Tuesday, 26 April 2016
Hillsborough: Supporters, not criminals
27 long years, almost to the day after the dreadful tragedy on that warm, spring day, the families of the Hillsborough victims finally had their loved ones’ names exonerated this week. Having spent a lifetime being told their criminal activity caused the disaster, their names are finally clear and they can truly, for the first time, rest in peace.
As the truth has slowly seeped out over the last two decades, the outpouring of highly emotive comments from football fans far and wide has been hugely prevalent and that’s not only because it was such an awful event, with such obvious injustice. It’s partly because anyone who attended games at that time, and indeed, anyone who still does now, knows that it could have been them. Their friends, their parents, their children.
I personally remember sitting in Block E of the Dolman Stand on that day. City were losing 2-1 at home to Blackpool in front of a little over 5,000 of their own fans – which tells its own story about the shape of the entire game of football in those days.
I was listening to my Sony Walkman – always tuned to what must have been Radio 2 in those days as they covered sport on a Saturday afternoon before Radio 5Live went on the airwaves – and hearing the events unfold. At first it was just confusion and uncertainty, but then the story began to become clearer.
I distinctly remember mentioning to my friend’s Dad who used to take me to games that the radio was saying there appeared to be a handful of people who were lying dead on the pitch. To this day, despite being just 11 years old at the time, I can recall his response (almost certainly trying to be reassuring for his young match companion) word for word.
“I’m sure it’s not that bad. The media always exaggerate things – it can’t be that bad”.
It was. And on a greater and more horrendous scale than anyone could have possibly imagined.
It could have been us. It could have been any one of us and without wanting to be too macabre about it all, you can see how something could happen still to this day – perhaps not on the scale of Hillsborough thankfully, but crowd control by the police at big matches still often leaves a lot be to be desired.
We’re supporters, not criminals, and that should always be at the forefront of the police’s mind, yet often it is simply not the case. Steve Cotton’s column in the Bristol Post last week shows that completely innocent supporters are still being treated as guilty until they can prove otherwise. Suspicion reigns and certain forces are far more forceful and reactive than others – I won’t name names as anyone who travels away will know exactly who I am talking about.
Yes, there are fans who sometimes turn up drunk and, on occasions, cause a disturbance. Yes there are sadly still some who go to games with the specific aim of causing trouble. But the statistics and the real-life experience is that they are a tiny, tiny minority of the main football-going public. Yet controls, surveillance and ‘hoarding’ is still far too prevalent amongst the rest of us.
On three occasions in recent times (and I only go to a handful of away games these days) I’ve been frogmarched, along with many others I should add, from a pub close to the railway station directly to the turnstiles, not trusted to make my own way there, not able to stop for a bite to eat or a bottle of water, despite showing not a single sign of causing trouble. Indeed on those marches the most likely problems will be a reaction to the over-aggressive shoving and pushing of the police to get people back in line if one dares walk on the wrong bit of concrete, or show a slightly over-exuberant approach to the singing.
That’s an issue for the police to look at themselves and I’d be disappointed if those in charge of forces up and down the country weren’t at least prompted to review their procedures and policies based on today’s rulings.
But today is for those guilty of cover-up, abuse and victimisation to look deep inside themselves and try to understand why they did what they did. Why they felt capable of lying to the families of the innocent dead.
Today is very much for the victims and their families. They’ve fought an unbelievably strong, concerted campaign for justice and today they will feel a million different emotions, the over-bearing one of which must be relief, despite the obvious sorrow.
Their family members were unlawfully killed. It wasn’t their fault.
They were innocent supporters, not criminals.
The Exiled Robin
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