This isn’t the column that I had intended to submit to Inveterate Media Junkies this month… But sometimes life’s events demand you change your plans– and that’s what happened here. As many readers know, my columns usually center on comics and related types of Fandom. IMJ, in general, focuses on what might be termed Geek Culture– like Comics, TV, Film, Books and Gaming… But there are many types of Fandom– and something significant happened recently in another area of Fandom that is also close to my heart– so that’s what I am writing about today.
I have been a massive Soccer (or, as people on my side of the Atlantic normally call it, Football) fan since I was about 6 years of age. (This was also about the same age when I first got into comics, but that’s just a coincidence really.) Although I support my local Irish Soccer Club (g’wan de blues!), just about everyone in Ireland supports one of the big English Soccer Clubs. I’m really no different. From the age of six, I fell in love with the Liverpool Football Club.
Most real football fans pick a club to follow and stick with them (through good and bad) for the rest of their lives. On September 12th, a report was released that was very important to every fan of the Liverpool Football Club– and to many fans of football in the UK, Ireland and the rest of the world. To explain why I’m writing about this now– I feel the need to set some context for those of you who may have never heard of the Hillsborough Disaster.
On April 15th 1989, the FA Cup semi-final– one of the most important soccer matches of the year between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest FC– was held at the Hillsborough Football Stadium in Sheffield. Twenty Five Thousand Liverpool fans travelled to Sheffield to see the match… And 96 never made it home– as they perished in a crush at the Leppings Lane end of the ground. Hundreds more were injured… With thousands more severely traumatised by what they witnessed that day.
To briefly explain what happened: Back in the 80s, only the stands at the sides of the football pitch were seated… The ends behind the goals were concrete terraces where fans would stand and watch the game. Normally things would be fine, but the Hillsborough ground was badly designed… And access to the Leppings Lane end (where the Liverpool Fans would stand) was poor. Also, the terraced area was subdivided into 4 areas called “Pens”– which were separated from the pitch and each other by 6 foot high steel railings.
Adding to the design flaws in the stadium’s access areas, there weren’t as many police outside the ground as there usually would be to direct fans to the correct areas… And the number of turnstiles were completely inadequate for the amount of fans expected to go through them. (These are not my opinions, by the way– these are the facts as laid out by the Independant Panel Report which can be read here.)
Half an hour before the game start, the crowd had built-up in the enclosed courtyard– where the turnstiles were located outside the Liverpool end of the ground… And it was obvious to police that a crush was developing. The man in charge of the police at the ground– Chief Inspector David Duckenfield– ordered a gate usually only used by fans to exit the ground after a game be opened to relieve the pressure. By this time, the two middle pens were almost full, but the new influx of fans from the opened gate were directed to those pens instead of the empty side pens.
Due to the darkness of the tunnel, fans escaping the crush at the turnstiles had no way of knowing the pens they were flooding into were already at capacity. As the wave of fans entered the near-full pens, they tragically crushed people already there against the steel barriers– killing dozens from asphyxiation where they stood. Dozens more would die over the next hour or so.
The Football Match was stopped at 3.06pm, six minutes into the game– when fans spilled over the steel railings onto the pitch, screaming that people were dying in the middle pens. The police leadership panicked and froze. It was left up to the fans to try to help each other out of the pens and tend to the injured. This was all broadcast on Live Television and I sat watching this terrible scene unfold. The images of fans giving other fans CPR on the pitch and dead bodies being covered with coats was instantly relayed for everyone to see. Those images have stayed with me since then… And even the mention of Hillsborough causes me sadness. This, of course, pales into nothing compared to what the families of the dead and injured have had to deal with since that day.
What made things even worse: In the days, weeks, months and years since the tragedy– the Police, the Coroner, the Judges (and even the Government) conspired to cover up what really happened. On the day of the disaster, every state agency and their press lackeys (like The Sun newspaper) colluded to hide the truth by claiming the fans themselves were responsible for the horrifying events.
On a Wednesday 9.12.12, the Hillsborough Independant Panel– set up in 2009 to enquire into the disaster– delivered the verdict that a failure of police control was responsible for the disaster… And that an orchestrated campaign was led by the South Yorkshire Police to smear Liverpool Fans and to deflect blame away from the Police. The report found that lies were concocted by the Police and 160 witness statements were changed to remove criticism of the police and ambulance services at the disaster.
Liverpool Fans had always believed this was the case, but for 23 years they were either ignored or denied by those in authority at every level. Further information came out that 40 ambulances were not allowed access to the ground to treat the injured. Contrary to the Coroner’s Report, which stated every one of the deceased had died by 3:15pm (another lie)– it was shown 41 people may have been saved if the dying fans had been treated with the proper care.
The men, women and children that perished unnecessarily that day were ordinary people like you and me. Imagine for a moment if such a crush occurred at the San Diego Comic Con– and dozens were killed or injured… And medical professionals were stopped from treating the victims… And then the San Diego Police and the convention organisers lied about who was to blame– and kept lying for another 23 years? Imagine if this happened to fellow comics fans– people you shared a bond and a passion with. Would you just forget what happened? This feeling of injustice has stayed with every Liverpool Fan– and, of course, most especially with the bereaved families since that day.
It took until 2009, when Minister for Sport Andy Burnham (speaking at the Hillsborough Memorial Event at Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium) was interrupted by fans shouting for justice… For the families and Liverpool Fans to finally be taken seriously. Credit goes to Burnham for having the balls to go back to the government and call for an Independant Inquiry.
37 of those who died were teenagers. 79 were aged less than 30– all young people who had their lives in front of them… All people who didn’t deserve to die just because they went to a Football Match. They also didn’t deserve to have their dignity and good names besmirched by those in authority for over two decades either. Hopefully in the months and years to come, those who were really responsible for the disaster and the subsequent cover-up will be prosecuted and held to account for their actions.
As fans who engage our passions, we have to be aware of our rights and follow our instincts– no matter who tries to push us down or what they try to say. Question everything and don’t always trust what those in authority tell you. It is important to understand these people are not always looking after your interests. They are often looking after their own interests’ first… And may very well not give a damn about you or about what’s right.