Tag Archives: Police

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.

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Leeds “Fans” Tweet Horrific Silvestri Family Death Threats   –   by Rob Atkinson

United 'keeper Marco Silvestri - targeted by cowards

United ‘keeper Marco Silvestri – targeted by moronic cowards

Football is about the players and it’s also about the supporters; a lot of the appeal of the game is based on the on-field battle between two teams of players – as well as the off-field rivalry, often raucous and profane, between two rabidly opposed sets of fans. 

But there’s also that vexatious relationship between the players of any particular team and the supporters of the club those players turn out for. That’s always been an interesting dynamic to say the least – you often hear players say that their fans’ support is worth an extra man, or a goal start. This has often been the case at Leeds United in particular, where the fervour and volume of support, the sheer intensity of the fans, has traditionally been of legendary proportions.

Nowadays, though, there’s an extra dimension to that fan/player interaction. It used to be about massed chants and acres of swaying scarves on the Kop. The nearest a fan got to any one-to-one repartee was perhaps a supporters’ club function. All that changed with the advent of social media. Now, fans can make their views known to a wide audience via blogs and the ubiquitous Internet forum. Or they can get up close and personal, by tweeting their views directly to their heroes @Twitter. Often, this can be productive and useful, or at least funny and entertaining.

But unfortunately, there’s always the odd one or two that go way too far and cross the line. And that’s happened this week, in the wake of Leeds United’s late surrender of two points at Bristol City

There are those who feel that United ‘keeper Marco Silvestri was not entirely free of blame in at least one of City’s two last-gasp goals. Fair enough, it’s a point of view that I can relate to. And the opportunity is clearly there, in these instant communication times, to get your frustration and annoyance out there. The replacement of Silvestri by Ross Turnbull was strongly mooted. Nothing wrong with that, we all have our opinions. 

But – actual death threats, aimed at Silvestri and his family? Tweeting that you hope the Leeds ‘keeper crashes his car and dies? Really?? What on earth motivates people – even assuming that they’re clueless, attention-seeking kids – what could possibly move any human being deliberately to visit such chilling and malicious filth on another human being – all because something went awry in a game of football? Note the Twitter handles well: @billylufc_ and @akawhatadave – let’s hope they can be shamed as well as named.

Two sick products of two warped minds

Two sick products of two warped minds

And there I shall stop speculating on whatever mental process led up to the publication of such tawdry, irresponsible rubbish. It simply beats me that anyone could even imagine doing such a thing. To try and figure out the motivations behind this perversion is surely a hopeless task. We’re talking about diseased minds here, and profoundly inadequate personalities

The main point, surely, is that the player or players targeted by such evil rubbish should be protected from it in the future. This is not a case of “sticks and stones“. Direct threats in particular have to be taken seriously, lest someone should fall tragically foul of that one in ten thousand case where the sicko actually means it, and acts accordingly. And when players’ families are involved, it’s all the more important to take a very stern line where at all possible. 

Idiots on Twitter have felt the weight of the law in the past, and this should definitely be the aim in the cases highlighted here as well as any similar cases. Leeds United have a responsibility to report the matter, fans’ groups should be seeking to assist in this, and the police should investigate and act without delay. It’s not beyond the wit of man to hold these nasty little people to account, and to leave them in no doubt that they’ve made a serious error of judgement; that such unsavoury behaviour will not be tolerated. 

Sadly, at least one prominent Leeds fans’ publication, The Square Ball, seem very reticent about requests that they should condemn these vicious tweets and assist in the ostracism of those responsible. This blog is at a loss to understand what appears to be a head-in-the-sand stance from such a respected publication. Perhaps they will have second and better thoughts. Please. 

In the meantime, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything calls upon Leeds United AFC, the Football authorities and the police to act with all speed and vigour, in order to ensure there is no repetition of such extreme unpleasantness. All decent fans of Leeds, and indeed of Football and sport in general, will surely wish to condemn the offenders and see them pulled up short. 

It’s not a pleasant subject to write or to read about. But there is no place for squeamishness here, nor for faint hearts, nor elastic principles. The players and their families must be sheltered from the kind of evil inherent in the examples you see above.

That, surely, is something we can all agree on. 

EXCLUSIVE: Police Fears of Betting Fix Allayed by Spurs Result – by Rob Atkinson

Police alert!

Police alert!

Police in Manchester, as well as detectives in London’s Metropolitan Police, were all geared up for a full-scale investigation into a possible betting sting earlier today, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything understands. Concerns were raised as news came in of some “incredibly unlikely” scores in the 4th Round FA Cup games around the country, as well as in certain league games.

The matches under the spotlight were Chelsea versus non-league Bratfud City, Manchester City at home to smog-bound Middlesbrough Ironopolis and the Southampton v Crystal Pulis game at the St Mary’s Stadium. All three encounters ended in highly unlikely away wins, and alarm bells were ringing. Asked whether nefarious activity by a Far East betting syndicate was suspected, a Police spokesman confirmed “That was very much the case. We were looking at a branch of BetFred in Scarborough.”

The police were on high alert towards the end of the afternoon fixtures. “We were looking for a pattern and starting to see one,” said DCI Ivor Truncheon of the Yard. “One more dodgy scoreline, and the boys and I were going to swoop.”

The game that might have tipped the balance from what could just have been an unlikely sequence of results, into a full-scale betting scandal, took place at White Hart Lane. “At one point, Tottenham Hotspuds were actually winning,” we were told. “Yes, things were getting that bizarre. But then Leicester got the digit out, imposed their superiority – and in the end, they won. Thankfully, that was enough to convince us that everything was legit. But if Spuds had actually won – along with all those other frankly ridiculous results – well, you can well imagine that we’d have had to take it all very seriously indeed.”

Asked whether the Watford v Blackpool game (where the away team led 2-0 at the interval, only to lose 7-2) came under any scrutiny, our police source was dismissive. “Nah, that’s just Blackpool being crap, isn’t it. We understand the FL might look at the slope at Vicarage Road, but that’s not a criminal matter.”

The FA Cup is 143.

Reporting A Crime? That’ll Be £1.50 A Minute – Thanks.

Someone’s suggested making 999 calls premium rate, to cut down on prank calls. I sometimes think no example of dribbling stupidity can shock me any more, but I must confess this rather takes the breath away.

Firstly – it’s another example of trying to regulate public behaviour by financial sanctions. All this does is make abuse of the service concerned the preserve of the rich, and it’s those chinless wonders who are more likely to act like brainless kids anyway.

Secondly – make people think twice before summoning the emergency services, because of the cost? Really?? Are the poor to be marginalised out of the right to be rescued by police, firefighters or ambulances??

This idea is so utterly nonsensical and thoughtlessly dumb, I can only assume it’s the product of a right-wing, Manchester United-supporting redneck American. That the BBC have decided to give it air time is, sadly, typical of that Corporation’s current tabloid mentality.