The Blog

Don't Fall for the Crocodile Tears of the Hillsborough Hypocrites

All this talk of justice for the dead fans of 1989 would be more convincing if the people doing it - politicians, police, respectable commentators - weren't now at the forefront of depicting working-class football fans as troublemakers, possibly even scum, who must be regulated and monitored ad infinitum.

Following the publication of the damning report on the Hillsborough disaster, there have been paroxysms of handwringing in the political and media classes.

David Cameron issued an apology for Hillsborough's "double injustice": first the disaster itself, which killed 96 Liverpool football fans, and second officialdom's attempts to cover up what happened or to blame it all on the fans who were caught up in the terrible crush.

Meanwhile, liberal broadsheets claim we finally have "the truth" and some semblance of justice for the families of the dead and injured. In the words of one commentator, "After so many years, so much pain... it has been finally reclaimed: the truth."

All this talk of justice for the dead fans of 1989 would be more convincing if the people doing it - politicians, police, respectable commentators - weren't now at the forefront of depicting working-class football fans as troublemakers, possibly even scum, who must be regulated and monitored ad infinitum.

That is, the people now crying with joy over the revelation of the truth in relation to Hillsborough are also the guardians of the very prejudices that made Hillsborough possible in the first place: the idea that football fans are a mob-in-the-making who must always be fenced in, either literally, with metal cages, or metaphorically, with restrictions on their speech and behaviour.

In one breath, these politicians and observers condemn the police malfeasance and media sneering in relation to Hillsborough; in the next, they articulate the same anti-fan snobbery and class loathing that nurtured the Hillsborough calamity in the first place. They are Hillsborough's hypocrites.

Reading the media coverage of the report into Hillsborough, you could be forgiven for thinking that the key problem in that stadium in 1989 was the authorities' failure or unwillingness to respond properly to the unfolding disaster.

Not enough was done, we are told, to help those who were stuck behind the metal fences, and not enough was done to reach the truth about the event afterwards.

No doubt this is true. But focusing myopically on the authorities' failings on that terrible day, and in its aftermath, takes attention away from what happened before Hillsborough, away from the political and media classes' intensive war of words against working-class football fans, who were continually being depicted as the lowest form of human life, as hooligans, imbeciles, almost as animals. Thus could they be treated like animals, being forced into those dangerous cages that were erected at football stadiums by fan-loathing elites in the 1970s and 80s.

From the tabloids to the broadsheets to erudite magazines like the New Statesman (which said shortly after Hillsborough that football was bound up with the "yobs and slum cultures of the stricken inner cities"), football followers were forever being held up as morally warped creatures in late 20th Century Britain.

Politicians fretted over the dangers posed by out-of-control fans, passing laws to regulate their behaviour and movement, while the police were frequently deployed en masse to games.

It was in this political and media climate of fear and loathing of football fans that Hillsborough became possible: the metal cages at the stadium, the police's disgraceful attitude, the media sneering at the victims after the event - the whole awful thing was a product of a long, drawn-out war by the authorities and the media against the alleged lowlifes of "stricken inner cities".

And that political attitude still exists today, side-by-side with the elite's newfound concern and sorrow over what happened at Hillsborough.

The view of football fans as problematic, as a big, unpredictable blob that requires regulation and occasionally punishment, is as widespread in political and media circles now as it was pre-Hillsborough.

But it has been PC-ed, with fans no longer being explicitly described as "slum people" or "yobs", but rather as racists, as the chanters of foul-mouthed and offensive tirades, as people who have failed to educate themselves about the correct way to speak and behave.

Where once fans were stuck in metal cages, today they are plonked in stadiums that are subjected to the sort of stringent, speech-policing laws and regulations that would cause outrage in any other area of life.

They are forced to sit down; they can be arrested for chanting offensive things; they are surrounded by stewards with cameras on their heads who film fans' every antic so that if anything untoward happens, the cops can be informed and action can be taken.

Like rats in a lab, fans are metaphorically fenced in, kept in their place not by brutalising cages but by patronising laws. All these measures are aimed at keeping what one Guardian journalist has described as "knuckle-dragging cretins" - or what the rest of us refer to as "football fans" - sedate and pacified, as un-mob-like as possible.

And who promotes and cheers this continuing degradation of working-class football fans? Politicians, PC-sounding policemen, the same newspaper columnists who praise the reaching of the truth about Hillsborough. These people weep over Hillsborough, while at the same time sustaining the degenerate moralism towards "yob" communities which fuelled that terrible tragedy.