Football must have no minute’s silence for Margaret Thatcher: what madman wants to remember the 1980s?
THE best thing you can say about Margaret Thatcher’s attitude to football was that she rarely used it to coin easy popularity. To her, football was a thing that needed controlling. Football to Thatcher was a threat to the social order. The Sunday Times said football was a “slum sport watched by slum people in slum stadiums”.
So. Football will not mark her passing in any special way. There was no minute’s silence for the former Prime Minister at Old Trafford last night as Manchester United took on Manchester City. Good. The minute’s silence has become the most overused tribute going.
Photo above: Margaret Thatcher sharing a joke with England footballers, left to right, Kevin Keegan, Terry McDermott, Phil Thompson and Emlyn Hughes and other members of the international squad outside 10 Downing Street when they were leaving after attending a reception given by Mrs Thatcher. Date: 05/06/1980
This was not snub. Maggie Thatcher (once an honorary vice-president of Blackburn Rovers) was the Prime Minister when English football was in the mire.
Photo: Screen shot from ITN News showing the fire that swept through the main stand at Bradford City’s football ground. The club were playing Lincoln City in the last match of the season. 56 people died and 265 were injured as a fire swept the packed stand just before half-time.
On May 11 1985, 15-year-old Ian Hambridge left his Northampton home to see his first football match. Birmingham City Football Club were playing Leeds United. A riot saw 80 fans and 96 police officers injured. Ian was stood by a 12 ft high wall, which collapsed. You might have read about him. But it’ unlikely. Because on that every day a fire took hold at Bradford City’s ground killing 56 people.
A short time later, on May 29, Liverpool played Juventus in the European Cup Final at Belgium’s Heysel stadium. Another riot. Another wall collapsed. 39 Italian fans died in the mayhem. English clubs were banned from European competitions.
In a era of lows, the infamous footage of Millwall fans rioting at Luton Town stands out.
Thatcher’s Government assed the The Football Spectators Act of 1989. It made ID cards compulsory. To be a football fan you needed to carry ID. You were no longer a citizen of a free democracy. You were a pariah the State wanted to control. Margaret Thatcher, regarded football fans as the “enemy within”.
Thatcher ordered Justice Oliver Popplewell to investigate football. He suggested fences to keep the fans from the pitch.
Bradford City FC chairman Stafford Heginbotham (left) with Mr Justice Popplewell, in front of the stand which was burnt at Bradford’s Valley Parade ground. The 57-year old judge spent more than half-an-hour touring the ground. He headed the inquiry into the blaze.
Chelsea chairman Ken Bates suggested electrifying it. If it was good enough for his cattle, it was good enough for football fans. (The GLC prevented Bates from plugging it in.)
1985: Chelsea chairman, Ken Bates, indicating the controversial anti-hooligan 12-volt electric wire on top of the 12ft high fence screening spectators from the pitch at Stamford Bridge football ground when it went on public show for the first time.
Then came the horror of Hillsborough, in which 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death. The police refused to open the fences at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground. The dying and uninjured were not instantly recognised as victims. They were a public order matter.
The police lied, saying that hooliganism was to blame. How much did Thatcher’s Government know?
So. Does Baroness Thatcher get a minute’s silence at sport she was no fan of? The Daily Mail’s Jeff Powell thinks she should, writing beneath the headline:
No Old Trafford tribute for Baroness Thatcher… Shame on football for snubbing the lady who rescued our game from tribal hooligans
A snub? Who in their right mind would want to remember football’s dark days?
As they took their comfortable seats on Monday night, feeling safe and secure as they enjoyed the match, in many cases savouring the hospitality of their boxes, how might they have reflected on the lady without whom such glittering stadiums would never have been built? And where might English football be now, had Thatcher allowed football to wither on the vine of feral violence and tribal hooliganism?
She wanted to bring in those aforementioned ID cards. And what of Hillsborough?
Did she save the national game? Without question.
On Monday night, that contribution to the beautiful game went unrecognised.
What about Hillsborough, then?
The long haul towards all-seat grounds, monitored by closed-circuit television cameras, began. It was a battle which would not be won until, by a terrible irony, the people of Liverpool became entrapped in an even greater disaster of their own, at Hillsborough four years later.
Trapped in disaster, literally and metaphorically as the State, media and police colluded to wrongly blame the victims for their own deaths.
Of course, watching football has improved massively. Matt Dickinson writes in the Times:
Taylor’s report in 1990 rejected Thatcher’s ID cards and heralded the era of all-seat stadiums. Indeed, it was as Thatcher tearfully departed in late 1990 that the conditions were coming together for football’s boom. The growth might well have been called Thatcherite given its reliance on club flotations (Manchester United became a plc in 1991), free-market economics, the arrival of Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB paying its first £300 million for a TV deal and the elitism of the new Premier League.
We now have minute’s silence for economic policy? Please, no. Football and politics… never!
Update: Wigan Athletic chairman Dave Whelan and Reading’s Sir John Madejski want a minute’s silence for Maggie.
Whelan: “We owe Mrs Thatcher a minute’s silence. It is not my decision, it is for the FA to decide, but I would be in favour of wearing an armband out of respect to Mrs Thatcher. We have to say thank you very much for the services the former PM has given us.”
Madejski: “We have got to appreciate that Margaret Thatcher was a world leader who did so much for this country. So much that she deserves a minute’s silence. The funeral’s going to take place at St Paul’s attended by the Queen and Prince Philip so I think it would be a fitting tribute from the world of football to Margaret Thatcher, one of our greatest leaders.”