Hillsborough 30 years on: "Satisfaction tempered with sadness"

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This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster - a disaster which claimed the lives of 96 football fans, just weeks after the jury in the trial of David Duckenfield, match commander during that day, was unable to reach a verdict.

The families and survivors’ long wait for justice will have to go on that bit longer, with the Crown Prosecution Service seeking a re-trial.

“There is some satisfaction that justice is finally beginning to be done,” says Rogan Taylor, one of the founder members of the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA), forerunner to the modern-day national supporter organisations. “A final exoneration - but that sense of satisfaction is tempered with a sadness, an anger, that it’s taken 30 years to reach this point.” 

The national supporters’ movement would emerge from the Heysel disaster in 1985 as Rogan, along with like-minded Kopites and some Evertonians, began to fight for supporter representation during some of football’s darkest days.

“Heysel gave birth to the FSA,” he says. “Since those early days, the movement has come on leaps and bounds.”

As FSA’s first Chair, Rogan the toured the country, holding meetings in pubs and clubs, presenting their case and inviting local fans, regardless of club allegiances, to get together and organise regional FSA branches. 

“For decades the types of supporters that made up the FSA have been the driving force behind those challenges to the authorities. The challenges to our policing and the business-side of the game, everything.”

Despite the prevailing atmosphere of hostility towards football fans, the FSA led the campaign against Margaret Thatcher’s ill-advised football fan ID card scheme – with the Hillsborough disaster due to change English football forever.

“It shook the nation and it shook the world,” Rogan says. “And it shook English football to its very core.”

“Within two days, the fans were blamed for killing each other”. 

Roy Bentham, Hillsborough survivor and former-FSF national council member, said he felt disappointed on the 30th anniversary despite the inquests exonerating Liverpool supporters years ago.

“On reflection of what happened back in 1989, my over-riding feeling is an underwhelming one, unfortunately,” Roy told us.

“We got the truth in 2012 with the Hillsborough Independent Panel report but we’ve never had justice for the establishment cover up - the appalling lies and smears that followed afterwards.”

Roy, who was pulled out of pen three in the Leppings Lane end 30 years ago, attended the final day of the Hillsborough Inquests back in 2016 when the verdict of unlawful killing was delivered by the coroner. 

But what has kept the survivors and families campaigning all this time? 

“I think it’s something which is in the city’s genes,” Roy said. “We’ve had a lot of struggles over the decades none more so than the managed decline of the Thatcher government.

“The Hillsborough narrative fits right into that particular book.”

Roy spoke to football fans from around the country about the campaign for justice at the 2016 Supporters Summit, a national conference of fans organised by the FSF and Supporters Direct – his recollections earning a standing ovation from all attending.

He said: “The support from the whole of the football family, including supporters trusts from the premier league, the lower leagues, nationally and even internationally will always be remembered in this long road for justice. 

“Everyone who’s ever helped in this struggle can take a bow.”

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Legacy

Rogan argues that Heysel, Hillsborough and the expansion of satellite television created the modern football landscape that we know today.

“The experience of watching football for my generation, that started 1950s and 1960s has gone - it was a working class occasion,” he says.

“But one set of problems has been replaced with another: cost. 

“You’re paying £500, £700 for a season ticket nowadays. £1,000 if you happen to follow a big team in London. Supporters are spending so much more of their income to support their teams than we did.”

There’s no doubt that the match-going football crowd is ageing (with the average age of Premier League season ticket holders now passing 40), with gentrification excluding many young people from grounds – but Rogan believes the game’s emotional core remains.

“If you look past the tourists taking selfies, you can still see it,” he said. “Anfield is still Anfield. 

“You can still see that expression of working class identity if you go to Anfield, or Elland Road or Turf Moor – any club like that.”

Despite his reservations around this week’s anniversary, Roy agrees that the supporter movement has been emboldened by the lessons of Hillsborough.

“Both Liverpool and Everton fans and clubs coming together to fight for one fitting cause is a lesson on how you can take on the establishment if ever needed,” Roy says.

“I feel that working class solidarity which transcended football rivalries will always shine through from the Hillsborough disaster.” 

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Thanks to PA Images for the images used in this blog.