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Margaret Thatcher's Legacy to Liverpool FC

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HILLSBOROUGH TRAGEDY
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On 15 April 1989, Liverpool played an FA Cup semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday's stadium. As the match began, drunken Liverpool fans boorishly stampeded their way into an already overcrowded enclosure, causing a lethal crush. As fans, gasping for air poured their way onto the pitch, the inebriated hooligans pickpocketed from those who had already succumbed to asphyxiation, and urinated on the police officers who attempted to tend to the dying.

Ninety-six fans, sons and daughters never made it home, and it was all the fault of their fellow Liverpool supporters. This was the narrative presented to the world in a Sun front-page, emblazoned with the headline 'The Truth'.

Never was there a greater lie.

Yet this was the narrative that, until the release of the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report last September, brought national scorn and inflicted suffering on the families of the dead and the city at large. This was the narrative that Margaret Thatcher played a crucial role in perpetuating. There will have been few tears shed on Merseyside on Monday evening at her demise.

12 September 2012 was a moment of unique catharsis for an entire city, as the aforementioned independent report finally revealed what the people of Liverpool had always known; namely that the Sun's version of events was a complete fiction, concocted by vile hacks looking for a story, in league with a corrupt and incompetent police force, looking to cover their own backs for their repeated failings in the build-up to the tragedy and during its unfurling. They let too many fans into an enclosed pen, and acted with a woeful and lethal lethargy. They were responsible for the deaths of the 96.

The report also teased at the extent to which Thatcher and her government were involved in the cover up. Whilst we may never know the brief that she received on the morning after the tragedy, what the documents did indicate was that Thatcher wilfully obfuscated the search for clarity.

Handed the Taylor Report, an investigation into the tragedy published in January 1990, Thatcher was advised to back it and its recommendations in its fullest. A clear handwritten note by the Iron Lady shows that she wrote: "What do we mean by 'welcoming the broad thrust of the report'? The broad thrust is devastating criticism of the police. Is that for us to welcome? Surely we welcome the thoroughness of the report and its recommendations - M.T."

The six words, "Is that for us to welcome" still make the blood boil. For they illustrate what Liverpool fans long suspected. That the unwillingness of the government to force the resignation of the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, or to fully hold up to scrutiny the behaviour of the police on that fateful day, or to even begin to challenge the narrative of drunken hooliganism presented by the senior police officers active during the match, was motived by what was "welcome" to the Conservative government.

David Cameron, upon reading the report to the Commons last September admitted that "governments then and since have simply not done enough to challenge publicly the unjust and untrue narrative that sought to blame the fans." The blame for the beginning of that process lies squarely at Thatcher's door.

On 15 September 2012, Liverpool played Sunderland in a game of unique emotion. Chants of "Justice for the 96" echoed around the Stadium of Light. They were soon followed by "We're all having a party when Maggie Thatcher dies". The only figure who has the capacity to incite such rage on Merseyside is Kelvin McKenzie, the Sun's editor at the time of the tragedy.

Liverpool was a city which was emasculated by Thatcher's industrial policies and tough stance on the unions, and still witnesses those scars today. But the blind eye she turned to the cries for justice of the 96 families is what truly consolidated her status as a figure of hatred.

It may be callous to revel in the death of an old lady, and joy is not an emotion that I personally feel at her demise; but that joy is understandable. Respect has to be earned; Thatcher in life showed none for those dead Liverpool fans. It is understandable that many respond in kind.

The Premier League will not mark Thatcher's death with a minute's silence this weekend. And that is appropriate. For not only would it be interrupted by the majority of fans, rendering the exercise futile. But it would be despicable to for the footballing world to show collective reverence to a figure who contributed to the covering up of the biggest tragedy ever to occur in modern British football.

One should not speak ill of the dead merely to illicit shock value or to harass the grieving. But when the right-wing press seek to construct a hagiography around the recently departed, it is right to ruthlessly scrutinise their legacy. Thatcher's legacy to Liverpool and to British football is a toxic one. I am not sad she is gone.

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