Vindicated or Vindictive?

September 14, 2012

I don’t know how other people see me, but I like to think that I’m a reasonably laid-back sort of person; slow to anger, quick to forgive … that sort of thing.

3 years and 100 or so days ago, I wrote this piece about my experiences at Hillsborough on 15th April 1989.

2 days ago the Hillsborough Independent Panel published their report. They stressed that it wasn’t an inquiry – they hadn’t had witnesses or any powers – they had just been given access to ALL the evidence relating to the events of that day.

I was at a meeting in the morning, an important meeting about how the United Reformed Church (my employer) might most effectively meet the training needs of Ministers and lay people, but I couldn’t really concentrate. I was refreshing my twitter feed every few moments as new facts dribbled out as the panel, quite rightly, first reported to the families of those who had lost loved ones.

  • 164 Police statements had been altered to ensure that South Yorkshire Police Service wasn’t shown in a bad light and that officers were put under immense pressure to amend their statements. If they wouldn’t, it was done for them.
  • The ambulance service had changed statements, too.
  • Every victim (even a 10 year old) had their blood alcohol level checked and, for some, then had their names checked against the Police National Computer to see if there was a criminal record which could be used to ‘offset’ their innocence.
  • Potentially, 41 lives could have been saved if medical attention had been forthcoming on the pitch.

The facts kept coming and coming. I wasn’t sure how I was feeling – I had to pull over and stop the car to listen to the Prime Minister give his response. He sounded, on the radio, as shocked and genuinely appalled as anyone else.

My blood was beginning to boil … but I didn’t know what I wanted to happen next. Having been blamed for the events 23 years ago I, my fellow fans, my football club and my city had been completely exonerated. It was a weight off my shoulders… but, as my original post had said “where there’s blame, there’s a claim”… the blame for the disastrous events had been laid firmly at the door of the FA, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and South Yorkshire Police. What did I want to happen? I couldn’t really think about that… I was happy, delirious in fact, that at last, 23 years on, the truth had finally seen the light of day.

Apology after apology started rolling in, starting with David Cameron and Ed Milliband. Quickly followed by SWFC, South Yorkshire Police, it took the FA a further 24 hours to apologise but even they made it eventually. The S*n and Kelvin MacKenzie apologised, too, but theirs was worthless and self-serving and, consequently, ignored by just about everybody.

David Duckenfield, the police officer supposedly in charge that day, had been allowed to retire on a full pension at the age of 46 as a result of ‘Ill health’. Ill health is better than dying, eh, Duckenfield?

Then Kenny Dalglish who did so much for the families, club and city in the immediate aftermath of the disaster tweeted: “Very positive outcome. 23 years waiting for the truth. Next step justice”. And I thought, “yeah; justice!”

And then I started wondering what Justice might actually mean in this context, what shape, form or action it might take. And I realised that I didn’t know. I certainly wouldn’t presume to speak for those who have lost in a far more tangible way than I, I can only speak for myself. What do *I* want?

Well, I would like to know that those who were responsible for all that happened that day, who caused the problem and then failed to react effectively to the problem they had caused had been censured. I would like to know that some particular individuals (David Duckenfield) had paid a practical price – although I’ve no idea whether he even feels in any way culpable for what he caused.

I would like to know that those who took deliberate actions to place the blame, knowing that the information they were giving out was completely incorrect, on the shoulders of Liverpool fans, both fully understand and accept their guilt and, I would hope are prosecuted to the fullest extent the law allows.

I would like to know that those in the ‘establishment’ who caused this whole thing to be unresolved for 23 long years understand the immense pain and hurt they caused to so many people, not just the bereaved although, God knows, their pain has been more than most.

Most importantly, I want the original verdicts of ‘accidental death’ to be overturned and new inquests held so that people like Anne Williams can get the answers she needs.

Having not been able to define what I mean ‘justice’ to be in this context, I am quite clear what it isn’t: it isn’t vindictive retribution. So long as people feel genuine remorse and are sincere in their apologies (although, as stated, those who broke the law should be prosecuted irrespective of how sincerely they regret their actions).

Except, maybe to Kelvin MacKenzie, the editor of The S*n at the time, who I hope burns in hell for eternity for what he knowingly did to besmirch the characters of the dead, of my fellow fans, of the football club, of the city, and of me.

My elder brother, an Evertonian, sent me a text on the evening the panel’s report was published saying that he hoped I felt vindicated. At the time I replied saying that I didn’t, but I did feel less guilty for having survived and being made to feel that I was, in some way responsible.

2 days later, having thought about little else, I realise that he was right – I do feel vindicated. My blog of 3 years ago was wrong – Liverpool fans were in NO WAY to blame, late arriving or not. The actions of so many brave, respectful people, from those who lost loved ones in the disaster, from people like Andy Burnham MP, Steve Rotherham MP and Maria Eagle MP who wouldn’t let the House of Commons have a moment’s peace until something was done and the actions and voices of people, many many thousands of people just like me in refusing to accept that what happened that day was an ‘accident’ and have fought for 23 years to get someone to listen and investigate has been vindicated.

People say that the most shocking revelation of the panel is that 41 of those who died could have been saved.

I would remind you that, if people had done their jobs properly in the first place, in selecting a ground which had a valid safety certificate, in allocating tickets sensibly, in stewarding the ground effectively, in postponing kick off to allow those who had been delayed by traffic to access the ground … if these people had done their jobs properly then 96 people would not have died in the first place.

Justice for the 96 … and for all those still affected by the events in Sheffield on the 15th April 1989.

Hillsborough Family Support Group

Hillsborough Justice Campaign

Hope For Hillsborough

Unrighteous Indignation

May 6, 2012

I went to a football match yesterday.

All right, it wasn’t just any football match – it was the FA Challenge Cup final between Chelsea and Liverpool. It is, apparently, a showpiece for English football; the pinnacle of the domestic football season … which is why it kicks off at 3pm the Saturday after the domestic league season has finished. Except it didn’t. Both Liverpool and Chelsea still have 2 remaining league fixtures to play. There was another premiership game played on the same day as the FA Cup final – and an almost full programme of matches the day after. To make sure that the Football Association got as much money as they could from selling the television rights the match was scheduled to kick off at 17;15 – despite the knowledge that this would mean there would be no trains back to Liverpool for the thousands of fans who would want to go and cheer on their team in London.

This might lead some people to think that the FA Challenge Cup had been devalued. Quite the opposite it would seem …. 3 weeks ago I was at Wembley Stadium for the Semi-final. I paid £50 for my semi-final ticket. My ticket for the final cost £85 – and I was in almost exactly the same seat (except 6 rows further back!) The Wembley Stadium debt will be paid off in no time …

£50 ticket – expensive but, hey, it’s the semi-final.

This view, despite being less central and further back, cost 70% more than the semi final..

The build up to the match was the same as usual (except we now have an american-style announcer who extiolls us all to cheer on cue and ‘smile for the camera’.

We sing ‘Abide With Me’ – led by a pretty girl in a nice frock (I’m being deliberately patronising there – hoping for irony, but it’s not my strong point)

The teams get led out onto the pitch to shake hands with the guest of honour (presumably a member of the Royal Family but no, not this year. This year it’s Sir Jimmy Armfield. A proper footballer and, by all accounts, a nice bloke.)

Then we sing the National Anthem. or, rather, we don’t.

Despite having had music and banal comments blaring into my ears for the previous hour, I was completely unaware that another pretty girl, in another pretty dress, had actually started singing. Not that it bothered me, I’d never sing the national anthem at a football match. Why should I? What’s it got to do with football? I wouldn’t boo (as some did) … but I certainly wouldn’t join in singing.

Anyway, the match kicks off and, shortly under 2 hours later, Chelsea , by virtue of them having scored more goals than us, were awarded the FA Cup. Well done them, commiserations us.

We walk back to the car – as the tube was rammed – and turn on the radio ready for a ‘fan phone in’ of come sort, hoping that it would confirm our own thoughts that Carroll should have started the match but that, if we’d played the first 60 minutes like we’d played the last 30, it would have been a very different game. Oh, and there was the ‘did the ball cross the line’ debate for which we were hoping for a definitive answer.

We got none of that. What we found on the radio was the tail end of a phone in all about the fact that some Liverpool fans had booed during the National Anthem. But, not to worry, we were told as listeners, because the subjext/phone in was going to be continued in the next programme….

Such despair. such utter futility. Liverpool fans are often accused of being paranoid. well, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you …

The following programme (Stephen Nolan’s show on BBC Radio 5 Live) invited calls from both fans who booed and people who wanted to react to the situation. A number of fans rang in with reasons why they, personally, had booed:

(I’ll paraphrase)

1. “I am not a royalist and wanted to protest that this family bloodline still had power in today’s democracy”

2. “It was in protest aimed at the Football Association at the ridiculous kick off time which has resulted in me having to pay for an hotel as there are no trains home”

3. “Chelsea fans were disrespectful during the minute’s silence to commemorate the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster, this was a protest against that”

4. “In a time of real austerity for the country, it was a protest against the millions of pounds being wasted on celebrating some German woman’s jubilee”

5. “What’s the big deal? We’ve always done it”

What, I hope, is clear, is that people had their own reasons for doing what they did – it wasn’t orchestrated, or organised – it just happened. Given that I was paying 60% more than I had 3 weeks previously for a worse view I might well have joined in if it had been an organised protest against the Football Association. And there’s the point – it was a peaceful, non-violent protest. Nobody got hurt (apart from some sensibilities in the home counties, presumably) and it didn’t cause anybody any inconvenience.. Her Majesty The Queen clearly thought the event was of such significance in her jubilee year that she didn’t bother to attend – she didn’t even bother to send one of her distant family relations to represent her. There’s no reason why she should, it was a football match, and it is as irrelevant to her as she is to it. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against The Queen. I’m neither a royalist nor a republican. The royal family cares as much about me as I do about them. I can understand playing the national anthem at international games involving England… but at club matches? Whatever. A non-violent protest was made by small groups of individuals.

I was quite surprised, then, when ‘Richard from Basingstoke’ came on the radio. He initially preached world peace (he would, apparently, happily stand next to a Scouser, or a Geordie, or a Manc, even an Arsenal fan) but then quickly went on to suggest that he was “appalled and disgusted” at the lack of respect shown by Liverpool fans to the National Anthem. He decided to use the sad fact that 2 British servicemen had died the previous day in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, to berate us further and heap indignity and shame upon our collective scouse heads. Did we not realise that “those 2 brave boys died yesterday because they’d sworn allegiance to the Queen and had sworn to protect the National Anthem?”

Well, Richard of Basingstoke (and all those who agree with him), I hate to burst your bubble of unrighteousness indignation but no, that’s not why they died. That’s not why they died at all.

In the purest sense, they died defending the democratic right of people like me to be able to protest, peacefully, about things which concern me. And it brings shame on YOU, Richard of Basingstoke, to try and use their tragic deaths to make your own petty point.

Richard of Basingstoke suggested that, if we felt the need to protest against the FA we should have booed during ‘Abide With Me’ instead but as one scouser remonstrated; “We couldn’t do that; that’s a hymn!!!” I hate to break this to you, Richard of Basingstoke, but as far as I am concerned God trumps the Queen any day of the week!

If booing the National Anthem is really so dreadful and disrespectful, maybe we’re all being disrespectful in not giving the anthem its due honour by only singing the first verse. I call upon Richard of Basingstoke to start an immediate campaign to show true respect to the monarch (and his/her national anthem) by singing ALL the verses. Just in case you weren’t aware there were other verses, I’ve reproduced the first and second verses for you below (and there are another three):

As you can tell, Her Majesty likes nothing better than sitting down with a can of Stella to watch the footy …















1. God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us;
God save the Queen!

2. O Lord our God arise,
Scatter her enemies
And make them fall;
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all!

There is much to get upset and indignant about in this country of ours … the booing by some fans of the national anthem is not one of them.

When the Chelsea fans booed and interrupted the minute’s silence in memory of the 96 who died at Hillsborough… was there a national radio phone in? No.

When the malevolent idiots at Football Association who ramped up the ticket prices by fully 70% claiming the market laws of supply and demand (when they control the supply) chose to ignore the advice of train operators, travel operators and fans and schedule a match to kick off at a time when THEY KNOW some fans will be unable to get home … was there a national radio phone in? No.

When some Liverpool fans decide to exercise our democratic right to protest in a peaceful manner … was there a national radio phone in? Yes. it’s apparently national news and the primary subject of 2 national radio phone-in shows.

Britain … get a life.

The Board of the Football Association