A football game can be an unusual place for dealing with grief. But for 90 minutes, in the confines of those stadium walls, you can forget about what’s happening in the real world. 90 minutes where nothing matters but football. But even before those 90 minutes begin, players and fans alike observe a minute of silence, or applause, for whoever’s passing requires observation. Football is almost expected to remember every death and disaster that happens in the world when it is simply unable to do so.
When Gordon Banks, long-serving England goalkeeper and “supreme gentleman of football” passed away in February of this year, the loss was felt across the nation. Outpourings of support from fans, colleagues, and fellow sportspeople filled social media. But this wasn’t enough. Three games that weekend observed a minute’s silence or applause; in England’s game against the Czech Republic, the fans and players observed a minute’s silence, while the players also sported black armbands in honour of their former goalkeeper. A minute’s silence was also observed in Banks’s former club Stoke City’s game against Aston Villa and a minute of applause was observed in Tottenham’s Champions League fixture against Borussia Dortmund. After a tremendous loss, it can be cathartic for fans to remember amongst their peers.
But football cannot grieve for everyone.
In Newcastle’s fixture against Nottingham Forest in December 2016, they held three separate minutes of applause. Firstly, a minute of applause before kick-off to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the passing of player Pavel Srnicek. Then again on the 17th minute, honouring those on the MH17 flight that was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, and finally on the 19th minute in memory of a fan who had been stabbed and killed on Christmas Eve. When there’s so much to try and remember, the sentiment starts to disappear and fans could start to forget what they’re grieving about.
Last week saw the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster which is always honoured in the football world. Nothing unites football fans quite like grief. Regardless of what team they support, fans can put their differences aside and remember those who lost their lives. It’s a way for the memory of those who died to live on as part of their beloved club’s history. The sentiment behind this will never be lost. It is something that has affected football fans across England. That fact is undeniable. Nor is it something that is forgotten outside the stadium walls. But not everything has touched the hearts of football fans quite like the Hillsborough disaster. We can’t hold everything to the same standard; some things are simply felt harder than others and we shouldn’t pretend that they’re not.
It’s difficult to know what warrants remembering. Not every death can be honoured, so who gets priority? In March of this year, the FA came under fire when the Premier League teams didn’t hold a minute’s silence for the victims of the New Zealand Mosque shootings, while having players wear black armbands in solidarity for the victims of the Paris terror attacks in 2015. Football is not a remembrance service, so we shouldn’t be expected to treat it like one.
Not so far afield, the St Andrews football teams have also had their share of remembrance in games. Just last week the men’s Saturday amateur team observed a minute of silence for the passing of one of the opposition’s former players. Several months prior saw the St Andrews teams observing a minute’s silence in honour of a club member’s mother, who sadly passed away. In this case, it is more personal to the players; they have closer relationships with one another and an opportunity to pay tribute to their fellow players’ family is important. We don’t expect them to grieve for every disaster that goes on in the world, so why do we expect this of professionals?
People die every day; disasters happen all over the world and most go unnoticed by the rest of the world. Why should football be expected to mourn for everyone? It deserves a break. We need to stop holding teams accountable when they can’t grieve for everyone – it simply isn’t fair.
“Your grief path is yours alone, and no one else can walk it, and no one else can understand it.” So why should we expect 50,000 people in a football stadium to walk with us?