Archive for September, 2012

13th Sep 2012

Hillsborough: The Truth is Out

Justice for the 96? Not yet, but the news yesterday was a considerable step towards a kind of justice. What we found out was clear and without qualification – the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report concluded that the events of 15 April 1989 during the FA Cup Semi-Final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were distorted and manipulated by senior emergency service personnel, especially senior South Yorkshire Police Officers, in order to divert blame away from relevant authorities and instead direct blame towards drunken, disorderly, ticketless fans.

My students will be familiar with the lectures I deliver on this very subject: football fan cultures and crowd safety/order. For almost ten years I’ve been teaching students about this important period of football decline during the 1970s and 1980s. They’re fascinated with a world that seems so far removed from the contemporary one of all-seater stadia, multimillionaire footballers and corporate prawn sandwiches. And yet football was still labelled a slum sport only a few years before most of them were born. 

Three main developments in the early 1990s changed English football for good: first, a brilliant televised World Cup - remember Pavarotti! - showcased the splendour of Italy’s soccer stadia (embarrasingly better than Wembley, Old Trafford, etc) and saw Bobby Robson’s/Gary Lineker’s England play probably the most exciting football of any team during that tournament (England should have won it – and would have had they defeated newly-unified Germany); second, Sky blew the existing ITV contract out of the water and injected huge amounts of TV money into a whole new ball game that brought about the Premier League; and third, the Taylor Report following the Hillsborough disaster called for all-seater stadia and various other measures designed to transform a working-class, masculine-macho excuse-for-a-fight int0 a middle-class, family day out. The TV money helped to supply the funds to fulfill Taylor’s recommendations too.

Another Hillsborough will never happen, thankfully. But football and the society in which it was inextricably mixed up during the latter half of the twentieth-century should never be forgotten. Hillsborough was not the only football-related disaster of the period – and the reason why football had a bad reputation before the 1990s was not just down to heavy-handed policing of unruly thugs. The Football Association, successive British Governments, individual football clubs, local councils and media/press organisations that failed to promote – indeed, often stigmatised – the beautiful game: all these stakeholders contributed to the malaise.

Thank Heaven for Italia 90/Taylor/Sky! News Corp’s The Sun newspaper may have printed lies about Hillsborough, but News Corp’s BSkyB dug the reluctant - and mean – authorities out of their own hole by helping to pay for the beautiful game we love today.

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