Thursday, September 13, 2012

In memory of the 96

When I went to football matches when I was younger I stood on terraces. It was commonplace to be squashed against crowd barriers, fall forward as the crowd surged towards the pitch following a goal or corner. Once I was physically lifted off both feet by the squash of people concentrated around me. At the time it all seemed a bit of a joke. I never felt worried for my life. At least once I fell over in the middle of a surge and a couple of complete strangers picked me up by my arms and legs preventing me being trampled by hundreds of people behind me– it was all part of being at the game (strange).

In the 80s football stadiums were crumbling and bleak - I remember a Wolves game at Villa Park where the terraces we stood in were surrounded by barbed wire- my last visit to Wembley (England’s national stadium) is memorable only because of the rivers of piss filling every walkway and police at games were generally far more concerned with crowd control rather than crowd welfare.

In fairness policing worked both ways - I've seen Milwall fans throwing missiles across a road at police and equally I've seen police on horseback baton charging people just for being outside of a football ground.

Things I guess came to a head at Hillsborough when 96 people left to watch an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest and sadly never came home.

A report was issued earlier this week by the Hillsborough Independent Panel which sets straight the Hillsborough disaster of April 1989. The revelations that the report carried were monumental.

The report reveals that the 96 football fans who died that day (men, women, girls and boys) were entirely innocent and the awful accusation that their deaths were caused by a combination of drunkenness or hooliganism were both cruel and contemplated slurs. The depth of the deceit at the highest level meant that both police and ambulance crew had (164) witness statements altered and amended. The words ‘chaos’ and ‘panic’ were specifically removed from statements, and yet it appears they are words which best described what went on that day.

Sadly it now appears that nearly half of the victims could have been saved by medical intervention – while ambulances stood on the road outside prevented from entering the ground by police instruction.

Doctors and nurses among the fans made efforts to help with resuscitation, there was no control or medical equipment a gymnasium was used as a makeshift mortuary.

Peter Wright who was chief constable of South Yorkshire Police in charge of operations that day orchestrated efforts to blame Liverpool fans thereby protecting his own career. Unfortunately he’ll never have to face criminal charges over his dishonesty which he took with him to the grave (he died in 2011).

Senior police were part of a horrible cover-up, but other people need to shoulder blame also. The FA awarded a semi-final to a ground which had no safety certificate (the report cites similar crowding at a Wolves v Spurs semi-final 8 years previously) and Prime Minister of the time Margaret Thatcher was complicit through her protection of South Yorkshire police (because of the part they were playing supporting the Government in the miners strike at the time).

Hopefully this is only part of the story – hopefully custodial sentences will follow. Either way sadly 96 innocent victims cannot be brought back. People shouldn’t die going to watch football - the beautiful(?) game.

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