The long search for truth by the Hillsborough campaigners has been vindicated but, as Rob Hughes writers, time will tell whether they now get the justice they deserve
And so the wait is over. On September 12, some 23 years on, previously unseen government and police documents, in tandem with the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report into the tragedy, were finally released to the public. The results were damning. As the families of the victims had insisted all along, Liverpool fans were found to be blameless for what happened on that horrifying afternoon in April 1989.
There is a saying that “justice delayed is justice denied”. Since April 15, 1989, there have been numerous investigations and enquiries into what happened at Hillsborough, including a coroner’s inquest, public enquiry and various legal cases.
Pretty much every account of Hillsborough seems to mention the weather. The truth is it was an incredibly beautiful morning: blue skies, fluffy white clouds, just a bit chilly in the shade – but the forecast was great. Winter was over and if there was a morning to put the proverbial spring in your stride, this was it.
Travelling fans who hanker after standing areas in the all-seat era often mutter bitterly before grudgingly taking their seat. Around a hundred Cardiff City fans defied this habit and took part in a boycott of the closing stages of their fixture at Leeds United on October 30. Their gripe seems to have focused on the ejection of a number of their fellow supporters for persistent standing. At £36 a ticket, it is easy to see why Cardiff fans may have felt aggrieved that they were not allowed to enjoy the game standing up.
Terracing could soon be returning to top-flight British football. Celtic are conducting a feasibility study into installing safe standing areas at Celtic Park, following a proposal from the Celtic supporters' trust. The board seem well disposed to the proposal and Neil Doncaster, the Scottish Premier League chief executive, says it is an option he "would like to see explored". Unlike in England and Wales, Scottish law doesn't prohibit terracing, but SPL and SFA rules would have to change before any top-flight clubs could bring back standing areas.
Monday October 17 was an historic day for the families of the Hillsborough victims. An emotional debate in the House of Commons resulted in Home Secretary Theresa May declaring that all government papers will finally be handed over to an independent panel led by the Bishop of Liverpool. It was a victory of sorts, albeit a bittersweet one, for the relatives of the 96 people who died.
It is the age-old quandary for a football fan. Do we leave the pub now and get to the game before kick-off, or have another and miss the first five minutes? It happens every week and inevitably it is always the wrong decision. But what if there was a third option? What if you could get to the ground in good time, buy a beer and take it up to your seat in time for the start of the game?
That's what happens in cricket and both codes of rugby, but if you tried at a football ground you would be breaking the law. A new campaign is trying to change this anomaly. At their most basic the arguments calling for the scrapping of the law, which was first enshrined in the 1985 Sporting Events Act, are hard to dispute. The campaign's backers claim that it is finally time to remove the stigma of being a football fan and give them the same matchday experience as supporters of other sports.
The campaign was only launched in June but already has the backing of 40 of the 92 Premier League and Football League clubs and various other bodies including the Football Supporters' Federation, who claim reversing the ban would stop the last-minute crush as hundreds of fans knock back their pint and rush up from the concourses for the start of a game.
Supporters say it will also stop binge drinking among fans and help increase revenues for clubs who are feeling the pinch during a prolonged economic downturn. So the first instinct of many who are faced with discriminatory law against football fans is to support this cause. But, even as someone who has experienced the worst excesses of "crowd control" down the years, this campaign leaves me feeling uneasy in the extreme.
The first thing to point out is that football crowds haven't really changed that much since the Act was first introduced. The way they are forced to watch a game is certainly different and, in most cases, far more pleasurable. But in a crowd of 20,000 there is always going to be a not-insignificant number who don't necessarily go looking for trouble, but will not back down if trouble finds them. We need to admit that not all football fans are like the ones to which the Sky cameras are always drawn.
Now add into this group constant access to alcohol during a 90-minute period where events are not always going to go their way and you are opening up a new point of potential conflict. Fighting between rival sets of fans may no longer take place inside grounds, but there are plenty of examples of fans of the same team wading into each other during matches.
There is also the constant movement in the stands as you have to shuffle up and down as someone slips to the bar every five minutes, and comes back again, and do you fancy being showered in beer when an important goal go in?
Comparisons with other sports are also fatuous. While it's hard to claim a football crowd is any more passionate than those that watch rugby, they are certainly more volatile. And again adding more alcohol to the mix is not going to calm things down. While canvassing opinions I found support for a reversal of the ban to be about 50-50, so it's interesting then that a recent report claimed that all the clubs who had voiced an opinion so far were right behind the campaign.
Could it be that clubs, already fleecing fans at the turnstile and in the club shop, are looking for more ways to make money without fully thinking through the consequences? Some argue that the law could at least be tweaked to end the ludicrous situation where corporate clients are forced to draw a curtain in their executive box to shield the pitch before they can open a bottle of beer. But then you can't support a campaign based on ending discrimination, only to discriminate against those who can't afford the best seats in the house.
At its heart there is something a little naive about the whole endeavour. In case it had escaped their attention, crowds don't gather in large numbers every week to enjoy a huge communal session, they go to watch a football match. And even the most hardened of drinkers among them would admit they can wait 45 minutes between each pint.
From WSC 296 October 2011
Having survived a brutal beating, one fan is determined to draw attention to Italian police violence. Matthew Barker explains
On September 24, 2005, Brescia fan Paolo Scaroni was among a group of supporters gathered at Verona's Porta Nuova train station, preparing to make their way home after a game against the local team, Hellas. Before getting on board, Scaroni went to a nearby McDonald's to buy a few bottles of water for him and his friends. As he ran back up the steps to the platform he was attacked by a group of eight riot police officers. The beating was so severe that he fell into a coma. It took 20 minutes for medical staff to arrive on the scene then he was operated on at a local hospital.
Mark Rowe explains why fewer stewards and a loosening of health and safety regulation may see standards at stadiums decline
John Rutherford was insistent. If a group of home fans wanted to bring their giant flag in, they had to show a fire safety certificate. It was April 2009 and Rutherford, the formidable safety officer at Sheffield Wednesday, had a lot on his plate. As well as the usual matchday duties there were TV crews doing live interviews for the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough.
Joel Richards reports on the continuing difficulties in controlling Argentinian groups, both inside and outside the country
“I paid up,” shrugged Oscar Ruggeri. “I paid up loads of times,” admitted the World Cup winner on national television. As other guests on set were dismayed at his honesty, Ruggeri calmly replied. “What do you want me to do, lie? I had to pay up, but I didn’t give any money in 1986. I had just moved from Boca to River and they burnt my house down. What else could they do to me?”