I read your article in the Times today, on the reaction to your comments on Hillsborough. Since I know you are particularly frustrated by some of the tweets you have received on this subject, I thought I would do you the courtesy of taking more than 140 characters in response.
I want to start by saying I’ve always thought – and still do deep down – that you’re a decent bloke. When I’ve seen you on Q.I, I especially like the way you attempt to look thick whilst actually being clever. It’s a shame you seem to be doing the opposite in your article.
As is often the case it’s not the initial mistake that really grates, but rather the way you’ve handled it. Most reasonable people can forgive mistakes made in the heat of the moment. What is harder to forgive is when the original error is compounded by an apology that is qualified, that misses the point, that is, ultimately, self serving (as a Liverpool fan I know all about that this season).
Let me briefly explain why.
Firstly its patronising to suggest that somehow people haven’t really listened to what you said and that if they did take the time to, they would see that you were not being disrespectful. I suspect like me, many others have listened to exactly what you said. More than once. Perhaps its worth recapping your ‘reasons’ for suggesting Liverpool should be forced to play on the day that 96 of their fans died, which ranged from the measured, ‘it gets on my t**s’, to the reasoned ‘Arsenal don’t play on the day my mum died’. I hope you’ll forgive me – and thousands others – for finding it hard to see that as anything other than crassly disrespectful.
But what I find more offensive is your suggestion in the article that if Liverpool had played on the 15th against Everton at Wembley, it would have somehow been more poignant and brought more attention to the fight for justice and therefore, magically, you have had a valid point all along. If this was the argument you presented in your podcast, then fair enough, so long as you accompanied it with an acknowledgment that, in the end, it would not be for you to judge what would be more poignant, it would be for the families. But this wasn’t what was going through your mind then and it isn’t now. It is post hoc rationalisation of the worst kind.
In fact what is really telling about what you really think about what you said is the perverse pride you take in the number of people who clicked a button to say they ‘liked’ your podcast, as if that is in some way justification for what you said. I know it hasn’t escaped your attention that the web democratises the views of some pretty horrible people. Don’t you see that those people who took pleasure in giving your comment ‘it gets on my t**s’ the ‘thumbs up’ are exactly the kinds of people who you have felt violently abused and threatened by recently?
Your naked attempt in the article to portray yourself as the victim is as ridiculous as it is odious. No-one deserves threats and abuse but the fact that a few idiots are capable of volleying off some vile tweets hardly means you need to go into witness protection. Just ask Piers Morgan. But this isn’t real fear on your part. It is cold and calculating. Srategic, not emotional. Just like the empty words around the 15th and ‘abide with me’.
Where the article really reaches a nadir is your misguided sermon on grief. This has been a recurring theme of your defence. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion on grief borne out of experience. You’re as qualified as anyone to do that, as indeed am I and millions of others. The problem is the way in which you suggest that somehow you understand the nature of grief better than others. Better even than those who lost friends and relatives who simply went out to watch their favourite team one day and didn’t come back. Look closer and you undermine your own argument. You’re right to say that grief is intensely personal. That is why you are not qualified to tell them – or anyone else – how to grieve. You’re not, because no-one is.
In any case Hillsborough was very much a public tragedy and if some people decide that, in addition to all the private pain they endure every day, it helps them to come together in solidarity, to share their grief, is not only their prerogative, it is human nature.
But at its heart, the reason you started all of this was not because you want the 15th to be ‘even more poignant’, not because United or Rangers don’t play on tragic anniversaries, not even because it gets on your t**s. The reason you think the game should be played on the 15th is the very reason why its so special to everyone involved – and wider – that it isn’t. You think a game of football – in this case Chelsea vs Barcelona – is more important.
In the days when football payers, their clubs and indeed their football associations are accused of being increasingly remote from the fans, you, as a real football fan, should, on this occasion, be applauding them for disproving Shankly’s old maxim that football is more important than life and death.