Recent news, football games and the behaviour of a minority of fans have made me reflect how Liverpool fans are often painted in a bad light, for something shameful that happened amongst their illustrious history.
Maxine Peake is a dazzling actress. She first came to my attention through Mancunian drama Shameless playing the striking Veronica. Some years later her acting has brought me to tears. The gritty subject is the Hillsborough football disaster. Much like that of the Bradford City fire and disaster (11th May 1985), both events cost lives. Both were preventable. Both were injustices and both shameful blights on British and human history.
“the injustice of the denigration of the deceased” – David Cameron, Prime Minister, parliamentary address, 12/9/12
Hillsborough was much more than that though. Liverpool F.C.’s fans were shamefully and disgracefully vilified by national media outlets, the local and national government, the Police and other official bodies. This came but a few years after the atrocities at the Heysel stadium disaster, again blamed on Liverpool fans. That disaster in May 1985 led to many arrests and a London Fire Brigade report being ignored as evidence. The crush barriers and reinforced walls were unsuitable for crowds. The behaviour of some fans, just like Saint-Etienne and Manchester Utd. in 1977 could have happened at any club, anywhere. UEFA and a poor venue choice, the clubs and their inability to direct fans traveling to away ties, and the venue’s poor policing contributed to a disgraceful disaster. Heysel should have been the end point for football stadium deaths. It seemed that more time was spent on banning clubs than investigations and litigation.
“A complete and utter disgrace” – Andy Burnham, Mayor of Manchester
So, England, the F.A. Cup and another semi-final at Hillsborough in Sheffield. Wednesday’s ground had been chosen for a third F.A. Cup semi-final in as many years. The 15th of April 1989 went down in history for all the wrong reasons. Something that victims of the Grenfall Tower fire may relate to in present day England. 96 fans did not return that day. Around 766 injured fans were reported. Many living souls became haunted and tortured in their own minds. Many years later, in July 2021, a 97th fan passed away from brain damage and related complications. They were only going to a football game!
ITV’s production Anne follows one campaigner, the late Anne Williams. It charts the effect of that day, the aftermath of the stadium disaster, the fate of her lost son Kevin Williams and the subsequent fight for justice. Threaded into the story are the Steffan Popper inquest (1989/91); The Taylor Report (1990); Hillsborough Independent Panel (2012); but falls shy of the Sir John Golding inquest (2014/16) because sadly Anne Williams died of cancer in April 2013, just days after bravely attending a memorial ceremony at Liverpool F.C.’ Anfield.
The four part miniseries focuses on the intense aftermath and shown in January 2022. It was and should be seen by a wider football audience. Just as Bradford City and Lincoln City met in 1989 to raise money for the Hillsborough Disaster fund, and most fans observe minutes of silence and memorials around the country, there are much more important matters to hand. As Factory Records and other musical ties up in northern England came together, London’s parliament conspired and led to a cover-up of the events at Hillsborough. Later the mask was ripped away. Terms such as unlawful killing, manslaughter by gross negligence and failure of duty of care, an unfit stadium, perversion of the course of justice and misconduct in public office, were simply put an understatement for the torture of victims and their families.
Demonisation of football fans at a high time of hooliganism, fenced fronts, railings and pens are no excuse for inaction and lies started at the time of a human catastrophe. Chief Superintendent in his duty of leadership, failed to lead. He failed to rescue. His force, words and actions began the big lie. These injustices have been well documented and shared.
“Open the gates.” – Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, 2.52pm, 15/4/1989.
Liverpool F.C.’s fans have suffered more than most. The epic and continued failure of the British legal system to bring justice and convict those accountable is beyond laughable. 33 years have passed. Hounded by South Yorkshire Police, The Sun newspaper, and dragged through the courtrooms and other places of supposed justice, there is till now outcome. Stadium constructors Eastwards, Sheffield Wednesday F.C. and the local Sheffield council have suffered lightly. They may have lost their names but they didn’t lose family or suffer at the hands of those supposedly there to protect them. Trauma on top of wounds, placed over lacerations with contusions and lesions of abrasion. It has been a completely inhumane process. Anne, gives just a fraction of that taste and it’s a bitter one. One that could have happened to any club or fans, at any older ground in England.
“Her relentless pursuit of justice for her son personified the unyielding bond of a mother’s love for her child.” – Steve Rotheram, MP
Apologies for the long post. Not sure if this article was a piss take or serious:
Opinion: This is why Liverpool fans boo the national anthem and this is what would stop it (The Independent)
The contrast between Boris Johnson and Jurgen Klopp could not be starker. The Liverpool manager would make a great statesman. He is honest, takes responsibility, cares about people in worse situations than himself and does his best to contribute to a wider society.
The prime minister is the polar opposite.
When Klopp talks politics, it makes sense. When Johnson pontificates about football, it’s more of the same bluster that has characterised his entire career. On Monday, according to certain sections of the media, Johnson “slapped down” Klopp because the 54-year-old suggested it might be worth at least exploring the reasons why Liverpool fans booed the national anthem and the Queen’s grandson before the FA Cup final on Saturday. A spokesman said the prime minister disagreed with Klopp and called the behaviour of the supporters a “great shame”. It takes some fairly deranged spin to see this as a slap-down. Klopp probably hasn’t even noticed that he’s supposed to have been put in his place.
Like Klopp and Johnson, those who booed the anthem and those who were angered by the jeering are unlikely to find common ground. Will there ever be a time when Liverpool supporters embrace the patriotic experience?
The prime minister’s spokesman talked about shame, an emotion Johnson knows little about. He hasn’t any. Or empathy. The Spectator’s attack on Merseyside when under the 57-year-old’s editorship in 2004 is well known. The editorial column said that the people of Liverpool “see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it”. The article went on to repeat lies about Hillsborough.
What is less well known is Johnson’s supposed mea culpa in the next edition of The Spectator. Headlined “What I should say sorry for”, the piece was written from “a cold, damp three-star hotel in Liverpool” after the old Etonian was ordered to travel north to apologise by Michael Howard, who was then the leader of the Conservative Party (and a Liverpool fan, much to the embarrassment of many Kopites).
“Operation Scouse-grovel”, as the author describes it, is as obscene as the previous editorial. Johnson doubled down. He wrote: “Whatever its mistakes of facts and taste, for which I am sorry, last week’s leading article made a good point: about bogus sentiment, self-pity, risk, and our refusal to see that we may sometimes be the authors of our misfortunes.”
Almost every week Liverpool supporters hear the echo of the words of the man who holds the highest political office in the UK. “You killed your own fans.” “Always the victims.” “The Sun was right, you’re murderers.”
Is there a more “bogus sentiment” than becoming emotional about a national anthem? The royal family are the cornerstone of the class system. The idolisation of a dynastic institution that is completely distanced from ordinary people is bewildering for a large proportion of Liverpool supporters, especially those who have a close-up view of the growing poverty in the UK. The Fans Supporting Foodbanks initiative was founded outside Goodison Park and Anfield – it often gets overlooked that Evertonians are on the receiving end of anti-Scouse invective, too. Supporters of club after club come to Merseyside and rejoice in songs that mock poverty. Some Chelsea fans were chanting about hunger on Saturday. The Liverpool end booed institutional, inherited privilege. Guess which one the nation was outraged by? That was two days before the governor of the Bank of England warned of “apocalyptic” rises in food prices.
Hunger is at the centre of the historic perception of the people of Liverpool. The port, once known as “Torytown” and “the second city of the empire”, first fell out of step with the rest of England after the Potato Famine in the 1840s. Millions of starving Irish landed on the banks of the Mersey. Many stayed. The “othering” of Liverpool stretches back to the mid-19th century.
What does this have to do with football? A lot. The word “Scouse” is an insult that was reappropriated by those it was used against. In the poorest areas of Liverpool a century ago, the malnourished residents – who were the children of immigrants and who mainly identified as Irish – relied on soup kitchens and cheap street vendors for food. What they were served was Scouse, a watery stew. Scouser was a pejorative term used to mock the poorest. When “Feed the Scousers”, echoes around stadiums it is expressing a deep folk memory that is imbued with anti-migrant and anti-Irish sentiment. Those chanting it may not be conscious of the history, but the driving forces for their behaviour can be traced back down many decades. Nowhere else is poverty sneered at in this way by outsiders. No one sings “Feed the Geordies” or “Feed the Mancs” even though other places have much more deprived areas. No wonder citizens of Liverpool are triggered by the chants.
In these circumstances, it is hard to make a case for Scousers to do anything more than boo the national anthem. And then we get to Hillsborough. Britain should still be in a state of uproar about the 1989 disaster that led to the deaths of 97 people. Senior policemen and high-level politicians lied about what happened, covered up the mistakes of officials and threw the blame at innocent supporters. The national press, by and large, amplified the establishment narrative or failed to provide adequate scrutiny of the authorities. A substantial percentage of the British public still will not accept the findings of the longest, most exhaustive inquests in the country’s history. To cap it all, the policemen responsible for the mass death and the cover-up were acquitted of any wrongdoing – even after some of those individuals admitted their culpability in legal settings. Now the biggest miscarriage of justice in the nation’s history is being reduced to football banter. What a country. Play that anthem again so we can all join in.
The FA got off lightly, too. The ruling body held a semi-final at a ground that did not have a safety certificate. Tottenham Hotspur fans had a near miss eight years earlier on the same Leppings Lane terraces where the carnage occurred in 1989. For those whining that Abide With Me was disrupted, the FA did nothing to abide with the bereaved and survivors of an avoidable catastrophe at one of their showpiece games.
The events of the FA Cup semifinals weekend, this season, illustrated just how toxic the attitudes towards Hillsborough have become. Family members of the dead were abused heavily on social media by trolls who used Saturday’s events as an excuse to harass those who have fought, in vain, for justice. And we don’t want to hear any complaints about Scousers not showing respect. The booing is a cry for justice, for equality, a howl against hunger and poverty. It is depressing that so many in Britain cannot hear that. Klopp heard it. Johnson never will.
You’ll never walk alone.