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I suppose that Spiked‘s consistent excellence mean that we were due a stinker sooner or later but Mick Hume’s article on the bigger picture behind the Hillsborough disaster still comes as something of a shock, maybe because it’s precisely the kind of breathless polemic from which Spiked normally takes a step back in search of a better perspective.
The stall is set out early in Hume’s piece…
“…the current narrow focus on the details of exactly who said and did what in Sheffield on 15 April 1989 risks missing the most important factor of all: the wider political context of the state’s war against football supporters in the 1980s”
War? With the real thing still scandalously rumbling away in Afghanistan, Hume might have picked his words more carefully but in fairness, the inadvertent hyperbole does at least fit beautifully with what follows. Football and those who despised it 20 years ago were but a metaphor for class warfare, we learn; football fans were “demonised” by media propaganda, vilified by middle-class society and used as “lab rats on whom police tried out a raft of control measures”.
On this kind of roll, you’d be disappointed if Hume didn’t have a quick stab at equating Margaret Thatcher’s attempts to transform one-man power trips into responsible trade unionism, with the crushing of the Warsaw ghetto. Fear not, he does precisely that.
“Call me a bitter old Red (in every respect),” the Manchester United supporter invites us. Nothing wrong with his mind-reading skills, then.
I think what jars most about the article is the way in which a very pertinent contemporary issue – the bereaved’s hunger for truth – is shrouded in one man’s obsession with the past. Hume indeed, may eventually look back on the following paragraph as self-absorbed condescension worthy of the very worst kind of Tory twit:
“No doubt it is understandable that the bereaved families of the 96 victims…should want every shred of evidence about how and why their loved ones died. For the rest of us, however, this should be more than a question of setting the historical record straight or naming, blaming and shaming a few guilty coppers.”
Step aside, mourners. Man with a real axe to grind coming through.
Only it’s not a real axe. It’s yesterday’s axe. One that loses its edge in the face of scrutiny.
People hated football fans in the ’70s and ’80s because some of them were violent and damaged people and property with a collective callousness that could put the fear of God into you. The truism that it was always only a minority is irrelevant – it was a minority sufficiently significant to present British society with a serious problem that required serious answers.
If it unearthed snobbery among those looking on in distaste, that was just human nature; knee-jerk embroidery on a crisis of public disorder that for so long seemed insuperable. You might expect genuine class warfare to outlive the general demise of hooliganism, yet ‘gentrification’ of football crowds has been a buzzword beloved of cod sociologists everywhere since the fences came down. Funny, that.
I stood in football crowds as Mick Hume did and came in for the same suspicion and brusque treatment from police officers. Where he and I part company is that any irritation I may have felt at the herding and post-game confinement in the visitors’ enclosure was aimed at the knuckle-draggers who’d got us into this mess, not at the forces of law and order trying to keep a lid on it. So we were subject to a raft of control measures: would Hume have rather they hadn’t bothered?
Truth is, while the Hillsborough families’ desire just to know the full story is as fresh and urgent as it ever was, the venting that rides on its shoulders in this article is way past its sell-by date. When it comes to football, swaying crowds, baton charges and every-day-a-riot don’t live here any more: if you want the new address for Them and Us, ask an Occupier.
By the end, even the author seems to have recognised the limitations of his argument. His grand finale after 2,000 words – “…the authorities play on a different team from us.“
Well blow me down. Who knew?