Arthur's death calls for quiet reflection, not applause at matches

MARTIN SAMUEL: Arthur Labinjo-Hughes’ tragic death calls for quiet reflection and thought… not applause at football matches

  • Arthur Labinjo-Hughes died at the hands of his despicable stepmother  
  • The six-year-old Birmingham fan has been adopted by football as one of its own 
  • There were tributes of applause for him up and down the country at the weekend
  • Silent reflection would be more appropriate for this utterly miserable case 
  • Birmingham City Football Club will offer its respects to little Arthur Labinjo-Hughes on Saturday.

    Supporters at the home match with Cardiff will be invited to pay tribute to Arthur after six minutes — his age, in years, when he died at the hands of his stepmother — a flag of remembrance will be installed and two memorial bricks will be cemented into the St Andrew’s stadium. It is a thoroughly decent and well-intended gesture.

    We do not know if Arthur ever watched a game at St Andrew’s, but we know they were his favourite team. He had a Birmingham shirt, which his scumbag father cut up in front of him, because he knew it would cause distress.

    There was applause at the weekend on the sixth minute of Premier League matches in tribute to Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, who died a horrifically cruel death

    There was applause at the weekend on the sixth minute of Premier League matches in tribute to Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, who died a horrifically cruel death

    So football has now adopted Arthur as one of its own. There were tributes at grounds around the country on Saturday, started by a minute of applause at West Ham’s game with Chelsea, again in the sixth minute.

    At Millwall last weekend, Birmingham’s players wore T-shirts and unfurled a banner that read ‘We love you Arthur’ before the match. This was a direct reference to an unimaginably pitiful piece of film shown to the jury at the trial of Arthur’s father and stepmother, depicting him alone and weeping that nobody loved him and nobody was going to feed him, as he dragged his broken and emaciated body around the room, trying to gather a blanket for warmth as he slept apart on the floor.

    So perhaps stop applauding, and think about that for a moment. We know you mean well. We know these tributes come from a place of good intentions. But there is nothing in this miserable case that is deserving of applause.

    It needs silent reflection, and thought, for when Arthur needed to be heard, nobody listened.

    Arthur's case is so utterly miserable that it warrants silent reflection rather than applause

    Arthur’s case is so utterly miserable that it warrants silent reflection rather than applause

    He was an intelligent little boy. He knew it wasn’t right, this absence of love, of kindness, of care, from his life.

    He knew it wasn’t right that he wasn’t fed, or was poisoned with salt. He knew enough to see how other children lived; enough to know that what was happening to him was wrong, and terrible, and terrifying, and painful, and that gentler adults should protect him, but did not.

    It’s too late to tell him now how much he was loved. He’s not a little angel in heaven, looking down on us from a soft pillow of clouds, happy at last.

    He is dead. He died a horrible death, if we stop to imagine those horrific last moments, his head repeatedly smashed against a hard floor, the culmination of weeks of systematic torture by his stepmother, and father. Imagine his fright, imagine his fear, imagine his agony. And applaud? That’s the fitting response? Clap, clap, clap? Football does this. A player has a bad game, tweets a trite message promising it will be better next week, and is done.

    And if the sport wishes to place itself in the middle of an unbearable tragedy of wickedness and institutional failing, it cannot come with gestures, no matter how nobly intentioned they are.

    Silence versus applause. We appear to have crossed the boundary in terms of what is appropriate.

    Applause was a good idea for when a great athlete has passed away. After all, what in the life of George Best or Jimmy Greaves ever moved a crowd to silence? Applause feels the proper tribute, reflecting the meaning to others.

    The little boy suffered systematic torture from his stepmother and his father

    The little boy suffered systematic torture from his stepmother and his father 

    Yet Arthur Labinjo-Hughes? He never had the chance to garner applause; he never had the opportunity to exist beyond a horrific infancy. Shouldn’t we reflect on that? Shouldn’t we reflect on the way the adult world failed him, the way it fails too many children, who never stand a chance?

    And this isn’t a sermon about society in which everyone is to blame. We know who is to blame for Arthur’s death and they are a cursed, wicked pair and as a lifelong opponent of the death penalty I would look them both in the eyes and press that button tomorrow. I’m not proud of that emotion. Maybe it’s something that happens as you get older.

    So wider society didn’t kill Arthur. Those applauding at football grounds are by turns moved, appalled, sorrowful and, typically, powerless. They didn’t know the boy, they didn’t know his family.

    If they could have done anything to help, they would have done it. Yet they know boys; they know girls; they know families; they know what is right and what is wrong. And they know, deep down, that consoling ourselves that Arthur can see, or hear, our warmth, our banners, our bricks, our flags, our applause, makes us feel better, not him.

    This is not football’s issue, really, but by noticing his sad little Birmingham souvenir, and knowing what fate befell the shirt and its pathetic, defenceless owner, football has made it so.

    The least it can then do is give Arthur the memorial he deserves. Thought. A minute of silent reflection. What more could have been done for him; what more for others? Don’t just clap. That way we never hear them.

    People should consider what more we could do to help other children in need

    People should consider what more we could do to help other children in need 

     

    LEWIS LEFT IN LURCH BY TEAM

    No such thing as bad publicity? Mercedes might wish to reconsider that cliche after the fall-out from their deal with Kingspan. Was it really worth £3million to be tied to a company whose reputation is soiled after its connection to the Grenfell tragedy? Mercedes can get that level of investment from any number of commercial partners and the Kingspan deal has also embarrassed Lewis Hamilton, who has spoken out on issues relating to Grenfell’s victims.

    Mercedes must understand that in Hamilton they have an iconic figure, outspoken on gay rights in Saudi Arabia, outspoken on green issues, on race issues, more than just a driver — even though his claim to be the greatest of all grows increasingly irresistible.

    Any sponsor Mercedes place on his car should be measured against his personal beliefs and public stances. By accepting Kingspan’s money, Mercedes undermined their greatest asset.

    It wouldn’t be worth that at any price — but most certainly not £3m.

    Mercedes should consider whether is is really worth accepting money from Kingspan

    Mercedes should consider whether is is really worth accepting money from Kingspan

     

    IF RALF CAN GET RONALDO WORKING HARD, MAYBE OLE WAS THE PROBLEM 

    Turns out the world’s fittest footballer can run about after all. Who would have thought it? With Ralf Rangnick now in charge of Manchester United and advocating a high-energy, high-pressing game, Cristiano Ronaldo won the ball back as many times against Crystal Palace as he had in his 11 previous Premier League matches. 

    At 36, he might not be able to perform to that standard twice a week every week, but we shall find out. What this suggests, however, is that United lost direction under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The idea that they couldn’t press with Ronaldo in the team was always puzzling. 

    He’s fit, he wants to win, he’s never been a lazy player, his athletic ability is remarkable for a forward of his experience. Why wouldn’t he have the attributes for the modern game when he’s scored more goals in it than any other player? Everyone wanted Solskjaer to succeed but there were just too many United players who were superior performers in other colours — the blue of France, the white of England — for these shortcomings to be coincidence. 

    If Paul Pogba is fit and truly engaged, might Rangnick get a performance level out of him that was previously undeveloped — or is it now simply too late? 

    Cristiano Ronaldo showed he is more than capable of playing in a pressing team

    Cristiano Ronaldo showed he is more than capable of playing in a pressing team 

     

    GOING TO OZ IS MADNESS, SPURS 

    Tottenham made a fine appointment in Antonio Conte, yet, in other realms, the madness continues. The club is planning a pre-season tour to Australia in 2022. Seriously? The country that scheduled a five-day break between Ashes Tests four and five, then demanded a 14-day quarantine period to enter Perth? 

    The country whose internal travel guidelines are currently so stringent that the Sydney Morning Herald cannot get its cricket correspondent into the first Test in Brisbane? And this, of all the nations, is where Tottenham are planning to visit in order to ramp up their commercial revenue? It’s like they want to lose money.

     

    FOOTBALL CAN FOLLOW STRICTLY’S LEAD 

    John Whaite, half of the first gay male couple to perform on Strictly Come Dancing, says he expected much more negativity than the pair have received. Already a winner of The Great British Bake Off, Whaite said he had anticipated hate mail but the response has been kind and generous. 

    ‘The number of people we’ve had messages from saying, “I’m proud as a straight mum and straight dad to have children grow up in a world where two men can dance together”, has been truly overwhelming,’ he said. 

    And times change, even in football. Maybe now there would be a readiness to accept gay footballers. Not universal tolerance, because it is hard to imagine society will ever reach that happy place, but not a living hell. Yes, a football crowd is a different demographic from the audience for baking and dancing. Even so, we might be surprised, particularly if it is not left to a lone individual to blaze the trail.

    John Whaite was half of the first gay male couple to perform on Strictly Come Dancing

    John Whaite was half of the first gay male couple to perform on Strictly Come Dancing

     

    TOO MANY CHIEFS SPOILING EFL BROTH

    EFL clubs were left unimpressed by a conference call with Twitter which fell some way short of addressing the issue of online abuse. 

    ‘There were 200 people on the call and I’d be surprised if any left any the wiser,’ my colleague Mike Keegan was told. And that’s the EFL all over. There are 72 clubs, which would be unwieldy enough, but then 200 people log in and wonder why nothing gets resolved. That’s management for you; that’s governance. That’s why they need everyone else’s money.

     

    Favourite headline of the weekend, from the Daily Star Sunday: ‘Ginola: I raised the dead.’ Well, he did have that one very good season at Tottenham. 

     

    Marcel Brands did not buy well at Everton, although his departure raises the question of how much influence he had. Certainly, it is suggested he was not behind the appointment of Rafa Benitez, who appears to have enjoyed greater power. 

    The biggest loser is owner Farhad Moshiri — £500million down with little to show for it. As Mike Ashley explained, football is the only business that can spend such enormous sums and watch the problem get worse. Although we all know the answer to Moshiri’s woes: another £500m. 

    Marcel Brands left Everton but the club are likely to have to spend plenty more money

    Marcel Brands left Everton but the club are likely to have to spend plenty more money

     

    STEALTHY ABRAMOVICH STAYS UNDER THE RADAR 

    It is rather unfortunate for Thomas Tuchel that Chelsea’s little wobble appears to have coincided with a period when Roman Abramovich is making a rare visit to this country. He was at Stamford Bridge for the 1-1 draw with Manchester United, for the first time in three years. 

    Typically, though, his visit passed beneath the radar, undetected by any TV camera, photographer or journalist on the day. He’s no friend to managers, we know, but a successful chairman who invests, makes the big calls, but stays in the background is a rarity these days. New money, but rather old school.

     

    Yorkshire have sacked their entire coaching staff in reaction to the county’s racism scandal. So they were all racists?

    It seems many will dispute that tainting of reputation, and may do so in court.

    Yorkshire would have to be careless indeed to have recruited 16 staff with the same backward mind. It seems a colossally sweeping reaction to a problem that would have been better addressed case by case, yet drew an immediately positive reaction from Julian Knight, chair of the DCMS committee.

    ‘The experience of Azeem Rafiq at YCCC demanded no less,’ he said. This is why, of course, if one Government minister gives grounds for dismissal, all the others go, too. It is incredible the standards politicians demand from other industries, given those set at Westminster. Who else carried the can for Matt Hancock’s inefficiency in the pandemic? Not even Hancock, until his position was untenable.

    It seemed a sweeping reaction from Yorkshire to sack the entire coaching staff following Azeem Rafiq's testimony into the alleged racist abuse he suffered at the club

    It seemed a sweeping reaction from Yorkshire to sack the entire coaching staff following Azeem Rafiq’s testimony into the alleged racist abuse he suffered at the club

     

    The strangest thing about football’s government regulator zealots is the way they talk as if things that didn’t happen, happened.

    The Super League did not form, defeated by negative reaction and rulebooks already in place. No club went skint due to the pandemic shutdown, which separates professional football from just about every industry, none of which have subsequently been told they need the Government checking their books.

    There have been hard times for football, and will be ahead, but that’s true everywhere.

    Equally, the idea there is some orchestrated pushback, as if anyone opposing a regulator is incapable of independent thought, is an insult. As far as I know, there was only one WhatsApp group formed in the media to campaign on this issue — it was created by Gary Neville with a very good public relations man to rally the country’s leading football writers and commentators to the regulator’s cause. 

    After this, there was then one writer who publicly opposed the uniformity of opinion and was therefore removed from the group. You’re reading him.