96 Reasons To Remember


When this column was born nearly four years ago, I managed to unwittingly create a rod for my own back with a couple of facetious columns filled with lame ‘comic’ similes and puns. The men in authority talked me up as the ‘wacky’ voice of Shankly Gates.co.uk and it soon became necessary to carry on playing the clown. This was fine, it was nice to have a niche and to avoid being po-faced when the Reds dropped two points to some bunch of Southern softies. But there were times when it would have been nice to be serious.

Well, for one issue only, this dumb blonde (so to speak) is marrying Arthur Miller. I’ve agonised over the Hillsborough issue for all the time I’ve been lucky enough to have access to this internet soapbox. Twice I’ve written an article about the 96, and twice I’ve chucked it in the recycle bin. Partly that was because of the aforementioned fear of people reacting badly to the wackster getting ideas above his station. Partly it was because I felt I couldn’t do it justice because it happened a long way from me to people I didn’t know. Partly it was because people like Alan Edge, Jimmy McGovern and Peter Etherington have been so brilliantly articulate about it that anything I might say would only look like an extra cheering a bit too loudly during a production of Henry V. Whatever it was, the subject remained untouched.

But an incident happened today (August 15, the second anniversary of my move to Liverpool) that brought the whole thing bubbling back to the surface of my consciousness, and it needed an outlet. While flicking through Private Eye, I found a letter to the editor about Hillsborough. One should emphasise that I don’t know what the Eye’s editorial policy is towards Hillsborough, and while I can make an informed guess it is only fair to say that I have no beef with them for publishing the letter. The gist of the letter from a Nottingham Forest fan – once again I’d stress that the fact that he is a Forest fan is incidental – which opined that Hillsborough was caused by ticketless Liverpool fans rushing onto the terrace and crushing those in front of them. The letter writer, who claimed to have been present at the ground on that fateful day, goes on to say that the tragedy must be seen in the context of the culture of the time, an era of football hooliganism and Heysel, and that the refusal to accept this was preventing a reasonable discussion of the issues involved. I do not quote the letter verbatim, but I believe I have given a fair representation of this man’s views.

Any objections I might have had to my contributing to this discussion evaporated in the face of this letter which was much less informed about the reality of Hillsborough than I was. Just because he happened to be in the Hillsborough Kop didn’t mean he knew what went on in Lepping’s Lane. It is one of the frequently repeatedly errors about that day that the numbers on the terrace were greater than usual due to ticketless fans swelling the numbers. The truth was the side pens were relatively clear. The crowding occurred only in the central pen, something that could have been prevented had the police shut the gate into that pen, forcing the fans to filter into the side pens. The letter writer asserts that had the fans walked, there would have been no crush, It would not have mattered had the fans run, jogged or walked onto the terrace. No one told those at the back that people were getting crushed at the front so the inexorable weight of the fans moving into the central pen pushed those at the front into the barrier, which was not going to be moved. Perhaps the fans were guilty of not being telepathic. Short of that, there was no way those moving in could have known what was happening to those ahead.

Seeing that this untruth still had currency fourteen years after the event made me realise that the sterling work of Messrs Edge, McGovern, Etherington et al had not made the slightest impact on many people. In fact, I wonder how much impact they would have made on me had I not read Hillsborough: The Truth by Phil Scraton. This is probably the most difficult book I have ever read, featuring in excruciating detail the traumas suffered by the families and friends of those who died at Hillsborough. If one death is a tragedy and a million a statistic, Hillsborough: The Truth hammers the reader with 96 tragedies, each one as painful as the last. The lies surrounding what happened that day and the subsequent events are stripped away, searing the stark truth into the reader’s brain. There were times when I put down the book, exhausted beyond the ability to speak, numb with shock at what those people endured. Yet people will still trot out the same old canards about ticketless fans and drunks as if that is the gospel truth about Hillsborough

These are not even the lies inflicted on the world by the S**. No one gives that despicable rag credence at the best of times. The worry today is that people still assume the worst of those who went through the hell of Lepping’s Lane. That is the ‘culture’ that the Private Eye letter writer refers to. The 80’s was a time of football hooligans. Ergo all football fans were hooligans and anything they wrought the consequence of hooliganism. It isn’t just bad people who twirl their moustaches while tying the damsel to the railway tracks who think this. This is the opinion of so many fair minded individuals who accept unquestioningly the bullshit that hangs around the dead and grieving of Hillsborough. While there is one person who accepts these lies as the truth, it will be worthwhile maintaining the battle for justice.

I’ve become incoherent at this stage. The truth will out, but it is incumbent upon us all to learn what that truth is. Read Phil Scraton’s book, so that the next time some ill-informed person tries to peddle those lies as truth, you can show them yours.