After having divided the nation during her time as Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Margaret Thatcher has polarised us once again.
Debates ensued this week as to whether clubs should implement a minute’s silence in respect of the Iron Lady before various football matches scheduled for this weekend.
There are many who argue that Thatcher never took an interest in sport; although dutifully turning up to all important sporting events, she more often than not looked somewhat out of place. Even so, during her time in power sport became more important to all of us, and more influential than ever before, gradually migrating off the back pages. And Thatcher took notice.
The Premier League Club Chairman, Dave Whelan, and Reading Chairman, John Madejski, are both calling for a minute’s silence before upcoming fixtures. “We owe Mrs Thatcher a minute’s silence” stated Whelan. Madejski, meanwhile, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “We have got to appreciate that Margaret Thatcher was a world leader who did so much for this country; so much that she deserves a minute’s silence.” Surprisingly Thatcher did not just do a lot for the country; she did a lot to change the face of football.
When Thatcher came into office, football was in disarray. It was her who introduced the all-seater stadia to make viewing, entering and exiting the stadium safer for spectators. Hooliganism and violence were cracked down on thanks to the introduction of CCTV and the systems have since played a big role in protecting millions of supporters.
Back in 1985 after a disaster that happened in the Heysel Staduim in Brussels, when Italian fans were crushed to death by overcrowding Liverpool fans at the European Cup Final, many cabinet members were calling for the end of professional football. This would mean no England in the European Cup Final or the World Cup. But it was Margaret Thatcher who pushed for reform…..and this is precisely what happened. This moment would, undeniably, be better remembered if the Hilsborough disaster hadn’t taken place some 4 years later, for which Thatcher is often blamed.
Of course it is easy to see the other side of the debate. Thatcher made mistakes when it came to football and this arguably came down to the fact that she didn’t understand the passion and dedication of fans. Within this close-knit community, Thatcher’s decision to introduce ID cards at football matches was met with resentment. Football grounds were restricted to those who owned an ID card meaning that the casual fan was no longer allowed to watch their team and away fans faced being banned completely. Critics, however, slammed the initiative, which was designed to help eradicate violence in the football arena; they argued that the majority of fans were law abiding citizens and that most violence actually took place outside the stadium. It comes as no surprise that the scheme was reluctantly abandoned by the Government soon after its introduction.
On the day of Thatcher’s death, Manchester United chose not to take part in a minute’s silence at their game against ManchesterCity on Monday and there are other clubs that agree with this decision. Reading, however, does not, and the club will be partaking in a minute’s silence this weekend in order to pay tribute to such a formidable political figure.
There is a danger that by trying to implement a minute’s silence you are effectively inviting those who are uninterested the opportunity to misbehave. So what, then, is the point in trying if people choose not to adhere to the rule? I see no respect in that.
It is not difficult to see why the football community is so split; many supporters of the game were, no doubt, negatively affected by some of Margaret Thatcher’s policies. Perhaps the focus, however, should not be on remaining silently respectful of an iconic figure, but on paying our respects to the only female Prime Minister that our country has ever had….and to a lady who made an impact, for the better, on the beautiful game.
Words by Freya Leete