All football fans play the victim

I recently dissolved my personal Twitter account. There were plenty of reasons for this, but a lot of it boiled down to just going weary of outrage, fake news, and outrage about fake news. It can be a cesspit, and while I did my best to cultivate a timeline that was generally made up of good and interesting people, my wick was under siege for too many hours a week.

One of the last memes that appeared on my timeline saw people divide up a map of the UK based around regional stereotypes. Geordies don’t wear shirts in cold weather, people in Wales play rugby, and there are gay people in Brighton. That level of satire. What I repeatedly saw with Liverpool though, was the word ‘victim’.

This isn’t anything new. Liverpool’s detractors have always painted it as a ‘self-pity city’. This perception exists in popular culture, in poisonous Spectator columns and in the stadiums. “Always the victims” is a regular refrain for visiting fans to Anfield.

“Always the victims” is a Hillsborough slur. That’s the implication whenever anyone makes a Twitter meme about Liverpool, or when that song is sung. The tireless work of the Hillsborough families may have won battles in the legal system, but it can’t undo over 30 years of public perception and suspicion. Those using the word ‘victim’ when referring to a Mo Salah dive, do so either out of ignorance of that word’s connotations or with malice. They ignore the fact Hillsborough was a national tragedy as well as a Liverpool tragedy.

Many will claim though, that Liverpool fans, in particular, do ‘play the victim’, and it is entirely justified to take them to task for hysterical overreactions to events on the pitch. The very real prospect of a first title in 29 years for The Reds has – on social media at the very least – galvanised football fans against them. The prospect of crowing scousers is more than they can bear.

I don’t think I want Liverpool to win the title either. While I like Klopp, Salah, Shaqiri and a handful of players – I just prefer Man City. I don’t know what that says about me, preferring the oil-rich new kids on the block to the traditional powerhouse, but it’s just my taste. Somehow, I manage not to let my preference for Pep’s team cause me to ‘go after’ Liverpool. The excitement of this title race seems to have got the better of some people.

Any moaning tweet, by any Liverpool fan anywhere is cited as an example of playing ‘the victim’. Regardless of how unrepresentative it is of the fanbase or the myriad of bleating tweets that occur from fans of other clubs every second, there go the Scousers again, it’s never their fault is it? It’s just so Liverpool, that tweet from @VanDijkSZN.

All football fans play the victim. Our club never gets the same treatment other clubs get. We’re not as liked as that other club. Nobody likes my team. We get the bad refs. The media are out to get us.

I follow Man City fans who truly believe there is a media conspiracy against them. Fans of clubs in the north are never far away from complaining about the inherent ‘London bias’ of the football media. Arsenal think Spurs are media darlings.

I was recently in Crewe, and heard from fans about how the investigations into sexual abuse in football unfairly pointed the finger of blame at their club. As a Stoke fan, I remember seething at the bad press – and bad refereeing – foisted on my club just because of the style of football Tony Pulis played. Yesterday, I saw a tweet from a Millwall account laying into anti-racism group ‘Kick it Out’ for condemning their racist chanting more strongly than they condemned a racist incident at West Ham. “You told us off for being racist more than you told them off” not being the best look for any fanbase. You want to see fans weaponise victimhood with regards to Hillsborough? Read a Sheffield Wednesday forum.

A certain degree of believing the world is against you is a key component of football fandom. Nothing gets a crowd onside faster than a series of shocking decisions from a referee. A sense of injustice can fuel determination on the terraces and in the dressing room. It’s part of the ridiculous, often childish, nature of football support. It’s part of all of us.

If you’ve called Liverpool fans victims before, I don’t intend to scold you, and it is your right to carry on if you believe its genuinely fair and right to do so. When we use ‘victim’ to slur genuine victims of injustice though, we not only embarrass ourselves but expose the hypocrisy at the heart of football fandom. It’s never our fault.

David Cowlishaw

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