Rod Liddle

Since when has grief meant threats and vituperation?

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I would like to begin my article this week with a minute’s silence, please, which I would enjoin you to observe respectfully and without feeling the need to chant obscenities. This particular minute’s silence is in respect of the minute’s silence which was not observed appropriately by some football supporters last weekend. That minute’s silence, held before the Spurs versus Chelsea FA Cup semi-final, was ordained to commemorate the deaths of the 96 Liverpool fans who perished at the Hillsborough football ground 23 years ago, and also an Italian footballer who died during the week.

I am not sure how those observing the silence were expected to divvy up the minute; properly speaking, poor old Piermarino Morosini, who suffered a heart attack while playing, would receive only 0.619 of a second, the most fleeting of half-thoughts. Nobody knew who the chap was, so perhaps that is as well. But perhaps, instead, everyone was supposed to remember all the people who had died simultaneously, all 97 of them —  along with anyone else who had died since 1989, or had become very ill, or was feeling a bit peaky but was in some way associated with the city of Liverpool. A minute’s silence for everything, for existence and its inevitable ending.

This slightly fascistic, and in the main confected, grief observation business has become a national obsession — but there is something (unfairly, as we shall see) stereotypically Scouse about it, at least in the reaction to those who fail to observe each hastily arranged commemoration as the current fashion dictates. The psychotic bullying, the perpetual sense of victimhood, the self-righteousness, the bizarre, disembodied blubbing. There has been a minute’s silence at football grounds pretty much every week for the last six months, incidentally.

Take the actor and comedian Alan Davies. He wondered, aloud, why Liverpool would refuse to play a game of football on the anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster (which, swathed in self-righteousness, they had done). On the anniversary of his mum’s death, he opined, he still went out and did stuff — why should Liverpool FC be any different? Cue a response that would have done credit to the Waffen SS. ‘Stay out of Liverpool you c*** Davies. God I’d love to be there when you get what you deserve. Sleep with one eye open you c***,’ was but one rejoinder. Other well-wishers told him to kill himself, or announced that they would urinate on his mother’s grave.

That was all on Twitter — but the mainstream media quickly followed suit. A spokesman for the Hillsborough families demanded that Davies keep his views to himself, i.e. that these sentiments should never be uttered aloud. Some idiot on the Daily ­Mirror announced that the families of those who had died at Hillsborough were ‘battered by ignorance’ and condemned Davies for seemingly making himself a victim. But Davies was doing no such thing. Rather admirably, the actor did not resile from the point of his original comment, even if he did apologise for having expressed himself insensitively. He suggested that this supposed ‘grief’ was a ‘distortion of genuine emotion’ and that the day upon which someone close to you died was less important than the memories which abide with you, eternally. All very true.

He might have added, but did not, that the Liverpool supporters feel no such compulsion to commemorate the deaths of the 39 Juventus supporters who were killed during the 1985 European Cup Final at the Heysel Stadium, victims of Liverpool supporters’ murderous hooliganism. A minute’s silence at Anfield every so often for the dead Juventus supporters might serve a certain purpose, i.e. to inculcate the notion that such viciousness must never happen again and to invoke a degree of remorse. But Heysel is not commemorated in Liverpool. They would much rather that it was conveniently forgotten. This is not grief at all, then, in the main — but ­tribal, lachrymose self-pity.

Liverpool is a fine city with a strong sense of itself and I would guess that the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants, acquainted as they are with the necessity for resilience, feel as estranged as many of those living elsewhere by this wallowing — and indeed its corollary, the sputum-flecked demands for vengeance, the threats and the vituperation. Those are not qualities which we usually associate with grief, are they? My guess is that this majority keep their heads down, though, for fear of psychopathic reprisal, in much the same way as the press and politicians kowtow to the most vocal of the psychologically disturbed griefmongers. They know that they will be in for it if they say anything different.

In any case the malaise has spread to the rest of the country; the confected, public grieving and the irrational, incandescent fury when people dare to question it has become iconic, a thing of our times, and hugely exacerbated by those new conduits for the brain-damaged and the moronic, Facebook and Twitter. In truth, the whole business was never really Scouse all along, even if the city has become unfairly tarnished with it in the public mind. It was simply that the phenomenon was first noticed on a large scale up there, a consequence perhaps of Hillsborough and the legitimate sense of injustice over the way in which the police — and, later, politicians — handled the tragedy. The minute’s silence stuff, nationwide, has now become palpably absurd and as divorced from real empathy as it is possible to get. It is grandstanding, a form of showing off.