23 years on and fans are still struggling to gain respect

Like many Irish football fans, I watched the events of Hillsborough unfold on television. I was seven, and I didn’t understand what was happening at the time. Even now, the memory of an ambulance on a crowded football pitch is alien but I still remember my mother’s shock as she started to realise the true scale of what was happening. It was remote though, something that was going on in a distant place and not too relevant in the world of a seven-year-old.

I’ve read a great deal of the coverage over the last couple of days and it’s brought the real horror of what happened in Sheffield that day home to me in some frank and brutal ways. A couple of numbers have stood out:

23: the number of years the families of the 96 people killed have had to wait to have their loved ones fully vindicated and to hear the explanations and apologies that they should have received a long time ago

41: the number of people who might have been saved after 3.15pm on that faithful day had reaction on the ground been more instant and more organised.

116: the number of police statements changed or altered so that the finger of blame could remain pointed at supporters

If you don’t know much about the tragedy, then Brian Reade’s first hand account – published in the Mirror on September 11th, 2012 – is a must-read. Be warned though, little is left to the imagination and if your heart beats, Brian’s article will touch it in a considerable way.

With my background (journalism), I found Roy Greenslade’s blog on guardian.co.uk – about why the Mirror didn’t end up publishing the same false allegations printed by The Sun – a truly great insight into the reality behind ‘The Truth’ headlines that have caused so much pain. If nothing else, it’s a lesson to all writers – be they print or online – that your first duty is bringing truth and facts to your readers rather then being sensational. Easier said than done, of course!

The piece that struck me the most, however, was the re-publication of a When Saturday Comes (WSC)’s editorial column from June 1989. As a football fan, I can never imagine going to a match of the game I love and not returning home. I feel sadness when Cork City loses even one of its family – so to lose 96 on an occasion that should have been a celebration and then have the blame pinned on you… it must simply be devastating.

This particular column speaks about the growth in belief (at the time) “that supporters might finally get the opportunity to wield some influence on the way football is administered in this country” followed later in the article by the following: “Then there are the administrators. Their attitude is one of utter incomprehension and cowardice. They don’t stick up for football supporters because they basically neither understand nor like them.”

Though we now have seats and safety is a primary concern at every football ground, has the game at the highest levels changed that much? As one Cork City fan tweeted to me: “Not too many remember what it was like back then, but anyone who does knows that fan-owned clubs are the only way forward.”

The WSC writer goes on to add: “Fans have been both the prophesiers and the victims of Hillsborough, but who believes that they will be invited to play an active part in solving the problems that it highlighted? We will be obliged to meekly accept the remedy offered.”

As football supporters we often feel like the unloved element of the beautiful game. We are the ones with our clubs’ best interests at hearts. We are the ones that hand over the ticket money, buy the merchandise and give our time.

Football fans do not deserve to be demonised and excluded from the conversation simply because we choose to wear colours – without us there would be nothing and we have have insights and answers that might help create a better game for all…

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