This article seeks to examine the incredible and traumatic journey undertaken by those seeking justice for the Hillsborough 96 and to see what lessons can be learned for us in the Rangers family. It in no way seeks to make comparisons between the loss of a loved one and what has happened to Rangers football club in the last couple of years. We in the Rangers community, know from personal experience, having suffered our own disaster, that no such comparison can ever be made. Why you may ask then is a Rangers blogger, seeking justice for his club, even mentioning the Hillsborough campaign for justice – the answer is quite simple – their story, their efforts, their determination, their ability to overcome considerable odds – should serve as an inspiration for people seeking justice everywhere.
I can remember every time I have been forced to stop reading , to stop and pause at the magnitude of what I was reading. The first time was the opening page of Solzhenitsyn’s “One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich”. All my other stop and pause moments occurred during my research for this article, as I was forced to pause and reflect, often in wonderment , at the dogged determination, endurance, spirit, amongst other things, of those who campaigned for justice in respect of those who so tragically lost their lives at Hillsborough.
Every setback they suffered was put to down to experience, where one door closed they would, by dogged determination, force open another one. They were just ordinary people seeking justice, with no special qualifications or talents, united by a common purpose – the search for truth.
Of further inspiration to us all should be the incredible endurance and persistence they have displayed in their quest to obtain the truth . On the 20th anniversary of the tragedy , their continued lobbying and persistence caused government minister Andy Burnham to call on the emergency services to release papers and documents which had not been made available to the original Taylor report.
On 12th September, 2012, the Hillsborough independent Panel published its report into the findings, exonerating the Liverpool supporters completely and firmly laying the blame for the tragedy on a lack of Police Control.
As well as the many exemplary virtues, we the Rangers support can learn from their journey, there are also significant parallels in the lessons which had to be learned as well as the obstacles which had to be overcome in their quest for justice.
A prime example would be an unfavourable and unsympathetic press. Whilst many of us will be aware of the Scousers campaign against The Sun newspaper for their coverage of the tragedy, that was not the limit of unsympathetic press coverage.
When some of the victims funerals were still taking place the following commentary appeared in The Sunday Times on 23rd April 1989.
“For the second time in half a decade a large body of Liverpool supporters has killed people …the shrine in the Anfield goalmouth, the cursing of the police, all the theatricals, come sweetly to a city which is already the world capital of self-pity. There are soapy politicians to make a pet of Liverpool, and Liverpool itself is always standing by to make a pet of itself. ‘Why us? Why are we treated like animals?’ To which the plain answer is that a good and sufficient minority of you behave like animals.”
To this day, the author of that revolting article, Edward Pearce has never apologised to the people of Liverpool.
An unsympathetic press is something the Rangers support are accustomed to. “Cheats”, “Tax Dodgers”, “Financial Dopers” were terms coined by the Scottish press, whilst some likened our club to something you would happily punch in the face until your hand hurt.
Whilst there is no comparison here there is however a lesson. Those whose vision for justice for the 96 did not allow an unfavourable perception or press to stifle their efforts or ambitions – they pressed on for justice regardless. And so should we.
Another parallel I would like to mention is the cover up by publicly accountable bodies in the case of Hillsborough – the Police and emergency services. It was a considerable obstacle to overcome, and it took several years of campaigning and political lobbying and pressure, but as a consequence of their persistence the truth was finally uncovered. It is estimated that as many as 164 witness statements were altered, whilst a further 116 statements which portrayed the Police unfavourably, had been removed.
What is most worthy of note here is what was the primary reason for this conspiracy and cover up – negligence.
I appreciate with regard to our club there are factors at work which would suggest that there are far more forces at work than simply negligence, I highlight it however to demonstrate that an unwillingness to accept blame for one’s own, or organisations failings, can itself be a catalyst to more sinister behaviour.
So did those campaigning for justice in Liverpool allow an unsympathetic press or conspiring publicly accountable bodies to stifle them in their quest for justice ?
No, with a unity of purpose they pressed on towards their vision. In the process they left egos, agendas, and divisions outside, and pressed on towards the greater goal. These ordinary people have brought institutions to their knees, forced them into public apologies, and brought the guilty to account.
We as a support would do well to emulate them in every sense.
To those who have conspired against our club, who have plotted and schemed behind closed doors, who have lied and cheated, stolen evidence and breached confidentiality, who have compromised their positions and their organisations integrity, those who have been negligent in their duty and those who have covered up such negligence – be warned. Men like me are coming for you.
I doubt that last sentence will fill you with fear or trepidation.
But know this – in our pursuit of you we will draw our inspiration from the ordinary people of Liverpool who campaigned for the 96, we will emulate their determination, their single mindedness and their steadfast refusal to be deflected from their objective. For this, you should be afraid.