Some say she saved British soccer — others contend she ruined it. Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime minister who died on Monday, is still dividing that nation 23 years after she left office. The Premier League and Football League say they have no plans to require clubs to honor Thatcher with a moment of silence this weekend. And the FA Cup semifinals take place at Wembley on Saturday, with the Football Association saying that they, too, are not requiring a Thatcher tribute.
This does not sit well with some. Among those who say that Thatcher should be honored are Premier League club chairmen Dave Whelan and Sir John Madejski.
“We owe Mrs Thatcher a minute’s silence,” Whelan told BBC Sport.
“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,” Whelan said. “We have to say thank you very much for the services the former PM has given us.”
Likewise London Daily Mail columnist Jeff Powell wrote a rather pointed indictment of league officials earlier today:
Thatcher was a polarising leader, no question, but in the court of public opinion the majority will come to weigh her achievements more heavily than their grievances.
But not the national game?
Not if Monday night’s snub is the true measure. Not when the grizzled old gang from the ugly terraces can rise up growling and twittering their kindred prejudice. How soon they forget.
As they took their comfortable seats on Monday night, feeling safe and secure as they enjoyed the match, in many cases savouring the hospitality of their boxes, how might they have reflected on the lady without whom such glittering stadiums would never have been built?
And where might English football be now, had Thatcher allowed football to wither on the vine of feral violence and tribal hooliganism?
Thatcher was Prime Minister at a time when British soccer was indeed on the brink. Hooliganism was on the rise, stadiums were in disrepair, and there were actual talks of canceling seasons and disbanding teams. A stadium riot in Belgium in 1985 during a game between Liverpool and Juventus resulted in British teams being banned from playing in Europe.
But many contend that The Iron Lady tackled these issues with a sledge hammer, when a stern hand would have sufficed. From The Beautiful Blog:
Scenes of chaos inside and around English soccer stadiums seemed to be front-page news every week. Fences went up inside stadiums to keep fans off the field – they called them “pens” – a place for animals. The pro-Thatcher media often referred to soccer supporters in such terms.
The debasing of supporters ended in the Hillsborough tragedy of 1989 when 96 people were crushed to death at a stadium in Sheffield, England. The Thatcher government covered up the facts, accepting the police version of events that turned out to be false. Thatcher’s allies in the media blamed the supporters. Plans emerged to finally “eradicate the blot.”
Among the innovations brought to the game under Thatcher were the elimination of terraces in stadiums: until the 1980s, fans could get into games on the cheap and stand in sections that didn’t have seats. A larger police presence and higher ticket prices further cut down on hooliganism. She even introduced fan ID cards nationwide.
But many claim that this also gave rise to the new era in British soccer wherein working-class fans were priced out, and the game became corporate rather than community-based.
Oliver Platt of Goal.com wrote that Thatcher wouldn’t much have wanted a tribute anyway:
Thatcher, in all likelihood, never would have taken an active affair in football at all had it not overlapped into her world; the welfare of the country’s leagues and its fans was secondary to issues such as the ugly face of hooliganism abroad, or considerations of a boycott of the 1982 World Cup due to the Falklands War. The Iron Lady never cared much for the game, and the game never cared much for her.