A sensitive topic this, but nevertheless, I’m going to write about it. The Knife was at Old Trafford, to watch Man Utd against Liverpool, on 19th October, 1985 (I checked the date). A 1-1 draw, 54,492 in attendance. After the game, the United fans were coming from the Stretford End, heading down the side of the ground – a confined wideish passage – to the main entrance area. There were police about, in large numbers. A whole crowd of Liverpool fans were at the away end, to which we were heading, and they ran at us. Hundreds of people. The police did their best, but the whole tightly packed crowd of Man Utd fans retreated quickly, then swayed forward again. Lots of people were bodily lifted by the rush – I protected a young lad in front of me – and a few went down. There was a lot of fear in a very tense situation. The police got control again, and it eventually settled down.
That was three and a half years before the Hillsborough disaster. Nobody thought it was unusual. That’s what happened at big football matches. You wonder if the Hillsborough Inquiry members realise that. It was indeed dangerous, but it was fairly commonplace. The Heysel disaster, 5 months earlier, which by an amazing coincidence also involved Liverpool, and was foremost in our minds there at Old Trafford, was probably kicked off by something similar.
Fast forward to now. At Hillsborough, 23 years ago, there were a lot of failures, and a lot of subsequent bad behaviour. The police cocked up the security and behaved badly in the aftermath, the emergency medical care and evacuation could probably have been better, the papers, particularly the Sun, were too keen to report – in error it seems – cases of appalling behaviour. The deaths remain a terrible blight on many families.
But, and there is a but, people would not have died had the fans – who didn’t die, coming in late – behaved differently. It seems indisputable to The Knife, and in the welter of recrimination, points scoring and a carefully balanced apology by Dave – a trend started in a ludicrous way by Tony Blair – a fact that shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s society’s habit to blame those in power, absolving individuals of culpability for grave events, and the dreaded “public inquiry” nearly always fosters this tendency to shift responsibility. It also allows opportunistic politicians to endlessly grandstand, is this really “one of the greatest injustices in our country’s history in the 20th Century“?
Here’s a comment today, by JoeThorpe1963 in The Commentator, following Dave’s statement to Parliament:
Those that died were not drunken thugs but those that caused their deaths were Drunken Liverpudlians that arrived en mass without tickets & stormed the entrances as kick off approached. I was there I came in from the Liverpool end, I was pestered for tickets from Liverpudlians pouring out of the pubs asking for spares. Of course the culprits then scarperred after the carnage & were not breathalysed. Quite why the dead would have their blood tested for Alcohol is pointless, they were there on time with their tickets. Its not a coincidence that death & destruction followed Liverpool during these terrible times. People from Liverpool caused these deaths & no one else, we live in a society where we have to blame authority every time for any issue in our lives. The police should have told it as it was at the time & not tried to find excuses for drunken scum from Liverpool. Why were we never asked to write a witness statement? If it had been a fatal car crash I would have been asked to give evidence? If this is ever reopened we should all be asked for a written statement although I suspect like on the day there would be far more contributions made than those who on the day had tickets!
Well, I wasn’t at Hillsborough, but anyone who regularly went to the big matches in the 80’s would have experienced plenty of similar risky crowd behaviour. I wouldn’t entirely blame the Liverpool fans for Heysel, and I wouldn’t entirely absolve them of Hillsborough.
***I note that one of the police involved concurs with some of this. You might say that “he would, wouldn’t he”, but…