Philip Patrick Philip Patrick

Liverpool fans should stop booing the national anthem

Liverpool fans at the Carabao Cup final (Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Liverpool fans, a significant number at least, booed the national anthem at the Carabao Cup final at Wembley yesterday. It wasn’t the first time this has happened – it’s been going on since the 1980s – but it was the first time since the monarch was diagnosed with cancer. This added a certain poignancy to the ‘save’ bit of the anthem, and might have been expected to persuade the Liverpool boo-boys to take the afternoon off. But no.

The usual explanation for this ongoing practice is lingering resentment at how Liverpool was affected by the Thatcher government’s monetarist policies of the 1980s (parts of the city reported 30 to 50 per cent unemployment) and how it has been treated after. One of the most damaging aspect of this story were the revelations (from papers released in 2011) that at one point senior ministers urged Mrs Thatcher to more or less give up on the city and allow its ‘managed decline’.

The other deep wound is the Hillsborough tragedy of 1989 where 97 Liverpool fans were crushed to death during the FA cup semi final against Nottingham Forest. The especially egregious point here was that there were clear attempts to shift the blame onto the Liverpool fans in the aftermath of the tragedy. The Conservatives were involved again, with former MP Irvine Patnick revealed as a source for the Sun’s notorious ‘The Truth’ story vilifying Liverpool fans. Patnick, who died in 2012, claimed he was lied to by South Yorkshire police.

It might be time to move on

All this seems to have created a feeling in Liverpool that their city is not really English at all. No allegiance is owed to a British state which they feel has treated them with such contempt. Banners to this effect have been seen at Anfield including a huge one proclaiming ‘We are not English, we are Scouse’. Hence the booing.

But the danger with endlessly protracted grievance is that perspective is lost. The idea that investment in Liverpool might be a waste of precious resources seems to have reflected not so much prejudice but hopelessness and despair at a time of acute financial crisis and deep social unrest. It wasn’t the only view around the cabinet table, either. At the same time, Michael Heseltine was lobbying for £100 million pounds to regenerate Liverpool – and he brought the garden festival to the city in 1984. 

As for Hillsborough, no one can deny that the blame-shifting in the aftermath to this tragedy was scandalous and cannot ever be made right. Eventually, the 2014-16 inquests concluded that the Liverpool fans had in no way contributed to the disaster, but that didn’t bring closure. In 2019, David Duckenfield, the officer on charge on the day, was cleared of gross negligence in a criminal trial where the old stories of misbehaviour by supporters were once more presented in court.

As a Liverpool supporting friend who attended the game (and disagrees with booing the anthem) told me: though some of Britain’s institutions may have failed Liverpool, the British people were supportive of their fans’ fight for justice, and helpful in unpicking in the official narrative. The national anthem represents the country, not particular governments or organs of the state or individuals.  

He is apparently not alone. An article in the Anfield Wrap from last year claims that fans are divided, with some preferring silence and many singing the name of the club instead. The writer believes ‘the huge middle ground’ of fans are neutral on the issue or unconcerned. He also points out that out that booing was suspended when the Queen died, disappointing ‘thousands of edgy columnists’.

Still, many will find Liverpool fans’ ongoing bitterness decades after the events that provoked them exasperating and confusing. The true villain in the hearts and minds of the disaffected Liverpool fans seems to be not Britain, per se, but individuals within South Yorkshire police, sections of the media and perhaps most of all the Conservative party, or more specifically the Conservative party of the 1980s – and even then only a few of its representatives, most of whom are long dead.

In that light, the idea of Liverpool not being truly English, like Celtic’s flying of the Irish tricolour at Parkhead, seems somewhat churlish. Liverpool is an English city and Liverpool FC have contributed greatly to, and enjoyed enormous benefit from, playing in a league created, developed, and sustained largely by the people of England. It’s not just Liverpool fans that attend Liverpool games.

God forbid the day ever comes that football crowds are barred from showing their emotions or expressing dissent. Football grounds should be raucous and passionate arenas, and the royals can take a bit of knocking now and again. But Liverpool fans might want to reflect on how meaningful and appropriate this particular protest is in the UK of 2024, and whether, like their manager Jurgen Klopp, it might be time to move on.