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Tom Sutton | We know what Eurovision meant to Ukraine, but what did it mean to Liverpool? Local insight by Tom Sutton

Eurovillage. Photo: Tom Sutton I Unknotted Media

The greatest song contest on earth, am I right? Like it or not, it is undeniable that Eurovision is a spectacle envied globally. A healthy form of competition between neighbouring states just shows how far we’ve come from warring nations to friends. It is therefore unsurprising that it has been used as a vehicle of Europeanisation in state building by Estonia when it hosted the contest in 2002, only 11 years into its long fight for independence.

We all knew that victory meant a lot for Ukraine during the war and that they greatly appreciated the support of the UK in hosting on their behalf. But as a Liverpool-born native of Birkenhead (the town on the other riverbank of the Mersey), I feel it is important to highlight what the contest has meant for the host city.

Liverpool has a chequered history. It was one of Britain’s greatest and wealthiest ports, but that made it complicit in the slave trade. Its maritime significance also made it a target for Nazi German air raids leading to countless fatalities. It was a bastion of industry, but that simply heightened its fall into deprivation in a wave of deindustrialisation in the 1980s. Liverpool in 2023 is a beautiful city, but it is one indelibly shaped by both its highs and lows as beautiful buildings stand next to a sense of its struggle.

So how did Liverpool bounce back? Government initiatives supported by EU money started its regeneration. With it continuing at pace, Liverpool became the European Capital of Culture in 2008. At 8 years old, it was a formative experience to see so much changing in my hometown. Since then, the skyline of the city has become unrecognisable from how it previously looked, and Liverpool has become a vibrant city shaped by its past but looking to its future. But only we knew that. Well… us and the tourists who had chosen to come. We needed something to prove what kind of city we were. And along came Eurovision 2023, 9th May–14th May ( https://eurovision.tv/).

As long as I can remember, I have never seen the city so excited by anything.

As long as I can remember, I have never seen the city so excited by anything. I have never seen it so busy with so many tourists. The EuroVillage on the Waterfront was packed at all times and the festivities around the city were truly electrifying. 

It wasn’t just our musical history as the home of The Beatles that made us the ideal host city; we are a proudly European and global city through our history. We were genuinely excited to welcome fans and join in on the festivities ourselves. This welcoming nature was picked up by the world’s media and we would have acted the same if we hosted the contest under normal circumstances. But there is a deeper reason, highlighted in the show, which I shall seek to explain. During the musical showcase of Liverpool-originating music performed by Eurovision legends, Duncan Laurence (2021 winner) sang You’ll Never Walk Alone. Its status as a Liverpool Football Club Anthem has been shaped by a local tragedy that helped endear Ukraine to Liverpool’s heart.

In 1988, a crush at the FA Cup Football Semi-Final claimed the lives of 97 Liverpool fans in the Hillsborough Disaster. The crush was found to be preventable, subject to a government cover-up and a misinformation campaign which held the fans responsible which persisted for 27 years until a second inquiry cleared them of wrongdoing. While very different to war, the Hillsborough case has been frequently invoked as a lens through which the injustice facing the Ukrainian people can be understood by the people of Liverpool. It is because of our own injustice that we try to better understand theirs. Especially considering Ukraine’s efforts to combat misinformation about the war. And because of this, I won’t lie, I shed a tear along with countless others. I know many survivors of this tragedy, as do most it seems in the wider area.

In my view, Liverpool rose to the occasion. We presented it in the best way we could, we tired to make the world feel welcome, we tried to highlight that we were hosting on Ukraine’s behalf by including references to their culture and showed the world the city we truly are, not what we are perceived to be.

We are united, united by music. We are Liverpool and we are humbled to have had the honour to have hosted on Ukraine’s behalf as we support their resistance to the invasion.

EuroVillage watching Eurovision Semi-Final 2.

Photo: Tom Sutton I Unknotted Media

Слава Україні!, Героям слава!

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