Tag Archives: Bernard Ingham

The Hillsborough Disaster Warnings That Weren’t Heeded – by Rob Atkinson

Hillsborough - an Anfield tribute

Hillsborough – an Anfield tribute

Incredibly, 27 years have flashed past already, since that awful spring day in 1989, when 96 football fans turned up to follow their team towards Wembley – and never came home again. I was one of a paltry 14,915 at Elland Road that day, watching Leeds United eke out a 1-0 home win over Brighton as Sgt. Wilko’s first half-season meandered to an uneventful close. When the news filtered through that there had been “trouble” in the semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, the initial reaction was as predictable as it was wide of the mark: “the scousers are at it again.” Heysel was still fresh in the memory, English clubs were still banned from Europe – and nobody judges football fans quite like other football fans (or, at least, so we thought until the Sun got going). We were tolerably certain, as a bunch of Leeds supporters, that the Liverpool fans had caused more bother, and we glumly predicted another indiscriminate backlash that would envelop us all.

As we were on our way out of Elland Road, though, the full, awful impact started to hit home. There were deaths – people had actually died at an English football stadium – something that hadn’t happened on anything like this scale before. Apart from the Bradford fire – a very different disaster – the only comparable event in England had been the Burnden Park tragedy at Bolton, when 33 had lost their lives in a crush at a hopelessly inadequate ground with over 85,000 attending an FA Cup quarter final. That had been well over a generation before, in 1946. Surely, it couldn’t really be happening again, on an even greater scale, in the shiny bright late eighties?

But as we looked on in horror, the TV and radio news brought increasingly sombre statistics while the death toll steadily mounted – and later the sheer ghastliness of the event would be magnified as the tale of criminal incompetence and official negligence was revealed – and as the filthy end of the press, abetted by weaselling functionaries in Government and the Civil Service, jumped on the “blame the fans” bandwagon that other football supporters had vacated as soon as the scale and nature of the catastrophe became apparent.

If you were a Leeds United fan, a chill ran through you when you thought about what had happened; when you realised that this had, indeed, been a disaster waiting to happen. The Hillsborough Stadium was so oriented that the organising authorities found it easier, more convenient, to allocate stands to the fans of opposing semi-finalists based on where the bulk of those fans were travelling from. So, in 1989, Forest got the large Kop End, while the much larger Liverpool contingent were shovelled into the Leppings Lane End behind the opposite goal. It was the same the year before, when the same two teams contested the 1988 semi-final. And, similarly, in 1987, when Coventry of the Midlands faced Leeds United of the North, the greater Leeds numbers found themselves packed tight in Leppings Lane, while the smaller Coventry band enjoyed the wide open spaces on the Hillsborough Kop.

So two years prior to the Hillsborough Disaster, I and thousands of others were packed into the smaller Leppings Lane End on that April the 12th of 1987. The atmosphere was electric; it was United’s first FA Cup semi for ten years and Billy Bremner‘s men had been in terrific form as they challenged for a double of the Cup and promotion to the old Division One. We were jammed in like sardines on that terrace; looking up you could see fans climbing out of the back of the crowd, up over the wall and into the upper tier of the stand where space was more freely available.

Down on the packed terrace, it was swaying, singing fever pitch from before the kick-off right through to the heart-breaking climax of extra time. You weren’t an individual, you were part of a seething mass that moved as one, shouted and sang as one and breathed – when it could – as one. When Leeds scored their two goals, it was mayhem in there – you couldn’t move, you couldn’t breathe, you just bobbed about like a cork on stormy waters, battered by the ecstasy of the crowd, loving it and, at the same time, just a bit worried about where your next gulp of oxygen was coming from. Leeds took the lead early, David Rennie scoring down at the far end. That shattering celebration was topped when, having gone 2-1 behind, Leeds clawed it back right in front of us as Keith Edwards headed an equaliser and the United army exploded with joy. It was the single most jubilant and yet terrifying moment of my life to that point.

Later, after the match was over, as we trailed away despondently from the scene of an heroic defeat, there was time to reflect on what had been an afternoon of highs and lows, with the physical reaction of that epic few hours inside a pressure cooker swiftly setting in. With the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight, it’s easy enough now to look back over twenty-nine years and think: “Yes, we were lucky.” Lucky that the incompetence threshold wasn’t passed that day when we were there. Lucky that enough of the terrace fans got into the upper tier to relieve the pressure ever so slightly – was that a factor?  So lucky that it wasn’t us, when it easily could have been. Lucky, ultimately, to be alive and kicking still. The warning signs were there – they just weren’t perceived by those of us – the fans – for whom it had just been another somewhat uncomfortable but thrilling spectator experience. That those signs weren’t recognised or heeded by the people responsible for public safety is a far more damning fact.

Poignantly enough, the luck we’d had that day wasn’t shared by 96 Liverpool supporters two years later. They set off happily, to support their heroes – and, tragically, they never returned. Twenty-seven years on, the wait for justice has been torturous for all concerned. The families and friends left behind, veterans of over a quarter of a century of grief and loss, have never given up their courageous fight, despite cover-ups and official brick walls, despite scurrilous press coverage which reached an obscene and disgusting low point with the Sun – that vanguard of the gutter press – and its sickening lies. 

Now, there is an inquest verdict at last. We have the official findings of unlawful killing and, surely there is finally justice for The 96. And indeed for all of the friends and family they left behind. Yet, even now, with the South Yorkshire Police Force unreservedly accepting the inquest findings, we still have the likes of Thatcher aide Bernard Ingham refusing to apologise for his own scandalous remarks in the wake of the disaster, now utterly discredited as he himself has been. There is no remorse or regret from Ingham, who stands as a symbol of official ignorance and deceit. All he is good for now, this bitter, bigoted old man, is sitting at home and growing his comedy eyebrows.

Twenty-seven years is far too long for anyone bereaved of their loved ones to wait – but justice is worth waiting for, if only so that the dead can sleep more peacefully and the living can have closure of a sort – and move on with the business of being alive. And – as a footnote – how appropriate it would now be if Liverpool FC could go on to win the Europa League after that thrilling victory over Borussia Dortmund – just for the families, the friends and those that were lost on that fateful day and in its aftermath..

There could be no finer or more fitting tribute to The 96, surely, than this long-awaited justice that has been served today – and the return of the Champions League football to Anfield.

Let it be.

Leeds Utd: Getting Along Fine Without Professional Yorkshiremen – by Rob Atkinson

Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen

Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen

One of the great things about being a Leeds United fan – and there are many, it goes without saying – is that we don’t have to stumble along under the crippling burden of embarrassment that afflicts certain Yorkshire clubs, notably in this case, Barnsley FC.  I’m referring, of course, to the football-supporting choices of that most loathsome of creatures: the Professional Yorkshireman. Think of that brilliant Monty Python parody, the Four Yorkshiremen – and you’ll recognise the type I’m on about.  Now imagine one of those buggers supporting and then betraying your team.  Horrible.

There are quite a few of these sad types, notable for their carefully-cultivated air of bluff down-to-earthness.  Being down to earth is money in the bank for your Professional Yorkshireman – and of course money in the bank is a subject very close to their hearts, just as it is with genuine Tykes the length and breadth of God’s Own County. Rumour has it, after all, that copper wire was invented by two Yorkshiremen disputing ownership of a penny. So what is it that separates the odious “Professional” from the upright, genuine, sterling Yorkshiremen who, as we all know, are the salt of the earth?  I can tell you, in one unpleasant phrase: base, self-serving treachery.

The one major qualification for any Yorkshireman should (to my mind) be a parochial contempt for anything and everything beyond the Broad Acres – and most especially for that land of the misbegotten over the wrong side of the Pennines.  There’s just something wrong about that place.  The accents are appalling, the cuisine is based on what you can do with livestock blood – and when you finally get to the coast, it’s the wrong way up.  It’s true.  Just think about it.  When you’re walking in a northerly direction, the sea should be on your right, just as it’s properly on your left when you’re heading south.  That’s as it should be – as it is with all of those jewels of the East coast like Filey, Scarborough and Brid.

But in Blackpool or Morecambe, it’s all arse about face, you end up disoriented and feeling as though you’re on some alien planet – an impression that contact with the locals will only reinforce.  Take David “Bumble” Lloyd, for example.  What a pie-munching yonner he is.  But it’s a dire place altogether, even without the inbred population – the most welcome sight I ever see apart from a Leeds United goal is that lovely White Rose marker on the M62, telling me I’m heading back into civilisation.

All of the foregoing is just plain common sense to proper Yorkshiremen, people of taste and refinement, to whom a west of the Pennines accent has the same effect as fingernails drawn slowly down a blackboard.  But – brace yourselves here – there are some who live, move and have their being among us lucky sons and daughters of the three Ridings – who were actually born here, for Don’s sake – and yet who find it possible to betray us all, in the foulest, most contemptible way imaginable.

Yes, avert your eyes now, for it’s the ultimate in bleak, degraded horror that I’m talking about: supporting Man U. A frisson of shuddering horror there, right? Now do not hasten to judge the weaker vessels; many of these misguided souls are insecure and inadequate, seeking to align themselves with what they perceive as size and success.  Their motivations are a subject for fascinated disgust, it’s beyond the ken of the well-adjusted to understand such perversion.  But whatever reasons they may have for their aberration must remain between them and Dr Freud, for these are sick people; we may regard them with more pity than anger.  They are squandering their birthright, and they will find no happiness in life.

But the very worst offenders are those who have achieved fame, celebrity, wealth by making the most of the place they were born; by capitalising on their God-given Yorkshire heritage.  For these people to commit the ultimate sin of selling their souls to the Pride of Devon – that’s beyond unforgivable. It’s despicable, degraded, disgusting – it’s the lowest form of base treachery you can put a name to, especially when perpetrated by one who has made a fat living off his White Rose credentials.  There are two chief offenders I have in mind: Michael Parkinson and Geoffrey Boycott.

Both of these are fairly detestable in their own right, even without any considerations of football affiliation coming into the equation.  Boycott has developed into the tiresome gob-on-a-stick type, deeply in love with his own exaggerated dialect, relishing every opportunity to be “outspoken” on the radio, as he verbally rips into cricketers more talented than he ever was. Parkinson has descended towards the testy and crotchety hinterland of senility as he has aged, chasing the coin with the avarice of a man who breeds moths in his wallet, inflicting his deadly dull “interviewing voice” on us from naff insurance adverts as he tries to flog us funeral policies with the promise of a free Parker pen.  It’s all miserably dispiriting for anyone who was ever a fan of either man, both so identifiable, by their own unremitting efforts, with the county of their birth.  But I was never a fan of either, so I can tell it like it is, and with a light heart.

Parky - Plastic Red

Parky – Plastic Red

Both have committed the unforgivable sin of giving their allegiance – the unquestionable property of one or other of Yorkshire’s football clubs – to Man U. Parkinson, in particular, is grossly culpable.  His anecdotes of Skinner Normanton, as well as other heroes of his widely-publicised Barnsley-supporting youth, made his name for him as a half-decent writer and retailer of funny stories.  But, when push came to shove, Michael shoved off, deciding that his favourite team was Man U and that he was chosen by some higher power to write a brown-nosing biography of George Best (for whom he had to delve deep into Paul Reaney’s back pocket). There may well be Barnsley fans who don’t know this, who regard “Parky” as one of their own – but those who are aware of his duplicity rightly view Michael Parkinson with contempt.  It’s many moons now since he headed south to live with his showbiz and Man U mates, and grow his eyebrows into two miniatures of Michael Heseltine’s coiffure – much the same as that other famous old Yorkshire curmudgeon and Labour Party betrayer, Bernard Ingham.  The south is welcome to Parkinson, a Professional Yorkshireman who started out as a Barnsley fan, made his name as such – and then defected to the Evil Empire.  He even tried to get his son into football by pushing him towards Chelsea.  Ugh.

Boycott - Cloughie disciple

Boycott – Cloughie disciple

Boycott, for his part, also made his name synonymous with that of the great county which gave him birth and entitled him to play for the White Rose – an honour it is impossible to surpass.  But for all that he always based his “Yorkshireness” on his achievements in “creekitt”, as he insists on pronouncing it – and although he had football trials with Leeds, playing indeed alongside the legendary Billy Bremner – he never offered his support to a Yorkshire team, preferring instead to follow Nottingham Forest due to the presence there of fellow gobshite Brian Clough.  The action, many will agree, of a scab.  When Clough departed the scene, Boycott followed the path of the weak-minded and became a Man U fan – something he clearly fails to regard as in any way inconsistent with his heavily-emphasised Yorkshireness, which he continues to play for all it’s worth in his regular radio pundit stints.

Far be it from me, a cricket novice, to criticise Boycott’s views on that sport – so I’ll leave it instead to an expert.  Steve Harmison has said of the self-styled “best opening bat” that “…the fact is that within the England dressing room [Boycott’s] views are regarded as a joke. People who only have a passing interest in the game hear the famous Geoff Boycott Yorkshire accent and may think it gives some status to his opinions. But inside the dressing room he has no status, he is just an accent, some sort of caricature of a professional Yorkshireman. Indeed, quite a few of us cringe whenever he comes near.” Damning stuff indeed, and the spectre of the Professional Yorkshireman appears to haunt that insider’s view of England’s former opener.

There are others who might possibly qualify – for want of a better word – to be called Professional Yorkshiremen.  Dicky Bird, for instance – but he strikes me as a fairly inoffensive, if overly-lachrymal, sort of bloke. And I believe he still supports Barnsley, if only on the big occasions. He certainly emerged from the woodwork to see them promoted to the Premier League – though I believe he was nowhere to be seen when they went back down, twelve short months later.

Others the accusation might be levelled at, I will not hear a word against. Fred Trueman, for instance.  Unashamedly Yorkshire, but as far as I know he never made a sideshow of it, and the stories about him are many and legendary. Fred was an effortlessly Yorkshire character and he’s much missed.  One story of when he was dining with the MCC at an exclusive restaurant bears repeating.  Apparently, he spotted the date on the menu, written in French after the style of such high-falutin places: Jeudi le deuxième Mai. Pointing to it with a calloused forefinger, he said “Aye – Ahs’ll ‘ave that for sweet.”

When we speak of Yorkshiremen in years to come, I hope and trust that it’s men like Fred, Dave Batty, Harold Wilson (maybe), that we’ll be talking about. Not the likes of Parkinson and Boycott, who made such efforts to establish and profit from a Yorkshire background, only to betray it in the least excusable way possible.  I feel a bit sorry for Barnsley FC, being so often linked to their tawdry, shallow sort and yet being abandoned at the first opportunity by hollow traitors for a media circus like Man U.  Leeds have been lucky, over the years, to attract the support of proper Yorkshiremen, as well as those enlightened souls from further afield who can see more clearly than others that we’re the best club in the world.  Long may it remain so.