The contrast between Boris Johnson and Jurgen Klopp could not be starker. The Liverpool manager would make a great statesman. He is honest, takes responsibility, cares about people in worse situations than himself and does his best to contribute to a wider society. The British Prime Minister is the polar opposite.
When Klopp talks politics, it makes sense. When Johnson pontificates about football, it’s more of the same bluster and b******s that has characterised his entire career. According to certain sections of the media, Johnson “slapped down” Klopp because the 54-year-old suggested it might be worth at least exploring the reasons why Liverpool fans booed the English national anthem and the Queen’s grandson before the FA Cup final on Saturday.
A spokesman said the Prime Minister disagreed with Klopp and called the behaviour of the supporters a “great shame.” It takes some fairly deranged spin to see this as a slap-down. Klopp probably hasn’t even noticed he’s supposed to have been put in his place.
Like Klopp and Johnson, those who booed the anthem and those who were angered by the jeering are unlikely to find common ground. Will there ever be a time when Liverpool supporters embrace the patriotic experience?
The Prime Minister’s spokesman talked about shame, an emotion Johnson knows little about. He hasn’t any. Or empathy. The Spectator’s attack on Merseyside when under the 57-year-old’s editorship in 2004 is well known. The editorial column said that the people of Liverpool “see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it.” The article went on to repeat lies about Hillsborough.
What is less well known is Johnson’s supposed mea culpa in the next edition of The Spectator. Headlined ‘What I Should Say Sorry For,” the piece was written from “a cold, damp three-star hotel in Liverpool” after the old Etonian was ordered to travel north to apologise by Michael Howard, who was then the leader of the Conservative Party (and a Liverpool fan, much to the embarrassment of many Kopites).
“Operation Scouse-grovel,” as the author describes it, is as obscene as the previous editorial. Johnson doubled down. He wrote: “Whatever its mistakes of facts and taste, for which I am sorry, last week’s leading article made a good point: about bogus sentiment, self-pity, risk, and our refusal to see that we may sometimes be the authors of our misfortunes.”
Almost every week Liverpool supporters hear the echo of the words of the man who holds the highest political office in the UK. “You killed your own fans.” “Always the victims.” “The Sun was right, you’re murderers.”
Is there a more “bogus sentiment” than becoming emotional about a national anthem?
The Fans Supporting Foodbanks initiative was founded outside Goodison Park and Anfield – it often gets overlooked that Evertonians are on the receiving end of anti-Scouse invective, too.
Supporters of club after club come to Merseyside and rejoice in songs that mock poverty. Some Chelsea fans were chanting about hunger on Saturday. The Liverpool end booed institutional, inherited privilege. Guess which one the nation was outraged by? That was two days before the Governor of the Bank of England warned of “apocalyptic” rises in food prices.
Hunger is at the centre of the historic perception of the people of Liverpool. The port, once known as ‘Torytown’ and ‘the second city of the empire,’ first fell out of step with the rest of England after the Potato Famine. Millions of starving Irish landed on the banks of the Mersey. Many stayed. The “othering” of Liverpool stretches back to the mid-19th century.
What does this have to do with football? A lot. The word ‘Scouse’ is an insult that was reappropriated by those it was used against. In the poorest areas of Liverpool a century ago, the malnourished residents – who were the children of immigrants and who mainly identified as Irish – relied on soup kitchens and cheap street vendors for food. What they were served was Scouse, a watery stew. Scouser was a pejorative term used to mock the poorest. When “Feed the Scousers,” echoes around stadiums, it is expressing a deep folk memory that is imbued with anti-migrant and anti-Irish sentiment. Those chanting it may not be conscious of the history, but the driving forces for their behaviour can be traced back down many decades.
Nowhere else is poverty sneered at in this way by outsiders. No one sings ‘Feed the Geordies’ or ‘Feed the Mancs’ even though other places have more deprived areas. No wonder citizens of Liverpool are triggered by the chants.
And then we get to Hillsborough. Britain should still be in a state of uproar about the 1989 disaster that led to the deaths of 97 people. Senior policemen and high-level politicians lied about what happened, covered up the mistakes of officials and threw the blame at innocent supporters.
The national press, by and large, amplified the Establishment narrative or failed to provide adequate scrutiny of the authorities. A substantial percentage of the British public still will not accept the findings of the longest, most exhaustive inquests in the country’s history. To cap it all, the policemen responsible for the mass death and the cover-up were acquitted of any wrongdoing – even after some of those individuals admitted their culpability in legal settings.
Play that anthem again so we can all join in.
The events of the weekend illustrated just how toxic the attitudes towards Hillsborough have become. Family members of the dead were abused heavily on social media by trolls.
So what would it take to stop Liverpool supporters interrupting the national anthem? There’s a simple answer: don’t play it.
And we don’t want to hear any complaints about Scousers not showing respect. The booing is a cry for justice, for equality, a howl against hunger and poverty. It is depressing that so many in Britain cannot hear that. Klopp heard it. Johnson never will.