A time to remember

IT’S not for me to start giving out lectures on how supporters should behave during the minute’s silence at Sunday’s Manchester derby. Enough has been said and written about the consequences of disrupting the tribute to the Munich Air Disaster victims for anyone going to the game to know the score.

I’m not old enough to remember the disaster; I’m only old enough to recall the 30th and 40th anniversaries. But I don’t recall the build-up to those anniversaries being anywhere near as jittery as this one.

On the one hand, there has been the whole argument about the Busby Babes banner – and the AIG logo on it. On the other, there have been City fans concerned that a very small minority could end up besmirching the reputation of the club as a whole.

Because the eyes of the world will be on Old Trafford, because it’s a Manchester derby, because it will be such an emotionally-charged occasion, because it is on live television, it’s understandable that fans on both sides of the city may be nervous about Sunday; may, in fact, be glad when it is over. The anniversary of any tragedy is never one to be looked forward to.

But there’s more to it than that. It’s almost as if some people, both inside and outside the media, have been looking for things around the anniversary to get angry about. When the default tone of our media and fan culture is reactionary cynicism, too many people find the only way they can respond to the human tragedy of Munich is to indulge in a bizarre game which consists of accusing others of being disrespectful.

What else could have motivated those who threw red paint at the Busby Babes banner at the end of last month? Many United fans were upset at the inclusion of an AIG logo on the banner. It is hard to understand why that logo is there given that AIG were happy to remove it from United’s shirts for Sunday’s game. Does that justify such a response, though? Of course not.

Similarly, the concern over whether City’s fans will respect the minute’s silence reached such a level that their Official Supporters Club suggested a minute’s applause might be more appropriate. City themselves have acted with grace and class in the build-up, flying the club flag at half mast outside their stadium today, removing the sponsor’s logo from their own shirts, making their fans fully aware that they risk lifetime bans if they break the silence.

The tension is still there, though, and it’s something I’m sure didn’t exist 20, even 10 years ago.

On the 30th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster, United played Coventry in a First Division match at Old Trafford. The minute’s silence was perfectly observed, all the more poignant because of the light snow shower which accompanied it.

United and Coventry, by the way, played in their normal strips that day, complete with sponsor’s logos. I don’t remember there being any complaint or controversy over this.

It was the same 10 years later, when United’s first home game after the 40th anniversary was against Bolton.

Of course, a United fixture against Coventry or Bolton doesn’t carry any of the rivalry of a Manchester derby. But even in an age where tribal rivalry has been heightened by radio phone-ins and internet messageboards, there comes a point when the heat needs to be turned down.

Munich was a tragedy that touched the whole of Manchester. Amid all the pre-emptive finger-pointing, that’s something worth remembering.

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