Thursday, 20 September 2012
The Real Meaning of Respect
In an era where the empty gesture is deemed eminently newsworthy in the absence of anything of note actually occurring, perhaps the most vacuous of the lot is the pre-match football handshake. Presumably cooked up by a coven of hacks to lighten their workload, how they must rub their hands together greedily (and ironically, last weekend, given the dearth of hand-to-hand contact) every time Chelsea play QPR or Liverpool and Manchester United reactivate rivalries.
Talk in the lead up to Sunday’s bi-annual hate-fest at Anfield has predictably been peppered by two seemingly disparate, but as I’ll explain, related topics: 1) the aftermath of the astonishing and heartbreaking Hillsborough report findings; and 2) the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ Suarez/Evra affair.
In terms of point 1), this week kicked off with a wonderful, heartfelt gesture at Goodison Park, when proof, if proof be needed, that football can be a glorious agent for good was evident. The image of the two young mascots hand in hand wearing Everton and Liverpool jerseys with ‘9’ and ‘6’ on the back was powerful and poignant and the victims of the Hillsborough disaster were remembered through an act that transcended city rivalry, reinforcing solidarity between the sets of fans that has been strong since the tragedy took place in 1989. I won’t have been the only one sat watching the game at home who was moved by the spectacle and Everton Football Club should be applauded.
Sunday will see the tributes planned by Liverpool FC themselves. With some sort of justice now in sight for the families of the victims for the first time in 23 years, Brendan Rodgers has explained: ‘It is our first home game and the clubs have been working very hard to commemorate the work which has gone on with all the families.’
Plans include the release of 96 balloons by rival captains Steven Gerrard and Nemanja Vidic shortly before kick-off in memory of the victims, while the Kop will be decorated with various crowd mosaics: the words ‘The Truth’ will be displayed on the Kop, ‘96’ in the Anfield Road stand and the word ‘Justice’ will illuminate the Lower Centenary Stand. Emotions will undoubtedly be high at such a time and the tribute will resonate with all concerned, whether there in the ground or tuned in on the telly.
Maybe it takes the significance of this gesture to put the convoluted crap associated with point 2), the (non) handshake, into sharp perspective. The humble handshake is devoid of all timbre when examined in the lofty shadow of the events of the past week. And, however noble the sentiments of the powers that be are in attempting to encapsulate in a handshake the importance of mutual respect, the fact that a non shaking of hands can dominate the back pages as it did once more last Sunday when Anton Ferdinand neatly sidestepped the attentions of England’s bravest man, pointedly proves that enough is enough and the emptiest of footballing gestures has to go.
Setting an example on the football pitch does not come from shaking another’s hand. That is merely an act that exists in a void, whereas Ferdinand’s decision to forgo this forced nicety was completely understandable given that carrying it out would have been the worst sort of humiliation, played out publicly. Thus, the spotlight was placed on an inconsequential action that suddenly became loaded with meaning and Ferdinand found himself damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.
Respect doesn’t come in the arbitrary form of a handshake. If anything, its ongoing presence – a token gesture repeatedly overblown in the finest traditions of the Premier League – detracts from its mission, given the hysteria that ensues over its consequently oh-so conspicuous absence.
The handshakes will be the sideshow at Anfield on Sunday and one would hope that the spotlight in this case remains on the remarkable job of those still seeking justice after all these years; a gesture of which every single person involved can be truly proud.