Hillsborough Without Justice – Contrasts Magazine
34 years ago a mystified, distorted, exploited tragedy.
It’s April 15th, 1989 and a pleasant spring day in Sheffield, one of those extraordinary days in Yorkshire. There is a lot of activity around Hillsborough, the stadium that normally plays Sheffield Wednesday games: there will be none on the green pitch owlsBut Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forestfor a long-awaited FA Cup semi-final. The game traditionally takes place on neutral ground and this seems to be the best venue: the away game is easy for both Reds and Forest fans.
The FA Cup continues to attract the public, both for its prestige and because the English passion for football needs to be expressed within their own borders. The world of football with the George Cross actually comes from a very dark time in its history: four years earlier At Heysel, Liverpool hooligans had caused the deaths of 39 people in the European Cup final against Juventus.
UEFA had set an exemplary punishment 5 years exclusion from European competitions for all English teams.
In order to curb the phenomenon of violence in the stadiums, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government is promoting a number of initiatives that are very tough by British standards: stricter entrance controls, protective barriers that prevent entry into the playing field, clear sector separation. The Hillsborough plant, which employs 54,000 people, also has to adapt. It’s 2.30pm and Liverpool fans are beginning to gather near the West Stand.
They all come here Lepping’s Lanethe street that runs next to the entrance to the west stand: To get into the stadium, the more than 10,000 Red fans have to pass through seven narrow passages with turnstiles. There are no assigned seats and many choose the shortest route, that of the main tunnel that leads to sectors 3 and 4 of the grandstand. The steps in the middle will fill up in minutes while there is still room on the sides. A shift to the other sectors is not possible, high gates pack the grandstand into watertight compartments, like large blue-painted aviaries without a roof.
Speaking of the “Thatcher model”…
The good old English tradition of being at the stadium just a few minutes before kick-off is at odds with the new rules of the Thatcher government. It’s getting hotter out on Leppings Lane: Liverpool fans want in, they all have regular tickets, they have the right to be there and watch the show, to see their favorite John ‘Aldo’ Aldridge at work. But the line gets longer and longer, you enter one at a time and the gates in front of the west stand shake with Scouser’s anger.
Something isn’t working: South Yorkshire Police agents know, in particular David Duckenfield, who was recently appointed Chief Superintendent and is responsible for security during the game, knows. Duckenfield, with very little experience policing sporting events, is in his sentry box to the right of the West Stand. His second, Roger Marshall, is outside amid Liverpool supporters: he completely lost control of the situationpeople keep coming back pushing those who are already in line.
The risk is there in the crowd someone gets sick or crushed.
Marshall asks Duckenfield three times to authorize the opening of “Gate C,” a gate that is normally thrown wide open to allow fans to pour out at the end of the game, allowing more people to enter at once. The chief inspector hesitates, but gives the green light in view of the increasingly critical situation: It’s 2:52 p.m., and a stream of Red supporters pours into the central tunnel, which leads to the already packed sectors 3 and 4. The problem isn’t solved, it’s just moved a few yards further – from the gorge at Leppings Lane to the Hillsborough Steps.
At 15 the game starts regularly: Referee Ray Lewis, not knowing what is happening a few tens of meters away, whistles to start the game. And it’s an engaging match, with both teams being very aggressive and constantly pushing into the opponent’s trocar. In the 5th minute, Liverpool even got close to the goal: a corner kick from the right by Irishman Houghton, ball half-high on the edge of the area for Beardsley, who coordinated and acrobatically hit the bar.
For many fans of the Reds, however Game is of little interest.
For a few minutes, several dozen people have been trying to climb over the barrier that separates the west stand from the pitch. The police tried in vain to push them back with batons in their hands, believing it was an attempted invasion. The reality of the facts is very different: it is impossible to breathe in Sector 3, a barrier a few meters from the wire mesh is broken and an avalanche of people has just rolled over boys, women and children who were just below. Great tension, shouting, confusion: whoever makes it climbs into the stands, supported by other Reds supporters.
Dramatic scenes easily found in the many videos available online: the images are broadcast live on UK television a punch in the pit of the stomach even more than 30 years away. Moments after Beardsley hit the bar, the decision was finally made to end the game: a police officer ran onto the field to explain to Referee Lewis that something very serious was happening. Liverpool fans flood the pitch to call for help and end a game that probably should never have started.
Emergency services are called, however The first ambulance will only arrive 9 minutes later Stop the race.
Meanwhile, doctors, nurses and firefighters who arrived in Sheffield as simple Liverpool fans find themselves on the front lines to save as many people as possible: They practice heart massage, they try to revive dozens of bodies lie on the ground while the many who have poured themselves into the field are shaken and in disbelief. Some run in front of the cameras to show their tickets, expecting the police to try to blame them, others take the billboards and turn them into makeshift stretchers to carry the injured out of Hell.
Despite efforts, 94 people died in Hillsborough or while being transported to hospital: death from asphyxiation, in most cases, or from trauma caused by falling down a flight of stairs. The tragic number rises to 96 in the following months, 97 with the death of Andrew Devine in 2021, who survived to this day but then remained in a semi-vegetative state for the next 32 years. Many of them are young, with 78 under 30. The youngest victim, 10-year-old Jon-Paul Gilhooley, is Steven Gerrard’s cousin. Yes, just him, the one who would become the captain and symbol of the Liverpool red side in the 2000s.
The police, led by David Duckenfield, are trying to pin the blame on the fans: drunk, violent and too many entering the stadium without a ticket. Subsequent commissions of inquiry will tell a different truth about the many mistakes made, the lack of preparation of the law enforcement officers, the slowness of the rescue. A government apology will come, but not until 2012, from the mouth of then-Prime Minister David Cameron: he will say that the families of those who lost their lives in Hillsborough suffered a “double injustice” that of the “tragic events ” and that of “denigrating the deceased”.
Yes, because in 2012, according to the 395-page report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, an independent commission chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, it is officially acknowledged that at 3:15 p.m. that day, 59 of the 96 victims were still alive, and 41 of them could have been saved with timely and appropriate support. Financial support questionable also South Yorkshire Police, who were guilty of altering 164 witness statements from those present at the stadium and directing the media to false reconstructions. The aim was to shift the blame onto the fans and acquit police officers and rescuers from their (very heavy) responsibility.
Indeed, it was an opportunity to take advantage of the tragedy and make another one Grip on hooligans with the conclusions (also addressed) of Judge Taylor’s report.
Despite all this, despite the protests and struggles that are being waged on the part Hillsborough Family Support Group – Committee set up by victims’ families to get to the bottom of the truth – none were convicted by a court for what happened. The trial of former police chief David Duckenfield ended in October 2019 with an acquittal. In Liverpool, April 15 remains a day of great pain with no sure answer.
Yes, because today if the person responsible for the massacre has no first and last name, the Reds fans are at least absolved of the notorious guilt that the Thatcher government and the media mud machine had foisted on them -“they did not cause or contribute to the deaths of the victims», the commission will sanction decades later. Then ask yourself why in Liverpool, “The Sun” isn’t even used as toilet paperin the homes of the Reds as well as those of the Toffees: the day after the massacre, the front page of the tabloid accused the supporters of attacking the bodies, robbing them and urinating on the “brave cops”.
Finally, the Hillsborough massacre provided one real watershed in the British conception of inhabiting the stadium.
In fact, Judge Taylor, commissioned by the Government to prepare a report to shed light on afternoon dynamics in Sheffield, essentially laid the foundations of today’s ‘English model’. The obligation for clubs to restore their systems by just arranging seats it justified the increase in average ticket prices, which, in addition to the ubiquitous CCTV, drove the more rowdy, working-class fringe from the stands. After all, since the tragedy, they have always lost the usual.