Archive for the ‘football’ Category

Hillsborough and Grenfell

August 28, 2017

On June 14th, 1989, Liverpool were set to play Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup semi-final, which took place at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. Liverpool were allocated less tickets than Nottingham Forest, despite having more supporters. The police rejected a request from the Football Association to allow more tickets to Liverpool fans.

As a result, 24,000  Liverpool fans were squeezed into the Leppings Lane end of the stadium (before all-seater stadia, fans were corralled onto terraces, and pens were employed to keep rival supporters from clashing with each other). Congestion in getting to the ground meant that many Liverpool fans were delayed in arriving. A further request to postpone the start of the match was denied, and instead 2,000 football fans were herded into an already full “pens”. The people there could not leave the pen, as there was only one exit door, which was locked. Before the match started fans were shouting to the police to open the gate, their demands were ignored. The police’s reaction was to assume that there was crowd trouble.

The match was recorded on television by eight BBC cameras, but the resulting footage was considered “too distressing” to broadcast. The game started but lasted just seven minutes before it was halted. The coroner’s report showed that some fans had already succumbed to injuries even before kick off. The Superintendent in charge of the game, David Duckenfield, who was inexperienced in managing such a major football game, tried to claim that ticketless Liverpool supporters had broken into one of the gates and stormed the pitch – this was a lie. A major incident plan should have been put in place immediately, allowing ambulances to enter the pitch. Police officers and stewards should have been giving first aid, instead of forming a cordon to prevent a pitch invasion, as they initially saw it. In the event, only three ambulances were allowed onto the pitch despite dozens of ambulances being parked outside – the first did not arrive until 3.15pm, a quarter an hour after kick-off.

A nearby gymnasium was used as a makeshift holding area, and alcohol tests were carried out on all the bodies at the request of the police, including children, who made up many of those who tragically lost their lives. The purpose of this was to try to pin the blame on Liverpool fans for the disaster. The accusations of the police were later supported by the right-wing tabloid press – The Sun published a disgraceful headline “The Truth”, claiming that police officers were urinated on, that fans pickpocketed victims and attacked a police officer who was giving the kiss of life. In reality, it was fans who were administering first aid, carrying away the injured on makeshift stretchers made from advertising hoardings. The police were determined to try to shift the blame away from themselves and on to “drunken, ticketless Liverpool supporters”, for which they “had to find evidence that this was the case”. No proper emergency response ever happened. Those who tried to tell the real truth were ignored, slapped down or browbeaten. One doctor who was in the crowd had his reputation attacked and was accused of publicity seeking, in an attempt to discredit him or shut him up.

Senior police officers also falsified the evidence of their colleagues – police were not told to write down witness statements in the normal way, but to put their recollections of the incident down on plain paper, which was then redacted. The Taylor enquiry was set up, but in such a way that one police force was investigating another, and the South Yorkshire Police Force could take its own officers’ statements. Criticisms of the policing operation, such as, “It might have been better to direct fans into flank areas which were not full” and “Why were the sliding doors at the back of the tunnel not closed when those sections of the ground were full?” were censored, but any criticisms of the fans were left in. Despite these attempts at whitewashing, the Taylor Report still found that the main cause of overcrowding was due to the failure of police control. Margaret Thatcher made a handwritten note: “What do we mean by ‘welcoming the broad thrust of the report’? The broad thrust is devastating criticism of the police. Is that for us to welcome?”

Prosecutions were expected to follow, but then the chauffeur of the Chief Constable and the Law Lord claimed that they were determined to blame the police force. Again, this was a lie, but it ensured that no criminal charges were brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Subsequently, calls for an independent inquiry were raised by families of the 96 victims of the disaster. The then Prime Minister, Tony Blair scribbled “Why what is the point?” on a paper requesting a review of the evidence.

Is it a coincidence that it was Liverpool the right tried to blame, in the aftermath of the influence of the 47 Liverpool Councillors who resisted Thatcher’s government and wrested millions of pounds out the Iron Lady for the city, who built 5,000 council houses, leisure centres and nurseries?

The need for public housing leads on to a more recent disaster, also entirely preventable, the Grenfell Tower fire. Cladding was put on the ageing tower block to improve the view of the area for the gentrified parts of Kensington and Chelsea. The tower blocks are home to a very impoverished community, in the middle of one of the richest parts of London, where billionaires buy empty properties as an investment.

The fire began with a faulty fridge on the fourth floor. the advice given was for people to remain in their rooms, but the heat spread the fire to the exterior cladding and rapidly the whole building became engulfed in flames. A tenants’ group had previously warned that the cladding was unfit for purpose and dangerous, yet this warning was ignored.

Thatcher’s right to buy policy, introduced in 1980, allowed tenants to buy their own council homes at a discount. Finance to local authorities for building council homes was cut, the responsibility being passed to housing associations and private landlords. The result has been a return to Dickensian housing standards, overcrowding and slum landlordism. Homebuilding has steadily fallen. 171,000 homes were built in 2015, of which just 2,700 were built by local authorities. As demand has outstripped supply, property prices and rents have soared, along with the problem of homelessness. No-one took the place of local government in providing housing.

Cost-cutting on projects has become the norm, as a direct result of her policies – the combustible cladding used saved just £300,000 from the cost of refurbishing the Grenfell tower, and there was little discussion of the implications for the safety of residents. A sprinkler system would have saved lives; a revision of evacuation procedures following the cladding being installed would have saved lives; retaining three nearby fire stations, which were closed by Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London (out of 10 across the city, with the loss of 600 firefighters’ jobs) would also have saved lives.

A true, official death toll of Grenfell may not be released until 2018. Millions of pounds of working-class people’s money, collected for the residents have still to be distributed to those in need.

We cannot have another cover-up, as happened in the 28 years it took for those responsible for Grenfell to be brought to justice, with David Duckenfield being charged with manslaughter and five others being charged with perverting the course of justice and lying about the incident. Yet there signs that this may already be happening. Firefighters who attended the incident were banned from speaking to the media about the true death toll. We must demand an independent inquiry, led by trade unions and residents, which would look into the causes of the disaster and expose the crimes that were committed in the interests of making cuts and protecting profits.

(Speech given to Leicester Socialist Party branch meeting Saturday 26th August 2017).

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Sportsmanship

November 27, 2016

David Ginola recently had a heart operation, and seems to be recovering well after a quadruple heart bypass. I wish him all the best.

My memories of him as a footballer, was of someone of the calibre of George Best, who had incredible skills as a dribbler, and could weave through defences with balletic ease. I remember watching him playing towards the end of his career, easy to pick out on the pitch with his flowing locks, carving through the opposition. Yet, every time he got anywhere near the penalty area, where he could have laid the ball off for another player, or fired off a speculative shot, he would come crashing to the ground at the slightest hint of a contact, always looking for a penalty. What a waste of such meteoric talent, and what a pity for anyone watching the game.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85-OLWTFrJE

In football, diving has become almost a recognised tactic – so much so I wonder if it is practised on the training ground – “Yes that’s it, brush past the defender and pretend to trip up, plant your face into the turf and roll around, look anguished, hands up in appeal to the referee, clutch your ankle in pain and pretend to hobble to your feet. Brilliant, now get out there on the pitch on Saturday and dive like you mean it”.

Yet in most other sports, generally, the highest standards of sportsmanship apply. A snooker player will always acknowledge the slightest touch of a ball, even if the referee didn’t spot it. Can you imagine a footballer stopping play themselves and acknowledging a hand ball, or querying the referee when a decision has gone in their favour? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnJdn9zqYQw&t=0s – this is from the climax of the World Championship final (Hendry vs White, 1995).

In rugby, there is hardly ever any faking of injuries – and the few cases that there have been have become infamous – the worst instance I can think of is the “Bloodgate” scandal where a Harlequins player bit on a fake blood capsule in order to be substituted https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uhh2ZS-kT0, but there is also Yoann Huget’s simulation against Bath https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QalzKWdpdyg or Brian Habana’s dive against Farrell (for which Habana graciously made a public apology). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3f4Tq7f0xec

In rugby, these are rare exceptions, rather than the rule. The commentator saying that “this isn’t football”, is surely telling.

Board games have become commonplace online. I enjoy playing Scrabble. One way of playing, which is quite enjoyable, is to actually help your opponent. You can chat to the other player as they are making a word, and if you choose to, you can improve their score. On Yahoo! Scrabble, one person replied, “I felt like you were rooting for me!” However, this (in my opinion) makes for a more enjoyable game, and helps you improve your own play. I used to play chess like this against a friend. She was a better player than me, but we would look at the position together, analyse the moves and work out the best play. We called it “non-competitive chess”; at first glance, this may seem like an oxymoron.

Quite often, in Scrabble, you come across someone using software to generate the best words – for example, Word Breaker (Scrabble Cheat) – Android Apps on Google Play It can be difficult to tell a strong player from a cheat, but one tell-tale sign of a weak player cheating is a disregard for the tactics of the game, yet a brilliant ability to solve anagrams. Scrabble is a surprisingly subtle game – you can defend a lead by closing down the board and not giving your opponent an opportunity to score, or you can attack when chasing a lead, by playing expansively and taking risks in order to get that elusive triple word score. But what does that mean for the enjoyment of the game – what is the point of simply inputting an anagram given to you by a computer?

I also enjoy long-distance running at an amateur level and the camaraderie of the running community is, in my experience, always superb. In the latter stages of the Leicester marathon this year, a fellow runner offered me their energy gel. I refused actually, partly because it was my legs, which felt like lead, rather than a feeling of having no energy, but partly because he may well have needed a boost himself in the last few miles. Still, I felt this was a really kind gesture.

Sport needs to be played fairly and competitively, otherwise there is no point. You need to be matched against an equally strong or stronger opponent, in order to improve your own game, and the most thrilling encounters are when evenly-matched opponents play to the best of their abilities. For spectators too, if cheating occurs, then the whole integrity of the sport can be called into question – as has happened in professional cycling, such is the extent of doping at a professional level – this goes right back to the earliest days of the sport. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_doping_cases_in_cycling