WeeklyWorker

19.05.2022
Gut rejection of royal elite

Pissing on the parade

Paul Drummond explores, celebrates and urges on the hissing, the booing, the barracking, the loathing of HRH William Windsor and all he stands for by Liverpool fans

Despite being slightly diminished in the age of the Premiership and wall-to-wall TV football coverage, the Wembley FA Cup final still retains its status and tradition as something more than a great sporting event.

Surrounded with the reassuring patina of a 150-year history and invariably attended by the great and good of official British society, the May 15 Cup final was, of course, much more than a game of two halves and 22 players chasing after a ball for 90 minutes. Football is, for masses upon masses of people, a “religion” (Diego Maradona). At the very least, the FA Cup final is a tightly choreographed event which allows the British ruling class to extend its already extensive soft-power - military bands, pre-match presentation of players to a presiding royal personage, singing of the traditional hymn, ‘Abide with me’, and, of course, the national anthem, ‘God save the queen’. All that shows that this is not just a sporting, but an ideological, occasion.

No need, then, to imagine the reaction when the almost sacred ceremonies were disrupted by Liverpool fans, who booed and barracked the reigning monarch’s eldest grandson, William Windsor, when he was introduced to the teams. The playing of the national anthem was attended by further booing and jeering. Both for those in the stadium and the millions watching in the UK (and around the world) this very public rejection of the British establishment’s born-to-rule ideology was clear and wonderfully audible.

The response of mainstream politicians, and their rightwing media, spoke, understandably, of establishment outrage. Leading the charge was House of Commons speaker and typical Labour toady, Sir Lindsay Hoyle. He utterly condemned the fans and added:

The FA Cup final should be an occasion when we come together as a country. It should not be ruined by a minority of fans’ totally shameful behaviour. In this year of all years - the queen’s platinum jubilee - this is dreadful.1

In the clicking seconds, minutes, hours and the few days that followed, Tory MPs, Tory ministers, Tory mayors, Tory newspapers, Tory mouthpieces and Tory influencers voiced their condemnation too.2 Typical was former culture secretary Karen Bradley, who wailed: “It is utterly unacceptable and disgraceful that fans booed Prince William. I would urge the FA to take all necessary action and pursue those responsible.” Not to be outdone in terms of loyal, patriotic fervour, Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, gushed: “We have the most wonderful monarch and those fans who booed do not represent their clubs or our country.”3 Boris Johnson did not miss a trick either and got in on the act to add his own twist by “slapping down” the Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp, a German, who had defended the fans.4 In contrast, the total silence of Sir Keir Starmer and the city’s Labour MPs on this ‘delicate’ issue speaks volumes. Votes cannot be lost.

Whilst the Telegraph, the Mail and the Express might round up the usual rightwing suspects and royalist toadies to have a go at Liverpool fans, the carefully phrased defence by the diplomatically astute Klopp shows that this is more than the sort of culture war spat that football has engendered so many times before. Remember the simulated Tory outrage about Black Lives Matter and footballers ‘taking the knee’? Or, even further back, the Tory attacks on football fans in general, and Liverpool in particular, after Heysel and Hillsborough in the 1980s? Although the lines of attack adopted by the Tories share some features with those campaigns, the focus here is on much more than ‘bad behaviour’ or the need for yet more regulation and control of fans.

Challenge

What has drawn the fire of the Tories is the explicitly political implications of the derogatory gestures, shouting and booing, directed towards symbols of the British ruling class. The social and ideological role of the monarchy as an institution has long been understood by socialists, but in this ‘platinum jubilee year’ we have been getting more than our fair share of royalist claptrap and saccharine sentimentality.

The royal presence at public events like the Cup Final, along with the rest of the flummery and pageantry, are designed to signify a sense of national belonging and consensus - in Lindsay Hoyle’s words, “an occasion when we come together as a country”. The response of Liverpool fans was a challenge to that cosy narrative of national unity and social harmony embodied in the monarchy, and represented by the great and the good neatly seated around HRM in Wembley stadium. It may have been only rude gestures and a noisy disruption, but those occupying the posh seats at Wembley, and their minions in the rightwing media, know only too well what it all means. The Liverpool fans last Saturday were not singing along in harmony with the tunes that the establishment were playing and were not afraid to show it.5

The specific reasons for this are not hard to find, and indeed the media were very quick to identify why Liverpool fans should be so hostile to these symbols of the state. Leave aside the historic influx of worst-paid Irish labour and their Fenian ideas and ongoing ties. The most important and immediate cause is the way that Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government, together with the rightwing media (especially The Sun), along with the police and the legal system, behaved following the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, which saw 96 Liverpool fans crushed to death during a match. The Tories and the media slandered Liverpool fans and the city as a whole, lied about what had happened and covered up the police incompetence that had caused the crush. The truth only emerged as a result of a public campaign by the relatives of the victims and the wider community, but, despite public enquiries and inquests, there were no successful prosecutions of the guilty.

There was a widespread anger in the city, England’s 10th largest, that there had been an establishment cover-up and a concerted campaign by the Tories and the media against Liverpool fans and the city more generally. During the relatives’ campaign, which enjoyed more than considerable support in Liverpool and beyond, it was clear that Hillsborough and the subsequent slanders and cover-up were not just the work of individual ‘rotten apples’, but were carried out by the state and the establishment as a whole.6 Boris Johnson only added to this when in 2004, as editor of The Spectator, he launched an attack on the people of Liverpool for an “excessive predilection for welfarism” and their “peculiar, and deeply unattractive, psyche”, which means “they see themselves whenever possible as victims and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it”.7

There are, of course, deeper political and social reasons for the anti-establishment and anti-Tory politics of Liverpool fans, which reflect the history of economic decline and crisis that has shaped Merseyside generally since the 1960s, culminating in the Thatcher government’s ‘managed decline’ strategy and its conflicts with the Militant-led Labour city council in the 1980s. The result of this history has been the electoral and political decimation of the Tories in Liverpool: the city has had no Tory MPs since the early 1990s and the last Tory councillor lost his seat in 1998.8 As one academic study has put it, “It has become part of Scouse identity to be opposed to [the Tories] and that has continued.”9

It is a commonplace in the city to refer to Liverpool exceptionalism and the city’s sense of itself as a place apart - ‘Scouse, not English’, as the banners proclaim on the Kop. Patterns of Irish emigration, the historical forms of sectarian politics and rivalries between Orange and Green, alongside the dramatic economic decline of Liverpool’s maritime economy in the post-war period, have all contributed to very distinctive political and social forms, which are reflected in the ‘fan culture’ of Liverpool FC.

Some critics have perhaps taken their lead from Boris Johnson’s 2004 disparaging comments on Liverpool’s claim of victimhood and its inflated sense of identity and exceptionalism as a basis to attack the fans’ reaction to William Windsor at Wembley. But, however much it might simply be dismissed as mindless or outrageous hooliganism by the media, the booing and jeering had a real target and a real meaning for fans: it expressed their deep hostility to the ruling class and what it represents for working people. Above all, it showed an unwillingness to go along with the state cover-ups exposed by the campaign for justice for the Hillsborough victims, and all the falsehoods of social peace and national unity that are routinely performed at great national occasions in the presence of princes and mainstream politicians.

We communists applaud, welcome and celebrate all such manifestations of opposition to the political, constitutional and economic status quo: may it continue to grow louder, stronger and ever bolder. But noisy protest and barracking the establishment is only the start. To paraphrase Marx, the fans have only criticised the world: the point, however, is to change it.


  1. www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10816643/Prince-William-BOOED-Wembley-crowd-FA-Cup-Final.html.↩︎

  2. www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2022/05/15/liverpool-fans-branded-shameful-booing-national-anthem-duke.↩︎

  3. metro.co.uk/2022/05/15/mps-furious-after-prince-william-booed-during-fa-cup-final-at-wembley-16646109.↩︎

  4. www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2022/05/16/boris-johnson-blasts-jurgen-klopp-defending-liverpool-fans-booing.↩︎

  5. The 2022 FA Cup Final was not the first time Liverpool fans had booed ‘God save the queen’. For earlier examples in 2017 and 2019, see: talksport.com/football/582553/liverpool-fans-boo-national-anthem-community-shield-danny-murphy.↩︎

  6. www.newsweek.com/why-prince-william-booed-liverpool-soccer-fans-actions-explained-fa-cup-final-wembley-1706909.↩︎

  7. Quoted in: www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/jurgen-klopp-boris-johnson-liverpool-26977383.↩︎

  8. www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/you-know-tories-once-ran-15632298.↩︎

  9. Ibid.↩︎