Thursday, January 22, 2009

John Lawless: I didn’t mock the victims of Munich

Jan 22 2009 by Luke Traynor, Liverpool Echo

A LIVERPOOL footballer today spoke out for the first time to deny making gestures mocking the Munich air disaster.

Former Marine FC midfielder John Lawless has revealed that he celebrated a goal against Manchester-based FC United by holding five fingers up to signify Liverpool FC’s five European Cup wins.

The father-of-four spoke exclusively to the ECHO about his personal nightmare since he left the Merseyside club by mutual consent following the controversy.

The 26-year-old told how he raised one hand aloft to celebrate a colleagues goal at Gigg Lane.

But some fans in the FC United end construed the gesture as an aeroplane motion to recall the 1958 tragedy that left 23 people dead, and complained to police.

Today, Mr Lawless alleged that he and other Marine players had received persistent anti-Liverpool abuse from rival supporters, including taunts about the Hillsborough disaster.

A spokesman for FC United has denied this claim.

The midfielder, from Croxteth, added that he had felt compelled to cut short his contract with Marine after feeling he “no longer had the support” of the Unibond Premier League club.

The ECHO has seen an official ruling by the Football Association which confirms no action will be taken against the player.

And it reminds Mr Lawless about future goal celebrations which “have the potential to be misconstrued”.

The statement ends: “As you will no doubt appreciate, there are occasions when a seemingly innocent gesture or action can have a negative effect on the behaviour of a crowd.”

Mr Lawless told the ECHO: “My teammates and representatives of the club were subjected to constant aggressive derogatory verbal taunts and chants by a small section of FC United supporters and these remarks were directed towards the origin of my birth and the football team which I support.

“I categorically deny mimicking the Munich air disaster as alleged by FC United supporters.

“When Peter Cunnicky scored the goal, I celebrated with my teammates and ran away with my hands held high, mimicking the ‘five times’ celebration in reference to LFC’s success in the European Cup competition.

“I would like to state that I have no axe to grind with any representative of FC United and I have a number of friends who play for their team.

“I have a lot of friends who are from different parts of the Greater Manchester area who remain friends to this day.

“During my time with Marine FC, I have made many friends and want to wish them every success in the future.”

FC United was formed in 2005 by Manchester United fans opposed to Malcolm Glazer’s takeover at Old Trafford.

A solicitor acting for Mr Lawless has watched a video replay of the game and the alleged incident, and states it shows no such Munich-mocking gesture.

Mr Lawless, who has been one of Marine’s best performers this season, has been playing at semi-professional level for around a decade.

He has previously played for Aberystwyth and TNS in the Welsh Football league, and since his departure from Marine, he has signed for another Welsh club.

He added: “It’s been a nightmare. I could understand it if any of it was true, but I shouldn’t have had to put up with what I did.

“I just want to get on with what I love doing which is playing football.”

Police in talks as spotlight falls on next match

MARINE FC officials have met Merseyside police to discuss ways of stopping violence erupting at the club’s next clash with FC United.

Tensions between some fans are running high following the controversial match last month, after which Marine player John Lawless’s contract was terminated.

The Crosby club and police are looking to introduce additional security when the breakaway Manchester team plays the return league fixture at College Road on Saturday March 28.

On internet message boards, fans are already warning that it could be “the game to miss”.

The management of the Edinburgh pub, in College Road, are among businesses considering closing for the day.

A spokesman for FC United said: “We have a brilliant relationship with Marine and what happened after the last fixture was over-played.

“Our record is impeccable and there is never any trouble, only the odd incident in Leeds.”