behalf of Liverpool Football Club. Strong words, and hardly the words of an impartial mediator. On top of this, one of the protestors against Cohen, Antony Ananins, received emails that he took to be threatening (more information on this here) as well as a death threat of his own. He chose to contact the FBI, and has made the name of the agent that he spoke to and his FBI case number public. Was this overblown? Possibly, but Cohen’s reputation and integrity were taking fatal blows from all sides by now, and the ending of the show was becoming inevitable.
There was still time for a sour taste to be left in the mouth as World Soccer Daily entered its death throes. The final message on the site published the email addresses of Tom Hicks, Conor Brennan, Mel Abshier and Antony Ananins in what can only realistically be viewed as a petulant last exhortation to fire out some more messages to those that had led the movement which forced their show off the air. What this fails to take into account, however, was that none of this would even have happened had Cohen not made his initial comments about Hillsborough. Perhaps more surprisingly still, the Everton fansite Toffeeweb ran this somewhat embarrassing letter defending what it described as “a great show”. Ultimately, however, one cannot help but feel that American football enthusiasts deserve better than Cohen. They might just get it now.