Footage showing Manchester City players apparently singing about Liverpool supporters being "battered on the streets" and "victims of it all" drew criticism on Wednesday night from both a key Hillsborough whistleblower and the family of a fan left in a coma by a brutal hooligan attack.
Dr John Ashton, who played a crucial role in exposing emergency service failings in 1989, and the brother of Sean Cox, attacked last year by a Roma fan before the Champions League semi-final, said seeing club staff sing them was "unhelpful" and "inappropriate". City categorically deny lyrics refer to either tragedy.
Mentions of "battered on the streets" and "crying in the stands" in the chant, which has been heard on the stands at the Etihad stadium this season, is instead said to refer to incidents at Liverpool's Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid in Kiev last year.
The new video, shared on social media, shows players and staff celebrating on a private jet commissioned by the club for their return to Manchester from their Premier League-clinching 4-1 win at Brighton. However, the wobbly footage makes it unclear which players and staff are joining in.
City will face no action from the Football Association, who have accepted the club's explanation, but Ashton, the former regional director of public health for the North West, told the Daily Telegraph: "It is unhelpful. We expect more from footballers as role models."
The Liverpool-supporting doctor, who had attended Hillsborough while off-duty as a fan with his sons and nephew, went on to appeal for a calm response. "I hope that Liverpool supporters will not be drawn on this," he said.
Meanwhile, Martin Cox, brother of 53-year-old Sean, said he was "disappointed". "It’s so close to home for ourselves with Sean, so we’re shocked now, to be honest with you," he told talkSPORT. "Any song like that, these players are media trained in this day and age and are role models for children. I don’t understand why the first thing they want to do, right after they win the league title, is sing about Liverpool, first of all, and then actually sing about fans getting battered in the streets. Surely they know that the song is inappropriate."
— YourMCFC (@YourMCFC) May 14, 2019
In the "Allez, Allez, Allez" video, squad members and staff sing that "[Vincent] Kompany injured [Mohamed] Salah", changed from the line of "[Sergio] Ramos injured Salah" after the Real captain's foul in the final, but referring to the City defender's tackle on the Egypt forward during City's 2-1 win at the Etihad this season.
The song, City said, was a "regular chant during the 2018-19 season".
"Any suggestion that the lyrics relate to Sean Cox or the Hillsborough tragedy is entirely without foundation," the statement added.
Liverpool finished one point behind City and the animosity between the clubs has grown over the past 18 months. The coach carrying City's players was attacked before the Champions League quarter-final at Anfield last season.
The row comes after a bruising few days for City, having this week broken their silence on the Uefa investigation that could see the club hit with a one-season Champions League ban. The club directly addressed an allegation published by The New York Times this week that Uefa financial investigators meeting in Nyon, Switzerland, two weeks ago had agreed to recommend a one-year ban for City when the case is passed to the Uefa body responsible for enforcing regulations. City, who deny any wrongdoing, said in a statement that the suggestion those involved in the investigatory process had already found the club guilty of breaking financial fair play regulations was “extremely concerning”.
Sean Cox, meanwhile, still has a "massive long road ahead" to recovery after being attacked near Anfield, having travelled with his brother from their home in Co Meath, Republic of Ireland. He was left with catastrophic head injuries after he was attacked by Roma fan Simone Mastrelli. In February, at Preston Crown Court, Mastrelli, 30, from Rome, was jailed for three and a half years.
Of his current condition, Martin Cox said: "He’s progressing, which is the most important thing. He’s still on a massive long road ahead, but he is progressing. Slowly but surely, he’s getting there. It’s baby steps at the moment but we’re on the right road."
In April 1989, Dr Ashton initiated triage behind the tunnel in Leppings Lane, prioritising those who could still be saved. He pinned makeshift death notices on the shirts of six fans and was rocked by the horror of what should have been prevented. He told Jeremy Paxman on a BBC broadcast within days of the disaster that lives were lost in vain.
He is currently working with the Merseyside Police Commissioner to establish a new public health strategy for reducing incidences of violence, as well as identifying the underlying reasons for the recent increase in serious crime across the county.