In my darkest moments, I don’t think I can conceive of the rationale for the perpetuation of the lies. I can understand how some spiralled out of control, how misinterpretation of events transpired but it’s the continuation of them which is baffling. As David Conn observes in his excellent Guardian piece, the basest accusations were born of the biology, as control of bodily functions ceased as life passed agonisingly from the victims.
He destroys the tissue of lies wilfully spread by politicians, civil servants and police in collusion with the Fourth Estate. They were born of the Establishment’s contempt for anyone who wasn’t of their ilk. Football supporters were an easy target for the undisguised hatred of the ruling classes with the South Yorkshire Constabulary willing stormtroopers as they were in the Miners Strike. And they rest easy in their rocking chairs, safely drawing pensions untroubled by exposure.
The truth over the two years was laid bare and there was no hiding place for those whose actions resulted in 96 deaths. 96 people who never came home from a football match.
When we offer romantic versions of terrace culture, of the good old days, we skirt over the reality of football in the 70s and 80s. On and off the pitch, it was far removed from today and on regular occasions, malevolence was rife. But not on that day in Sheffield; at least not on the part of the supporters. Clubs and authorities treated us with contempt, resulting in the prevalent attitude among those whose primary function was to make sure that supporters watched a game safely.
Anyone who went to matches in those decades can relate to the manner of their deaths. We all have tales of being crushed, where safety barriers had the opposite effect they were supposed to. It’s still numbing even today to recall those moments.
There were certain grounds where you knew the trouble would happen outside the ground, where you had to be wary. There were other grounds where the terraces were known to be the problem, packed with like-minded souls who wanted to watch the game and of sufficient numbers to know that a back against the safety barrier was better than leaning forward no matter how comfortable that stance was as the terraces filled.
Nowadays that can’t happen. All-seater stadia have changed the atmosphere with talk of ‘safe standing’ slowly becoming reality. The Celtic experiment will be watched closely to see if it is practical with clubs more interested in the financial implications. If all-ticket enclosures can make money, they will not oppose their introduction. It’s that simple, not a case of supporting them to improve the atmosphere but to make sure the bottom line isn’t negatively affected.
There’s no real reason beyond money for opposing their introduction. I fully understand why some of the families of the Hillsborough victims would be against the idea; theirs isn’t born of ideology, it’s a human reaction to a situation which cost them the life of a loved one. Who can argue with that view being held?
The real issue is that too many politicians have no clue what the implications really are. With Premier League clubs selling only to members, it’s a different scenario to the past, society has changed and the match-going public are more genteel.
There’s talk of rebellion at Arsenal but there’s more anger directed at individuals on social media than at the board and manager for the current malaise engulfing the club. When Terry Neill’s reign ended, he didn’t have the goodwill which Arsène has built and is seeing eroded.
This weekend, Black Scarf and REDaction have organised protests at the Norwich match. Tacit approval came from the AST which urged people to read the BSM and REDaction statements to decide the action they support. Personally, I support the action proposed on 12 and 78 minutes, as well as afterwards. It’s up to others whether they do as well.
What is apparent though is Arsenal supporters are waking up. Not just on this issue but on things such as ticket pricing. We’re by no means unique with plenty of like-minded souls at other clubs but the distance between clubs and supporters hasn’t in my view, ever been wider. There’s no sense of community, of communal being. That was the essence of terrace culture, a sense of belonging and that is what we have to bring back to football.