On Saturday 26th November 1983, along with about 11 000 other Newcastle United fans, I travelled to Hillsborough to watch Newcastle United play in a Second Division match against Sheffield Wednesday. On arriving at the ground, myself and my companions found ourselves high up on the right-hand side of the Leppings Lane Terrace, in the corner nearest to the Main Stand. It was a good view from there and a number of things I witnessed that day were both interesting and in retrospect highly disturbing.
The match itself was full of incident, but unfortunately ended in a 4-2 defeat for Newcastle. What I remember best from that day however was the behaviour of the South Yorkshire Police. The opposite corner of the Leppings Lane End, which joined onto the cantilever stand at Hillsborough, which had been built for the 1966 World Cup, was cordoned off by police, because there had been incidents of coin-throwing at the corresponding game the previous season.
Now let us be clear. There can be no excuse for coin-throwing; it is highly irresponsible, criminal behaviour. However, because Newcastle United, with Keegan, Beardsley et al had taken such a huge following down the A1 that day, there was not enough room for all the Newcastle fans in the Leppings Lane End with that corner cordoned off. Consequently a huge crush built up in the central area, yet the South Yorkshire Police refused to let Newcastle fans into the vacant corner. Eventually fans pushed and fought their way into the corner and a disaster was averted.
But the Hillsborough Disaster could have been in November 1983. The appalling events of 15th April 1989 were a disaster waiting to happen.
To be honest I had forgotten about the crushing I witnessed until I heard the news in 1989 about what happened at that particular F.A. Cup Semi-final. Crushing and unsympathetic policing were hardly unusual in those days. It turns out that Hillsborough did not have an appropriate Safety Certificate from at least as far back as 1981...
All of those who went to football matches before the Taylor Report surely know that what happened to the Liverpool fans could have happened to any of us. We were all treated in a disgraceful manner time and time again, all of us scapegoated because of the actions of a small minority of thugs and hooligans.
I have always believed the families of the 96 who tragically lost their lives at Hillsborough and am glad that the report which came out on Wednesday 12th September has vindicated them. I hope that at long last they can grieve properly and the 96 can finally rest in peace.
The cover-up, highlighted by the report is of course extremely disturbing. The contempt shown to ordinary working people who just happened to be football fans should be as appalling to Newcastle United fans and all of us in this country’s football family as it it is to any Liverpool fan.
People on Merseyside have long boycotted The Sun after its scandalous headline ‘Hillsborough: The Truth’ above a catalogue of what have been proved conclusively to be a catalogue of blatant lies. On top of the phone-hacking revelations and the corruption and allegations of perverting of the course of justice at News International, the contempt shown by The Sun towards the families in April 1989 and arguably continuing over the last 23 years, has to make one seriously wonder how on earth anybody, in any part of our country still buys the Sun. It is clearly no friend of the working man and woman.
The way the police covered up what happened and have continued to do so, raise very uncomfortable questions about the way in which justice is administered in this country. That 164 police statements were altered is quite frankly astonishing and that this has been covered up for over 20 years is a national disgrace. Whoever was responsible for this must surely be brought to justice. Not every policeman is bent by any means, but more must be done to ensure transparency in future. This includes in the policing of demonstrations as well as sport events.
There also have to be questions asked about the politicisation of the police during the Miners Strike in the 1980’s and the South Yorkshire police in particular. It is well known in the North-east that police brutality was a common feature of police operations during the course of the Miners’ Strike in 1984/5. I remember seeing a video of some of this brutality in the mid-1980’s. That this went on with unpunished surely contributed to the thinking of police officers at Hillsborough that they could cover up what really happened that terrible day in April 1989. It seems that the papers of the Thatcher government relating to the Hillsborough Disaster will make interesting reading when they are released.
The families of the 96, ordinary football fans like ourselves, have been very brave and principled. It is such a shame that so many sections of our national media and political establishments have been found not to have been capable of having these very same qualities.
I hope the 96 can indeed now rest in peace.
PETER SAGAR - September 2012