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Justice for the 96

[ 60 ] September 13, 2012 |

The Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report was released yesterday, following nearly three years of work re-examining the Hillsborough disaster of April 15, 1989.  A good summary of the findings are here.  The NYT has a story here.  For those unaware, Hillsborough (the ground of Sheffield Wednesday FC) was the neutral venue for an FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.  96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives [*] immediately before and in the opening minutes of the match in a crush at one end of the ground — the match was cancelled only six minutes in.  The official narrative blamed the Liverpool fans themselves; drunk, violent, ticketless trying to force their way into the ground.  This myth was helped along by the print media, most notoriously The Sun.  Indeed, Boris Johnson, present Conservative mayor of London and all around moppy clown, oversaw if not wrote an unsigned editorial which reiterated blaming the fans, specifically “the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground” while editor of The Spectator as recently as 2004.  Today (literally), he is “very, very sorry“.  As is David Cameron, who exonerated the fans role yesterday in Parliament.

The true cause was not the fans or their behavior, but a combination of incredibly amateur crowd control on the part of the South Yorkshire Police and the remarkably decrepit state of stadia serving as the venues for the most popular spectator sport in Britain, against a sociological backdrop that stereotyped soccer fans as lower class hooligans.  The latter in part resulted in the perimeter fences then standard at grounds in the UK.  Indeed, the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough had been subdivided into five “pens” (yes, they were called pens).  Hillsborough was supposedly one of the better grounds in England at the time, hence being a frequent location for a semi final, but it was in dreadful condition (as was a majority of the grounds around the country up and down the pyramid).  Slightly less than four years prior, 56 fans died in a fire at Valley Parade, home ground of Bradford City, and 66 people died in a crush (on exit) at Ibrox in 1971.  I can’t think of anything remotely similar in US major league sports during my lifetime (the year I was born, Bob Gibson had an ERA of 1.12, and Denny McLain won 31 games).  The best I can come up with on a cursory search is when some bleachers collapsed at the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia in 1903, killing 12.

The incompetence of the police, both in planning and during the match itself, deserves the majority of the blame.  While the tragedy was unfolding, a sizable portion of their presence was employed in making a barrier across the pitch to prevent the Liverpool supporters now on the pitch from rushing the Forest supporters at the other end (because that was precisely on their mind after they got over the relief at simply being alive).  These expressions of incompetence suggest why, in the aftermath, the South Yorkshire Police systematically covered up their responsibility.  In 116 cases, written statements by officers on site had been effectively cleansed, “to remove or alter comments unfavourable” to the police, in preparation for the official inquest.  This conspiracy extended to portions of the media and the government of the day.  It wasn’t the police, it wasn’t the infrastructure, it was those working class hooligans from radical Liverpool.

I have several friends who are Liverpool supporters, including a good friend of mine who lives down the street from my house here in England.  The findings of the report released yesterday have been common knowledge for 23 years.  But, it’s never been official knowledge until now; the official narrative was quite different.  A lot of people have been queuing up to apologise in the past 24 hours, deservedly so, including the FA for hosting the semi final at a ground lacking a safety certificate.  It looks as though the South Yorkshire police will refer this to the independent commission that investigates the police.

Anticipate a criminal investigation to the cover-up in the near future.

[*] 94 died at the ground, two more later in hospital.  I knew that.  Having just read this, I spotted my error I figured I’d correct it before a reader does.

  • Tom

    I was wondering why the one fellow was waving up a banner written in Cyrillic then I realized he was just holding it upside down.

    • I was too except it made no sense because it corresponded to no words in the Russian language.

    • TruthOfAngels

      Heh. Me too.

    • elm

      Ditto. Thanks for pointing that out, because my limited knowledge of Russian was stretched to figure it out, especially because the “KOP” in the other sign also seemed cyrillic because I dunno what it means in English.

      • sam240

        In England, a “Kop” refers to a section of the stands that houses a team’s most vocal supporters or fans. It can also refer to the supporters who sit or stand in that section.

        • elm

          Thanks! I don’t know if that info will ever prove relevant for me again, but it’s good to know regardless.

        • Anonymous

          Kop, as used for terraces, comes from the Second Boer War Battle of Spion Kop, and the small, steep hill (Spion Kop) that featured in the battle. Many terraces in the early 1900s resembled the hill. I think the picture in this wikipedia picture shows Spion Kop

          Kop comes from the Afrikaans word Koppie, which comes from the Dutch kopje.

  • I would not be so quick to dismiss the responsibility of Liverpool football hooligans in the tragedy. When I lived in London from 2001-2004 Liverpool fans were notorious for engaging in drunken violence after matches against Arsenal. They even trashed the King’s Head on one of the few weekends I decided not to drink there. The “Scouses” had a well deserved reputation for drunken violence and it would not surprise me if they did trample 96 people to death.

    • Hogan

      Yes, a 23-year rush to judgment seems imprudent to me too. Let’s await the verdict of history before we acquit those filthy drunken Liverpudlians.

    • Cheap Wino

      “. . . engaging in drunken violence after matches against Arsenal. . .”

      “96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives immediately before and in the opening minutes of the match”


    • rea

      blood aclohol tests on the victims ruled out intoxication as a factor.

      • Thlayli

        Those tests were done on every single one of the victims.

        Including the 10-year-old.

    • scott

      Hating Scousers and stereotyping them based on anecdotal evidence is one of last acceptable kinds of prejuice, apparently. I can’t think of any other reason why someone would disbelieve an official report that exonerated the fans and instead implicated the crap state of the grounds and the incompetence of the local cops. I guess that today (as 23 years ago) it’s a lot more fun to blame dirty Scousers than to think about those things.

      • Because the Liverpool fans that came to London in the early 00s were extremely violent.

        • Dave Brockington

          I’m a Celtic supporter. Rangers supporters can be extremely violent and bigoted. I certainly don’t blame them for Ibrox 1971.

        • avoidswork

          How does your anecdotes of the 00s correlate to 1989?

          Further, how do your anecdotes match up with the fact that ambulances/medical were not allowed to get to the field?

          Why be an apologist for this when there is significant, overwhelming evidence that the failures were stadia and the police? When it is very clear that this was a *class* issue?

          Almost 100 lives gone, the facts a long-standing open secret and an Apologist?

          Are you, like, secretly an American Republican?

          • I am an American independent. My personal experience of Liverpool hooligans is that they liked to hurt people and destroy property for fun. If you think they are all good people fine. But, that is not what I saw in London.

            • Josh

              A) The vast amount of evidence shows that Liverpool fans were not to blame for the crush.

              B) Shockingly, it’s not actually necessary to believe that all Liverpool fans are wonderful people when concluding that they weren’t responsible.

    • Leeds man

      The “Scouses” had a well deserved reputation for drunken violence and it would not surprise me if they did trample 96 people to death.

      If there were a direct correlation between drunken violence of football fans (Leeds and Millwall deserve dishonourable mention here, among many others) and tramplings*, the death toll over the years should be well into the tens of thousands.

      *The main correlating factor being inversely proportional to your level of surprise

    • ejh

      “It would not surprise me if something which manifestly did not happen did in fact happen. I am an ignorant pig.”

    • wengler

      This tragedy had nothing to do with hooliganism. It was a human crush caused by police incompetence.

      However the backdrop to this that let the police so easily get away with their lies was Heysel, which was in fact caused by Liverpool hooligans and led to 39 dead.

      Also, in terms of harassment and intimidation Liverpool fans are pretty bad. They’ve used their power to force people they don’t like off the air in this country so commentators are pretty wary of them.

      • rea

        The account you link for Heysel makes it clear that (1) yes, Liverpool fans were guilty of murderous hooliganism, but (2) bad crowd control and inadequate facilities were also responsible.

        • wengler

          The primary problem in each stadium disaster: Ibrox was stadium design, Hillsborough was police incompetence, and Heysel was hooliganism. There were contributing factors in all of them, like an inadequate chain link fence at Heysel, but frankly fans should be able to sit together without incident, let alone apart with a fence in the middle.

          • rea

            Well, yeah. I’ve been to a couple of Michigan-Ohio State games, with 103,000 in the stadium, and not the slightest hint of trouble, other than a few drunken teenagers throwing up. Hard to understand why why soccer has these problems . . .

    • Barry Freed

      Fuck off JOP. Just fuck off.

    • DivGuy

      I think another important piece of context for the cover-up is the class and regional politics of England in the late 80s. Liverpool was the last real hold-out against Thatcher and neoliberalism, they elected leftists to the city council and fought London on a wide range of issues. The city was dying economically and being taken over by working-class slums. It was perceived as an Other England, a place without order, a place full of scary working class people who were surely criminals, a place rejecting the progress of Thatcherism.

      The willingness of people to buy the lies of the police and the Sun derived in part from these class and regional prejudices against Liverpool, which JOP – wittingly or unwitting – reproduces here.

      • Yes, because no Liverpool fan ever engaged in violence ever. Is this the new official Orthodox Leftist line? That Football hooligans who assault people and vandalize property are the in the same position as Jews in Tsarist Russia and Blacks in the Jim Crow South were, an unjustly persecuted minority? Why wonder the left died in the UK.

        • Barry Freed

          I’m restraining myself here as best as I can from just telling you to fuck off again and leave it at that but really, have you read the report? Or at least read any of the many news stories reporting on its findings? Because, as everyone here is trying to tell you you’re repeating a bunch of vicious lies and substituting your very narrow subjective anecdotal experience over a decade later for well documented investigative reportage. This does not speak well at all of your abilities as an historian.

          • 1996 is not history. But, I have no comment on the report itself. As for the claim that some Liverpool Football Hooligans engaged in vicious assaults and destruction of property in 00s in London being nothing but, lies, well that is your position. But, I would only need to prove one single instance of violence by a Football Hooligan from Liverpool from 2001-2004 to show that you are wrong.

        • Philip Hale

          J.Otto Pohl
          Its a strange and angry mental state that you live in. Clearly you weren’t at the ground in 1989, are not English and have no understanding of the events that you are commenting on. The fact that you feel the need to incorrectly condemn people that you don’t know for responsibility in a tragic event that has just been dissected by an independent body is sad and odd. What pleasure can you possibly get from making your incorrect observations when people including children lost their lives? If its attention you seek then you should perhaps grow a set and go and argue your points in person with the families of the victims. They are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.You wouldn’t come to physical harm but your prejudice would be challenged by facts. Perhaps that would be just too real for you and shatter your sad little internet warrior sense of self.

  • Steve H

    I think the closest example in recent US history was The Who’s concert in Cincinnati in 1979, in which 11 people died.

    • Dave Brockington

      Yeah, I was thinking about that while writing, and should have mentioned it. It was at Riverfront.

    • JL

      Not in the US, but involving a US band: In 2000, 9 Pearl Jam fans were killed in a crush at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. The band had tried to calm the crowd, and then tried to pull people out of the crush (which was at the front of the crowd, at the stage). It was ugly.

    • urizon

      What I was going to say.

    • I’d think that the Great White fire in 2003 could have been analogous, but that was clearly venue more than anything else. And not the coverup. But certainly 100 dead bodies en masse for stupid, preventable reasons.

  • Dog San Vito

    Not major league sports, but there were the 11 fans crushed to death at The Who concert in Cincinatti in 1979….

  • Vance Maverick

    From one of the linked articles: The current chief constable of South Yorkshire David Crompton said if the law was broken, there should be charges.
    [ … ]
    Mr Crompton said: “My position is a very simple and straightforward one, which is that if people have broken the law then they should be prosecuted.

    And if they haven’t been prosecuted, we can’t say whether they’ve broken the law, so Mr. Crompton regretfully concludes no action can be taken.

    • firefall

      Well presumably now its official, the relevant police officers will be dismissed from the force. 23 years, you say? well ….. that’ll make it easy.

      Bitter jokes aside, this is one of the worst of many horrible blots on the reputation of UK police generally, and taking so long is just shameful, to them, and to all the intervening governments that ignored it (Tony Blair, I’m talking to you, sleazeball, Christian hypocrisy included).

  • Patrick

    Heh, the automated ad service is serving up FIFA13 on the sidebar. Probably not the association they were looking for.

  • Uncle Kvetch

    A lot of people have been queuing up to apologise in the past 24 hours

    Is anyone from the Sun among them?

    • Dave Brockington

      Shockingly, Kelvin MacKenzie took his rightful place in the mea culpa line. I didn’t think he would.

      • rea

        A lot of people have been queuing up to apologise in the past 24 hours

        Let’s hope there is adequate crowd control . . .

        • Hogan

          Why should I care if they get trampled?

  • Mike

    The only “crush” incident I can think of from my lifetime happened after a Wisconsin football game in 1993. People tried to rush the field in celebration, dozens were trampled and injured but no deaths.

  • rea

    Note also the finding that 41 of the victims would have been saved by timely medical treatment.

  • cisko

    Similar United States disasters: Not a crush incident and not a (competitive) sporting event, but 74 died at the Indiana State Fair Coliseum in 1963 when a propane tank leaked and exploded during a ‘Holiday on Ice’ show (Indianapolis Star article).

    • wjts

      The Hartford Circus Fire of 1944 is pretty similar to the Indianapolis disaster.

    • Bill Murray

      There were quite a few stadium fires in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Also there were the Texas A&M bonfire deaths in 1999

  • Linnaeus

    Is there a link to the report itself somewhere?

    • Hogan
      • Linnaeus

        Thank you!

  • Sly

    The official narrative blamed the Liverpool fans themselves; drunk, violent, ticketless trying to force their way into the ground. This myth was helped along by the print media, most notoriously The Sun.

    But the Scousers never buy the Sun….

    • wjts

      Also apropos too.

      • dave brockington

        I made a point of neither linking to The Sun, nor discussing their lies. I assumed those who know didn’t need the reminder, and those that didn’t could ask here or look it up. It still doesn’t really sell in Liverpool, and the lack of circulation of The Sun in Merseyside has cost them heaps of cash.

  • Conrad

    One question the report doesn’t answer (but does refer to) is why the South Yorkshire Police decided to replace the experienced ground commander Mole with the relative novice Duckenfield a few weeks out form the biggest match of the season. Could Mole have made a difference? He’d been in charge of the 87 and 88 semi’s at the same ground.

    • dave brockington

      IIRC, there was a minor crush in the Leppings Lane end in 1998 as well. Nobody was seriously hurt, but the warning signs were there.

      • dave brockington

        erm, 1988.

  • cpinva

    the best part about waiting 23 years, to let the truth out, is that none of the actual responsible parties had their careers negatively affected by it. convient.

  • What a prick Kelvin MacKenzie is. Really, what a waste of oxygen, a Thatcher toesucker and proven liar. But note that when he drives a company into the ground, he gets another high paying job straight away.

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