Ferguson urges end of 'beyond the pale' animosity
Liverpool v Manchester Utd:ALEX FERGUSON believes tomorrow’s tribute to the Hillsborough victims and their families should mark the end of “beyond the pale” animosity that brings Manchester United and Liverpool into disrepute.
United are Liverpool’s first opponents at Anfield since the Hillsborough Independent Panel revealed the extent of the establishment cover-up following the 1989 disaster. Ninety-six balloons will be released before kick-off in memory of those who died, a mosaic reading “96, Justice and Truth” will be raised on three sides of the stadium and representatives of the campaign groups will be in attendance.
Ferguson and Bobby Charlton may lay flowers in front of the Kop, and Ferguson has also written an emotive letter that will be presented to every United supporter as they enter Anfield. The letter states: “Our great club stands with our great neighbours Liverpool today to remember that loss and pay tribute to their campaign for justice. I know I can count on you to stand with us in the best traditions of the best fans in the game.”
A small number of Liverpool and United fans have taunted their opposite number over the loss of 23 lives at Munich in 1958 and Hillsborough. But after every Manchester City fan marked the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster with respect at Old Trafford, Ferguson has called for tomorrow’s meeting between the north-west rivals to draw a similar line under “obscene” hostilities.
He said: “I don’t think it will change in terms of the animosity towards each other. No question of that. What can change is going beyond the pale – the chants that refer to Munich or Hillsborough or whatever. So I think that is the end of that.
“There is a point where you go beyond the pale. And I think in the past it has been that way. You have to remember that it is not all the supporters – it is a minority. And a minority can create the headlines in order to get a voice.
“They have an opinion and they want to be heard – an obscene opinion but nonetheless it is there. And it does not reflect the general view or attitude of both clubs. We’re talking about four or five hundred supporters on either side that bring their clubs into disrepute or whatever.”
Anti-Liverpool chants during United’s win over Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford last Saturday, plus the first meeting between Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra since the striker refused to shake the defender’s hand in February, have added to the tension.
But Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers are adamant that nothing should detract from the recognition being paid to the Hillsborough families and their 23-year fight for the truth.
The Liverpool manager said: “First and foremost it is an opportunity to commemorate the families and pay respect to all of those who have worked tirelessly for over 23 years. Football has been a great support in that, a lot of clubs have given fantastic support, and this is our opportunity to do the same at Anfield.
It is an important day and the families deserve that respect from both teams and both sets of supporters.
“It is an emotion-charged game but I won’t tell Liverpool supporters how to behave. They are well-educated supporters who value humanity so I see no issue there and the message from Sir Alex to his supporters has been clear too. Once we have paid tribute to the families we will get on with the football.”
Before kick-off, however, the Premier League handshake will bring together Suarez and Evra, should he start for United. Rodgers insists he has not spoken about the issue to the Uruguay international, who served an eight-match suspension for racially abusing Evra last season but is confident the controversy will not be reopened at Anfield.
“I think the whole situation last season was tiring. It just went on and on. We have brought closure to it,” Rodgers said. “I can only speak from working with the guy and, both in football and socially, I find him a really good guy.
“He is a good man, very family orientated, very much a team player and is very passionate about football. He is always into training early and never in the treatment room. He is not here to steal a living.
“Of course he had his incidents last year but people will boo good players no matter what they do.”
Ferguson went to Anfield to pay his respects to the Hillsborough victims in 1989 and United offered Liverpool any support they required in the aftermath of the disaster. As for the panel’s findings, he said: “I didn’t read it. I just heard [David] Cameron’s speech [when he apologised in Parliament]. It was horrific, absolutely horrific in this day and age. You think it could happen in some South American country but it was quite amazing.”
The United manager also urged his players to play the match rather than the occasion with Ferguson recalling how difficult his team found it to play against City due to the build-up to the Munich 50th anniversary game in 2008, losing 2-1. He believes the match at Anfield could be flat, for similar reasons. “That is a possibility, I don’t deny that. Human nature can be that way,” he said. “The players for instance when we played Man City in the 50th anniversary, the place was so flat.
“Even in the dressingroom, I felt it before the game we could not perform. I was just happy to get over it. It was such an emotional day for us. I think we should let the players get on with it. There is enough pressure on players, let the game go on.
“We want to make sure we do our best and represent the [club] in the proper way and enjoy ourselves. I think that is the key for us on Sunday – just to go out and enjoy it. Once the kick-off goes, then go and win the game. That has got to be our attitude.”
Rodgers enters his first meeting with United as Liverpool manager without a league win and admits being “hurt” by the transformation of the two clubs’ fortunes since growing up with the fixture in the 1970s and 80s. He said: “It does hurt when you’ve been a club of this standing for so many years and the reality is that you’ve fallen behind. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that.
“But it also brings great motivation and enhances my commitment to show that we’re going to fight to keep moving forward.
“You can’t control everything but certainly what you can control is your spirit and the level to which you look to perform on the field. Hopefully over these coming years we can close the gap.
“That’s the reality of it. Off the field our supporters are the best in the world. But on the field we need to make up the gap for sure.”