Within a few minutes of Manchester United’s victory in the Europa League final, the official Manchester City website tweeted a graphic that said everything about the way sport can interact in vital fashion with life, even at, perhaps even particularly at, times of grief.
On a black background that spoke of Monday night’s bombing at the Manchester Arena, it displayed the hashtag #cityunited, with the blue of city and the red of united joined together.
Earlier in the day, City’s captain Vincent Kompany had recorded a dignified and heartfelt message of support for the people of his adopted city.
The dynamics were the same, in the face of tragedy, as those between Everton and Liverpool following the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989. That mutuality endured, deeper than the annual rivalry, and when the victims’ families finally won a verdict of unlawful killing in April last year, after 27 years of campaigning, Everton responded again at their home game against Bournemouth.
Both sets of players warmed up in white t-shirts with the number 96 on the back of them before the families of the victims were welcomed onto the pitch prior to kick-off and applauded by fans.
Everton’s then manager Roberto Martinez shared heartfelt embraces with the families as they exited the field of play shortly before the referee got proceedings underway.
The match day program featured a photograph taken prior to a Merseyside derby in 2012, the front cover carrying the words: “Everton Football Club salutes the Hillsborough families and their total vindication as Fighters for Justice.
“Theirs is the greatest victory in the history of football. RIP, the 96.”
There was sporting solidarity too in Chelsea’s decision to cancel the planned victory parade on Sunday (May 28) marking their Premier League win, with the club saying in a statement: “In the light of these tragic events, we feel it is inappropriate to go ahead with the victory parade in London on Sunday.”
Chelsea, whose players will wear black armbands to mark the tragedy when they play Arsenal in the FA Cup final on Saturday (May 27), added that they had also taken heed of the “enhanced security threat” before taking a decision they felt was “the correct course of action.”
Similar considerations have been debated within Manchester amid the shock waves of Monday night’s outrage, as minds have turned towards Sunday’s planned Great Manchester Run – which will go ahead following security discussions.
Europe’s largest 10 kilometer run had more than 35,000 runners last year and there will also be a half-marathon this time.
“Manchester is a truly resilient city and we look forward to successfully hosting these great sporting events,” said Manchester City Councillor Luthfur Rahman.
The planned minute’s silence before last night’s final in Stockholm turned irresistibly into a minute’s applause as both sets of players stood in grave lines.
After United’s 2-0 win, their midfielder Juan Mata told BT Sport: “We have won a trophy the club has never won so we are really happy. It means a lot as it is my first European trophy with United and after what happened yesterday it is nice to bring a trophy back for Manchester.
“It has been a really difficult week in the city of Manchester and we are happy to win for all the people that have suffered.”
Paul Pogba, who scored United’s first goal, added: “We know these things are very sad all over the world, in Manchester, London and Paris.
“Manchester we won and worked for them and the country, we play for England and Manchester and the people who died.”
Meanwhile, United’s former midfielder David Beckham commented: “Tonight was more important than sport…Yes a big night for Manchester United but an even bigger night for the city and for our country…At a time when we are grieving for the families that have lost loved ones we have a sport that has bought a little happiness at a difficult time…”
There has been another act of sporting solidarity following the bombing. West Ham United’s co-owner David Sullivan, who watched the news of the attack on Monday night along with his son David, was moved by the testimony of homeless Steve Jones in describing how he had gone into the Arena immediately after the explosion to try and help the maimed and wounded.
“It looks like he needs some help, so we are desperate to find who he is and give him six months free accommodation and a little bit of money to help him on his way,” O’Sullivan told BBC Radio 5 and yesterday his son tweeted that contact had been made and Jones will shortly have a roof over his head.
Sullivan may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but this was clearly not a stunt, rather a genuine response shared by father and son. Sport, so often debased by stories of doping, corruption and excess, has been showing its fairer face this week…
By Mike Rowbottom
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.