On April 15, 1989, an FA Cup Semifinal match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was scheduled, and began--at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground. Five minutes in, crush barriers gave way. 96 Liverpool supporters who had come to watch the match lost their lives, crushed to death behind one of the goals.
I wasn't at that match, but I was at other matches in England that year. It was a time--above all else, if you were in places like the center and north of England, as I was--of the Miner's Strike, and of the Thatcher government's policy of aggressively taking on the trade unions, the working class, and their supporters. And the wait for the truth about Hillsborough to finally be revealed--as it finally has today, 27 years later--has to be understood in the light of that backdrop.
The tragedy of Hillsborough is first and foremost that 96 people went on a sunny day to support their team in a semifinal of a cup competition. I've been thinking about that a lot, as Villarreal prepare to play Liverpool in the semifinal of a cup competition over the next two weeks.
But the enduring tragedy of Hillsborough, evident to many for so long but FINALLY acknowledged today, is that these people died because of police incompetence, both in their planning for the day and their actions on the day itself; they died because the response of emergency services was inadequate; they died because English football grounds in the 1980's were poorly designed, poorly maintained, and no one cared; they died because no one had enough sense to delay the kickoff of the match because of the thousands of people still outside the ground.
The common thread through all of those failings is a lack of respect for football supporters generally, the assumption that these people (presumably mostly working-class) were little better than drunken animals who needed to be contained in 'pens', kept off the pitch by a high metal fence. And that is exactly the narrative that the South Yorkshire police and other authorities spun at the time--and, astonishingly and unforgivably, has continued to spin, even during this inquest (which has lasted two years).
The Thatcher-supporting press of the time were happy to blame the tragedy on the fans themselves and spread unforgivable lies about their behavior and what took place. The police "investigation" of the time was a complete coverup, based on over 100 statements from those responsible for public safety at the ground that day that were later shown to have been altered.
Families of the 96 victims have pursued justice for years. Astonishingly, it took the 20th anniversary of the disaster, and Labour MP Andy Burnham, delivering a speech on behalf of then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, being interrupted with cries of "Justice for the 96", for the British establishment to really investigate the tragedy, discover what actually took place, who was really at fault. An independent report in 2012 followed, and now--finally--this verdict, delivered from a jury that heard testimony over the course of TWO YEARS.
The fair course of British justice, at long, long long last. As Burnham observed today, 'how did something this simple take this long?'
From VillarrealUSA to all those who have fought so hard for this day, un abrazo.