Saturday 15 September 2012

Hillsborough disaster: How we used to see football fans

After 23 years we finally discovered the real truth about the Hillsborough disaster after this week's independent panel report.

I didn't really have any expectations about what the report was going to say, but I was still shocked by what it said.

We discovered this was a full on cover up and conspiracy by South Yorkshire Police. They went out of their way to discredit Liverpool fans and deflect attention and blame from their own failings and mistakes.

It's little wonder the families of the 96 victims who have spent years fighting to establish the truth, now feel vindicated.

If there's one thing that's stood out for me with the verdict - it's the contempt and lack of sympathy that South Yorkshire Police and sections of the government and press had for the victims.

It highlighted just how much football has changed since the 1980s, particularly the image and treatment of fans in today's game.

I got into football in the mid to late 80s. Compared to today the game seems a world away from the glitz and glamour of today's Premier League.

Football simply wasn't fashionable. The game was blighted by hooliganism and many stadiums up and down the country simply weren't fit for purpose.

Although shocked by the cover up by South Yorkshire Police, looking back it wasn't a a surprise.

Football fans were seen as scum and hooligans - so to blame the disaster on the fault of Liverpool fans fitted nicely into many people's expectations of how football fans behaved during the 70s and 80s.

Today in the more sanitised world of Premier League football, fans are seen as consumers who are buying a product. At the time of the Hillsborough disaster, football fans were seen as a problem.

Crowds were controlled as if they were animals and facilities didn't take into account the comfort and experience of fans - nobody cared!

A tragedy like Hillsborough couldn't happen today, not with all-seater stadiums. If something tragic like that did happen the reaction of the Police and the establishment in this country I think would be very different.

There would be more empathy and sympathy. Football today is sophisticated and cosmopolitan, in the 80s its working class identity was still very evident and some could argue that under Mrs Thatcher's Conservative government, there was an attack on traditional working class culture and its institutions of which football was part of.

As a football fan who remembers Hillsborough, the event is incredibly sad. I read a feature in today's Times from a Liverpool fan who stood in the Leppings Lane stand and almost died during the crush, his account almost brought me to tears it was so harrowing.

I'm glad that the families concerned can now feel vindicated, and that football in this country has moved on and improved for the better since the disaster.

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