Wednesday, 20 April 2011

It's More Important Than That

One of my favourite sporting quotations is one attributed to the famous old manager of Liverpool, Bill Shankly. He said, or is alleged to have said that "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."

Bill Shankly

It is a great line and succinctly sums up the feeling that a lot of sports fans have for their chosen game. But then, sometimes, real matters of life and death impinge on sport and you realize all over again that at the end of the day, sport is a leisure activity, a piece of entertainment, a release from the daily grind but that is all. Two events over the last week have reminded me of that very fact.

Firstly, last Friday was the 22nd anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster, where 96 people lost their lives whilst attending the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. I can still vividly remember that day. I was at the County Ground, watching Swindon take on Watford in a Division 2 game. I switched on my radio at half-time to see how the other games were going, only to hear that there had been “some disturbance” at the semi-final, and that a number of fans were injured and they believed that there was a possibility that 1 or maybe 2 people had even been killed. Obviously, that information just got worse and worse as the afternoon and evening wore on. It struck me to the core that these were fellow football fans, doing the exact same thing as I was on a Saturday afternoon, and they had lost their lives because of it. It was a seminal moment in English football, and years later resulted in the enforcement that every major football ground in the country should be an all-seater stadium. The ultimate sacrifice of The 96 will never be forgotten.

The other episode that brought the importance or otherwise of sport into proper focus was reported on the news bulletins last night. Neil Lennon, manager of Celtic, and 2 – possibly now 3 – other renowned Celtic supporters have apparently been sent parcel bombs in the post. Somebody has seemingly seen fit to try to take the lives of these people because of their football affiliations. I know that there is also a religious element to the rivalry between the 2 Glasgow clubs, but ultimately we are talking about sport here. People are dying all over the world because of real problems and real issues; let us not start killing each other because some are wearing a different replica top. Strikes me that some people need to grow up, open their eyes and see the world for how it really is.

Some people believe that football is a matter of life and death – it isn’t, and it never should be.

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