Special trains were laid on to take us to away grounds – special in that they were the rolling stock taken out of service as not fit for human travel, but specially provided for us lesser class citizens. Once you arrived at your destination you were then frog marched through the town. I can quite vividly remember being led through both Dumbarton and Dundee on miserable wet winter Saturdays like prisoners of war. Those who tried to make a break from the long line trudging through the town were lifted and thrown into the back of the police van, rolling up the rear at 5 mph. Once at the ground we would then stand on unroofed terracing, hemmed in at the front by metal fences, our feet wet and dirty in the sludge that was often a wet congealed mess of red ash and mud; the terrace banking created by old rotting railway sleepers. That was your lot and you deserved no better. You were after all not a normal participating tax paying member of society, you were a football fan.
Perhaps the worst thing about Hillsborough was that it was the last in a long line of football deaths, more pertinently for those of us who watched Hillsborough unfold live on Grandstand, it followed deaths of football fans at Heysel and Valley Parade which had also been watched live in our living rooms. That was why, finally after almost a century of deaths at football dating back to the first Ibrox disaster of 1902, Valley Parade had prompted a governmental committee chaired by Mr Justice Popplewell. His recommendations were almost a full repeat of the Shortt Report of 1924 and the Moelwyn Hughes Report of 1946. Prophetically Popplewell stated just before Hillsborough;
“Almost all the matters into which I have been asked to inquire and almost all solutions I have proposed have been previously considered in detail by many distinguished enquiries over a 60 year period”
Whilst his recommendations were waiting to be implemented in the Football Spectators Act 1989, 96 people died at Hillsborough. 96 people set off to go and watch a game of football and never returned home.
We have moved on from that time however. Among other things, Taylor recommended the removal of spiked fences and the introduction of all seater stadia. Trouble at football is an extreme exception and many of us would have no qualms about taking young children to the game – which leads me to the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012.
This act conveys the very worst of late 20th century attitudes to football supporters and the policing strategies recently highlighted by the Green Brigade allied to this poor piece of legislation should have every Holyrood MSP who voted for it hanging their heads in shame. The lesson of Hillsborough was that football fans were not some separate breed of sub-human to be treated differently. Football supporters are just ordinary members of society whose chosen leisure pursuit is football spectating. Trouble may have occurred but that was in part due to the old maxim that people will behave to reflect the way they are treated. Moreover football is just a reflection of society and any problem at encountered at football grounds is a reflection of a wider issue in society. A bigot on a Saturday is a bigot every day, the racists in Serbia football racists are Serbian racists and a wife beater is a wife beater – we can’t blame the trigger mechanism.
One of the elements specifically highlighted by Taylor was the preposterous concept that football should be treated differently from other forms of recreation and entertainment. He pointed out that at the cinema “the controls placed by Parliament have had the safety of mass audiences as their prime control” whereas in football it was on spectator control. As one witness to Taylor stated “Policing is too rigid, and (the police) are constantly on ‘Hooligan Alert’.” Which leads onto the Offensive Behaviour At Football Act.
I don’t have specific issue with a government trying to tackle the ills of society; in fact I’d encourage it but to hang the responsibility around football? How ridiculous and how lazy. It’s like the attitudes of the Thatcher government prior to Hillsborough, let’s hang the blame for society’s problems around the neck of football. It allows the elite to ring fence the issue and package it up nicely – no need for a harder more challenging review of the ills of your society. We have offensive behaviour in Scotland, we have sectarianism in Scotland but we have it in Scottish society, tackle it everywhere.
This legislation has been in place since March of this year and the success rate of prosecutions is poor. As illustrated above, blaming the ills of society on football is flawed logic and poor logic almost always results in bad law.
Hillsborough should have signalled the end of thinking football supporters were separate and should be treated separately. The MSPs at Holyrood are obviously too thick to have learned that 100 year lesson from the last century. Perhaps JFT96 will be Christmas No1 and a few of them will reflect on their folly.
You can download JFT96 HERE
And while you’re at it download Rod for The Celtic Charity HERE