Hillsborough: 96 Liverpool Fans Killed By ‘A Slum Sport Watched By Slum People In Slum Stadiums’
FIVE weeks after the horrors of Hillsborough, when 96 Liverpool fans died at the FA Cup semi-final, the mighty Reds won the FA Cup. The final was a Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton, played at Wembley Stadium, London, on 20 May 1989. Liverpool won 3–2 after extra time, with goals from John Aldridge and two from Ian Rush. Stuart McCall scored both Everton goals.
Liverpool were on for the Double. Kenny Dalglish’s team needed only to avoid losing the season’s final game by a two goal margin to win the League title.
That final match had been originally scheduled to be played on 23 April. However, the deaths at Hillsborough had caused the Liverpool-Arsenal fixture to be postponed, with no suitable date found until after the FA Cup Final.
So. On May 26, 1989, England’s dominant team hosted Arsenal, the team needing to win by that two goal margin, a result the Gunners hadn’t achieved in years. The title would be decided on a Friday night. The Gunners did it, of course, with Michael Thomas scoring the title clinching goal in injury time.
I was there. Indulge me. It wasn’t just the shock of seeing Arsenal win the title that made that warm night unforgettable. It wasn’t just the joy of being able to run on to the pitch and ruffle Paul Merson’s hair. It was the Liverpool fans. I had watched the match from the Main Stand at Anfield, me and one friend having lost a draw for tickets. While everyone else from the coach stood with the Arsenal fans, we were with the Liverpool supporters.
As that second goal went in, and we cascaded madly down the steps to the pitch, Liverpool fans congratulated us. As we stood at the pitch-side, no policeman shoved us back or grabbed us in a headlock. No truncheons were drawn.
Everyone seemed to stay in the ground. They sang Walk On. And we joined in. Fans mingled on the Anfield Road End. There was no trouble. Seats were ripped up as souvenirs. Liverpool fans helped.
Was this the game that a 1985 Sunday Times editorial had called “a slum sport watched by slum people in slum stadiums”? It was. But the Times was only right about the stadiums, neglected and inadequate. In May 1985, the Bradford City stadium fire in May 1985 killed 56 people.
In 1985, 38 Italian fans died following a charge by Liverpool supporters at the Heysel stadium. The dead were killed when a faulty wall collapsed.
So. Why were Liverpool fans given the Leppings Lane end at Hillsborough while their less well-supported opponents Nottingham Forest stood in the bigger end of the ground? Because that was how the police wanted it.
The deaths were accidental. But they were the result of a policy that portrayed and treated football fans as scum.
The elite never did understand football. They just use it – still do – to empathise with the working classes and sell TV packages. Anyone who blamed football fans for Hillsborough, should have been there that night at Anfield.
The elite will tell you how sorry they are for the 96 dead and that “lessons have been learnt”. Government and police will bow their heads in grief, sharing the mood with those who lost loved ones and survived the horror. And the elite will hope that the anger will melt away. They will tell Liverpool that its people are mawkish for holding onto the pain. See how we all lament your loss, say the powerful. You don’t need to sue for compensation and justice. We feel your pain. We’re all in this together. We got over it. So can you. Stop wallowing.
More lies. More control.
The 96 who died at the match were not killed by hooliganism. Their deaths were a result of those in power treating football supporters as a problem to be caged and whipped into line. The 96 who died were killed by police acting on Government orders to control the mob. Don’t help them. Just prevent a riot.
As the injured were being treated, the police stood guard lest distraught, shell-shocked and injured fans attack the dying.
As the fans were being crushed in their pens, police lined up military style and shoved them back into the wire cages.
As the fans tried to escape, the police didn’t send for the 40 ambulances parked by the ground. They sent for the attack dogs. They then let one ambulance drive in to help.
This was a result of football fans being used to test new methods in keeping order. Margaret Thatcher’s Government wanted fans – what one Tory called “the yob class” – to carry ID cards. Baron Peter Hill-Naugton, admiral of the fleet, said football was “a slum game played by louts in front of hooligans”. Football fans were the Untermenschen on which all new methods of control could be tested. One doctor present at Hillsborough said the only difference ID cards could have made that day was to make it easier to identify the young corpses.
The police will tell you that all-seater stadium and filming the fans with CCTV prevents another Hillsborough. That’s balls. It was the police treating the football fans as animals that created the deaths of so many. The police have just found new ways to control the mob. You can now be ejected for swearing or saying something offensive. The culture of fear and loathing continues.
Anyone who went to a football match in the 1980s will understand that the Liverpool fans who died could have been them. Amid all the guff about the “football family”, this is one truth that binds all fans.