by Karl Coppack
FOR twenty three years the events of 15th April 1989 have, until recently, been wrapped in vicious fiction and group factions. The cover-up, the smearing of the supporters who barely made it off those terraces and those who didn’t and the systematic denials of appeals under both political parties have shamed the authorities and given the nation the closest thing to Watergate. But one body has never hidden from its malpractice and it’s an organisation that set the ball rolling.
So, for a few minutes let’s forget Bettison, forget Duckenfield, forget McKenzie, Straw, Blair, Stuart Smith and every other anus who are supposed to look after us but are principally interested in their own agenda. Let’s shine a line on those who people who were the prime movers that day – The Football Association. The governing body of the great and beautiful game.
Part of the FA’s remit is the organisation of the greatest club competition in the world. It may have since been devalued but in 1989 it was an incredibly big deal to Liverpool Football Club and the game as a whole. Arguably our greatest side had failed to win it the year before and one of our greatest managers never won it at all. It could have been three doubles in four years for the men in red and the fact that we were playing the second best team in the country made 15th April an enormous day. This game mattered. Everything was in place for one of the greatest days in the footballing calendar.
Twelve months earlier we played the same opposition on the same ground and stood on the same packed stand. The FA knew the ground was unsafe. The FA knew that the safety certificate had not been renewed (or didn’t bother to check). The FA did not care. The FA got away with it in 1981 when Spurs’ fans spilled onto the side of the pitch to alleviate the congestion on the terraces. The FA got away with it in 1987 when Leeds played Coventry (more crushing). The FA got away with it in 1988. Surely the FA would get away with it in 1989?
After 1981, Sheffield Wednesday were told to make the ground safer – a task that they couldn’t achieve due to lack of funds – but despite this they were given the 1987 semi anyway. In fact, they only modifications at the Leppings Lane end were additional crash barriers.
Letters of complaints were sent to the FA when they announced that Forest were to have the Kop end while Liverpool took the Leppings Lane. Naturally, all protestations were greeted with silence. They knew best. Get used to it.
The FA, despite knowing that Hillsborough was unsafe, said no. Why?
The Echo has seen minutes in which the FA state that “there were no complaints whatsoever about last year’s game”. Have a look at the latest copy of Well Red Magazine to view a letter to Colin Moynihan citing the worries post April ’88.
“The whole area was packed solid to the point where it was impossible to move and where I, and others around me, felt considerable concern for personal safety,” the supporter wrote. “As a result of the crush an umbrella I was holding in my hand was snapped in half against the crush barrier in front of me? My concern over safety was such – at times it was impossible to breathe – that at half-time? I managed to extricate myself from the terrace, having taken the view that my personal safety was more important than watching the second half”
I’m fairly sure that would have been passed on and read.
So why did Kelly give the go ahead? Well, he claimed in ‘a subconscious thought’ in FA minutes that he wanted lesser clubs to get the gate receipts and share the competition windfall. Ordinarily this would be laudable but not when it’s clear to the meanest intelligence that Hillsborough was a disaster waiting to happen. Peter Robinson had asked that, given that Liverpool had more fans, we could at least swap ends to avoid over-crowding. Kelly didn’t pass on the suggestion to his Chairman. Why should he? 1988 had been a success, right?
What makes this more galling, this initial lazy oversight that started a chain of events that led to untold heartache and lies, is that it has never been denied by the FA. The authorities have pointed at drunken, ticketless fans and McKenzie pointed at every chest other than his own but the FA have sat silently for twenty three years. That stupefying arrogance is almost impressive. They could have pointed the finger at Sheffield Wednesday and said that they were told that the ground was safe. They could have apologised on the day of the game instead of believing a police officer who was interested in only saving his job but no. They knew the situation and they sat and watched others take the blame.
They are the ruling body of the game and, laughably, can charge people with ‘bringing the game into disrepute’. Who would want to be accused by a body of men with ninety six deaths on their hands. They’re not fit to pass judgment on anyone or anything.
Of course, this was a long time ago and we now live in more enlightened times. Things are much better now and communication has improved significantly. Why then did it take them two drafts in apologising last month? The first version did not contain the word ‘Sorry’ and paid mere lip service to HIP report. It couldn’t have been more ‘will this do?’ if it tried. If a charged player had offered that level of contrition in his defence he would have been laughed out of the room and rightly so. I haven’t seen such a half-arsed apology since the Sun apologised for their coverage while blaming the Mirror.
So, what can be done? Not a great deal seemingly. Bettison and his associates are hopefully facing prosecution and the media, who readily aided the cover-up, are now discredited, but what of those who sent football fans to injury and death? What do they get? Why aren’t the club angrier? Why do we lift their trophy (when possible)? Why do we even enter their competition?
The six minutes of protest v Arsenal took place on the day of a Cup game. Why not do the same again but make this specifically about the very people who put us in that stadium? For years, they’ve been given an easy ride over Hillsborough and while it’s great that some bastards are going to get their overdue comeuppance, it’d be nice if all of them were treated equally. If we can do it to the people who stood between the families and the truth we can at least do it to the very people whose initial negligence tore lives apart and ‘ho-hummed’ for over two decades.