The sound of silence.
It doesn’t matter how many times you encounter it; you never really know how best to deal with it. It’s an odd thing. Silence.
Jürgen Klopp dealt with the silence at Anfield on Saturday in an effective and demonstrative manner. It was a course of action which arguably swung what was threatening to be a frustrating no-score draw into a win.
A more sinister silence than that observed at a quiet Premier League football ground has begun to be broken over the course of the last week.
Andy Woodward has had the remarkable bravery to set in motion a rolling ball that might just plough an indelible line through football, an indelible line which might even run on through a number of other sports.
Someone has stepped forward to shout out loud about one of the game’s most indigestible taboos.
Despite the shocking illuminations of the last week, in many ways the silence still remains. Social unease is a deep-rooted thing.
A Liverpool FC related internet forum which I occasionally frequent, an internet forum which usually prides itself in the broad-range of topics its inhabitants can contribute their thoughts and opinions upon, was unusually lost for words on the revelations of Andy Woodward. A reasonably enlightened internet forum environment which generally has something pertinent to say about everything and anything, yet it could muster very little to say about the taboo of child abuse within professional football.
The sound of silence.
A stroll up to Anfield on Saturday for the visit of Sunderland. Idle pre-match conversations on Flagpole Corner. Social unease abounds. Child abuse rolling its way over the footballing boundary lines is a topic that can’t be ignored. Stilted jokes made about one of our brethren having the rudimentary coaching certificates on his CV. Uncomfortable laughter all-round. Mouths tighten at the edges into forced smiles. The subject-matter moves along to make way for the next topic of conversation.
The sound of silence.
We were all children at one point. Retrospect might suggest that we all knew someone who was a victim of child abuse. Maybe without every realising it, you all knew someone. Maybe you were that ‘someone’. That silent, socially uneasy individual.
Football is nothing more than a microcosm of life in general. Football consumes children. Football takes the hopes and dreams of children and it breaks and discards most of them. It stands to reason that where there are children there are also people who will abuse them in one manner or another. How anyone could envisage it to be any other way now seems quite naive. Football isn’t immune to the unedifying aspects of life.
Football is a strange environment. There is an over-polite etiquette. Walk onto the pitch side-by-side. Referee heads towards camera to grab the ball from a pedestal. Players shake hands with the opposing team in a heavily choreographed manner before the game. All friends together. Regular minute silence or applause for often non-footballing salutes. An on-pitch game of beautiful movement and stylish endeavour, offset by sleight-of-hand efforts to stop, stifle, disrupt and coerce for favourable gains. Synchronised swimming with football boots on.
Football works hard to face the intolerances of old. Intolerances of old which still hang around on street corners today. Say No to Racism and Rainbow Laces make a difference on some levels, yet remain largely ignored on other levels. Seasons and subject matters which pass-by in a similar way to transfer windows, Non-League days, international weekends and the early rounds of the FA Cup.
When push comes to shove, football has had a history of identifying the weakest perceived elements and targeting them. The rule of the jungle. Supporters have done it through the years. Those within the game have done it. Many stories have passed about the environment of the dressing room, of senior players testing the mental durability of young footballers. Ian Rush himself almost fell by the wayside when enveloped in such circumstances. Sink or swim tests of endurance.
Then we have managers and coaches and the pressures alleviated. The trust put in managers and coaches by parents. The care of their children being put within the hands of what is taken for granted as responsible adults. Young people, many uprooted to a new area of the country, perhaps from a different country, isolated to a large degree. The world at their feet, yet ultimately vulnerable.
Silence is deafening.
Football for many is the promised-land.
Be careful what you wish for. Be careful what you wish for your children.
Racism still lingers in football, as does homophobia. It took the death of Gary Speed for people to stop disregarding depression as a non-event. Other taboos remain within the game, of which child abuse is now a very visible entity. Despite the bravery of Andy Woodward and those to have followed his lead, it needs the wider community of football to match that bravery in facing some uncomfortable truths about the sport we love. It’s no good if the sound of silence prevails.