Thirty-one years ago today, 96 Liverpool supporters went to a football match and never returned. Liverpool Football Club and English football would never be the same.
For Liverpool, it took nearly three decades of fighting, public pressure, court battles, blood, sweat, and tears to get even a small degree of justice. That justice? Mere official recognition of the criminal negligence that cost us nearly one hundred lives and tore countless families apart. Despite this official verdict, those who were chiefly responsible for the lives that were lost that day—police chief David Duckenfield in particular—continue to escape justice.
And so the fight continues.
A certain newspaper is banned in the city of Liverpool, and its so-called reporters are banned by Liverpool and Everton alike. Yet despite the lessons of Hillsborough and other incidents over the years, the same spirit of laissez faire capitalism and a disdain for the people of Liverpool shown by that newspaper and by the Tories still often feels as though it pervades the UK.
The people of Liverpool fought for justice, all while being mocked by the rest of the country, and even now shouts of feed the Scousers and sign on ring out from nearly every football ground visited by Liverpool or Everton. Their supporters have fought not just for themselves but for the people who mocked and in many cases continue to mock them—whose own cities also rely on food banks and the charitable donations of others—while their social benefits were slashed.
And they fought to make the events of that horrible day meaningful. So there would never be a “next time,” unlike so many other football-related tragedies in the past. They, survivors of all kinds, deserve to always be remembered for that.
It’s important to extend this movement for justice beyond the realm of just football. Because Hillsborough was always about more than just football. It was about a political philosophy, a standard of policing, and the irresponsible, dishonest media reporting that was dangerous to and impacted not just football fans, but society at large.
The dangers of that political philosophy—and similar movements around the globe—of cutting social services, or deregulation and privatization and so on and so forth, continues putting people at risk, which is something that’s perhaps more apparent now during the coronavirus crisis than ever before.
This crisis, and the political response by each country, didn’t so much build national character as reveal it. China leaned hard into authoritarianism. South Korea was quick and determined. Germany was prepared. The US and UK tried to ignore the problem until it was bordering on too late, and then turned to racism and nationalism to help to cover for some of their failings and incompetences.
Again, political considerations and sport intersect. Most notably, perhaps, in Liverpool’s second-leg match against Atletico Madrid, which was allowed to go ahead as planned. And how many fans, support staff, and local service workers around the city were infected that night as a result of the decision to play on? How many in the city, in the region, in England and the United Kingdom have died or will die as a result?
This current crisis, after a great deal of pain and suffering yet to come, will eventually pass. But as we saw with Hillsborough, this unfolding catastrophe may also mark the beginning of a new fight.
Just as Hillsborough made attending football matches safer for all fans in England, so too can the coronavirus pandemic be an opportunity to reassess how we got here.
We can, and must, be better prepared to deal with rare, but unavoidable crises such as these. We must make sure food banks aren’t just well stocked but are in fact unnecessary. We must make sure a rise in unemployment does not equal a sharp rise in homelessness and hunger. We must make sure healthcare is accessible and hospitals are prepared not just for average, day-to-day life, but for the excess capacity that a crisis may demand.
We need to come out of this fight with solutions, ones that will help us not just recover, that will help us not only fight the next catastrophe, but that will help us to handle the everyday struggles in between in a better way than we too often have.
These are achievable goals, so long as we don’t let the Tory myth of austerity win the post-crisis political argument. These are achievable goals, if we don’t let media outlets like the ones that tarnished Liverpool in the past tarnish a new fight for justice and a better world. These are achievable goals, but only if we can all show the kind of commitment, fight, and demands for justice that the Hillsborough crusaders bravely showed every day following that horrible day three decades ago. And so we must.