Thursday, 15 April 2010
Hillsborough - 21 Years On.
Before i go any further let me make one thing clear. I am not a great lover of anything to do with Liverpool FC. In fact most of the mawkish sentimentality that is showered on the club by it's own supporters and the media alike leaves me cold. I would even go as far to say that 99% of football supporters across the nation feel much the same.
From TV commentators mentioning The Kop as a "12th man" on European nights at Anfield, to their supporters constant harking back to a time (long long gone might i add) when they were a major force and won trophies here and in Europe with regularity, Liverpool annoy me more than any other football club in the country.
I'm almost duty bound to mention the events that occured at the Heysel Stadium, Brussels in May 1985 too, when Liverpool supporters charging across a decrepit old terrace caused the death of 38 Juventus supporters before the European Cup Final. In the aftermath of that game it was suggested by certain Liverpool supporters and media outlets that it wasn't in fact Liverpool supporters that caused the tragedy but rather Chelsea supporters and random National Front headcases who had somehow infiltrated their ranks and caused the trouble to break out that night. This was never substantiated in any way and still irks many Chelsea supporters to this day when the subject is touched upon. Although i think it's more or less universally agreed that the events that evening were due more to the disgusting state of a crumbling stadium rather than the actions of a few hundred pissed up idiots causing trouble inside the ground.
Having said all this, i must make it clear that we are talking about the football club and not the city or it's people in general. I've been to Liverpool a few times following Chelsea and i know a few Scousers through work etc and they've always seemed fairly amiable, decent people who are fiercely proud of their roots. Although there was one particular Liverpudlian who thought it would be hilarious to stab a mate of mine in the shoulder blade with a fork whilst he was sitting in a cafe near Lime St having a pre-match fry up. I suppose every city and every football club contains it's fair share of nutters and sociopaths though and Chelsea are certainly not blameless when it comes to things like that.
Yet whatever dislike i have for Liverpool FC as a football club is tempered by the events of April 15th 1989. A normal, warm, spring afternoon where 96 of their supporters were killed watching their team play an FA Cup semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground. An afternoon i remember pretty vividly all these years later.
It was on a coach coming back from seeing Chelsea get beaten at Leicester City that rumours of trouble at Hillsborough started being bandied about. It was mostly dismissed as run-of-the-mill 'aggro' until the full details emerged when we got back to London.
We needed to win that afternoon to gain promotion back to the old Division One. As it turned out we were beaten and the champagne was put on ice for a week until we dispatched Leeds at home the following Saturday and clinched the title, but that's an insignificant footnote to that particular afternoon.
We took the best part of six or seven thousand supporters up to Filbert Street that day and aside from the vast amounts of trouble inside and outside the ground the one thing i remember is just how overcrowded the away terrace seemed that afternoon. Every time Chelsea attacked the crowd would surge and you could almost feel the breath being forced out of you as you were forced forward towards the crash barriers.
I was fifteen years old and enjoying every single minute of being part of a mass of humanity that was so noisy, so passionate and struck fear into almost every town we travelled to in those days. The thought that i might actually be killed or injured never crossed my mind. I was fifteen years old and invincible!
Little did i know that just 50 odd miles up the M1 at that very moment kids my age were being crushed to death watching their football team.
What happened that day at Hillsborough has been the subject of massive conjecture ever since. Without wanting to pick over the bones of it in too much depth (I'll save that for the real experts) it seems to me that it was a combination of inept, incompetent and downright useless policing outside the stadium by the South Yorkshire Police Force and thousands of ticketless Liverpool fans trying to gain access to an already overcrowded fenced pen behind the goal at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium.
It seems a fairly trite and hackneyed thing to say but the old cliche 'there but for the grace of God go i' has never rung truer to me. It could have been any one of us that day. It was a tragedy waiting to happen for many years previously. It could have happened to any club, any supporter or any ground that day.
Football supporters back then were treated as second class citizens and herded and controlled like cattle by heavy handed police forces. Our glorious leader at the time Margaret Thatcher with her midget Minister of Sport henchman Colin Moynihan even created a 'War Cabinet' to deal with hooliganism. Did this war cabinet deal with the problem? In a word, no. It was absolutely no thanks to her and her heavy handed police forces across the country that football changed in any way, shape or form in this country. It took the death of 96 innocent people for the authorities to be given a wake up call and realise that things needed to change and that supporters needed to be treated properly.
Skip forward 21 years and the Hillsborough tragedy is still a topic of discussion country-wide. Many people i know see what happened that day as an act of 'karma' for what happened at Heysel. Other people go that one step further and still sing the '96 not enough' and 'Murderers' songs and will have no hesitation in spouting the opinion that 'the Scousers deserved it'. Unpalatable yes, but that's how the brains of some football supporters work. Sadly tribal loyalties do not extend to showing a shred of compassion towards innocent dead teenagers. Some people are too busy being wrapped up in their very own ball of hatred.
I can't begin to comprehend the horror of having to travel to a morgue in a city miles away from your home town to identify the crushed corpse of a loved one who had been killed watching their football team play. That sort of thing transcends football loyalties and without any argument you would have to be some sort of inhumane animal to draw any sort of pleasure or schadenfreude from such an event. Yet i have been in the presence of people who think this way. It's not worth trying to reason with them sensibly. They just don't get it. It's not even worth trying to shake sense into them. These people are so set in their ways and detached from the realities of a world outside football that they'll never grasp just how distasteful their views are.
It's best just to ignore them.
On a personal level it was this post http://forums.lfconline.com/showthread.php?t=41404 on a Liverpool forum from an Everton fan who lost his brother at Hillsborough that moved me more than anything else I'd read on the matter. It is one of those pieces of writing that leaves you feeling like you've been punched in the guts. A piece so powerful that i needed to get up and go for a walk after I'd read it. I suggest people who are of the opinion that anyone who died there that day somehow ''deserved it', read that article in it's entirety.
The families of the dead have been treated abysmally by the government over the years. We'd all like to see the truth exposed as to what really happened that day and that those families gain some sense of closure and justice. Knowing the establishment in this country and how it works I'd be very surprised if they did.