16 Apr 2009

Liverpool: funny, brave, but out on a limb

Anthony Gormley statue in LiverpoolI was fortunate to attend Liverpool University in the late 1960s. It wasn’t just the experience of living in a Northern industrial city, it was the insight into scouse culture that it provided.

Hence the event remembering the 96 victims of the Hillsborough stadium disaster of 20 years ago had a poignancy for me.

Liverpool remains a uniquely interesting community: funny, courageous, idiosyncratic, creative, self-destructive, on occasions sentimental almost to the point of mawkishness, and tribally divided by Christianity – divisions most obviously exhibited through the perception that Everton is a Catholic football club and Liverpool Protestant.

I am intrigued by the Culture Secretary Andy Burnham’s appearance at the Anfield home of Liverpool FC for yesterday’s memorial ceremony. I mentioned in yesterday’s Snowblog that it had been “unexpected”. His aides did not like this term. Mr Burnham, I learned, had been committed to attending for some time, having been invited by the organisers.

But when he was introduced to the crowd (who had no foreknowledge of his contribution), he was prefaced by the words “in a change to the schedule”. So why did it appear his attendance had been kept secret?

Anthony Gormley statue in Liverpool

Was there a nervousness of the deep-seated anger focused on the political classes for never holding a public inquiry into the stadium disaster? Or was it simply that this lover of football and renowned Everton supporter might experience a tricky rite of passage on hallowed Liverpool turf?

The heckling of his speech suggested the former. The mourners wanted a public inquiry into Hillsborough. Not for the first time, they won’t get one.

And Liverpool, as so often, will be left out on a limb, in concert as ever with the geographical position she enjoys at the end of a line that once led to the New World, but now leads to Anthony Gormley’s stranded figures in the Mersey estuary.

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