05 June 2007

More 'worst fans' nonsense

All day Sunday, BBC Football, which is the first site I check for news nearly every time I’m looking, called Liverpool the ‘worst fans in Europe’ in the headline of the top story. I’m sure there were many others who did similar, but unlike some of the others, the Beeb isn’t usually known for trotting out complete nonsense.

Now that Platini’s been forced to backtrack, and stated "No they are not the worst behaved in Europe. It's official, they are not the worst behaved in Europe" (as if he should even have to make a statement like that), it’s the last headline on the Football frontpage as of right now, and didn’t even show up until around 7pm UK time. The hallmark of brilliant spin is when the reply to it is ignored.

Maybe it’s best to go back to what Gaillard originally said. We’ve all seen the choice bits in the version released to Reuters.

"The incidents involving Liverpool fans have been well known to us before the trouble at the Champions League final which involved Liverpool fans last week.

"That was just the latest example. What other set of fans steal tickets from their fellow supporters or out of the hands of children? We know what happened in Athens, and Liverpool fans were the cause of most of the trouble there.

"There have been 25 incidents involving Liverpool fans away from home since 2003 and these are in the report -- most teams' supporters do not cause any trouble at all."

However, around the same time, audio of an interview with Gaillard showed up on the BBC’s website (again, sorry this focuses on BBC coverage, but I usually feel it’s the most rational major outlet). I hope it remains online, but in case, here’s as full a transcript as my sanity can provide.

Gaillard: …Like any citizens, they are entitled to their views and they are entitled to go to court for anything they have to complain about. It’s not for us to judge their action. If they go to court, we’ll present our point of view then.

BBC: Do you feel that maybe they should be looking at fellow fans rather than UEFA?

Gaillard: That’s a different issue. As we have said, most of the Liverpool fans who had problems were the result of actions by the other Liverpool fans. We know there have been muggings, there have been people assaulted, we even know some people have been assaulted, uh so, I think there’s food for thought in what happened in Athens and when we draw conclusions, there will be things that we need to analyze and probably to change but it’s for everyone.

BBC: In that report we know what you think about what happened last week and you’ll gather reports, is there a body of evidence at UEFA as far as Liverpool fans are concerned that this has happened before?

Gaillard: We have independent sources that tell us that, yes, there have been incidents with Liverpool fans over the last few years with matches away from Liverpool, but I think Liverpool Football Club knows that too and if you go even to websites like the FSF, the Football Supporters Federation, you see that there are lots of fans that have gone, Liverpool fans, and saying, you know, the way some of our fellow fans behaved is unacceptable. Now, again, a club cannot… it’s always, you know historically a club has always been made responsible for their fans, objectively responsible. The fact is they have trouble with 5000 stewards all over Europe. We understand that. We are not by any way blind to the circumstances. We know that Liverpool Football Club did not want these incidents to happen it’s so obvious. But we have to what can be figure out what can be done because we are in a new situation. We have thousands of fans traveling in all directions in Europe. This was not the case 20 years ago. Yes, for a final you had some fans traveling. But no, it’s even for a group stage. Where you can have suddenly a few thousand people coming from abroad and arriving at the airport and all the problems it causes with the traffic so it’s a whole new concept as to be developed.

BBC: Do you feel that Liverpool fans may be stopped from traveling? That may be a solution?

Gaillard: No, because then it will reappear with another club or… and plus, we live in the European Union. People are free to travel where they want, to go where they want…

BBC: You can stop them having tickets though…

Gaillard: This is again police coordination. If there are some elements that shouldn’t be having tickets, it’s important this would also be applied abroad.

BBC: When the report arrives on Richard Caborn’s desk, do you feel his initial view of what happened may be different?

Gaillard: I don’t know what his view is now.

BBC: He believes that Liverpool fans were treated unfairly.

Gaillard: Well, let him decide for himself. Let him decide for himself with the facts and figures.

BBC: And what will they say?

Gaillard: I think they will give him food for thought and, uh, we don’t try to put the blame on one or the other. We’re just asking some questions and trying to reason out what should be done in the future. I mean one thing we can all rejoice at is no one was badly hurt. That’s something very positive and we can build for the future.

BBC: Are Liverpool the worst club do you feel, the worst offenders for this in Europe?

Gaillard: We know that there are more incidents involving Liverpool from what this report was given to us than other clubs. But also, Liverpool is playing more matches.

Gaillard spins with the best corporate PR flacks and continues to ignore UEFA’s role in the debacle, but it sounds to me like it’s the journalist pressing the issue. It’s the reporter who asks if Liverpool will be banned from Europe or if fans will be denied tickets. He’s the first (and only) to say the phrase “worst club.” Maybe he’s simply responding to how the original article was phrased, but I doubt it. He’s goading Gaillard into saying something worse. Something that will sell.

Here in America, all I get of Sky Sports is an hour-long daily news show. If this is how the BBC handled the issue, I fear for what Sky’s coverage was like. I know the tabloids (I can’t speak for the coverage in the one tabloid no Liverpool fan should ever read but I can imagine) were as classy as usual.

I’m going nowhere near absolving UEFA from blame in how this was reported. They leaked parts of the report, parts that absolved UEFA of any blame for Athens, two days before it was to be delivered to Caborn. On a Sunday no less, a day they’d be sure it would get heavy coverage for lack of much else.

But the media took the bait, and maybe pushed it farther than UEFA anticipated. Of course, there’s always the possibility UEFA’s bureaucrats are cognizant of exactly what they’re doing, but it invoked such a fury among Liverpool supporters, it’s probably more than likely Gaillard will lose his job, although that may just be me hoping. And it invoked such a fury that Platini's had to come out with such mollifying comments in an attempt to subside the furor.

"It is not as if one set of fans are good or one set bad. This is not the question in the end. We cannot go around saying that."

Well, for all intents and purposes, your organization did say it, Michel. It’s common knowledge (well, it should be) I don’t like Platini, and I do hope both him and Gaillard aren’t around long. This is yet another example of their incompetence. But the media is partly to blame for the extent of this instance, and has to be the target of some of the fans’ anger.

I know I haven’t come to an astonishing conclusion. The media always hypes things in an attempt to sell papers. It’s definitely nothing new. But, and without absolving UEFA of anything they said or even implied, Liverpool fans should remember this example of it.

I don’t take back any of my condemnation of UEFA in the previous post, nor do I ignore the actions of a minority of Liverpool fans in Athens. But this isn’t about that. This is about how the media, even “sensible” outlets like the BBC, will play up anything, no matter how inflammatory, in their own aims.

I was disgusted at how Liverpool fans were tarred by UEFA’s accusations and unwillingness to take any blame over the weekend. I want it clear how disgusted I am with the media for promoting, and distorting, the story even further.

Apologies for two posts in a row on such an infuriating subject that’s probably best ignored, but it’s news, and unavoidable, as there’s not much transfer talk to distract around the club at the moment. But, on the same day as new co-owner Tom Hicks’ condemnation of UEFA, there’s also a promise of impending signings, maybe within the week. Can’t wait.

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