By Colin Moneypenny and Steve Kelly
From Issue 51, Spring 2001
I received a copy of the following letter that COLIN MONEYPENNY sent to the Telegraph’s Henry Winter after comments he made about Kate Hoey and the United fans’ stance on terracing. I asked him if I could put it in the fanzine, and after some deliberation he agreed. It isn’t necessary to quote Winter’s piece, as Colin’s letter stands up by itself, I think.
Dear Mr Winter, I must disagree with your strident attack on those who do not support all seater stadia for not considering the feelings of the Hillsborough families “before leaping on to their soap boxes”.
As someone who was at the front of Pen 3 in the Disaster and who possibly to a greater extent than any other survivor has been a long term and passionate supporter of the families’ many battles to secure justice for their loved ones, I have never accepted the belief that terraces “per se” were at the root of Hillsborough. I totally accept the right of the families to defend that point of view from which they have never wavered. If I spend the rest of my football life in a seat because it is their conviction on this issue which is likely always to prevail, then in comparative terms this is no great tribulation to me. However that does not mean that I accept the view itself. Certainly, although there are mixed opinions on the subject, I know that I am far from alone amongst survivors in placing a slightly different interpretation on the events and lessons of that afternoon.
My views formed as the Disaster unfolded around me and while someone I will never know lay in an unreachable hell dying underneath my foot. That is the sort of memory that stays with you every day and ensures at the very least that the thought that it must not happen again is at the heart of your beliefs. Had I died myself, my family would probably have gone along with Taylor and the HFSG on all seaters and no doubt would have been quite emotive with anyone who challenged them – but if they had done that, unknowingly they would have failed to represent me. Let me be clear, I’m not making a wider point about what the 96 would have said about what killed them. None of us will ever know that but certainly the opinions of people such as myself who were very fortunate to survive, deserve at least as much respect as those of the bereaved families.
My initial thoughts about Hillsborough as it was happening have not fundamentally changed over the years despite reading and thinking about every aspect virtually every day for the last 12 years. Of course there were a welter of contributing factors but essentially I consider that the calamity came about ultimately because of a still barely comprehensible loss of control by the Police which was borne out of an absolute lack of care about the welfare of the “hooligans” they saw in front of them. In addition given this catastrophic failure of the safety management regime, it was radial fencing and the “cages”, another effect of a culture of control based on security rather than safety, which made escape from the crush impossible for many fans like myself.
The disaster would not have happened without police blundering “of the first magnitude” and without radial fences which ultimately prevented anyone from moving into the empty spaces in the outer parts of the Leppings Lane – as was always my own personal intention before getting swept of my feet in the infamous tunnel. The undivided terrace at Leppings Lane – as it once had been – did have the capacity to hold everyone there and people died because the central pens could not cope with the extra pressure of the many fans who should have been in the outer area but like me could not get there.
The constant blaming of terraces in themselves over the years I think has had two damaging effects. The most serious has been to deflect blame from the Police on the day – “How could we police something that’s inherently unsafe anyway?” – and I note that the recent “Telegraph” leader on this issue appeared to support that point and indeed Kate Hoey for having the temerity to raise the issue. Secondly I think the focus on using Hillsborough to justify all seaters has deflected attention from the continuing dangers presented by fencing at Stadia around the world. We may have our fences down but they appear to be completely acceptable in many other countries where “security” still prevails over safety.
I find it quite ironic that the Hillsborough families are trotted out to be quoted by the media whenever this issue comes up. I am sure they are pleased that this happens as they are quite sincere and convinced of the soundness of their argument. But I do find it strange that this happens, given that on the even more important issue of Justice, they have struggled to find journalists, with notable exceptions such as Brian Reade and James Lawton, who have the faintest clue about what it has all been about, let alone anyone prepared to give up a column to something which goes to the root of what is rotten with both our sport and our judicial system. I actually find that quite scandalous. However given that most football journalists STILL think that Brian Clough is a decent bloke, maybe its not so surprising after all.
One year before nearly dying on Leppings Lane, I was in the press box for the 1988 semi-final at Hillsborough. The only thing in danger of being crushed there that day were the prawn sandwiches as they groaned under the weight of a table laden with goodies, for the visiting hacks, by Sheffield Wednesday and the FA. Talk about not biting the hand that feeds you but this grotesque contrast between private affluence and public squalor shows quite literally what happened before Hillsborough, when the glaring defects of the Leppings Lane, not only at the 1988 Semi Final, but also in 1981 and 1987 were quite simply ignored.
The fledgling FSA and fanzine movement were pointing out the dangers of fencing and the general squalor of conditions prior to April 1989 but no one was listening least of all the press. In those days for journalists to be critical of the game that paid their wages was a great rarity. Why upset the apple cart? Yet had there been a bit of a willingness, not to be Woodward and Bernstein exactly, but just occasionally to point out the very obviously horrific condition of places such as Leppings Lane (and to be honest the crumbling wreck that was Heysel four years earlier) then just possibly a coalition could have been built for change which may have prevented some of those completely needless 80’s deaths. As the phrase goes, it was hardly “rocket science” to comprehend what were stand out, basic deficiencies.
Oh the beauty of “if only’s”. My point though, as someone who witnessed these horrors first hand, is that it is galling to see sanctimonious comments such as yours churned out years later when the press at the time were hardly in the vanguard of change when it may have made a difference. Defending terracing is not a plea for a return to the “dark ages”. Fans of my generation have no desire to return to decrepit stadia with stale meat pies, piss running down your leg from inadequate or non existent toilet facilities and crazed youths fighting pitch battles – let alone another Heysel or Hillsborough. Fans from the new generation would not tolerate that anyway.
Yet anyone who even mentions standing at football is seized upon and portrayed as some sort of Luddite thug with NF flag in one hand and Stanley knife in the other and that really is not the case. In the dark ages terraces equated to hooligans in the mindset that was created not least by the media. The fences went up in front of the standing areas and rarely if ever in front of seats, as if thugs could not work out if they wanted to charge onto the pitch it might be a good idea to buy a seat.
The whole thing was astonishingly stereotyped almost to the point that the Police at Hillsborough equated the people in Leppings Lane to working class scallies simply because of the fact they were in a terrace and there was a fence in front of them. The psychology was “I mean there wouldn’t be a fence there in the first place if they weren’t trouble makers?” Of course the people in the stands were all middle class professionals who could be trusted to behave. What a load of nonsense, but no wonder it was safer in the seats; no-one herded and caged you like cattle, no one looked down on you as the scum of the earth and treated you accordingly.
Do you see the point I’m making – that the whole terrace people “bad”/seat people “good” iconography actually played a part in creating the environment for the Disaster? Taylor came into the aftermath with such imagery firmly planted in his and the wider public’s mind. He saw rancid, scabrous, dangerous terraces and the atmosphere of aggression and intimidation he believed they cultivated and it was no surprise he recommended their demise. He did not look at any alternative vision of standing which could build in the advantages they do have, and which he reluctantly acknowledged, while excising the awfulness you could almost feel he smelt in the air.
For all sorts of reasons, some fans just like to stand at football matches and if it can be shown that it is as safe as possible (bearing in mind that no arena where large numbers of people gather should ever complacently be regarded as “safe”) why should they not have that choice? All of the other comforts of the modern stadium in terms of facilities should be just the same as for seated areas, which it is not proposed to compulsorily destroy as some all seater advocates like our own Tommy Smith weirdly try to imply.
OK I’m nearly off my soapbox now, but please remember next time you use that phrase that you’re actually “standing” metaphorically on quite a large one yourself. Please don’t feel that by routinely throwing in the mention of Hillsborough that you automatically inhabit the moral high ground on the subject. I think I reached the point when I knew I was not going to be converted to the all seater principle on the day 4 or 5 years ago when your “Mail” colleague Jeff Powell, at the whiff of a hooligan episode of the day, actually advocated that now we had all seater stadia – which automatically of course guarantee safety for all – it was time to bring back the fences.
I’m sure you would not share this view. I know the HFSG certainly don’t but when such a lame brained idea based entirely on the perceived perfection of all seaters is seriously put forward, I get worried not only about the future of sensible discourse but that complacency about safety management in public venues is on its way back. I am however satisfied that the received wisdom about this subject is not quite as clear-cut as we are continually led to believe. Certainly there is no such thing as safe standing but neither should we ever believe in safe seating.
I am sure you are right. There will be no return to terracing probably not because of the HFSG view but for the financial reasons your article outlined and also because all seaters are easier to police by CCTV. To be honest, as I have said, that in itself does not greatly bother me and arguments against all seaters based solely on matters such as atmosphere fail to impress.
The concern I have is not that I or the campaigners are right and you and the HFSG are wrong or vice versa, but that the debate should be over as soon as Hillsborough gets mentioned. (The “oh so you’re happy to see more people die” syndrome which, unless like me you are a survivor, it is very difficult to argue against.) This process means that a perfectly valid but in my opinion questionable perception of the past, prevents even an exploration – not of a return to what were dark ages for us all – but of a better, more satisfying future for everyone who genuinely cares about football.
What’s odd about Colin’s letter is that a survivor of Hillsborough isn’t totally against hearing the arguments for or against standing at matches. The media has led you to believe this is a rarity, but it’s not. However, I should say that I’ve also talked with the likes of Stevie and Peter from the HJC and, though the discussions were heated, they weren’t totally against hearing the arguments either – even though they oppose any return to terracing.
What angers Colin, and angers me, is that journalists who seldom if ever contributed to the campaign for Justice feel that they can take such a lofty “we know what’s best for you plebs” stance. The worst example was from the Mail’s Jeff Powell, which is hardly a surprise. While ranting about “craven populists” – that pesky ‘democracy’ and ‘listening to the people’ shite getting in the way again – he began foaming at the mouth. “Remember Hillsborough: Terraces kill the innocent. Remember Heysel: Terraces are fertile ground for every dreg in society from the drunken yob to the militant activist”. Militant, drunken, yobbish dregs – he means us, folks. I expected no better from the bigoted scumbag.
But I DO expect better from Phil McNulty and we didn’t get it. “If a campaigner arrives at Chris Smith’s office, he or she should hear just one word and be shown the door. The word? Hillsborough”. That one word can dismiss an entire argument or stance, which is shared by hundreds of thousands of ordinary decent caring people, is just too much. McNulty should be absolutely ashamed of himself, but he’s gone past a point of self parody now and shame is based on a sense of right and wrong.
I’ve said before and I’ll repeat it now. I know Colin is very uncomfortable whenever I say this, as it’s an implied criticism of the HFSG only and the HJC hasn’t exactly come full on for a return to standing – but whenever Trevor Hicks said “There is no such thing as safe terracing” he was giving South Yorkshire Police a ‘keep out of jail free’ card. From their point of view, how can it part of the police’s job to keep something safe that wasn’t safe in the first place? My contention is that with proper capacity controls and no fencing and proper medical facilities and procedures, and with numerous exits and entrances (and efficient, caring POLICING), then it is probably safe to stand at football matches.
People will latch onto the word ‘probably’ and say we can’t take the risk, and even if only one person dies that’s one too many – but nearly 5,000 people die on our roads every year. That’s ‘a Hillsborough’ every week. As we approach the twelfth anniversary, that means that SIX HUNDRED & TWENTY FOUR equivalents of Hillsborough have died in this country thanks to the motor car. People will then say cars are a necessity to our way of life, and therefore the risk is worth taking, even if 60,000 people have died on our roads since Hillsborough took our beloved 96 – but is alcohol a necessity? Is nicotine? These killers flourish, while the idea of standing at a football game provokes the kind of response that makes you think you were living in Salem. Why are football fans so vilified, so browbeaten, perceived as being so utterly incapable of thought or care for their own lives or those of others?
I’ve stood at plenty of Liverpool matches since ’89. It has now become something of a Euro Night tradition, and I’ve never felt in the slightest danger. I’m quite happy to retain all-seaters, as long as sections are designated standing areas. That might actually be a happy compromise, but it seems we even have to battle long and hard for the right to be heard. Some democracy.
Colin made a good point in his covering e mail: that he wouldn’t mind being debated down – he didn’t much care for being shouted down. I second the motion.