Alex Beam may not have known what he was getting himself into when he submitted his latest column to his editors at The Boston Globe. But he is well aware of the wounds he was rubbing with salt now.
The column, "Hardball in Liverpool: New American owners might find these soccer fans a pretty tough crowd," ran in Tuesday's paper and got plenty of attention from Liverpool FC fans. The column caused an uproar because Beam made unflattering comments about a particularly touchy subject for Liverpool fans: the Hillsborough disaster.
Beam wrote, "Internet fan sites are still agonizing over a 21-year-old soccer riot that killed 96 people." The word "riot" has since been replaced by "disaster" on The Boston Globe's website, Boston.com. But the damage already had been done, and fans jumped on the columnist and the paper.
A Liverpool spokesman issued a statement Wednesday regarding Beam's words: "Mr Beam's comments are disgraceful and ill-informed. His newspaper has belatedly recognized this by repeating the findings of Lord Justice Taylor that absolved Liverpool supporters of any blame for the tragedy."
Soccer clubs in England don't usually issue a statement like this regarding the media, but this was something different for Liverpool fans. Beam's statement wasn't about the way the team performed in Monday's 3-0 defeat of Aston Villa, or the way new owner John Henry has tried to relate to the fans (Tuesday, Henry announced the club will be giving away free tickets to anyone under the age of 17 and to school staff members in the area if they wish to bring students to the Dec. 15 Europa League match with Dutch side Utrecht). The column claimed Liverpool fans were obsessed with a horrific moment in the club's long history for no real good reason and they they are "bonkers."
Not something any fan wants to read in a respected newspaper.
Whatever Beam's goal was with his column, it didn't come off the way he had intended with his readers or the Liverpool fans.
Liverpool fans quickly tweeted the story and wrote on fan forums about the column, getting the word out about Beam's comments.
One of Liverpool's fan sites, Empire of the Kop, was one of the groups that got the message out about the column. I was able to speak with Empire of the Kop's editor Antoine Zammit.
Kevin: How did you find out about the column in The Boston Globe?
Zammit: Liverpool supporters living in Boston made me aware of it.
K: What were your thoughts when reading the column?
Z: I was shocked that someone who is considered a distinguished journalist would write such vile without even doing a simple Google search to find out what exactly caused the Hillsborough tragedy.
K: Why are Mr. Beam's comments about the Hillsborough disaster so infuriating to Liverpool fans?
Z: Hillsborough was a tragic disaster. Bad policing and stewardship caused the loss of 96 lives.
Fans were crushed to death because one of the sections of the stadium was overcrowded. Metal fences prevented their [the fans'] escape, and as some tried to climb out onto the field, they were pushed back by the police, who incompetently didn't understand the severity of the situation until it was too late.
A newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch published an article full of lies [in the following days] claiming the fans were robbing and urinating on the dead. It was the opposite. Fellow fans were the ones who were helping the victims, while the police stood idle and the emergency vehicles were very slow to respond.
The South Yorkshire police department covered up its incompetence. It has taken 20 years to get the British government to launch an independent investigation into the tragedy.
K: What exactly does the Hillsborough disaster mean to Liverpool fans like yourself and the whole Empire of the Kop?
Z: Many of us realize that any one of those victims could have been us, our parents, our brothers, our sisters, our friends or our cousins.
Over the years, I have become friends with many fans who were present on that terrible day, and every time I hear their story, the grief and anger returns. The fact that the families of the victims are still waiting for justice leaves me and other Liverpool fans very angry.
K: What information would you like to pass on to Mr. Beam?
Z: I want him to research before talking about matters that he doesn't know.
He hurt a lot of people, opening fresh wounds of those who lost their loved ones on that day.
If he had a bone to pick with John W. Henry, then he shouldn't have dragged innocent people through the mud.
K: How do you think Mr. Beam should respond to the criticism he has received?
Z: He should apologize to the families of the victims.
K: What do you think Liverpool, the club, should do about the column? (What do you think of the club's statement?)
Z: The club issued a statement condemning the slur on Wednesday evening. I am very happy with the way the club has responded. It is very rare for the club to issue such statements, which shows the severity of situation.
K: What are you expecting from John Henry, the new owner, regarding the matter?
Z: John Henry has already directed the club to issue the statement. He has already done what we expected him to do.
K: What would you like to say to the readership of The Boston Globe who picked it up on Tuesday morning and read Mr. Beam's column without any understanding of the situation.
Z: I urge the Globe readers to write to the editor of the Globe and threaten to not read the paper if they don't apologize to these innocent people who were slurred by one of the Globe's columnists.
Screen grab from The Guardian