Plenty of words will be spoken and written about the verdict of the Hillsborough inquests. Anyone who is disappointed by today’s outcome is probably called Kelvin MacKenzie. I might write something myself later on, but one aspect I was very pleased about was that Liverpool fans were exonerated. Nothing they did contributed to the deaths of the 96. This matters, not just for the fact that MacKenzie and his filthy, dirty newspaper created an enduring and utterly fictional narrative that somehow Liverpool football fans were to blame, but also the establishment perception of what football fans are like. The Sun’s view of Liverpool fans at the time was the most disgusting example imaginable of how football fans have been treated, which has been like sub-human pond life.
Anyone who has attended games from the terraces will know what the police are like at football matches. I have worked alongside coppers for many years and have never been anything other than impressed by their professionalism and hard work in what can be the most challenging of circumstances. But take a policeman to a football match, usually but not always outside the ground and he turns into a power-mad monster. Worse than that, the police officer regards even your average supporter as an anti-social being.
I remember a friend of mine following a game at Swindon being marched with a large number of Rovers fans to the railway station, despite pleas that he had actually driven to the game and his car was in the opposite direction. I have heard of far worse, including acts of violence and – careful how you say this, son – banning orders issued on the basis of hearsay and even things that were made up.
At the Dell, Southampton’s old ground, the away section was quite literally a cage. When I went there in the Kevin Keegan era, I remember being shoved and jostled into the cage. For all I knew, they probably locked us in. We were all hooligans, you see. It wasn’t that we were lads out for the day for a few pints and then watching our favourite team. We were the enemy within.
Hillsborough, Kelvin MacKenzie told us, was what football fans were all about. Irresponsible drunken thieves, urinating on the dead. It was a fully frontal attack on Liverpool as a football club, as a city, as a people and it was an illustration of what all football fans were like. The Sun’s comments were unforgivable, Kelvin MacKenzie and Rupert Murdoch, the man who still employs the chief liar, will never, ever be forgiven and yet they won’t give a toss because to them business is business and if you have to lie to sell papers, that’s just business.
But football fans, caricatured by the red tops as thugs and drunks, have all been vindicated by this inquest because the portrayal of what happened in Sheffield was a lie, a lie perpetrated and later covered up by the establishment.
Football fans in particular knew all along that Liverpool fans were innocent and now everyone should accept that they were. They were the victims, not the criminals, they were the wronged, not the ones who did wrong.
It just so happened that the disaster of 15th April 1989 occurred at Hillsborough but many of us suspected that it could have happened pretty well anywhere. Not many football fans who were around in the 1980s and before would seriously say otherwise.