A soccer fan was banned from attending matches for four years Monday for wearing a shirt to this month’s FA Cup final that made an offensive reference to the Hillsborough Stadium disaster where 97 Liverpool fans died.
James White smiled and chuckled after receiving his punishment, which also included a fine of 1,000 pounds ($1,280).
White, 33, pleaded guilty at Willesden Magistrates’ Court in London to displaying threatening or abusive writing likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
White wore a Manchester United jersey with the number “97” and the words “Not Enough” on the back to the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium on June 3. Manchester City won the match 2-1 against United, which is also a big rival of Liverpool.
The Football Association said that it spotted the offensive shirt on social media and security tracked down the man wearing it, leading to his arrest.
“It is hard to imagine a more … offensive reference to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster,” district judge Mark Jabbitt said.
The judge added that the shirt worn by White bore a “hateful expression,? calling it an “abhorrent message,? and that the impact of his actions are “profound and distressing”.
According to testimony, White told police after he was arrested: “You haven’t even asked me what the T-shirt means. My grandad died aged 97 and didn’t have enough kids.” The prosecution said White had “many” previous convictions, dating most recently to 2021, but none were soccer-related.
The tragedy at Hillsborough in Sheffield, a city in northern England, occurred during an FA Cup semifinal match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest when thousands of Liverpool fans flooded a standing-room section behind a goal in the overcrowded arena. Victims were crushed against metal fences, trampled or suffocated in Britain’s worst sports disaster.
Fans were blamed for years for the disaster, but after an initial inquest concluded that it was an accident, a subsequent inquiry in 2016 blamed failures on police, the ambulance service, and the Sheffield Wednesday team that plays at the stadium.
The Hillsborough tragedy and other disasters in the sport continue to echo in soccer stadiums for the wrong reasons in what the Premier League has condemned as “tragedy chanting.” Two months ago, Chelsea apologized for its fans who taunted Liverpool visitors in chants that referred to Hillsborough. A few days earlier, City had apologized to Liverpool for similar choruses of cheers. In March, Liverpool and United jointly appealed to fans to end hateful chants before their match in Liverpool.
Diane Lynn, vice chair of Hillsborough Survivor Supporters Alliance, said it was “very personal” for people who were at Hillsborough that day and that survivors suffered with “guilt”.
“How dare he make us feel like this,” she said of White.