Viet Nam News
by Paul Kennedy
The year 1989 was both heartbreaking and pivotal for football fans the world over.
In April, due to the sheer incompetence of West Yorkshire Police, 96 Liverpool fans died at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield before an FA Cup semi-final.
Their deaths will never be forgotten and those responsible for a series of catastrophic errors that caused so many people to lose their lives are finally being held accountable.
In the months that followed the disaster, an inquiry was launched into its cause and to offer recommendations to improve the safety of football grounds.
Overseen by Lord Justice Taylor and released at the beginning of 1990, the report had a huge impact on safety. Perimeter and lateral fences were removed and stadiums were converted to be all-seater.
In the summer of 1992 Manchester United’s Stretford End along with Arsenal’s North Bank were demolished and replaced with seats. Liverpool’s Spion Kop followed suit a few years later.
Around the same time what was then known as Division One became the Premier League with Sky Sports buying the rights to show live games.
Football had changed.
At the time many fans complained. Some argued taking away the seats would ruin the atmosphere while others moaned about the increase in ticket prices and the high subscription fees for satellite television.
What actually happened was the game improved a great deal. Fans were, for the most part, no longer treated like cattle and going to the match became a much more pleasant experience. It became a family affair. You would take your wife, girlfriend and kids to a game.
Sky Sports sprinkled a heavy dollop of razzmatazz over football and it became far, far friendlier.
It also helped in some quarters to get rid of the hooligan element that had been ruining the sport.
Pre-1989 and certainly pre-Sky Sports/Premier League, away matches were often very unpleasant affairs.
I remember going to see Liverpool play Arsenal at the old Highbury stadium when a number of home supporters got past a pretty weak police barricade and into the away section and, to coin a phrase, it went off big time.
Manchester United away at the time was always a horrible place for the travelling of Liverpool supporters and I’ve no doubt United fans had similar feelings visiting Anfield.
I’m not for one minute suggesting the introduction of the Premier League and all-seater stadiums cured the cancer that is football hooliganism, but it certainly pushed it further down the gutter where it belonged.
Sadly last week it reared its ugly head once more at the Millwall versus Everton FA Cup match.
The big difference between now and then is social media. Within minutes of the fights ending footage from mobile phones was blasted all over Facebook.
There were running battles in the streets and gangs outside pubs where rival fans were drinking desperate for a fight. Coach windows were smashed and one Everton fan was slashed across the face, leaving him scarred for life.
I understand football is a passionate sport that needs rivalry to succeed but if I live to be 150 years old I will never understand why grown men kick seven bells out of each other on their way to watching a game.
Not for one minute am I suggesting Everton supporters didn’t play their part, but let’s face facts here, Millwall have probably the worst reputation for football violence.
Movies, normally pretty bad ones, have been made about their exploits and even their own fans sing: “No one likes us, we don’t care.”
I don’t like them, and while I’m sure they don’t care, the club has to be held responsible for the actions of their fans, so too for that matter should Everton.
If perpetrators from both clubs are identified they should be punished.
I feel sorry for the supporter who was slashed across the face but why put yourself in that position in the first place? Why run fists out, head first into a fight?
From now until the day he dies he will probably be asking himself the very same question each and every time he looks into the mirror.
This is an opportunity for the authorities to come down hard on the hooligans and they really should because no true fan ever wants to return to the dark days of the past. — VNS