Thatcher’s Football Legacy
Sport meet politics. Politics meet sport. Oh you two know each other already. Then let’s get cracking.
The death of the first and only female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, has brought old divisions to the fore across society. And football is no different this week. The national game was very much alien to Downing Street throughout the 1980’s. I doubt No 10 could explain the role of a No 10. There was no love lost between the football community and The Iron Lady.
Let’s cut to the chase. Hillsborough, 15th April 1989.
The findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel last year finally laid to rest the myth that innocent Liverpool fans were responsible for their own deaths. Instead, a series of failings and a police cover up, led by South Yorkshire Police – a close ally of Thatcher, as seen during their shameful conduct during the 1984 Orgreave strikes – were finally exposed and led to a momentous apology from David Cameron for 23 years of mass slander last September. There were many organisations that were complicit in the death of the 96 and the subsequent smoke-screens. Their roles need total transparency and accountability too. Along with the police, the FA and the Thatcher government are all liable.
If the live, televised, preventable death of 96 innocent citizens under your Premiership isn’t a defining moment then please enlighten me as to what is. Whilst there was no direct implication of her involvement in the panel’s findings it is worth reasserting what we do know.
It was on her watch.
She was known for her support of police brutality.
Her disdain for football, its fans and sport in general was obvious.
She never made an attempt to oust the truth.
It doesn’t mean she wanted the events in Sheffield to happen, but her approach to fans and policing did create a climate for the impending disaster and cover up. The 1990 Taylor Report exonerated the fans and laid the blame at the door of the SYP.
Did she ever seek the truth that became quite obvious at the end of her tenure or in the years that followed? No. Did she ever call to account her friends in the South Yorkshire Police? No. Therefore, we can safely assume that she was happy for the memory of the 96 and their fellow friends and families to be smeared whilst all those whose actions led to that catastrophic Spring day, including her own, were swept under the carpet. She may have had strong principles. Repentance towards and justice for the 96 were not amongst them.
When the HIP findings were released last year I was surprised that Thatcher’s role didn’t receive more scrutiny from commentators. The panel found no evidence of her direct involvement but the instinct of the families of the dead have been right all along and they seek clarification as to Maggie’s role. Most of the scorn, understandably, was aimed at SYP but silence can be deafening and the lack of willpower in uncovering the truth by successive governments, both Conservative and Labour, should shame them all.
Football had huge problems in the 80’s. Tragedies were all too common. At Heysel in May 1985, a stampede by Liverpool fans led to the death of 39 Juventus supporters as a wall collapsed under them. It was a watershed moment and led to a 5 year European ban for English clubs. The fire at Bradford City earlier that month claimed 56 souls. It was a disaster that embodied the inaction in ensuring safer stadiums and should have been a wake up call for the football authorities. Sadly it was a just another warning that wasn’t heeded by the FA. Their governance was ignorant at best, criminal at worst.
During those violent hooligan days something had to be done, but Thatcher’s approach of tarnishing all fans and treating the majority of responsible supporters as part of the problem was offensive. She wanted ID cards for all football goers, a proposal that was thankfully defeated. It took the Hillsborough disaster and the Taylor Report to ensure the removal of fences and introduction of all-seater stadiums. Finally grounds were safer.
The Premier League made the right decision in ignoring pleas for tributes to the woman that despised the game. That people like John Madjeski and Dinosaur Dave Whelan would like to see remembrance observed just shows how out of touch they are. Can you imagine Liverpool fans being expected to show respect to someone who turned away from them in their darkest hour and just before the 24th anniversary of the tragedy? She once said “The Lady is not for turning”. The thought of a minute’s silence this weekend would turn many a stomach on Merseyside.
The FA, whose zero tolerance stance on racism this week has proven to be a sham, have at least made the right call in resisting any pressure to pay tribute to such a controversial and divisive figure. In any case, the likelihood of an impeccably observed silence are so remote that clubs might as well not bother.
The years that followed the tragedy in the Leppings Lane End was a barrage of insults. Thatcher’s former Chief Press Secretary Bernard Ingham continued to blame the disaster on a “tanked up mob”. As other staunch Thatcherites like local Sheffield MP Irvin Patnick and Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie spread the lies in the immediate aftermath, people like Sheila Coleman from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign have every right to demand “the Government release all their documentation about her involvement”.
She encouraged individualism, but showed none to break away from her alliance to the police community, even when they were clearly immoral. At a time when Paolo Di Canio’s political leanings have been put under the microscope, paying tribute to a much more powerful lady that supported the murderous regimes of Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein and Generals Pinochet, Zia Ul-Haq and Suharto seems a tad inappropriate. She also famously considered Nelson Mandela a “terrorist”.
All these criticisms will not detract any devotion from Thatcher’s apostles. Then again that’s the kind of no-matter-what fidelity that Thatcher displayed towards the SYP.
Peter Reid, a big Evertonian in the 80′s, kindly summed up the feelings of many in football when he tweeted, “Mrs Thatcher not for me”.
View Google+ Profile