What is tragic singing, is it illegal and what impact does it have on football fans?


Unsavory chants have long provided an unsettling soundtrack to football matches in the UK, but now authorities are taking increasingly tough action against those responsible.

In particular, speaking out about tragedy – defined by Britain's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as “abuse in the context of a tragedy” – can now lead to arrests and football banning orders.

Here, The athlete explains what tragic singing is, what effects it has and how it is dealt with.

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What is tragic singing?

Tragedy songs are when fans sing offensive songs that refer to fatal accidents or stadium disasters involving players, fans or officials from opposing clubs.

Examples of tragedy chants include rival fans referring to:

  • The Hillsborough disaster, when 97 Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed in a crush at Sheffield Wednesday Stadium in 1989
  • The Heysel Stadium disaster when 39 fans – mostly Italians supporting Juventus – died in the 1985 European Cup final against Liverpool
  • In the Munich air disaster in 1958, a Manchester United plane crashed in bad weather, killing 23 people, including eight United players
  • The Bradford fire, when a stand at Bradford City's Valley Parade stadium caught fire in 1985, killing 56 spectators
  • The fatal knife attacks on Leeds fans Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight before the 2000 UEFA Cup semi-final against Galatasaray in Istanbul
  • The death of Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala in a plane crash in 2019

Chants surrounding these events have been widely condemned across football but remain present in stadiums.

In April 2023, a petition to criminalize speaking about tragedies at football matches received over 17,000 signatures in a week. This followed chants relating to the Hillsborough disaster during Liverpool's Premier League games against Chelsea and Manchester United.

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Representatives from Liverpool and Leeds attend a memorial service to remember the victims of the Hillsborough disaster and Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight who lost their lives ahead of the Premier League match between the two teams at Elland Road in April 2023 in Istanbul lost (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Representatives from Liverpool and Leeds attend a memorial service for the victims of the Hillsborough disaster and for Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight, who were killed in Istanbul (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

How do the police define tragedy songs?

In August 2023, the CPS published new guidance on penalties for tragedy speaking. It states that “abuse in the context of a tragedy” can be prosecuted as a breach of public order, with fans potentially being punished with a “football ban order” – meaning they are barred from attending matches and tournaments, travelling to certain areas and access to pubs could be denied during games.

The CPS's Douglas Mackay said this updated guidance shows that “abhorrent behavior will not be tolerated”, with songs of tragedy “crossing the line into criminality”.

Chief Constable Mark Roberts, NPCC (National Police Chiefs' Council) head of football policing, added: “We are working closely with the CPS and supporting these efforts to tackle the senseless and vicious chanting which unfortunately only a minority of fans engage in. “

The UK government said on tragedy chants: “The government is committed to tackling all harmful behavior at football matches.” Existing legislation can be used to prosecute those who spread chants about tragedies and deaths in football.

“Existing laws can be used to prosecute offenders who sing or shout about tragedies and deaths at football matches. The Public Order Act 1986 (POA) provides for situations where threatening or offensive statements may reach the threshold for arrest and prosecution.”

Football authorities also consider the song “Always the victims, it's never your fault” – often addressed to Liverpool fans by rival clubs – as a tragic chant linked to the Hillsborough disaster.

What is being done to address the problem?

Ahead of the 2023–24 season, the English Football Association published a charter to improve behavior across football, which included a commitment to tackling and punishing calls for tragedy.

The charter noted the “unacceptable presence” of tragedy songs in stadiums and the “introduction of tough new measures” that would result in those who committed crimes facing “stadium bans and possible criminal prosecution.”

The floor regulations were updated to include references to tragic songs, expanding the range of penalties.

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham called tragedy-related abuse “completely unacceptable”, while Premier League chief Richard Masters said the league was “committed to punishing those found guilty (of tragedy) and themselves.” will also focus on educating all fans. “Dude”.

Last month, Manchester United and Liverpool announced that their respective foundations had launched a joint program to combat tragedies. This comes after Greater Manchester Police (GMP) arrested and charged a man following reports of alleged “songs of tragedy” at the FA Cup quarter-final match between the two teams on March 17.

Matches between Manchester United and Liverpool were often scenes of tragic insults (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Matches between Manchester United and Liverpool were often scenes of tragic insults (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Is abuse in the context of tragedy punished?

The FA raised concerns in November 2023 about the frequency of abusive chants about the Hillsborough disaster. Since the CPS updated its sentencing guidelines, there have been several cases of supporters being punished for abuse related to a tragedy:

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Songs of tragedy could also be heard at games at other Premier League clubs.

In February 2023, the Premier League said it was treating the issue as a “matter of urgency” after chants broke out between Leeds United and Manchester United fans. Chants referring to the Munich air disaster and the murders of Loftus and Speight were exchanged between the rival fan bases.

In March, a Manchester City fan was arrested on suspicion of making fun of the Munich air disaster before the Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium.

In 2011, Crawley Town banned a fan for life after he made an airplane gesture in the club's official video before the FA Cup game against Manchester United.

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(Top photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)