For a Saturday that had sports fans salivating at the prospect of starting their day watching one of the greatest rivalries in sport, there then followed by an Irish expedition in Paris in the evening, diagnosis it really could not have gone much worse. Unless you are a United fan, simply nothing positive to come out of Saturday. Heated debates threatened to boil over, organisers of sports events showed an incompetency which is rarely seen nowadays and the viewing public on couches all over the country were left angry. Imagine how those in the Stade de France felt.
The sheer incompetency of organisation that went on on Saturday is probably the most surprising aspect of the day. By and large, major sporting events are extraordinary well co-ordinated spectacles in terms of security, the importance placed on both fan and players welfare and in terms of the entertainment on hand. Granted, the entertainment can be so well co-ordinated that it can serve to dilute the thrilling experience that a match can bring by itself. The pumped-in music for tries and drumming for, well, nothing in particular at the Wales match in Lansdowne Road probably increased the grumbling noises out of fans. Being told when to cheer and when to chant by some fella controlling the sound in the stadium is simply ridiculous.
But there other end of the crowd passion scale which was visible at Old Trafford is nothing short of vile and poisonous. Starting a few hours before the match had even began as police officers in Manchester confiscated United fanzines which contained a cut-out ku klux klan mask as it’s back cover. The people behind the fanzine must’ve been cracking up at their own wit and brilliance. The chants that Kenny Daghlish described as “banter between the fans” displayed that United-Liverpool fan relations at probably close to their worst. What sane person could enjoy chanting labelling Liverpool fans as murderers for the tragedies in Heysel, and especially in Hillsborough? Likewise, how can anyone find chanting about the Munich Air Disaster rewarding or humourous in any way whatsoever.
More troubling still is that so little of the coverage given to this match, and Lord knows there was enough of it, focused on the despicable chanting that went on between the two fans. James Lawton of The Independent did pick up on this point briefly, before descending into every lazy journalist’s approach by focusing on Suarez and how he brushed off Evra’s handshake of conciliation. Fact of life: people who don’t like each other tend not to shake each other’s hand. But Suarez didn’t just do that. Nope. According to Lawton he “chose to re-admit all the demons that have congregated so rapaciously in recent months and without any hint of censure from Liverpool, the club of Shankly and Liddell and of a tradition which at its zenith was, both on the field and the terraces, a monument to the most warming spirit of battle and open-hearted love of the great carnival of football.” Give me a break. The hugely insulting chanting between both sets of supporters, and other football clubs to boot, is a far more important issue than whether the teams shake hands at the start of the match. Suarez has merely served to ratchet up the tension between the two clubs a notch, maybe even two at a stretch.
French and Irish rugby fans joined together to voice their anger at the Six Nations match organisers and the Federation Francaise de Rugby and their shocking lack of foresight or common sense. Vincent Clerc warned last Wednesday that parts of the pitch at the Stade de France were already frozen for the clash against Italy, six days before this particular farce. At no point in the following week did temperatures go above zero degrees in Paris. No quality of covers and level of de-icing equipment is going to help in this situation, thus this match could’ve easily been called off on Wednesday or Thursday before the hoards of Irish fans and French fans descended upon the French capital.
As the finger pointing began in earnest, one particular revelation proved particularly startling: French TV companies had offered the Six Nations match organisers and FFR to move the match forward to 3pm on Saturday due to the weather conditions … and they refused. In an age where Premier League matches can now be played as early as 12pm because TV bosses dictate so, the fact that the French TV companies were the only organisers who seemed to have the match-goers best interests at heart is beyond belief. We can be only be extremely grateful that match referee Dave Pearson saw sense at the last possible point and took the players welfare into account.
So what now? Those Irish fans who waited in the stadium until a bilingual lady from the Six Nations committee told them to leave, who waited for over an hour for the train out of the hellhole that is St. Denis, who had to endure those -9 conditions, should be mad as hell. Will these 10,000 or so Irish fans who travelled get any compensation beyond the match ticket for the refixtured game? Probably not, but all we can do is support any attempts they make at getting some money back off the various organisers responsible.
It’s a rare experience nowadays to see the organisers get it as spectacularly wrong as they did in Paris. On the contrary, organisers barely seem bothered about tackling the problem of some of the vile chanting heard at the United-Liverpool match, and many other matches.