IAN HERBERT: Taking football into the cesspit- What the hell has our game come to when


Hard to be entirely sure without having met them, of course, but the two low-life attention seekers who took football into a cesspit on Friday night looked highly dressed up for a match between Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland.

One wore a rose-pink jacket as he held up his phone to flash an image of Bradley Lowery — a child who lost a battle with cancer at the age of six — at Sunderland fans. His companion, who was highly amused by this, had self-consciously buttoned his own jacket up to the neck and seemed to have visited the barbers ahead of their big night out. Yes. Attention seekers.

They certainly got themselves the limelight they craved, though they had not quite calculated the public’s revulsion to them mocking a child diagnosed with neuroblastoma, who helped raise £1million for charity before he died in 2017. That figures. Twisted cretins like this are too intellectually challenged and consumed with confected hate for a moment’s reflection or thought.

Sometimes, you have to write off such moronic behaviour to mindless adolescence. The sort of thing that a good clip around the ear will resolve. But this pair, named locally as brothers Dale and Drew Houghton, are of an adult age.

They are not the only ones engaged in this kind of abomination, of course. Friday’s events at Hillsborough — which have led to two men, aged 27 and 31, being held on suspicion of outraging human decency — represented a new gross low in the use of death and disaster to goad and taunt opposition fans at football matches.

Sunderland fan Bradley Lowery passed away from cancer aged six in 2017 after helping to raise over £1 million for charity

Sunderland fan Bradley Lowery passed away from cancer aged six in 2017 after helping to raise over £1 million for charity

Two Sheffield Wednesday fans were seen appearing to cruelly mock late Sunderland fan Bradley Lowery

They were pictured laughing after flashing a picture of the child cancer victim

Two Sheffield Wednesday fans appeared to mock Lowery during their clash with Sunderland on Saturday

It tends to come with chanting attached and there is that modern phrase we now have for this abomination: ‘Tragedy chanting’. A few months ago, the sport’s authorities, including the FA, made a lot of noise about how they were going to crack down on this pattern of ‘gesturing’ and ‘offensive messaging’.

Then the accompanying Crown Prosecution Service guidance notes came out — and it emerged that since the language of some chants is not strictly unlawful, policing the issue would not be so easy.

Where is the line? The use of Jimmy Savile as a form of abuse by Manchester United fans, for example, is now so established that Leeds supporters have been known to counter it by going to games kitted out as the abuser, with a blue jacket, blond wig and cigar.

In part, the fight against this scourge comes from within, with fans policing their own and clubs being bold enough to call out the culprits vociferously. Wednesday did as much as you would expect on Friday, by issuing an apologetic tweet, though their supporters’ tone and actions were far stronger. The SWFC Women’s Supporters Group launched a GoFundMe page for the Bradley Lowery Foundation, a wonderful organisation, and have raised £6,000 over the weekend.

The fight also entails refusing to let these reptiles crawl back under a rock and escape scrutiny.

Consider the case of Zakir Hussain, 28, who set up multiple Twitter accounts to target the sister of a victim of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. When the cretin appeared at Stratford Magistrates’ Court to explain himself, Louise Brookes had to stomach his solicitor arguing the misery of lockdown had somehow contributed to a ‘stupid mistake’.

Mocking a child cancer victim  surely represents a new low for our game

Mocking a child cancer victim  surely represents a new low for our game

Lowery's mother Gemma offered thanks for 'kind words' after the incident and felt they had 'turned a negative into a positive'

Lowery’s mother Gemma offered thanks for ‘kind words’ after the incident and felt they had ‘turned a negative into a positive’ 

Sheffield Wednesday's tweet about the incident was vague, and didn't even include Lowery's full name

Sheffield Wednesday’s tweet about the incident was vague, and didn’t even include Lowery’s full name

Hussain sent five separate Twitter messages, on the anniversary of the disaster, which tagged Ms Brookes. The first included a photo of her brother with superimposed faeces emojis. He was convicted of sending malicious or obscene communications, given a 14-week jail sentence, suspended for a year, and escaped with a pathetic £500 fine. No images of Hussain have ever been published or released.

There was no image, or mention, of Friday night’s vile laughing boys on Wednesday’s website yesterday, which was leading on post-match reaction to the 3-0 defeat. The club’s vague tweet on the subject stated they were ‘aware of images circulating’ and offered apologies ‘for the undoubted distress caused to Bradley’s family and friends’. The assumption seemed to be that fans would know which ‘Bradley’ they were referring to.

It is to be hoped the perpetrators will be afforded an unyielding spotlight by both club and local media when arrests are made and they are brought to trial.

‘Thank you all for your kind words. It has really helped and let’s do what we do best to turn this negative into a positive,’ Bradley’s mother, Gemma, said on Sunday — a generous response to an episode that makes you wonder what the hell our game has come to.



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