This is the 24th anniversary of the day that 96 supporters went to a football match and never returned; my thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends.
This anniversary will be different from previous ones because it is the first one since the Hillsborough Independent Panel issued its report saying that fans were not to blame for the disaster and that blame should be assigned to the police and other agencies instead. The most disgraceful aspect of the affair was the cover-up that followed the disaster. Police statements were altered to remove criticisms of their operation and to suggest that drunken supporters were to blame. The Sun, who caused such distress and outrage by their reporting of the event, apologised; here’s a quote from its report on the findings of the Independent Panel:
“The Sun again publicly apologised for the front page headline “The Truth” — written by former editor Kelvin MacKenzie — on a story in which police officers accused drunk Liverpool fans of urinating on and stealing from the dead.
Current editor Dominic Mohan said: “Twenty-three years ago The Sun newspaper made a terrible mistake. We published an inaccurate and offensive story about the events at Hillsborough.
“We said it was the truth — it wasn’t. The Hillsborough Independent Panel has now established what really happened that day. It’s an appalling story and at the heart of it are the police’s attempts to smear Liverpool fans.
“It’s a version of events that 23 years ago The Sun went along with and for that we’re deeply ashamed and profoundly sorry. We’ve co-operated fully with the Hillsborough Independent Panel.”
Even now, I come across people who still blame Liverpool supporters for what happened on that day. If you are one of those people I urge you to read the accounts of what really happened. A good place to start is on the Liverpool FC site. Look at the pictures of those who died and you’ll see faces that look similar to the ones you’ll see around you at any football match. LFC TV also has some excellent videos that are free to view; I recommend A landmark year.
One of the reasons that the police cover-up succeeded is that football fans are willing to believe the worst about fans of other clubs. Every club has some fans that cause trouble and there is a tendency to regard these troublemakers as the exception at your own club but the norm for some other clubs. That kind of thinking is misguided. Football-related violence has been in the news recently as Millwall fans fought at Wembley and 29 fans were arrested in Newcastle. It would be wrong to react to this news by saying that all Millwall and Newcastle fans are scum; they aren’t. Most of them just want to watch football and are saddened by the violence associated with their clubs. And Birmingham City fans are in no position to cast the first stone. In the Home Office statistics on football-related arrests for the 2011-12 season, the number of arrests for Birmingham City was exactly the same as Millwall, both clubs had 65 fans arrested last season.