Hillsborough revelations destroy myth of football's 'good old days'

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There remains, it seems, amongst many football fans, a stoic view that it was better in the old days.

The investigation into the Hillsborough disaster, that has been so shocking with the chilling, terrifying detail of smear and police cover-up, surely puts that puerile sepia-tinted version of history to bed.

I am not, for a minute, suggesting that all football and all football ground management operations and all football police operations were a reflection of Hillsborough on that tragic day in April 1989. Hell no.

But the Taylor Report, all that time ago, underlined that football grounds were cesspits and that that was very much all part of the climate in which football fans were treated as a subhuman under-class.

The Hillsborough investigation, thankfully, at last, proves that Liverpool fans were not some kind of animalistic under-class responsible for their own deaths, as had long remained the version of events from the South Yorkshire police. The 96 dead were victims. Every single one of them.

Is today’s version of the fan experience really inferior to the way it was then?

All of us have a view of what is dreamily referred to as “the olden days”. And there was, of course, a lot that was better “back then”. But surely we are intelligent enough, when we think of football pre-Hillsborough, to separate what was really more valuable about it then from the reality. From the cesspits.

The knee-jerk response to this is to mention the words “prawn” and “sandwich”. And that is not invalid. Yes, the gentrification of football has been a revolution in the stands. Yes, ever-rising ticket costs have priced a significant proportion of traditional football followers out of the game.

But that is not because of Hillsborough. That is because football clubs are businesses and it should not be a surprise that a business would rather sell its wares to the highest bidder.

Regrettable, yes. Inevitable, yes. And do such simple economics really have to hold sway in football? Not entirely. Football lives off a greed-is-good mindset; but at some stage the game would do well to recognise that actually it is a phenomenally fat beast now and that the time has come to select a different diet.

But all that is a different argument and, I insist, not related to Hillsborough.

Progress, though, is inevitable and not without a catalyst. Hillsborough was the most regrettable of catalysts.

A pet hate of mine is people who complain about slow and detailed security checking at airports, for instance, or on entry to the Olympic Park.

To complain about security is plain ignorant. And yes, we would all rather dance through into the airport departure lounge with more time for our cappuccino and Panini (I am talking sandwich rather than sticker) and less for taking off our shoes and belt and removing the laptop from our bag.

But there is a reason why we have to do this. It is plain ignorant to challenge it.

Likewise, it is plain ignorant when you hear opposing football fans chanting: “If it wasn’t for the Scousers, we could all stand.” Or, far worse, “You killed your own fans.”

It is only when fans consider mouthing such sentiments that the word “under-class” can be genuinely applied to those in the stands. In the same vein, who really believes that the Munich air crash is amusing too?

My recollections of my earliest football matches are not unrelated. I do not particularly recall the football, the goals or the players, but instead the assault on the senses, the smell, the big blokes all around us and the filthy language. The sniff of danger.

This was an early taste there of what is now called “tribalism”. Tribalism is exciting too. The problem is that tribalism in football is excessively glorified – as if tribalism makes bad behaviour OK.

What the latest Hillsborough investigation has, at last, confirmed is that the Liverpool fans that day were not some kind of primitive tribe. They were victims.

That day, 15 April 1989, was a tragic on a massive scale, but let us not buy into any pathetic pretence that football is not a little better as a result.

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