I remember the walk from the train station and trying to get a pint with the mates I was with. We had to be careful not to be in too big a group and not to be enjoying ourselves too much because the police were looking for any opportunity to show us who was boss. We managed to get a couple of pints and then headed to the ground. As we got closer we were corralled by police, many of them on horses, using them to manoeuvre us into position and making sure we were kept under control. We didn’t need controlled, we were just a bunch of young lads at the F.A. Cup semi final watching our beloved Newcastle United play Burnley at Hillsborough. As a fan growing up during the late sixties and the seventies we were used to being herded like cattle and treated like criminals just because we were football fans. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen behaviour by football fans that was aggressive, provocative, violent, and criminal, but mostly it wasn’t. My Hillsborough experience was in 1974 and we were at the Kop end not the Leppings Lane end. We all went home afterwards and talk was about Malcolm MacDonald’s goals not about how we were treated by the Police, and nobody died.
Liverpool fans in 1989 went to Hillsborough to watch their team in a semi-final and 96 of them didn’t go home. We’ve all watched the news footage of that terrible afternoon. I watched it at the time but didn’t understand what was happening. The reporting from the ground was confusing. I had a personal concern because a mate of mine was a Forest fan and I knew he was at the match but I didn’t know which fans were affected.
Six senior people are to be prosecuted over the Hillsborough disaster. The Crown Prosecution Service have announced that the former Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield faces charges of manslaughter. Sir Norman Bettison, a man who went on to become a Chief Constable, will face charges relating to alleged lies he told after the event that the fans were to blame. A solicitor representing the police and two other senior police officers will be charged with perverting the course of justice by changing witness statements as part of a cover up. The Sheffield Wednesday Club Secretary will face charges to do with Health and Safety at Sports Grounds.
It’s about time isn’t it? This happened in 1989, 28 years ago! It took until last year to get justice for the 96 by finding in court that they were unlawfully killed, it’s about time somebody was held to account for it.
Chief Superintendent Duckenfield was match commander on the day and it appears that he made operational decisions that had dire consequences …………..for fans. It’s been suggested that he was out of his depth on the day. He was receiving information and advice from around him that he didn’t process well, he could see the tragedy unfolding in front of him on CCTV. But if your pre-conceived idea is that football fans are all troublemakers, they must be to blame for what was happening and had to be controlled rather than helped. Undoubtedly, the match day strategy was flawed, the senior people responsible for carrying it out weren’t up to the job and wrong decisions were made, with dire consequences …………for fans. As horrific as the consequences were, if this was all about wrong decisions being made during a chaotic period by people not up to the job it would be bad enough. The match day commander should have been held accountable for his actions with dire consequences …………….for the match day commander!
BUT what about the cover up? Making bad operational decisions is bad enough but three other senior police officers and their solicitor are to be charged with telling lies, blaming the fans and changing witness statements! We all remember the shitty reporting by parts of the tabloid press. We’ve read the stories about what was reported to the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Talk about covering your own back and telling the headmistress what she wanted to hear about a bunch of uncouth, drunken, aggressive northern yobbos who’d caused trouble at a football match. What hope was there of any political pressure being brought for a full enquiry? How were the voices of the 96 ever going to be heard? Well the football family took up the fight. Liverpool Football Club, its fans and fans everywhere weren’t prepared to be silenced. Every attempt to kick the issue into the long grass was resisted and the campaign for justice would not rest until their voices were eventually heard in 2016.
It led to football grounds being made safer and facilities being improved everywhere. Whatever views you have about all seater stadiums, the intention was to make going to the match safer and a better experience for fans. The facilities at football grounds had been abysmal. We paid out loads of our cash for tickets but had to put up with unsafe terracing, entrances and exits that were a danger and toilets that were literally shit! We paid our money to be caged in behind fences and the police treated us like animals. Facilities have improved and there are now meetings between the police and fan groups to discuss match policing. The relationship between police and fans is generally much better.
So, we’ve all seen some benefits of the fan voice being heard but we really cannot envisage how painful it’s been for the families and friends of the 96 Liverpool fans who didn’t go home after that F.A. Cup semi-final in 1989. I’m sure nothing really eases the pain of their loss but I hope that the support of the whole football family helps. Another thing that might help is knowing that the people responsible will be held to account for the tragedy of their loss. It’s taken 28 years to get a decision that the people responsible on that day will be charged and held to account. As football fans everywhere we should join them in their celebration of this latest stage in their quest for justice.
You’ll never walk alone.
PETER FANNING – NEWCASTLE UNITED SUPPORTERS TRUST