Earlier this week, Liverpool FC hosted AS Roma at Anfield in the first leg of a Champions’ League semi-final, winning the tie 5-2 and setting up an intriguing second leg at the Stadio Olimpico. Sadly, the match was marred by some Roma fans indulging in outright thuggery outside the ground, as a result of which one Liverpool fan is now in hospital with a serious head injury. Police have charged two Italian men over the disturbance.
(c) Liverpool FC
That much was bad enough, but then came a column in the Express which asserted “No one is suggesting that the violence that erupted on Tuesday night was solely the fault of Liverpool fans … But there are suggestions that the reputation of Liverpool supporters had gone before them and Roman yobs had simply decided to get in first, and with such awful consequences. It’s not right, but it does again highlight a common denominator”.
The author of the piece, Colin Mafham, went on to ask “Why does trouble seem to follow them like bees round a honey pot?” and, just in case he hadn’t put the boot in enough, added “That’s why I urge Liverpool Football Club to condemn, rather than giving succour to excuses like ‘it’s society’s problem’ and ‘all the world’s against us’”.
Now has come the apology from the Express, which, as the Liverpool Echo has told, has conceded “Yesterday a comment piece by a freelance journalist entitled 'Liverpool must take serious action after Roma violence or risk further trouble' was published on this website. This article was ill-informed and wrong. It did not, in any way, reflect the views of the Express. It should never have been written and was very quickly removed”.
And, as Jon Stewart might have said, two things here. One, the idea that this was just the work of some freelance loose cannon untutored in the ways of the Express is total crap. As both Journalisted and LinkedIn confirm, Colin Mafham may technically be a freelance, but he has worked for the Express for more than eight years. He is effectively their main man for top flight football opinion pieces. And it gets worse.
And Two, the Express was in the most part responsible for Mafham’s column getting through - because during the reign of Richard “Dirty” Desmond, the paper did away with sub-editors and so hacks effectively self-published, with lawyers checking out the result. But a legal eagle would not have pulled the offending article, as it was not personally defamatory of anyone, and in any case it was an opinion piece. No subs, no backstop.
Then there is a Three: Colin Mafham, before he arrived at the Express, was a night editor at the Murdoch Sun. That’s the same Murdoch Sun that viciously and unrepentantly smeared the memories of the 96 fans who died as a result of the Hillsborough stadium disaster in 1989. The same Murdoch Sun so long reigned over by the disgraced and deeply unpleasant Kelvin McFilth. What the Express isn’t telling you.
The Express’ hand-wringing is a master class in deception. Their removal of sub-editors set up the possibility of a hack going rogue and getting his copy through. By taking on someone from the Sun, they made that possibility a likelihood. And by letting Colin Mafham have a free rein for more than eight years, they turned the likelihood into a racing certainty. Their lame excuses are not worth a cent.
For 29 years, the refrain has been “Don’t buy the Sun”. Now the Express is in there too.