Tag Archives: Everton

Well Red magazine Issue 16

A captivating image from the incredible tribute from Everton at their match with Newcastle, which took place shortly after the publication of the report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel. It was the perfect choice for the cover of the latest issue of Well Red, the independent Liverpool fans’ magazine.

Issue 16 contains reflection on the disaster and the contents of the report, as well as the government and media responses to it.

I also contributed an article, about my hopes that the report’s publication can bring to an end sick terrace chanting, regardless of which club it is directed at. Take a look and let me know if you agree or otherwise!

The magazine is out now in Merseyside newsagents and can be ordered for you by your local one if you aren’t lucky enough to be in the area. Alternatively, there is a digital version available for iPad, iPhone and Android devices here.

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‘Bollocks – no one would have been killed!’

One of the first things to strike me on starting to read the report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel was, that although I considered myself to be knowledgeable about the causes of the disaster, there was much still to learn. The panel’s incredibly thorough research doesn’t begin with the disaster involving Liverpool fans which took place on 15 April 1989, but instead takes the 1946 crush at Bolton Wanderer’s ground Burden Park – which killed 33 and injured hundreds – as its starting point. By doing so, the report’s authors clearly set the events of April 1989 in the context of a series of fatal incidents which took place at UK football grounds in the post-war period.

This has the effect of making the 1989 disaster somehow less unique, while still deserving of its dubious ‘honour’ as the country’s worst ever loss of life at a football match. It appears against this background as less of a freak occurrence, one which took the police, club officials and footballing authorities by surprise, and more as something that was predicted by many and therefore should have been better anticipated and thus avoided.

That is especially true in light of events at the same ground, on the same terracing, just eight years earlier. Spurs fans were well aware of the potential for supporters getting into serious difficulty, following their own experience of an FA Cup Semi-Final at Hillsborough against Wolves in 1981:

Spurs fans faced the prospect of a pain that Liverpool fans eventually had to suffer. Those at the front were bruised and battered well before kick-off and realised quickly they simply could not escape as things got worse. Some still speak of the crowd being packed so tight that their feet were off the ground as they moved.

As noted by the Spurs fans, the reason why there are no memorials to the victims of this earlier FA Cup game is that the police reacted much more promptly to the crushes. In a move that caused Sheffield Wednesday Football Club (SWFC) officials to express their anger in a debrief with police after the game, as it made the ground ‘look untidy’, fans were permitted to sit on the perimeter of the pitch, as shown in this video:

SWFC Chairman Bert McGee didn’t contain his anger at South Yorkshire Police’s (SYP) response or his disbelief that a fatal situation could have occurred, using the words from the title of this post [quoted on p. 64 of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report]. The report states that this disagreement lead to a souring of the relationship between the club and SYP which would have consequences for the day of the disaster and its aftermath.

If the club was certain that the risks were being over-stated, one important group was less convinced, but disregarded. Football fans themselves knew very well that being herded onto terracing in numbers that rarely conformed to stipulated safe capacities, to be fenced into pens with unsuitable crush barriers and tiny perimeter gates, was asking for trouble. As fanzine When Saturday Comes noted in 1989:

Complaints about safety and comfort were ignored because they were being made by supporters. Official action will be taken now, because the same points previously raised by fans are now being made by the government and the media. Their stupidity and cowardice over a long period of time allowed Hillsborough to happen.

There has been an unprecedented show of solidarity since the report’s release from fans of other clubs, with good reason. Spurs have reasons to count their blessings, as well as Nottingham Forest – our opponents on 15 April 1989 – who know that they could easily have been allocated to the Leppings Lane terrace instead of the safer Spion Kop end. Forest knocked out Manchester United in the quarter finals while we went past Brentford to secure our place at Hillsborough. Everton and Norwich City played the other semi-final that took place that day at Villa Park and so it is fitting that the ‘Merseyside United’ tribute by Everton at their game on Monday this week was one of the most moving.

From the first chapter of its report, the Hillsborough Independent Panel makes clear that the seeds of the disaster were the unheeded warnings of earlier games at other grounds as well as at Hillsborough itself. The summary is stark:

The risks were known and the crush in 1989 was foreseeable.

Despite the many warnings, as kick off approached at 3pm on 15 April 1989, fans in the Leppings Lane central pens were once again in harm’s way:

This time, there would be no ‘untidy’ yet lucky escape.

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All Together Now – the Football Quarter

If you were following the Twitter #banter during Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final between fans of local rivals Everton and Liverpool, you might be forgiven for thinking it was all a little charged:

In reality, we manage – despite our allegiances – to be most of the time the best of pals. In Liverpool, the line between Red and Blue is often drawn between siblings, cousins, colleagues, mates or even spouses. It usually remains fairly well-mannered, although family gatherings after a result has not gone your way tend to be approached with the same sinking in the gut as a trip to the dentist for a root canal.

So derby day is always fraught with excitement and trepidation. I have been lucky enough to attend a couple of derbies at Anfield and it is exactly as you would imagine: an electric atmosphere. The result is almost secondary to winding up the other fans with an array of chants about the misdeeds and missteps of their players. There are usually a few sendings-off as the teams get caught up in the occasion, which everyone pretends to disapprove of but is secretly happy about, for proving that the players know what is at stake. I remember once yelling at the Everton fans for 90 minutes before calling into my grandparents’ house on the way home to find the Blue half of the family already installed, drinking tea and laughing over the insults they had been flinging back at us. Good times!

So perhaps with all these family ties it shouldn’t cause too much surprise that fan organisations Keeping Everton in Our City (KEIOC) and Spirit of Shankly (SoS) are working together to promote plans for turning the area of North Liverpool where both clubs are based into a ‘Football Quarter’. This aims to create an attractive destination for the thousands of visitors who attend matches at both clubs each season, as well as providing a greater quality of life for the residents of Anfield and Walton.

The scheme was launched just after Christmas, with a prospectus put together by Capita Symonds, backed by local MPs and available to read here. It looks like an attractive option for what has remained a chronically neglected area of the city in all the redevelopment that has taken place in recent years. Despite the millions spent on the river-front, new hotels and shopping centres in town, other parts of the city have missed out. A grand regeneration project which stalled has seen families moved on and streets of houses boarded up awaiting demolition, with no progress being made towards their replacement.

Liverpool’s recent history is so full of plans which promised the earth and delivered little more than destroyed communities, that people there are right to be suspicious of the idealised daydreams contained in the drawings of planners. For the Football Quarter to avoid the pitfalls of these earlier grand designs, it must bring together the competing interests of local and central government, businesses and investors, residents and visitors to the city, not to mention the two football clubs.

It is truly ambitious in scope. And if done right, it represents the best chance in a long while to build a future for a neighbourhood which is currently both world-famous and close to derelict. For that to happen, everyone needs to know about it. So whether you live in L4 or make the pilgrimage there to watch your team play, read the prospectus and pass it on. Please show your support and sign the associated e-petition. Let’s make sure that this proposal involves as many people as possible who have reason to love this corner of the city, whatever the colour of their scarf.

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