London: There is one date that is seared on the conscience of every Manchester United supporter. 6 February, 1958 was the night a plane carrying the United squad ploughed into a fence at the end of a runway in Munich, killing 23, including eight players.
For Liverpool supporters there is a counterpoint. The Hillsborough disaster of 15 April, 1989, led to the deaths of 96 supporters at an FA Cup semi-final in a macabre crush at one end of the stadium. It was caused by a catastrophic failure, and consequent cover-up, by the responsible authorities. The full scale of the deceit and lies was only laid bare last Wednesday.
The Liverpool-Man United derby is the biggest in English football. Its next renewal will be staged at Anfield on 23 September, Sunday lunchtime when the home side will be looking for an overdue first win of the season. But, as much as a valuable three points, they will also hope and pray that their own fans refrain from launching into sick songs mocking Munich.
Meanwhile, there is also a strong chance that a pocket of United fans will pull out their own range of pathetic chants poking fun at the Hillsborough victims.
We know this is on the cards because during United’s 4-0 win over Wigan on Saturday that anti-Liverpool hatred was on show with a brief selection of those Hillsborough songs. This was despite Sir Alex Ferguson’s specific pleas that Wednesday’s events might persuade rival supporters to “draw a line in the sand” and stop such abhorrent behaviour.
There is no question that stadium hatred reached a fresh level of unpleasantness in the 2011-12 season, with the race rows involving Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra and John Terry-Anton Ferdinand adding paraffin to the wildfire.
And so, the evidence suggests that Anfield next weekend will be no place for sensitive souls. It’s so depressing that instead of looking forward to one of sport’s greatest fixtures for all its potential passion, skill and competitive edge, we can only hope that those obnoxious minorities finally see sense, and that Ferguson might be right about that “line in the sand” after all.
The weekend’s fixture list did not throw up any obviously enticing games, and there were few games that delivered anything out of the ordinary.
Performance of the week probably went to QPR, who followed up an inauspicious start (two losses and a draw) to shut out table-topping Chelsea and earn a 0-0 draw. QPR’s newly reinforced defence, featuring players like the dependable and experienced Kiwi Ryan Nelsen, ex-Chelsea man Jose Bosingwa and ex-United full-back Fabio may well prove hard to deal with in the months ahead.
Next best? That would be Arsenal. They may not get a more compliant opponent all season than Southampton, but it was notable how well they brushed them aside in a 6-1 thrashing at the Emirates. The link-up play of Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski – and their ingenious positional swapping – suggested two players who had spent years, not a few weeks, operating in the same team.
I’d also like to mention Aston Villa, whose young American full-back Eric Lichaj might be one to watch this season. Key summer signing Christian Benteke was outstanding and scored a good goal in their 2-0 win over Swansea.
As for Manchester City, they gave off bad vibes about their trip to Stoke City before the game and emerged with a highly predictable draw, although it could have been a win if Peter Crouch’s handball for his goal had been spotted.
Meanwhile, Spurs picked up an important win at Reading, and in flashes Liverpool were very good away at Sunderland but couldn’t get that win they so desperately need. It would be wonderful for Brendan Rodgers if it comes next weekend against United. Either way, let’s hope we’re talking about the football and not the hatred in the stands.