EighteenAndFive

In-depth and Intelligent Views on Liverpool FC & Football in General

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Liverpool Honour 22nd Anniversary of Hillsborough and the 96 Who Never Came Home


Today, the 15th April 2011, marks the twenty-second anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, Britain’s worst sporting disaster which claimed the lives of ninety-six Liverpool supporters.

On this day in 1989 Liverpool FC’s first team and 20,000 fans travelled to Sheffield Wednesday’s home ground to take on Nottingham Forest in an F.A. Cup semi-final.

With a place in the final at stake and on such a beautiful day, both sets of supporters would have been full of optimism and hope, convinced in their team’s ability to win through to the biggest stage of all, the Wembley final.

96 supporters never came home.

The Liverpool fans were allocated the smaller end of the stadium, the Leppings Lane end. It was tightly packed and cramped at the best of times, but a series of terrible decisions by those in charge of crowd control, namely the police, turned what should have been a day to savour into one impossible to erase from memory, for all the wrong reasons.

Even as kick-off approached, Liverpool supporters were still making their way into the ground; poor crowd control outside the ground meant fans were ushered in through un-manned barriers and turnstiles into the narrow entrances onto the terrace within.

As more fans awaited entry, the police – or more specifically, David Duckenfield, who gave the order – decided to open up an exit gate to allow them in more quickly. Later on, in official testimony, he would lie about this to try and begin to cover it up.

With fans now streaming into the stadium from both sides – match-goers confirming that police, nor anyone else, was by now checking for tickets for entry – those already in the middle had nowhere to go.

Shortly after kick-off, with far too many supporters now jammed in the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, Liverpool hit the bar with a shot. The usual forward motion of the supporters when a chance occurs, combined with the fact that the crowd was too tightly pushed together, wreaked havoc.

Fans were pressed up against the metal fences in front, fans were pushed too far forwards to get back to an upright position, and fans were crushed from behind by the sheer weight of their numbers.

In moments, tragedy had struck.

People were torn from their loved ones, were separated from each other and had no power to do anything but try to survive the ensuing madness.

Fans who were forced to the ground had no chance of getting back up; those taking their place just above them soon suffered a similar fate.

Supporters who were in the stand above tried desperately to help those below by lifting them up out of the crush.

Others in other areas of the stadium could see what was happening and implored the police to do something, anything to help.

But they did nothing.

Eventually, some fans made it over the railings and onto the pitch.

Finally the police responded – they formed a barricade on the pitch to prevent Forest and Reds fans from coming together. Great help. They even battered the supporters down who were trying to climb over the fence, away from the suffocation, and set dogs onto those who made it passed a crushed and twisted gate.

People were being brought out on advertising boards; makeshift stretchers. Dead people. Their faces covered with their own coats.

They were watching a football match, and they died.

Fans gave others mouth-to-mouth in a bid to save who they could, but 95 people still died, and later one who had never recovered from being in a coma also passed away.

96 supporters never came home.

English newspaper ‘The Sun’ ran a story entitled “The Truth” – claiming that Liverpool fans robbed the dead, urinated on their bodies and the police, and stopped the police from giving them life-saving treatment.

Nothing could be further from the truth than this despicable and lie-filled bile. That is why to this day, Liverpool FC supporters – and indeed the vast majority of the population of the city of Liverpool, Everton fans included – do not buy The Sun newspaper. Never have they printed an apology, never have they admitted they lied.

Kelvin McKenzie, then editor of the paper, asked the then-(and now) Reds manager Kenny Dalglish what he could do to make it better.

“Print another edition. Same size font. Title, “We Lied”.” replied Dalglish. But McKenzie wouldn’t, and never has.

“I was not sorry then, and I’m not sorry now”. That is what McKenzie has to say on the matter.

Lord Justice Taylor, after a long and bitter legal proceeding eventually ruled that the police department was entirely to blame for the deaths of these supporters and the problems which arose from Duckenfield’s incompetence.

His punishment? Early retirement on an enhanced pension. Another police officer, nine years later, was adjudged to have “traumatic stress” from the experience and was awarded £330,000 compensation (around $ 540,000). One of the parents who lost a son in the tragedy was paid the sum of £3,500 compensation.

Not one person has ever been charged or prosecuted because of Hillsborough, and not one policeman even lost their job because of it.

Despite the fact they watched events unfold from the safety of the CCTV room. Despite the fact they lied, and said the CCTV was out of order. Despite the fact that a Sheffield Wednesday stadium employee swore an affidavit that they were lying about it. Despite the fact that the police then claimed the CCTV tapes from that day were somehow ‘stolen’… from a locked and alarmed control room.

In a final twisted decision, the South Yorkshire police even prevented ambulance crews from entering the pitch to help out the dead and the dying.

Twenty-two years on, and Liverpool supporters, families of those who died at Hillsborough, are still waiting. Still waiting for justice, and still waiting for answers. Over 700 people were injured in the tragedy. The youngest of those who died was just 10 years old.

96 supporters never came home.

Never forgive. Never forget.

You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Read more about Hillsborough here.

A Golden Sky: What Constitutes a Successful Season for Liverpool?


16th of August 2009, some time in the morning.

Myself, as with probably every other Liverpool fan, looking forward to the start of Liverpool’s Premier League campaign; the opening fixture of the 2009/10 season which was due to kick off in just a few hours.

Liverpool were supposed to win the league that season. It didn’t go as planned.

The season before, the Reds were absolutely flying. They came close to the Premier League title; as close as they had done (position-wise) since 2002 and their second-half-of-season form suggested that it was simply a matter of strengthening in one or two key areas and keeping the same form going.

Liverpool lost that opening game of the season, 2-1 at Spurs, and never really recovered. From then on it was a definite downward spiral, on and off the pitch. Crashing out in the Champions League group stage, losing in the F.A. Cup third round to lower-league opposition, defeats to the likes of West Ham, Aston Villa and Darren Bent’s beach ball, even losing the semi final of the Europa League to eventual worthy winners Atletico Madrid – it was all background noise in a story which had gone badly wrong for Liverpool.

Fast forward fourteen months and things had, incredibly, gotten even worse for Liverpool. Rafa Benitez was gone, leaving behind a tale of what-might-have-been after six years, five finals and four trophies; and Roy Hodgson had been appointed the new manager of the club. Defeats against the likes of Northampton and Blackpool, as well as against bitter rivals Manchester United, had ensured it was hardly the happiest of starts for the Englishman, despite an unbeaten run in the Europa League.

But then, something positive happened for the Anfield side. The club owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, were ousted from the club after an unsavoury series of courtroom episodes, the end result of which was the takeover of the club by Tom Werner and John W. Henry through their company New England Sports Ventures (now Fenway Sports Group).

It was a big moment for Liverpool; gone were the crippling debts and extravagant interest repayments – one estimate putting the fees owed to RBS at over £100,000 per day – along with the threat of having to sell the club’s best players. Gone were the lies and back-stabbings, the media-fuelled outbursts and in-fighting which had dogged the last two years under the American duo’s stewardship.

A particularly poignant line from the club’s anthem came to mind: “at the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky”.

Perhaps this was just the new beginning the club had been searching for.

Now as we all know, the team’s results did not improve straight away; nor indeed over an extended period. Hodgson was removed from office, voluntarily or not, but rightly so in either case.

And in came Kenny Dalglish. The wave of optimism, of relief, of happiness, which surrounded the club in the following days was incredible.

I can honestly say I cannot remember such a show of unity amongst fans like it, dating back to probably the run towards the 2005 Champions League final. It was amazing – even after the defeat to Manchester United in the F.A. Cup a day later, it almost didn’t matter: Kenny was back, ergo the club was safe.

And now we’re three weeks further down the line. A defeat to Blackpool, a draw with the Blue Shite, and then back-to-back victories and clean sheets against Wolves and Fulham – the first time in almost exactly a year that Liverpool have managed such a combination, since the wins over Bolton and Everton in January and February 2010.

So what next for Liverpool? What lies in store for the remainder of this season? The mandate back in July when Hodgson was appointed was to “steady the ship” – something that I would argue neither Hodgson nor his then-employers managed to do. Wednesday’s win over Fulham, however, left Liverpool in seventh position in the league: exactly the same place the Reds finished the 2009/10 season in, and a full five places above where we were when Dalglish took over.

Steadying the ship then, perhaps, has been achieved.

Now lets look ahead: Liverpool face a home game against Stoke City next week. Despite the dire performance against the same opposition at the Brittania Stadium only a few months ago, this Liverpool side looks a different proposition and we should be hopeful of a positive outcome in the shape of another home victory.

The day before the Liverpool-Stoke fixture, Sunderland (currently 6th, 5 points ahead of Liverpool) will host Chelsea (4th, nine points ahead of the Reds).

Sunderland have been in fine form of late, especially at home where they have lost just once all season, and it is not beyond the realms of fantasy to think that they could take something off the Blues at home – after all, they played them off the park at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season, winning 3-0 in the process.

Should the Black Cats manage to take something off Chelsea and the Reds do the business against Stoke the following day, Liverpool will be going into their clash against the London club at Stamford Bridge four days later only 6 or 7 (Sunderland win or draw) points behind them. Does a top four league spot suddenly become a possibility for Liverpool?

The Reds know how to beat Chelsea – have done so already at Anfield this season in one of the few bright spots of the Roy Hodgson reign – but knowing and doing are two different things. But consider: two more wins for Liverpool in the next two games, and the club could be just one victory off a Champions League place.

That would be some turnaround for the club in just over a month under the watchful and shrewd eye of ‘King’ Kenny.

By the time those next two games roll around for Liverpool, we will already know one thing for certain: which, if any, transfer opportunities end up being successfully targeted in this window. Bids have already been rebuffed for Ajax forward Luis Suarez and Blackpool schemer Charlie Adam, while the proposed loan of Aston Villa left back and Anfield old-boy Stephen Warnock has dragged on for some time and must be questioned now whether it is likely to happen; he is not in favour at his current club so nothing should effectively be holding up a loan deal for this amount of time.

Ryan Babel has left the club permanently, while youngsters such as Steve Irwin, Victor Palsson and Sean Highdale have left on a variety of temporary deals.

Whether any incoming deals materialise or not, Dalglish is already getting much more out of those already at the club than his predecessor managed. One or two new faces could perk the current players up and would certainly provide some welcome depth in key areas of the playing squad, but there is nothing to say, of course, that a £20 million player would hit the ground running, especially coming into a new league at the mid-way stage. On the other hand, a few good performances or even lucky moments in average performances could provide a real impetus for the team over the remainder of the league season.

Liverpool are also fighting on another front; the Europa League gets back underway midway through February with a double header against Sparta Prague of the Czech Republic. Liverpool will be favourites to progress and should they do so, either Lech Poznan or Sporting Braga should also present beatable opposition for a full strength Reds team.

There are several good sides left in the competition; aside from big-spending Manchester City, Spanish duo Sevilla and Villarreal, Dutch league leaders PSV Eindhoven and perhaps most interestingly from a Liverpool point of view, FC Porto – managed by linked manager Andre Villas-Boas – all remain in the hunt for a European trophy and will offer stern opposition should the Reds seek to go one better than last season in the competition.

Liverpool need, as a minimum, continental football next season. Whether Dalglish (together with his important back-room colleagues Sammy Lee and Steve Clarke) and the team really are capable of putting together such a massively improved second half of the season to clinch a top four spot remains to be seen – certainly the odds are against it and Chelsea’s recent poor form may have been put behind them with a convincing victory over Bolton.

But at least the prospect of it is within the realms of possibility and dreaming now – something inconceivable even only a month ago when the Reds were just four points off the relegation zone, and worse, back in October when languishing in nineteenth position. And at the very least, it seems the chances of a Europa League spot – almost always secured with a top six finish in the league – are vastly increased and could be enhanced further by one or two key signings this month.

The mantra of the very existence of the club is to win trophies – and the Europa League, both this and potentially next season, offers Liverpool a good chance to do just that.

Against Sparta and (should we go through) probably in the next round, it is conceivable that the squad could continue to be rotated, until (if and when) Liverpool reach the latter stages and a trophy seems a tantalisingly close prospect.

Only time will tell just how far Dalglish is capable of leading the club, both in the short and possibly long term.

Some fans would maybe even argue that the position of the team come the end of the season is almost irrelevant now; more important the facts that the club, both on and off the field, are back in good hands.

Such a reaction is understandable after the instability of the past couple of seasons, but is unrealistic in the modern football world – stars such as Fernando Torres need to be playing on the biggest stages of all and, questions of loyalty aside, at least a big step towards keeping the likes of him at the club would be qualification for the Champions League, or showing that we can be capable of doing so given stability and strengthening.

For what it’s worth, for me personally the season is certainly no write-off at this stage and a top four spot is not out of reach yet; nor is the Europa League trophy. Anyone wondering as to the value of this cup need only cast their minds back a year to the disappointment of going out at the semi-final stage, or back ten years to our last exhilarating victory against Alaves.

Liverpool’s season is not over, not by a long shot. A few more wins like we’ve seen in the past week or so and the old confidence could be flowing back through the club in a big way. And who better to lead us through those times than a man who has done it all at this very club?

Remember: Walk on, with hope in your heart.