Friday, March 09, 2007

Perfect example of how true fans should behave

"It’s easy to lose faith in football when the constant talk is of sky high salaries, super-inflated egos and sour grapes, whenever things go wrong.

But surely even those who have long since given up on the game will have felt a glow at seeing the behaviour of the Barcelona supporters at Anfield this week, and the response they drew from Liverpudlians.

Because it was refreshing, not to say uplifting, particularly as at the same time back in Spain, Valencia and Inter Milan players were serving up some of the most disgraceful scenes seen on a European stage for several years.

As players threw post-match punches and kicks in a mass televised brawl at the Mestalla which then spilled into the tunnel, Barcelona and Liverpool supporters reached across the divides of victory and defeat in the Anfield Road end to shake hands, swap scarves and slap each other's backs. The Barca fans sang 'You'll Never Walk Alone' while being stripped of the European Cup they won in Paris last year, while in return, Kopites chanted Barcelona's name to register their appreciation and mutual respect.

Of course, Anfield was on show at its inspirational finest on Tuesday night and the display and the din clearly stunned new owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks. But the Americans attending their first game were by now surely the only ones surprised by sights and sounds which have become customary at Anfield on such big European occasions.

In truth, what was just as impressive in its own way was the warm display of sportsmanship by the Barcelona fans who did their great club credit – and proved that born winners don't have to be bad losers, too. Sadly, there is increasing evidence that the two aspects go hand in hand these days, when they do not and should not.

It is one thing to hate defeat and never countenance it mentally while a contest is alive. But it is quite another to refuse to accept defeat when it happens and behave with distaste or disgrace, rather than dignity.

The Barcelona supporters in Liverpool this week did themselves proud on that front. They had thoroughly enjoyed Liverpool during the day – even their president, Joan Laporta, headed for the Cavern Club – and continued to try and do so after they had won the game but lost the tie on Tuesday night.

They mingled good naturedly with Liverpool supporters in bars around the ground and the city centre, without a hint of malice or ill feeling before or after the match on either side.

It can be argued it was easy for the Reds supporters to smile and engage them having claimed victory and less so for the Nou Camp faithful who had been shocked and hurt at defeat and it's clear prospect beforehand. The sportsmanship, friendliness, warmth and respect which they brought from one great city in Catalonia to another in the north of England will not be forgotten.

It is how the game should be. But how it too often isn't."

John Thompson, Liverpool Echo, 9 March 2007

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