There seemed to be a fair bit of fuss caused by the (re)appearance of this banner with the faces of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell at the Southampton game last week. Fans writing on the This is Anfield forum showed a mixture of bewilderment and suspicion, with one commenting: Looks like a political gesture even if not meant to be, politics and sport don’t fit in my mind regardless of party. Others found the link to the Hillsborough tragedy inappropriate with one noting: Much rather this wasn’t associated with Hillsborough in any way,as I ‘d never believed that politics and sport should be mixed, before, however, going on to add: It is and we know it. But the Tory reaction to Hillsborough changed that forever!
So, do politics and football mix at LFC?
Jay McKenna, Chair of Spirit of Shankly, which describes itself as ‘the country’s first football supporters’ union’, certainly thinks so. He posted a tweet drawing on a famous quote by Bill Shankly, the club’s totemic manager in the 60’s and early 70’s:
That ‘erm’ a clear rejoinder to people to remember the club’s traditions. Others have pointed to more recent history, such as Robbie Fowler’s support for the two-year strike by Liverpool dockers in 1995-1998, the longest industrial dispute in British history:
The Hillsborough Tragedy and the 27-year fight for justice, most notably by the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and the Hillsborough Family Support Group have always been political, of course, in the sense that politics is about how control is exerted over people, and whilst its raw emotional nature has rightly elevated it above mundane parliamentary squabbles it shouldn’t be forgotten that ultimately it took parliamentary decisions to set up the Hillsborough Inquests that cleared the victims and survivors of any responsibility for the events of that day and find that the deaths of the 96 were unlawful killings due to the grossly negligent police and ambulance services.
We should also remember that the very word politics comes from the Greek politiká meaning ‘affairs of the cities’ and that Liverpool is a city with a long tradition of political activism and so it would be surprising if this were not also reflected on the terraces of the football club that shares its name. Indeed. one banner even proudly proclaimed republic status for the city:
We should also remember that the personal is political, and sometimes the Kop has been a place where political support for individuals has been expressed. When Liverpool fan Michael Shields was wrongfully jailed in Bulgaria in 2006 for a knife attack, the fans were active in campaigning for his release, which followed four years later:
Jack Straw, the then Home Secretary, who had an appalling record on Hillsborough, also proved himself no friend of justice in this case, refusing to pardon Michael in 2008 despite being told by two High Court judges that he had the power to do so.
On his release, Michael Shields thanksedLiverpool and Everton fans for their support: I would like to say a massive thank you to all those people out there – including Liverpool and Everton football fans – who have supported me and my family over the last four years by writing letters, by protesting, by marching, … Your voices were heard. Thanks to you, I knew I would never walk alone. Thank you.”
And just as Robbie Fowler had supported the Liverpool Dockers, LFC captain and legend Steven Gerrard supported the campaign for Michael’s release:
We also shouldn’t forget that politics can (and should) be fun! Over the years, LFC fans have drawn on that old standard Che Guevara poster to align their support for left-wing politics and the club, as here in their tribute to manager Rafa Benitez:
So, whether it’s a massive issue, like Hillsborough, a local dispute such as the dock strike, personal as with Michael Shields or just for fun, it’s important to remember that Liverpool fans have always showed their solidarity on the Kop and even on the pitch and long may it continue – or, as Che Guevara always said at the end of his letters to Fidel Castro: