The managers of Liverpool and Manchester United made requests for the fans of their clubs to not engage in tragedy chanting at their game on 5 March

What is 'tragedy chanting'?

Football fans are known for being loyal and doing as much as they can to try to help their team win.

But a minority of supporters think that means chanting about tragic events involving the opposition.

Before their Premier League clash, Liverpool and Manchester United have released a joint statement condemning songs about disasters involving the two clubs.

In it, managers Jurgen Klopp and Erik ten Hag say it’s “unacceptable” and “time for it to stop”.

So why do fans continue to do it even though they are asked – or even begged – by their own clubs not to?

What is ‘tragedy chanting’?


It’s when fans sing deeply offensive songs that reference stadium disasters or fatal accidents involving players or supporters.

Despite being widely condemned by everyone involved in the game, it has been part of football culture for decades.

And it continues to happen in 2023.

Both sides’ supporters were targeted when Leeds United played Manchester United in the Premier League last month.

In that game, chants about the Munich air disaster and the murders of two Leeds fans in Istanbul in 2000 were traded between the rival fans.


Why do fans do it?


Sarah Majid, a sports and performance psychology coach, thinks there’s various reasons for ‘tragedy chanting’.

“A lot of it is alcohol, when you’re drunk and you’re insensitive you don’t really realise what you’re doing,” she tells BBC Newsbeat.

“If people were sober and they were in in a football stadium, I don’t think they would be doing them.”

She also thinks that some fans are blinded by loyalty to their club.

“I want my team to win. I’m going to do anything possible if they’re losing,” Sarah says.

She says some fans who sing the abusive songs will argue “the whole nature of sport is be competitive”.


What’s it like to hear tragedy chanting?


As well as the Munich air disaster, another common subject of tragedy chanting is the Hillsborough disaster.

Ninety-seven Liverpool supporters died as a result of a crush at Sheffield’s Hillsborough ground in April 1989.

Reds fan Ste Hoare is a regular at Anfield and says “there’s a real frustration and anger” when he hears those songs from opposition fans.

“It’s just pure tribalism,” he tells Newsbeat.

“I should be able to take my eight-year-old son to a football game without him having to ask me ‘Daddy, why are they calling me a murderer?’

“Literally I’ve had that exact conversation with my son. That’s really difficult to have to do that.”

Ste, who’s head of operations at Liverpool fan channel The Redmen TV, says fans often chant things like “feed the Scousers”.

“The whole country’s in a cost of living crisis and you’re mocking poor people. It’s all just a bit grim.”


Can clubs crack down on chants?


The negative impact of ‘tragedy chanting’ has prompted clubs to take action – with some launching educational programs to inform fans of the consequences.

“We had an issue at Liverpool where there was a homophobic chant being sung,” Ste says.

He says it led the club to run a strong campaign, which manager Jurgen Klopp was heavily involved in, explaining to fans that it’s unacceptable.

Ste thinks it’s also important for fans to “self-police” and hold each other accountable for their behaviour.

While Sarah thinks clubs need to “take a stronger stand as to what’s allowed and not allowed in their stadiums and have more security guards around”.

“There should be a limit on how much you can drink in a football stadium. Because if you’re completely drunk out of your mind, you’re just going to do whatever.

“It’s not a nightclub, it’s a football stadium.”


What have clubs said?


Manchester United and Leeds both “strongly condemned” the chanting after their recent Premier League game.

In a joint statement, both clubs said supporters’ behaviour was “completely unacceptable”.

In October, manager Pep Guardiola apologised after Manchester City fans chanted about stadium tragedies during a game at Liverpool.

Manchester United also condemned fans who chanted about the Hillsborough disaster in April.

Hillsborough campaigner Margaret Aspinall also previously told the BBC that “drastic action” was needed by the authorities to stop it happening.

The Premier League has repeatedly condemned the chanting, saying it’s treating the issue “as a priority and as a matter of urgency”.

Original article published 05.03.2023 on the BBC News website.

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