The horrifying revelations of the report, 23 years on, about the Hillsborough disaster seems to have, despite its comprehensive scope, omitted one salient consideration: An answer to the question of why the hapless police officer David Duckenfield, who was accused by Lord Justice Taylor in his blistering report, of panic and ineptitude, allowing gates fatally to be opened, which should have stayed closed, was put in charge at all; inexperienced in crowd control as he was. A year earlier the same two teams, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, had met in the equivalent semi-final of the FA Cup at the same Sheffield Wednesday stadium.
There were seemingly elements of overcrowding on terraces but no major disaster. But shortly before the subsequent semi-final was played, the officer previously in charge was taken off the task, reportedly as a punishment for so-called episodes of ‘horseplay’ in his ranks.
One assumed that the fatal decision was made by the-then Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, Peter Wright. But Wright, who was heavily responsible for the outrageous decision to blame the supposedly ‘drunken’ but quite innocent fans themselves, died at the age of 82, in 2011.
The appalling fabricated charges against the Liverpool fans themselves, alleging they had robbed dead bodies and urinated on the police, were splashed across the front page of The Sun newspaper, leading to a boycott on the title, on Merseyside. Kelvin Macenzie who was then the The Sun’s editor, had shown no contrition, though following the publication of this devastating report, has now apologised for basing his paper’s accusations on a shamefully fabricated account of the disaster issued by “a reputable news agency in Sheffield”. These gross falsehoods were supported by the then Conservative MP for Sheffield Kallam, Irvine Patnick, subsequently knighted.
That it has taken so agonisingly long for the full bitter truth to emerge is a dreadful indictment of those who were responsible. Not least Dr Stefan Popper, the coroner, who when arriving at the stadium soon after the horrific events, ordered blood-alcohol tests to be taken from the dead, however young. Later presiding over the 1991 inquest, he quite erroneously decreed that none of the fans could have been saved 15 minutes after kick off.
In fact, it is calculated that more than 40 of them could have been revived.
As one of so many who never accepted the libel that the fans themselves were to blame, I have one particularly poignant memory. A few days after the tragedy, I found myself in the San Siro stadium where AC Milan were playing a European Cup tie. Before it began, the Milan fans on the whole huge shelf where they massed sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
In a week dominated by the Hillsborough report, England’s disappointing 1-1 draw at Wembley with Ukraine was inevitably overshadowed. But it gave Roy Hodgson and his team little cause for comfort. I was at Wembley to see Ukraine, especially in the first half, play far the superior, inventive, and more technically adroit football. Their goal was superbly struck and, if the move for it began when the unimpressive centre-back Joleon Lescott gave the ball away to a Ukrainian, it is equally significant that the scorer Yevhen Konoplianka cut across Steven Gerrard as if he wasn’t there.
Only when Danny Welbeck belatedly came on, initially and inexplicably stuck out on the left wing until he moved impressively inside, defeat seemed disastrously inevitable. However, it’s possible that Jermaine Defoe’s first-half goal may possibly have been valid. Meanwhile, the disappointing Tom Cleverley missed good chances. But until Jack Wilshere returns from all those injuries, if he ever does, there’s still no one to “invent the game”, to do the unexpected. Hodgson still speaks warmly of Wayne Rooney, but there have been ominous signs that Rooney’s career is in the doldrums; he is far too subject to expensive outbursts of temper, failed in the recent Euros and in two World Cups. It would be ironic if, on his return from serious injury, he keeps Welbeck out of the Manchester United team.
Would it make sense to use the double England spearhead of Welbeck and Defoe, as was virtually the case in those last desperate minutes at Wembley? Prospects look bleak.