fhe Bad News... Guardian
The first place to look for the latter is always arch hypocrite Auberon Waugh in the Sunday Telegraph. But his column of April 23 started promisingly, “this new breed o f Chief Constable finds it more congenial to terrorise law abiding citizens than to tackle the malice and perversity o f the criminal element. ”
Surely this wasn’t dear old Auberon talking? Yes it was. Only he was talking about the actions of police at Henley and Ascot who were apparently taking the shameful and oppressive step of stopping cars to check for drunkenness. When it came to Hillsborough things were different, and the well-informed Waugh identified the problem instantly. “O f the Liverpool supporters who had been delivered early to give them time to settle down, 3,000 were still rioting outside the gate, many o f them without tickets, a few minutes before kick o ff having for the most part spent the time drinking. ” It is, naturally, quite absurd for anyone to assume that Henley or Ascot goers, might be drunk, but obvious when you are talking about football fans.
Alongside Waugh in the Sunday Telegraph, Frank Johnson tells it like it is. “Going to football is now the recreation o f what Marx called the lumpen proletariat and what the rest o f us are content to call yobs. ” Johnson moans about hcAv crowds used to be much bigger but people were mainly good humoured. The difference is more one of age than facts. People like Johnson regard crushing and crowd problems of the past with nostalgia. Like rationing, or the Blitz, life was hard but fair. What was once ‘just part of growing up in those days’is now regarded with terror by the Frank Johnsons of the world. In the same breath as remembering huge crowds and people peeing in your pocket, they decry the mob instinct and public urination.
They say you can tell a lot about a paper by the letters it receives. In the Sun, not surprisingly, most backed the paper’s stance. Mrs E of Farnham blamed Liverpool fans “I f they had arrived in good time and in good order tragedy could have been averted. ” And Mrs E Spencer of Chesterfield says “When we encountered the totally out o f control crowd we went home. When will people take responsibility for their own behaviour?” As Mrs Spencer obviously arrived as late as the irresponsible fans she mentions, she will doubtless be handing herself in to her local police station. If not she had better hope that Mrs E of Farnham doesn’t catch up with her.
Today managed to find one reader who knew what really caused it all. “I wonder i f the powers that be realise it is the players who trigger o ff the mass hysteria o f crowds? Watching sports programmes one sees players having scored a goal leap on one anothers’ backs and then dash to their supporters to receive their acclaim. This does not occur at hockey or rugby matches where fans are not caged like animals. Control the players and the crowds will settle down. ” There’s always one, isn’t there?
The coverage in the quality press was largely excellent, with less of the shock and a few more thoughtful pieces. The tone of most of the writing was depressed rather than aggressive, and in much of the best i D A I L Y
pieces you could sense the frustration of writers who had seen it before but thought that things had changed for the better. Among the non football writers who chipped in, most notable was Jeremy Seabrook’s excellent piece in the Guardian.
Then, surprisingly, there was the Daily Express whose assessment of the police stories of looting and yobbery was remarkably sensible. “No-one can justify loutish behaviour by Liverpool fans. And there was some o f that. But on balance it seems that the police have more questions to answer than the fans. ” When the Daily Express says things like that, then there must be something fishy going on.
Then there was Ed Vulliamy, who typified a trend among the writers unable to resist a temptation to make what they believed to be hard edged comment but which tended to come out as crass generalisations and impressions gained at a distance. It seems that Ed only gets to go to football when there is something awful to write about, so his notion of crowd problems is largely shaped by that. But at least he was looking for some answers.
Anthony Burgess in the Daily Telegraph satisfied himself with talking guff. “Support for the local or national team can be invested with a frenzy that cuts at the roots o f what we call civilized behaviour. And the support itself is more abstract or nominal than genuinely civic or patriotic. ” He can barely disguise his disdain for football supporters “Crowds as Elias Canetti has pointed out are primitive beasts very low on the evolutionary scale. ”
He doesn’t really like football either. “For many thousands o f Britons there is nothing more important on a Saturday afternoon than watching twenty two men kicking a piece o f leather about. There is something wrong with our culture i f we have come to this. ”
HILLSBOROUGH DISASTER SPECIAL EDITION
Mr PAGE ONECOMMENT
by BOB DRISCOLL Chief Soccer writer
Burgess perhaps typified much of the media coverage of Hillsborough, too vast to cover here. He knew nothing and cared less. Everyone thinks that disaster gives them a right to pontificate or sympathise in the guise o f ‘Making Sure It Never Happens Again’.
SHUT THE TERRACES NOW
CUP OF TEARS: PAGES 2, 3, 4, S, A, 7 a
However, all they succeed in doing in vulgarising the tragedy that they decry. Worse still, they set the agenda for what happens beyond the disaster itself, leaving others to sort out the mess of ideas and crackpot notions they spew out and leave behind. Perversely, their attempts to shout that ‘it must never happen again’help to ensure that it probably will, by confusing issues and turning inquiries into debates. Their attentions hinder the process of learning and rethinking and twist tragedy into a self perpetuating media circus, not far jfrom soap opera.