These two seemingly disparate events were forced together following the suggestion by Dave Whelan (Chairman, Wigan Athletic FC) that a minute’s silence and the wearing of black armbands should be observed at the FA Cup Semi Final on the basis that football “owed” it to Thatcher. Widely reported in the media, The Telegraph reported Whelan as saying:
“We owe Mrs Thatcher a minute’s silence…It is not my decision, it is for the FA to decide, but I would be in favour of wearing an armband out of respect to Mrs Thatcher. We have to say thank you very much for the services the former PM has given us.
“Mrs Thatcher was a very, very special lady and a very special prime minister. After Winston Churchill, we have probably had two or three really good PMs and she was definitely one of those.
“I only met her once and I just thought she was a fantastic lady, the country could do with another lady, another PM who can do what she did. We shall sadly miss her.”
As regards the (rightful) lack of recognition given to Thatcher on Monday evening at the Manchester derby, Whelan went on:
“To have no recognition of Mrs Thatcher on Monday night is not right and very disrespectful.”
Well maybe to Dave Whelan. But then again, Dave Whelan has a vested interest in the matter, something the news media seems to have overlooked when reporting his comments.
For those who are unaware, Dave Whelan is one of the largest individual donors to the Conservative Party outside of the City of London having made a donation of £1 million to the Party in 2007.
This sits in stark contrast to Millwall FC, where over the past few months the Club and its players have given unequivocal support to Lewisham Hospital’s A&E since its threat of closure. I have written about this here before, as an example of how football and football clubs can be meaningfully “involved in their communities”. As the Club put it:
The “easy” option would have been to stand back and say, “Well, you know, we have to be seen to be being neutral on such matters”
Which is exactly what Whelan is trying to do, take the easy option by making out he is neutral when in fact he is far from it.
Not only is he hijacking the Semi Final for himself by choosing to lead the Wigan team out onto the pitch – an act of individualism that Thatcher would surely have approved of – but so too is he trying to hijack football as part of the wholesale re-branding of Thatcher the Conservatives, their supporters and many others have conscientiously begun this week.
And what better time to do so than through a high profile sporting event, one that is broadcast around the world. How better to let the world know just how much the British people apparently loved and respected Thatcher?
And so I for one oppose the hijacking of the Semi Final and football more widely by Whelan, I support the decision – so far – of the Football Association not cave to Whelan’s demands, and just hope that if it was to go ahead, Millwall fans – as also other football fans – take the minute to remind themselves of her role in the aftermath of the Hillsborough tragedy as also the devastating impact the Thatcher years had on Bermondsey and many other areas across the country both while she was Prime Minister and indeed since. Without doubt, the Lewisham Hospital A&E debacle is an all too timely reminder of her damning legacy.
She’s not owed anything.