Vague ramblings

Hillsborough: truth, class and lies

Posted in Musing, Reason by Ian Cundell on 29 April, 2016

On a December evening in 2001 at Upton Park, West Ham were drifting to a limp 0-1 defeat to Aston Villa. The clock ticked to 90 minutes and, as was our wont, the season ticket holders in the Bobby Moore Lower shuffled from our seats to the stairways in the forlorn hope of a quick exit, once the ref put us out of our misery.

Then Jermaine Defoe equalised, right in front of us. A staircase full of people surged forward in a 15-second or so flashback to watching football from terraces. You had no choice but to go with the surge and hope you stayed on your feet, a tart reminder of why terraces were such fun – and also so dangerous. It was quite, quite exhilarating.

And then it was over and we all went home.

At four minutes past three on 15 April 1989, a shot by Liverpool’s Peter Beardsley hit the Nottingham Forest crossbar in front of the Spion Kop at Hillsborough. At the other end of the ground, the Liverpool fans in the packed Leppings Lane terraces surged forward, as always happened at exciting moments. A crush barrier collapsed and, if I have read the various reports on Hillsborough correctly, this was the point at which around 10 victims died. Keep that in your mind for a moment.

This week the families of The 96 finally got something approaching justice, as a catalogue of arrogant, incompetent and grossly negligent policing was deemed unlawful and the fans declared free from blame.

And yet the pushback is not just from the Murdoch press, so culpable in one of the most disgraceful cover-ups in British history. Consider this otherwise hugely intelligent and thoughtful blog about the disaster from lifelong West Ham fan Robert Kelsey:

But Liverpool fans were noted for something else: a peculiarity if you like. It was their habit of “steaming the gate” at away matches, and particular bigger (all-ticket) games. As kick-off approached, a large enough group would gather by the gate and, indeed, force their way in. It was “something Liverpool just did” – at least according to their reputation.

It is an odd football snobbery. The Scousers may have been better organised, but I don’t know a single fan – of any team – from back in those days who did not brag at some point about bunking in, especially to big all-ticket matches. To be fair, Kelsey is stating this both to dismiss it and to set up a much more interesting point. But let’s be clear: there was a crush of around 5,000 fans outside the Leppings Lane stand 10 minutes before kick off, faced with turnstiles that had managed to admit around 1,000 fans each over the previous hour or so. The police panicked, opened Gate C and the rest is bleak history. To try to shift blame onto the fans for steaming is as stupid as would be trying to blame Peter Beardsley for the deaths caused by the collapse of Crush Barrier 144.

Liverpool’s fans did nothing that did not happen every week at every ground and were treated accordingly – and that is the point.

Football’s hooliganism problem was deep-seated and deep-rooted and this shaped the thinking of Match Commander David Duckenfield to the exclusion of all else. He sent in dogs before he sent in ambulances. But, while hooliganism is well recorded, the other side of the coin is not. As Kelsey points out, police thuggery towards fans was the norm, with beatings meted out for the offence of Being A Cockney In Manchester or any variant of “local” and “visitor”, or of police mysteriously vanishing when a local “firm” set about travelling fans.

Lord Justice Taylor, in his 1990 report on Hillsborough used the imagery of prisoners of war to describe the treatment of football fans and, at its launch, noted: “If you treat people like prisoners of war, you should not be surprised if they act like them.”

But in the 1980s this thuggery found comfort in the highest places. Thatcher’s disdain for the working classes came out as contempt for football fans and the same police force who had been her shock-troops during the miners’ strike felt it had impunity. Kelsey hits the nail on the head:

But – then – that was football. The clubs knew it. The authorities knew it. And the fans knew it. It was also dangerous and unsustainable. And one day something was going to go very badly wrong. And to make that event, when it inevitably happened, the fault of one man: Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield is – despite his lies and failings – wrong. But that seems to be where we’re heading on this.

Duckenfield is culpable, no ifs no buts. But he was the point man, promoted far above his competence. Then-Chief Constable Peter Wright set the tone and ethos of South Yorkshire Police and personally oversaw the cover up. He is a much bigger villain, but he died in 2011 and is beyond Earthly justice.

And the bigger villain by far is the ease with which the privileged, aided by a compliant and now largely foreign-owned media, can set ordinary people (let’s set aside the loaded term ‘working class’) fighting among themselves. It is stark in football, even in these sanitised days, where tribalism generates a strong instinct to find fault – even moral failing – in fans of other teams.

Normal, decent, sensible people are shockingly prone being led astray by spin. Whether it is Ken Livingstone (admittedly, too often prone to foot-in-mouth disease), a life-long anti-racist being branded an anti-Semite, or junior doctors being branded greedy; whether it is people fleeing war-shattered countries being labelled “a bunch of migrants”, or teachers being branded as addicted to long holidays; whether it’s the dismantling of the Legal Aid system, denying ordinary people access to justice, or the sterile dogma of “free markets” being used to tear down the welfare system, while blaming the poor.

Or all football fans being branded hooligans.

Ordinary people fall for it all the time.

The victims at Hillsborough weren’t “football fans”. They were factory workers, teachers, university students, school boys and school girls, healthcare workers and finance consultants, shopkeepers and carpenters, would-be computer programmers, clerks and sales reps, machinists and roofers, fork lift drivers and firefighters.

And it was not just a police and political cover up that denied them justice for more than a quarter of a century.

It was a society that doesn’t know when it is being lied to and, frankly, did not seem to give a toss.

 

Do the right thing: it is part of you

Posted in Life, That which is cool by Ian Cundell on 30 April, 2014

I found this via the splendid  The Skeptics Society & Skeptic Magazine page on Facebook (follow that and the equally spiffing I Fucking Love Science and you will get all the sciencey goodness you can cope with).

It seems the ability to make quick moral judgements and to determine whether the best thing to do is reward or punish is innate – a sense of justice is part of us.

Have a read – it is very interesting – and don’t forget to click through to the linked Youtube video. If you are in need of a top up to your “faith in humanity” levels, it will certainly provide it.

 

12 baffled men (and/ or women)

Posted in Musing by Ian Cundell on 20 February, 2013

The, frankly rather entertaining, goings on as the jury completely fail to reach a verdict in the Vicky Pryce case have set me thinking. I’m a fan of the jury system, on balance, but it has been instructive to compare proceedings with the (let’s face it, much more appalling) case of Oscar Pistorius in South Africa where no jury is employed. I read somewhere that South Africa had a jury system until it was realised that largely white jurors tended to convict black defendants disproportionately often. If anyone knows better, please let me know.

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