THE death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was not marked at Old Trafford ahead of the Manchester derby on Monday night, and it seems unlikely that many, if any, tributes will be paid at football grounds around the country thanks to the former Prime Minister's troubled relationship with the sport.
The 1980s, when Thatcher was PM, were dark days for football, beset by a lack of investment, hooliganism and tragedies, including the Bradford fire, Heysel and culminating in the Hillsborough disaster.
"Choosing not to mark the death of a figure who is to be granted a ceremonial funeral, with military honours, is rather notable," says Eurosport's Early Doors blog. But it is understandable, says Matt Dickinson of The Times. "The national game seemingly wants nothing to do with the remembrances for the Iron Lady - and we can be sure that the antipathy was mutual given that football brought only trouble for the late Prime Minister," he explains. "To the modern politician, a booming sport is a vote winner, a chance to gain street cred and appear in touch. To Thatcher the game meant only aggravation. Where David Cameron sees voters, she saw hooligans."
Oliver Platt, writing for Goal.com, agrees. "The Iron Lady never cared much for the game, and the game never cared much for her."
Even the Daily Telegraph takes a dim view of her stance. Henry Winter describes her attitude as one of "ill-informed arrogance that has been wisely avoided by prime ministers ever since... Her pronouncements on football were delivered with great gravitas and little substance."
Attempts to tackle hooliganism with an ill-fated ID card scheme for supporters "read like a political weapon, giving government control over those who thronged to grounds on match day," he argues. And social discord made matters worse. "Thatcher's regime did nothing to make football fans feel safer. If anything, tensions between supporters and police were increased by the words and actions of her government," says Winter.
But one episode overshadows everything. "Hillsborough, more than any other issue or event, explains football's reluctance to join in the mourning process today," explains the Early Doors blog. "The events of Hillsborough and the smear campaign that followed were born of a culture that depicted football fans as an ungovernable and irredeemable hooligan mass. The government of the time allowed untruth to take hold and allowed the police to act with apparent impunity."
The Taylor Report in the aftermath of the tragedy cleared the way for football's renaissance in the 1990s. But the Premier League boom did not come until years after Thatcher's demise. ·