Before you read this please find and read some of the testimony from witnesses and those who lost family or friends that day [appropiate links at the bottom of the article]. I am not a Liverpool supporter and I never lost anyone I know that day.
I can’t write about the event because I wasn’t there but I do know what I have heard thousands of football fans who went to games at that time say, and it includes me, which is simply “that could have been me”.
I also know that although some of the problems that led to the disaster that day have been greatly improved upon, others have not.
The things that have been improved [not perfected] are stadium safety and the general policing of football matches.
The things that haven’t are the police and the media’s reaction and attitude to crowds in general and their reluctance to admit it when they get it wrong.
As a University of Glasgow Media group study about the media and peoples reaction to the miners strike found…
Everyone who had been to a picket line (both police and pickets) believed that most picketing was peaceful. But a majority of those who relied on information from the media believed that it was mostly violent.
And so it was with football.
The attitude of the people in control at football matches and their lack of concern could be seen in earlier incidents like the Ibrox Park disasters and the Bradford City Stadium fire in 1985. In Bradford the fire was started when [probably] a cigarette was dropped and fell through the wooden stand and ignited the rubbish below.
There were no extinguishers in the stand’s passageway for fear of vandalism, and one spectator ran to the club house to find one, but was overcome by smoke and others trying to escape. Supporters either ran upwards to the back of the stand or downwards to the pitch to escape. Most of the exits at the back were either locked or shut, and there were no stewards present to open them, but seven were either forced or found open. Three men smashed down one door and at least one exit was opened by people outside.Geoffrey Mitchell said: “There was panic as fans stampeded to an exit which was padlocked. Two or three burly men put their weight against it and smashed the gate open. Otherwise I would not have been able to get out.” At the front of the stand, men threw children over the wall to help them escape. Most of those who escaped onto the pitch were saved.
So the people were penned in, with many escape routes closed and no way to put out the fire because the authorities believed they might misbehave. What is more, similar to the Hillsborough disaster, the media have reported the actions of fans unfavourably…
American television network FOX TV controversially aired footage of the disaster in the programme When Good Times Go Bad 3. They incorrectly blamed supporters for deliberately starting the fire; and the program used punning language such as “as rabid as American fans can get, they can’t hold a candle to soccer fans around the world”. David Pendleton, the editor of Bradford City F.C.’s fanzine, stated that the programme was “a vile and callous piece of journalism” Copyright of the TV footage of that day’s events is strictly controlled by Yorkshire Television and the footage is only meant to be used for fire awareness training purposes.
Distasteful to say the least.
Interestingly, after other incidents like these in other countries such as Heysel Stadium disaster and the collapse of a stand in France, as THIS documentary explains, there were prosecutions and sackings. That just doesn’t happen in Britain.
I was fortunate never to see anything like this but any Celtic fan who was there will tell you that the day Celtic played Dundee the year before Hillsborough could easily have been a major disaster as most Celtic fans agree that Celtic FC at that time had a somewhat creative attitude to giving attendance figures and the stadium was dangerously overcrowded. I imagine most people who went to matches at that time have a memory of a game where it was particularly dangerous.
The season before Hillsborough I went to a few games. The Hillsborough season I went to almost every Celtic home game and occasionally to Aberdeen games if Celtic were playing away. This was because I had one brother that supported Celtic and another that supported Aberdeen . Our father didn’t like us to go to games without him so there was a lot of sneaking out involved. My Aberdeen supporting brother would take me along to the Aberdeen games sometimes because I think he wanted someone to go with and it gave him a better excuse. Usually I would go to the Celtic games with the Celtic supporting brother and sometimes I would go alone.
Conditions at most Scottish grounds were primitive at the time and in some of the early matches I went to I made the mistake of standing with my chest in front of the crush barrier. When a goal was scored and everyone jumped forward I got wrapped around the barrier and had to wait till everyone pushed back before I could disentangle myself. I realised how dangerous this was fairly quickly and from then on got to the stadium early and stood with the barrier at my back so that when they all rebounded after jumping down I could at least see them coming and try to position myself in the safest [or least dangerous] way.
The day of the disaster I watched it happening on BBC as Celtic were playing on the Sunday. I remember how the initial thoughts about the crowd fighting or being disruptive melted away. Those were the first thoughts of many people that day because there were some problems with hoolignanism at that time although, as usual, there were no serious attempts to consider sociologically why, except to blame the victims along with the perpetrators and to treat all football supporters like animals. The Thatcher government with the ID card scheme and the media had in tandem demonised the supporters. Just as the government and the media had done with the miners and just as they now do with the protestors.
So just a few days after 96 people had been crushed to death and many more injured due to police incompetence to, the bereaved, injured and traumatised were treated to this…
And this was after TV cameras showed supporters ripping down advertising boards to stretcher away the injured.
I can’t remember exactly but I think the next game I went to after the disaster was Hearts V Aberdeen at Tynecastle [Hearts’ stadium]. It was unlike any game I had ever been to. There was a greatly reduced number of fans and for most of them, even though Aberdeen were seriously involved in the league race, the game was mostly an irrelevance. People sang songs supporting the Liverpool fans, abused the police in general and mostly directed their anger against the fact that a similar kind of fence to the one that had been used to pen people in like animals at Hillsborough had still not been torn down. “Get your fences to f*ck” and so on were the songs of the day.
It was a great show of solidarity and I daresay it was replicated at many football grounds in the UK and elsewhere at the time. That and the memorial game with Celtic V Liverpool a couple of weeks later showed me that the fans cared about the bigger picture even if some others didn’t, as is illustrated by this from David Conn in the Guardian…
In a dusty library at the far end of the Houses of Parliament, among 10 boxes of documents relating to the Hillsborough disaster which were made available by the South Yorkshire police following a government order some years ago, is a statement from a police constable on duty that day.
On the front page is a handwritten instruction from a more senior officer. “Last two pages require amending,” it notes. “These are his own feelings. He also states that PCs were sat down crying when the fans were carrying the dead and injured. This shows they were organised and we were not. Have [the Police Officer] rewrite the last two pages excluding points mentioned.”
So although today is about an anniversary for the people who died at Hillsborough and their families, it is also about the others who died not at the same incident, but from the same disease.
For the Hillsborough disaster and so many other appalling incidents in the UK, no one has been brought to account.
Justice for the 96 and others.
Here are some links about the disaster..
Hillsborough Families Support Group
Sean’s Posts about it – Sean has a serious involvement with the disaster.
and the HILLSBOROUGH JUSTICE CAMPAIGN