Tuesday, 30 October 2012

How Hillsborough Could Have Happened Anywhere in the 1980s

The Hillsborough scandal has been shocking, but I fear that more will come out. Some people in authority will speak out, but they won't be motivated by guilt, but by a need to protect their own reputations. Some individuals in the police and the emergency services, sections of the media, and successive governments - Tory and Labour - have been a disgrace.

I went to away matches and I saw how the police were. Really, really aggressive some of 'em. It was the side of football most people who weren't fans weren't aware of. Hillsborough could have happened at other grounds and affected other fans in the 1970s and 1980s. There had been tragedies at Ibrox, Heysel and Bradford during this period. As a football fan in 1989, I was well aware that I could have ended up in the middle of a similar tragedy. Football grounds weren't safe places.

Football fans were generally treated like scum in the 1970s and 1980s, especially away supporters. Or in the case of Hillsborough, fans from neutral clubs. I used to travel to Luton Town away games in the '70s, and, though this was the decade where football hooliganism grew, the treatment of away fans indicated that all fans from all clubs were potential hooligans.

I remember Luton winning promotion in 1974 at West Bromwich Albion. While the Luton fans were jumping up and down in celebration a gnarled old copper thought that he didn't like that. He waded in. His young sidekick thought that he better follow suit and he was beaten unconscious. When Luton fans tried to run on at the end of the game, to congratulate the team, some were pushed back onto the concrete terracing. So who, exactly, were the hooligans in this instance? I was 14 and a placid soul, yet even I was shouting and swearing at the cops.

At a match in Chester a young Luton fan was having a joke with a cop on a horse, and the next minute the cop has this kid by the hair and is dragging him along. I heard the banter and the kid didn't say anything disrespectful or threatening.

Football still has problems, and hooliganism is still around - as is racism. Elements of the Establishment are also still corrupt, so if a tragedy on the scale of Hillsborough did happen again, I wouldn't be too optimistic that things would be any different than that distressing day in April 1989.

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