A London train, one of the football specials of that era, had arrived late in Sheffield meaning that hundreds, if not thousands, of Spurs fans had to make a late dash to get into the ground. The ensuing crush at the turnstiles was only alleviated when police opened some gates and allowed Spurs fans to spill out around the pitch. This all happened while the game was going on. A tragedy was avoided that day, but the warning signs for an impending disaster were there. It was only a matter of time before lives were going to be lost at an English football ground. Eight years later they were.
The Spurs fans who were on the Leppings terrace can consider themselves very lucky to have avoided the fate of the 96 Liverpool supporters who lost their lives on April 15, 1989. The fans of the Reds were in the wrong place at the wrong time and did nothing wrong other than buy a ticket for their team’s FA Cup semi-final with Nottingham Forest. It could just as easily have been the Forest fans allocated to that particular terrace, or the fans of Everton and Norwich City, who by the luck of the draw saw their tie played at Villa Park, Birmingham.
With the events at the 1985 European Cup Final at Heysel Stadium in Belgium still a fresh memory, it was easy for fans of other clubs, the media, the Football Association, and the Conservative government to openly blame Liverpool fans for the demise of their own. The English tabloid, The Sun, went so far as to publish “the truth” exposing Liverpool fans for among other things of urinating on the police and robbing the dead. It was easy to understand why the accusations were made, but it was soon evident they were false.
The media lied. The police lied. The government lied. They were all complicit in a massive cover up that lasted 23 years. They abdicated their responsibility and betrayed the very people they were supposed to serve.
The death of 96 football fans was tragic. It was a loss of lives that should have been avoided. The FA was negligent in allowing a semi-final to take place at Hillsborough when the events of 1981 showed that a tragedy had only narrowly been avoided. The police were remiss in allowing the game to take place despite the lack of a security certificate for the stadium.
The British government of the day was quick to blame the Liverpool fans for unspeakable crimes they did not commit. The political agenda of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was served by making the working class supporters of Liverpool Football Club out to be common criminals. The Tories could care less about the people of Liverpool at the time and it showed in their response to the tragedy. They facilitated a cover up that extended from Downing Street to South Yorkshire Police.
It is easy in today’s English Premier League era of all seated stadia to forget that it was not too long ago when fans were packed onto terraces in their thousands. It was worse for away fans that were herded into grounds like cattle and had little in the way of amenities such as bathrooms and concessions. They were kept penned into small areas of Victorian era stadiums and treated as second class citizens by a less than sympathetic police force usually on horseback. The smell of urine and horse manure was as much a part of the match day experience as a cup of Bovril and a pork pie.
The current Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, David Cameron, stood up in parliament last Wednesday and read a full statement that declared Liverpool fans “were not the cause of the disaster.” It took 23 years for those words to be spoken by the leader of Britain and for the families of the 96 dead to hear that their loved ones were innocent of all the shameful accusations labeled against them.
May the 96 fans finally rest in peace and that those responsible for their deaths are soon brought to justice.