Alan Davies got it wrong on Twitter but in the real world there are far more serious issues for fans
TOMORROW John Glover will try to go to Anfield for the annual memorial service on the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. If he can get there, it will be his last.
John is in the terminal stages of cancer. Ian, his son, died at the age of 20 on the Leppings Lane terraces before the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989. The Glover family is still waiting to learn the exact circumstances of the last, nightmarish hour of Ian’s life. Another 95 families are in a similar position. Yet this week, the discourse about Hillsborough has been dominated by a comedian on Twitter.
Alan Davies, the star of Jonathan Creek, made some misjudged remarks on a podcast. First, he rightly criticised the timing of this weekend’s FA Cup semi-finals. Chelsea, who play Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow at Wembley, kick off at 6pm, a ridiculous piece of scheduling given that the West London club face Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday. Davies suggested the cause was that Liverpool refused to play on April 15 and questioned why this was allowed to happen. But he missed the point.
The timing is less about Liverpool’s reluctance to play on the anniversary than the Football Association’s desire to maximise revenues from Wembley. A sensible solution would have been to play the Liverpool-Everton match at Old Trafford today at 12.30pm and Chelsea’s tie in London at 5.30pm.
What happened next is disturbing. A substantial number of Liverpool fans bombarded Davies with abuse and threats on Twitter. Even an apology did not halt the avalanche of invective. A backlash began and, as Davies withdrew from the argument, there were plenty of voices ready to give another airing to the clichés about “whingeing Scousers” A storm on Twitter is a dust devil rather than a typhoon: it blows up quickly and dissipates, leaving little damage. However, the abuse of Davies cannot be ignored. He may have been wrong, but he has a right to hold an opinion without receiving threats. Confronted with rational counter-arguments, he might have changed his mind.
Liverpool’s support is huge and committed. Its online fanbase helped to oust former owners of the club two years ago. Tom Hicks, one of those owners, spoke of “internet terrorists”.
Some clearly feel the need to live up to the billing, but they do their cause a disservice with misguided salvoes, dripping in bile. The energy spent on berating the likes of Davies should instead be focused on flooding the inboxes of politicians with a simple question: why, 23 years on, do we still not know the truth about a police cover-up that reached Cabinet level?
The Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP), chaired by the Right Reverend James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, is managing the release of documents relating to the disaster. It has put off declaring its findings until the autumn. That will be too late for Mr Glover. The real issue for fans this week should have been why the Glover family has been denied access to information about Ian.
HIP says it is vital that all material is realised in context. Yet a number of leaks have proved that it is impossible to manage the flow of information.
Mr Glover has placed a formal request to see the Cabinet minutes relating to Hillsborough. There is no legal reason to prevent this, yet he has been refused. A man who has fought for justice since 1989 will die without seeing the information he craved. Such a decision undermines the moral force of the panel. And it is wrong.
Most of those who abused Alan Davies on Twitter will not even be aware of the Glovers’ plight. They should start to redirect their anger.
This article first appeared in The Times on April 14 2012 and is reproduced here with permission.