Liverpool chase title honours 25 years after the Hillsborough tragedy

Liverpool chase title honours 25 years after the Hillsborough tragedy

liverpool players min silence pre man cityThe football match between Liverpool and Manchester City last weekend was what I wish every game could be like.

A passionate crowd. A fantastic atmosphere. Two attack minded teams. A referee who allowed the game to flow, and goals galore.

That the Anfield faithful were rewarded with three points, in this week of all weeks, seemed right somehow.

And, although my pre-season bet was on Chelsea to win the Premier League at odds of 3/1; I would welcome Liverpool winning the title. It would make a refreshing change.

The minutes silence prior to the kick off was perfectly observed by everyone. I would expect nothing less. The footballing tragedies of the 1980’s, including the one that culminated in 96 Liverpool fans never returning home, represented a wake up call for the game as a whole and supporters in particular.

As someone who began watching football live in the 60’s, and then had to endure the weekly danger that came with following a football team during the 70’s, I am glad that common sense largely prevails on the terraces these days.

Going to a football match now may be an expensive way to spend a day, but at least you can go with the reasonable expectation that you will not have your head kicked in, not be pissed on while standing on the terraces and be able to get into and out of a ground without feeling like a sardine being squeezed into a tin.

25 years ago I was (as I am today) a Sheffield Wednesday fan. I was offered free tickets to go to the ill fated semi-final against Nottingham Forest. My then father-in-law was in hospital and my ex wife left me in no doubt that my going to a football game, rather than a hospital bedside, would not be good for my health. For once, she was right.

As someone who saw first hand the horror that was the Bradford City fire, had I accepted that Hillsborough match ticket I would have come to the conclusion that I was a jinx on the safety of football fans.

I was producing for Yorkshire Television 25 years ago. Selfishly I am glad I had just left working for the news programme. I really don’t think I could have gone through the aftermath of another football disaster.

Two good friends were in the Leppings Lane end. Their first return to Hillsborough after that terrible day was in my company, for a game between Sheffield Wednesday and Liverpool. If I needed any confirmation of how surviving the fatal crush in 1989 could forever effect the mental state of two people, I saw it that day.

Years later, in 1994, I met Trevor Hicks, who lost his two daughters at Hillsborough 25 years ago today. I produced a Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ documentary. The programme was my idea. An obsession almost.

I went undercover to see if football clubs were following the recommendations of Lord Justice Taylor and Lord Justice Popplewell. To my horror, several were not. Including my own club, Sheffield Wednesday.

kenny dalglish pre 25 year anivPeople fascinate me and I have forever been lost in admiration of Trevor and the other families who lost loved ones in 1989.

And if you think footballers aren’t human, you should have been in the room when Bruce Grobblelaar broke down on camera for a film I was producing in 1996. And, believe me, Kenny Dalglish post 1989 is a different man from the person who went to play a game of football in Sheffield.

I am not interested in pointing the finger any longer. Frankly, we were all to blame for the disasters at Bradford, Heysel and Hillsborough. Those in positions of power and those taking their positions on the terraces.

We had collectively allowed attending football matches to be a disgusting way to spend time. I never missed a game in the seventies and I can recall being crushed and thinking I was going to lose my life. I saw rubbish under wooden stands.

Did I do anything about either circumstance? No. Would the club owners have acted had I done so? No. Did the police on duty talk to me like a human being? No.

An expert in disasters told me that such tragedies are never the result of one mistake by one person or organisation. But the result of a collection of avoidable errors made by more than one person or body.

I have reason to believe one employee of Sheffield Wednesday FC back then played a part in the horrific chain of events at Hillsborough in 1989. But I do not believe any good will come from punishing the people who currently run Sheffield Wednesday F.C.

It will not bring back the 96.

anfield 96 names Those who died that day, and those whose lives changed forever, deserve justice. I admire enormously the parents and loved ones who campaigned so long and so hard for the truth to come out.

The actions of those in the higher ranks of South Yorkshire police force were disgusting. But I was not surprised by them. As a Wednesdayite attending games since 1968, I too had often been treated by them as something stuck to the bottom of their large shoes. And as a producer working for Yorkshire Television between 1980 and 1991, I had got to know some of the dubious characters who worked for that force.

But not every copper working in Sheffield was a bad apple and it as wrong to suggest that as it is to suggest every Liverpool fan was pissed.

“Good coppering” by two South Yorkshire officers had years earlier captured the Yorkshire Ripper and, no doubt, saved lives.

It is worth remembering that many police officers did try to save lives at Hillsborough. That the majority of them are as human as you and I and that several officers on duty that day have been mentally scarred by what they witnessed.

The actions of others, those who swore at fans fighting for their lives, were the actions of policemen and women who had long been led by incompetent, pompous and corrupt bullies.

The actions of policemen and women who had grown up in their jobs dealing weekly with football violence. They had grown conditioned to believe that a football fan screaming for help was just another hooligan swearing at the police. They were so blinkered they failed to see that people were catching their last breath.

The 96 who perished as a result would have relished the atmosphere at Anfield last Sunday. They would have been excited by one of the best Premier League matches of recent years.

For all its faults then and now, they loved football. As I do. As you do.

They should not have died. Their character should not have been tarnished. The mistakes that led to the Hillsborough tragedy should have been revealed decades before they were. And the cover up by the police and certain politicians was one of the most disgraceful actions by those in public service.

But the 96 did not die in vain. Not completely.

That the majority of us can go to games in much improved surroundings these days, and not be treated like filthy cattle, is a direct consequence of the tragic events of that day.

By far the majority of football fans today are more respectful to each other and opposing teams than they have been since I began watching football in the mid sixties.

Long may that last.

 

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