April 16, 2010

Remembering Hillsborough and an Opportunity for the future

Yesterday was 21 years since the Hillsborough Disaster finally brought English Soccer out from the dark Ages. I don't pretend to be an expert in the dreadful conditions which fans were supposed to put up with prior to the implementation of the Taylor Report as I didn't grow up in England (not to mention the pure evil supposed fans, otherwise known as hooligans, gave out). But living close by in Ireland and noting the dreadful state of what passed for 'Stadia' there while a child, and seeing plenty of it from England on Telly, I could pretty much imagine.

From just 21 years into the future the thought, 11 years from the end of the 20th Century, a society could treat its own people like cattle - herding them into pens - and the Police could so easily denigrate perfectly respectable men and woman seems awesomely base.

When you recall the Hillsborough Disaster occurred just four years after both the Heysel disaster and the awful fire at Bradford (just 25 miles down the road from Sheffield) it seems to illustrate clearly the disinterest of those 'in charge' in society of preventing disaster. Unless of course there is either a clear financial benefit or the disaster actually happens. An analogy to the current rhetoric on climate change there, perhaps?

I'm tending on the political here, but looking back it seems to me much of the 80s was where scumbags like Thatcher and Reagan waged war on their own people. All in order to reinvent society as something where 'success' based upon ambition for money was all that mattered. This seems plainly obvious when you consider the lack of change in the four years between Heysel, Bradford and Hillsborough. Never mind the Ibrox disaster 28 years prior to that.

The first time I cried over football was on April 15th 1989. The Second time was just 6 short weeks later when after a 42 game league season, Liverpool lost the league with almost the last kick of the season. Entrenched in my memory of that game was Steve McMahon exorting his troops on with just a minute to go only for...well the rest is on the record. And while Liverpool did win the league again just one year later, in many ways, Hillsborough marked the beginning of the end of the most successful run by a football club in England.

Actually Hillsborough in many views was a watershed for football in general. It was the beginning of the end for Standing on Terraces, so awful but so wistfully remembered by most fans.

Today's news that the American Comedians who 'purchased' Liverpool Football Club three years ago are finally selling up is another watershed for the club. One which I see two distinct outcomes from. The first is that a real investor takes over and ensures the new Stadium is completed urgently (though we can still yearn for Anfield Road to get updated - everything is possible!).

The stadium is important, because while two new stands have been built at Liverpool since Hillsborough, the other Big teams in England have either entirely rebuilt their existing stadium or moved lock stock and barrel to new ones.

I'll err on the side of caution and say that if Rafa Benitez is right, by the team getting the urgent investment it needs, I publicly and very humbly will eat my words about him.

The second is that despite any investment, the club goes into 2 to 3 years of serious stagnation while reinventing itself (not Newcastle style I hope) and remerges prior to that 25 year watershed in a few years time with a league title.

Either way, it'll be better than the embarrassment of the last few years watching 'businessmen' ruin the economic basis of the club while we, on the field, turn into Tottenham.

It's now 4 years since we won a trophy and 5 years since the Miracle in Istanbul. Winning the Europa Cup this year would be nice. But it would also reinforce our new position as a second tier football team. It might also extend Rafa's tenure too long just as 2001 extended Houlliers.

Along with the debt loaded on the club by the muppets from America, this is not a legacy which can be allowed to last. When we think of Sarah and Victoria Hicks and the other 94 victims of police ineptitude and Society's own moral collapse at the end of the 80's, we sing You'll Never Walk Alone. But for me Justice for the 96 isn't just about apportioning accurate blame for the events of April 15th 1989. It also includes respecting their legacy by winning another League Championship in England.

Perhaps now Hicks and Gillett are going, this finally can become a reality.

1 year is too long to wait for Justice, 21 years a generation too long.

Hillsborough: The Truth

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