I have a confession to make that I am not particularly proud of. I was one of probably many of the masses that was suckered in by the authorities, the press and all that surrounded them in believing what they told us for such a long time regarding the tragedy of Hillsborough in 1989.
I am not sure at what stage I started to question the official story but when it happened - as an outsider, I felt that I did not have a right to think that what I was being told was wrong and why would there be a need for a cover-up of any description. I just believed that the events that happened that day had been absolutely awful but did not really understand the reasons for why they had happened and nor did I care to question this story as it was being reported to us. It was mainstream media that were telling us - and back then far less of us questioned anything coming from respected sources.
Before writing this article, I sat down and watched a documentary that was on TV last week that even revealed items of evidence that I was still unaware of up to then. I even managed to get a copy of the original “Match of the Day” recording that went out that night with just Des Lynam and Jimmy Hill in the studio with interviews from the police and authorities. Looking at this again this weekend, you can even see that even then that this was the beginning of a 23-year conspiracy. The BBC produced a page with the key findings of the new report which can be reached here - Hillsborough Report: Key findings
I am not going to comment much on what has come out this week because for the best part it has already been said. However, what I am going to do is add a video to this article that features comments from ex-Liverpool player Phil Thompson on “Sky Soccer Saturday” and then the following morning by newspaper journalists Martin Samuel and Jonathan Northcroft on “Hold the Back Page.”
Thompson's comments were from the heart and what the two journalists said the following day also made so much sense and did raise valid questions that need to be addressed and answered still.
We all Remember where we were
My own comments are going to concentrate firstly on what has not been mentioned anywhere as far as I am aware and for this I have to cast my own mind back to that fateful weekend. In 1989, FA Cup semi-finals were still being played on Saturday afternoons as was the case here and also on that same day at the same time was a full league programme outside of the top flight (the old 1st Division). I was actually at a game that day and it was ironically Northampton Town at home to Sheffield United at the old County Cricket Ground with its three-sided ground. This was an old 3rd Division game and the Blades were well on their way to gaining promotion that season with the firepower of Brian Deane and Tony Agana scoring pot fulls of goals for the team as were Steve Bull and Andy Mutch for Wolves who pipped United for the title.
I say it is ironic because of course I was there with Blades fans that had all traveled down from Sheffield where this nightmare was unfolding on the other side of the city. A day of celebration (this was the period of the inflatable toys) was in the air especially after earning another three points in a closely contested game – and nobody had a clue what was happening back in Sheffield. There were no mobile phones back then and as far as I was aware nobody had even a transistor radio on as there were no words of these passing tragic events happening at the same time. When our game finished at around 4.45 and whilst the Northampton and United players were still in the process of shaking hands, an announcement was made over the PA system. I swear that I have never seen an atmosphere change so dramatically within a football ground so quickly and you could also clearly tell that all the players were just as stunned at the news as the crowd. All the fans were allowed to disperse at the same time – something that still does not happen in many places today. Both sets of fans left the ground and were mixing on the streets freely outside with many trying to find out what had happened and were even desperate for more information.
When I was about 16 years old, a friend of mine that was two years older than me had just purchased his first car which was a mini. Four of us went out for a drive in it one evening and my friend driving the car, lacking in experience went far too fast around a corner on a country lane, lost control and the car went over onto its side and we ended up with the car having rolled and gone into a ditch. As we clambered out of the passengers doors now above us, a car coming from the other direction came around the corner and stopped. It was a school teacher and he was concerned enough to stop which was good and then offered us a lift into the next village where we could phone for help. He was also insistent on us phoning our parents to let them know that we were all OK.
The reason that I mention this little story is because of that action – why would we want to let our parents know that we were alright when they did not know that anything was wrong in the first place? It is human nature and that is exactly what I saw coming from the Sheffield United fans in Northampton that day. This tragedy was happening in their city and they had no idea of the details, just that it was so close to their actual homes. They were ringing home to make sure that everybody was ok. I did it myself with 9/11 when I rang friends in Canada that day to make sure that they were OK. New York may well be in North America but not only was it hundreds of miles away from where my friends lived – but it is also in another country!
I think it is a case of shock and not quite knowing what to do or whom to call but we feel that we need to something. When Sheffield United fans rang home, it may well have been because they had mates that were Wednesday fans and without really thinking about it, Hillsborough that day was being used by fans of Liverpool and Nottingham Forest and had nothing to do with either fan base of the Sheffield clubs.
The Tabloid Press
Over the next couple of days the tabloid press was full of pages covering these horrific events and this is the other main point that I wanted to make directly covering what happened that I have not seen mentioned elsewhere. I will never forget many of the pictures that were taken by press photographers that appeared in the press as they were just horrible and awful. To think that these photographers just stood there pitch side snapping away at these poor people being crushed against these blue fences and then making money out of them – shouldn't these guys face some sort of legal action too? I do not want to go into specific detail regarding these pictures but they left an imprint on me that allows me to vividly remember some of them clearly to this very day. Between writing that sentence and this I just had to go and look at Google images to see if any of those images are now floating around the world wide web and although there are still some that people would find hard to look at, the ones that I remember printed in the press at the time are nowhere to be seen.
It is the reporters (the writers) that are normally the ones that get all of the criticism for what they write especially when they have not got their facts right. But lets not forget those photographers either because at times like these they are 100 times worse! The dreadful pictures that they took were purely for profit! Photographers are dependent on selling their pictures to the highest bidder - in most cases the newspapers. No sale and potentially no meal on the table that night is a story they often use claiming that they are poverty stricken. Funny how they will then go out and spend literally thousands of pounds on a new lens or tripod sometimes on the back of just one photo sale and being in the right place at the right time. In this instance they were in the right place for where the huge story was breaking - but every single one of them that took those photos instead of doing the decent thing and putting their camera equipment away and in some way trying to help - should be hung out to dry like the photographer vultures that they are.
We had plenty of warnings during the late eighties that things had to change and not just in sport. The Hillsborough disaster along with the Bradford City and St.Pancras fires all meant that it was well past time that our stadia needed to be looked at and that new fire rules needed to be put into place quickly. I remember as a young boy when my father would take me to games and our local team were non-league. Our ground though did have a large wooden stand and would be filled with smell of tobacco pipe smell and everywhere you looked there were people smoking within the stand. If you looked between the rows of seats you could see the rubbish beginning to build up underneath – we were the lucky ones and that stadium has not existed for a long while now.
Coming back to Liverpool, another thing that I do not understand still to this day is what happened in the Heysel Stadium just a few years before Hillsborough. Liverpool fans never had any kind of reputation of having trouble makers or hooligans en-block amongst their masses. Yet all of a sudden that other fateful day in Belgium, we are led to believe that they all decided to riot? You almost get the feeling that they were tarred with the same brush as many other clubs well known for hooliganism in this period and by the time 1989 and Hillsborough came around it was easy to pin the same guilt on them.
The tabloid press again jumped on this bandwagon too with reports of “drunken fans” pickpocketing the dead and urinating on the police officers. The press also have a lot to answer for in this case and I hope that those responsible for this are again made to confess to their hideous actions.
The Well-Known Offenders
I can only account first hand from my own experiences at games when there was an element of trouble brewing at them. Manchester United, Leeds United, Millwall, Chelsea and West Ham United were amongst the clubs that seemed to have more than their fair share of a hooligan element following them at the time. In 1985 – a year when football was off of the TV screens completely for a while due to contract breakdowns meant that the only way you could actually see a game was by attending one. A friend of mine that follows Manchester United managed to get two tickets for a game when they were the away team. Somehow I was dragged into going probably after his other mate let him down and having parked up about a mile away from the ground (not mentioning where) we soon encountered many other fans but also a huge police presence.
You could tell that many of these police officers were nervous and many of them were dog handlers. I swear that the more nervous they were getting that it was reflecting into the temperament of their German Shepherds. It all meant a very hostile situation and for the best part unnecessary as most people heading for the ground that day had no interest in causing any problems that I at least saw – but the police were ready and almost seemed like they wanted something to kick-off.
When you hear about the armed forces and get the impression that there are many high ranking officers in particular that find peace time rather boring and are just itching for some real action you realise that this is maybe the police equivalent of that. However, with the armed forces, whilst it is the likes of the Generals that make these decisions and enjoy another cup of tea at HQ as more and more reports come in of casualties and even fatalities, they seem to be more interested in biting into the next custard cream (maybe I have been watching too many movies).
A "Regular" Leeds Fan
I am not saying that the fans are completely innocent either. A “friend” of mine in the early eighties who I shall refer to as AJ for now was a regular Leeds United traveling fan. He did not bother with all of the home games as some were "too boring" for him – away games was where the “action” was.
Some of the stories he told me he may have well made up and one does stick in my mind, not because of any specific confrontation that he detailed to me on this particular trip – it was just what he did that day. He had made his way to Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough and did not even watch any of the game and just plotted a military style plan of action to attack the Boro fans upon leaving the ground at the final whistle. He also claimed to be a proud member of the National Front and was even prouder that he managed to recruit another Leeds follower into his clan that was West Indian!
If there was any element of doubt in my mind to his story-telling, in 1980 I attended a game at Villa Park in an early League Cup round against Leeds. AJ knew that I was going to be there and my father and I had arrived at the ground well before kick-off when the ground was much more empty than full. We had seats in the main stand and we could see the Leeds fans beginning to fill the away pen behind the goal to our left. When the pen was filling up I actually saw AJ amongst them and a few moments later a chant started which was being directed not towards the main set of Villa fans at the opposite end of the ground but up towards the higher levels of where we were sitting to their right.
The chant was probably confusing to a vast number of people within the ground and made no sense to them but I turned to my dad and whispered in his ear that they were chanting a nickname that AJ had given to me back then. My dad told me that I was imagining it and when I saw AJ a couple of days later he actually said to me “did you like the little reception party we planned for you?”
I was only about 16 at the time and it did freak me out a bit for a while when it happened and made me more than just a little insecure and beginning to wish that we were nowhere near Birmingham that night. Fortunately we managed to leave the ground after the game without any hassle but on driving off in my dad's car we were stopped by the police along with all the other traffic to allow the Leeds coaches to leave the ground.
These, unlike AJ were just the Leeds fans leaving to head back to the actual city of Leeds and we could clearly see through the windows what it was like on board. Some of these fans were trying to rip up the coach seats to smash them against the bus windows, all hell looked like it was breaking out on just about on all of the buses leaving the ground – it just looked like a confined lunatic asylum – imagine being the coach driver with a load like that?
Trust the Police?
So I have touched upon some of my own experiences back in those days of what it was like to attend football matches and there are many more stories especially from that era. These include visits to places such as Oldham, Plymouth and Tottenham just to name three others from different corners of the country. I cannot remember one occasion when the police made me feel comfortable or entrusting them to look after us. They were the enforcers and we as football fans seemed to all be tarred with that same brush – we in their eyes were scum and we were trouble waiting to happen.
When I recall and look back at the events of Hillsborough it brings back cold memories of that period not just with the police but with just generally going to a game. For those Liverpool fans that lost their lives that day, this was the day when events took a massive turn for the worse and went completely out of control with nobody of fit authority in a position to stop it.
When I hear that ambulance drivers were refused to even enter the ground to care for the injured because the police were telling them not to go in because of Liverpool fans rioting - it is sickening. This whole investigation does not now need to ask for prosecution – it demands it right across the board. The police and other authorities, the media, the FA and the politicians all need to be made accountable. No, it will not bring the dead back to those families but justice needs to be seen to carried through.
There were loads of articles on the old site and I have began to transfer some of the most popular ones over to this site.