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Judge to Hillsborough Families: Move On

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First John Henry and Fenway Sports Group were out to destroy the glory of English football. Then there was Suarezgate—at least until the long needed debate on Hillsborough in parliament bumped that to the back burner. In the midst of all that there was the small matter of a match against Manchester United to round things out.

It would seem safe to say that the past week has run the gamut from the absurd to the serious and every point in between, with perhaps the only universal being that none of what's gone on has exactly been light fare. And that's not about to change…


*Retired judge Oliver Popplewell, (HT: Nick) who oversaw the inquiry into the Bradford City stadium fire that led to 56 deaths and 265 further injuries in 1985, has shown that even after a debate in parliament that saw one MP after another stand up to demand the full truth be revealed there are many—including those who are in or previously held positions of power—with next to no understanding of the situation. That these people choose to stand on their soapboxes, trumpeting uninformed opinions as though they were facts deserving of a wider audience is disheartening, disturbing, and more than a little disgusting. In a letter to the Times, Popplewell wrote:

The citizens of Bradford behaved with quiet dignity and great courage. They did not harbour conspiracy theories. They did not seek endless further inquiries. They buried their dead, comforted the bereaved and succoured the injured. They organised a sensible compensation scheme and moved on. Is there, perhaps, a lesson there for the Hillsborough campaigners?

The wrongs of Hillsborough do not in any way take away from the horror of the Bradford stadium disaster, of the terror felt by those caught in it or the grief and suffering felt by those who survived and by the families of the deceased. That seems as though it should be completely obvious; that it should go without saying. For Popplewell, it would appear that by their very nature as two tragedies that occurred at football grounds they must be made equivalents in all aspects. And even if one were to generously consider that his attempts at equivalency were done out of the best of intentions—perhaps a desire to shed light on the plight of those who suffered in the wake of another footballing tragedy two decades ago—it still cannot help but come across as crass, hurtful, and dangerously misinformed about the reasons behind the ongoing fight so many have undertaken to see justice done for the victims of Hillsborough.

Thankfully, if there are those in positions of power who still harbour dangerously misinformed ideas about Hillsborough, there are also those who will defend the truth. Not least Steve Rotheram, the MP whose passionate opening speech at Monday's debate set the tone for what has been a week of real progress after far too long:

To mention other tragedies simply because they are football-related, as if there is some common denominator because they happened in football stadiums, beggars belief.

Was there a conspiracy after the Bradford fire? Did the government try to blame the Bradford City fans for setting fire to the stadium on purpose? It shows how people right at the top of the establishment still harbour prejudice and ignorance.

As long as there are those whose opinions will be heard by a wider audience who refuse to let a lack of knowledge stay their tongue, it's heartening at least that more than ever there are now those willing and able to call them out for such foolishness.

* Popplewell might be an unfortunate throwback to an earlier era, but even while he was spouting damaging misinformation, those currently holding positions of power were signalling that Monday's debate may well have been the kind of watershed moment from which there is no going back:

David Cameron today acknowledged that Hillsborough was a "national tragedy." The prime minister, responding to Walton MP Steve Rotheram, repeated his promise that all government documents relating to the 1989 tragedy will be published in full… [and] that everyone, including governments, had "deep regrets" about Hillsborough and its aftermath.

The fight for justice—and for closure—so many have struggled at may not be over yet, and until it is there will remain a deserved deep skepticism over the process. Yet when a sitting Conservative Prime Minister is willing to publicly make such statements, it would seem a strong signal that the old prevailing wisdom held to by the likes of Popplewell and his ilk is finally dying out, hopefully never to return.

* Back to matters on the pitch and the match against Manchester United—a match that for once managed to be largely overwhelmed by surrounding events. More specifically, back to matters of Steven Gerrard's groin, which made it through a full ninety minutes for the first time in over six months and appears to have come through no worse for the wear. That it did may seem no minor miracle given Gerrard's recent injury history, not least to the man himself:

When I got the injury I knew it was going to be a serious one, something I wasn't used to. I had to try to be positive but I will admit that I was down—there were times when I was as low as I've ever been as a footballer.

Before the operation I'd been getting niggles and having injections to play. Basically, I knew that wasn't right. I was missing training sessions and coming in the day before a game trying to get that last session in or having injections to play the next day.

You can only do that for a certain amount of time before your body gives in—and mine gave in. My groin packed in on me and when it happened I was down and I was low.

When it happened it took time before I got back into a positive frame of mind. Without doubt the last six months have been the hardest of my career.

It's almost as heartening to see Gerrard reffer to his groin as a separate entity as it is to once again think he just might be able to play a consistent and meaningful role in the future of Liverpool Football Club.

We'll be back later with any breaking news, but in the meantime, since we could all use a bit of a lighter distraction right about now. And because Norwich City is set to visit Anfield on Saturday…