The title is a quote from the BBC’s Peter Jones at the end of his commentary on the day of the Hillsborough disaster. The author was in pen 3 on the Leppings Lane terrace that day. His experience was that of those who died except that by some twist of fate he didn’t die. So you might expect that this book published shortly after the conclusion of the recent Inquests would be about the Hillsborough disaster. But as the subtitle “How Hillsborough and the Premier League Changed Britain” suggests it is about a lot more than Hillsborough alone.
Having said that, the book both starts and finishes with Hillsborough. In the first chapter the author relates in terrible detail the experience of those caught in that deadly crush, how it felt and how it smelled when you think you are going to die. Then there was the indifference of the watching police officers to the plight of those thousands packed into a space that should have held about half the actual number present. In the final chapter the author deals with the recent Inquests themselves. He explains the impact of the Coroner’s controversial decision, [entirely unnecessary in light of the strong words of Judge LCJ when quashing the original verdicts, about not allowing the new Inquests to descend into an adversarial quagmire] to allow the police teams led by the Match Commanders yet again to raise the tired old theme that drunken, late, ticketless fans were to blame for the disaster. He explains how he and other survivors faced the dawning realisation that the Inquests could end up officially laying part of the blame for the disaster at the feet of the fans who themselves only just survived the crush. This was a dangerous game played by the Coroner which, no thanks to his judgment, ended with formal verdicts from the jury which entirely exonerated the survivors of the disaster. So Hillsborough bookends both the start and end of this story and provides the backdrop against which the author considers the impact that the Hillsborough disaster had on football.
Adrian Tempany considers how Lord Taylor’s report on the disaster provided the impetus for all-seater stadia in England’s top two divisions. Three years later the top clubs broke away from the Football League to form the Premier League. Adrian charts in detail the resistible rise of Rupert Murdoch and Sky TV when football decided to sell its soul to the highest bidder. Rising ticket prices, allegedly to pay for better stadia, led to the commodification and gentrification of football. It’s a tale many football fans will easily recognise.
There is an excellent chapter on the football magazines and fanzines that became so popular in the 1980s. One of my favourite passages explored how the role of football and terrace culture in the passage between childhood and manhood should not to be overlooked. In one interview, a Sunderland fan explained the importance of kids seeing how grown men could behave in a completely different way when released from the constraints of normal life and experienced the unconfined joy of seeing their team score a goal and watching men who didn’t know each other “shouting and screaming and hugging one another”. As the author says “there is terrace culture but there is no such thing as seat culture.”
The book also explores the extent to which clubs both in England and abroad have attempted to re-engage with the communities within which their grounds are located and the author has considered at some length the German model of fan ownership and participation in the running of their clubs.
Overall this is a fine book, obviously the result of a lot of detailed research and full of thought provoking arguments and it is absolutely no reflection on it that I remain pessimistic about so called top-flight football. Those of us who regularly attend Premier League games are addicts who can’t kick the habit. I readily include myself in this as a season ticket holder at my club. We’ve seen our clubs high-jacked by an assortment of crooks, spivs, tyrants, fraudsters and Mafiosi. Ticket prices make a trip with the kids to a Premier League game about as costly as a week’s holiday on the Med. Kick-off times are arranged not for the supporters attending the game, many of whom have to travel a hundred miles or more to get there but for the world wide audience [customers not supporters] mainly in the Far East. This season’s latest indignity is Friday evening kick-offs requiring major adjustments to work and family life just to attend. A game that is supposed to be about escapism from the rigours of work and the druggery of much of life now requires planning not unlike an expedition to the South Pole.
But if we are addicts we are also cowards. For all my dislike of Manchester United I am in awe of the several thousand Stretford Enders who decided that they had had enough when their club became the victim of a takeover by an American family who probably didn’t even know the shape of a football before they bought it. They spoke of buying not the football club but the franchise, as if Manchester United was a car dealership or a fast food outlet. It takes courage to walk away from the club you love especially when it happens to be the most successful club in the Premier League era and start all over again. The tale of FC United of Manchester and the fight by true fans to ensure that they keep their club because it is theirs and not some businessman’s toy is an inspiration and I hope that a future edition of this book will look in more detail at how the club was set up and has achieved what it has so far in the few years since its formation.
After almost three years of working solidly on the Hillsborough Inquests you might think this book would have been a bit of busman’s holiday for me. Not a bit of it. I got so into it that I had to slow down so as to allow the various arguments more time to take hold in my head. Even so I read it in three days and loved it. If you love football, if you hate the direction of much of modern game and if you still have a feel for injustice then this book has it all. Do yourself a favour and get a copy.