When 96 football fans in Great Britain were unlawfully killed in a 1989 disaster, police and media covered up the negligence of senior police officers and laid the blame on working-class supporters. Twenty-seven years later, the truth exonerates the supporters from any responsibility for the tragedy. In this week’s Working-Class Perspective, Andy Clark recounts the grassroots campaign that led to justice for the Hillsborough victims.
What followed was one of the most extensive cover-ups and miscarriages of justice in British legal history. Minutes after the crush began, South Yorkshire Police had begun to concoct a version of events that would lay the blame fully with the supporters. Witnesses and relatives of the dead were interviewed as if they were criminals. The emerging narrative described the supporters as drunk, violent thugs who failed to comply with police orders to move back and form an orderly queue.
The coverup of the Hillsborough tragedy was part of a sustained attack on working-class communities and culture throughout the 1980s. The local police knew that their lies would prevail, because of their role in the government’s class war on working-class communities. They had become increasingly militarised during the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, and they and the Thatcher government had won a number of key battles.
The war on the working class extended to football– the working person’s game. Following a 1985 stadium fire in Bradford that led to the deaths of 56 supporters, an editorial in the Sunday Times called football “a slum sport played in slum stadiums increasingly watched by slum people”. Such rhetoric also appeared after Hillsborough, most infamously in another Rupert Murdoch publication, The Sun, which emblazoned its front page with the claim, from unnamed police sources, of ‘THE TRUTH: Some fans picked pockets of victims; Some fans urinated on the brave cops; Some fans beat up PCs giving the kiss of life’.
The renowned Working-Class Perspectives blog is brought to you by our Visiting Scholar for the 2015-16 academic year, John Russo, and Georgetown University English professor, Sherry Linkon. It features several regular and guest contributors.