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Sports

Hillsborough Report Shines Light on Soccer Tragedy 23 Years Later

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I don't know if you remember the events surrounding the Hillsborough tragedy, in which a FA Cup semi-final  cost 96 non-rioting, non-Hooligan fans their lives. I remember it from the time, but only vaguely. I was 15 years old in 1989, and I loved soccer, but that was a time in America in which the only soccer you got was when something like Hillsborough happened. World Cup Finals were not on ABC, and FA Cup Games weren't on ESPN.

But you may remember it as being reported as hooliganism, or simply, from an American perspective, the craziness of the Brits over f**king soccer, for f**k's sake.

That would be an incorrect memory, and one that I shared. At the time, I remember, America watched with a somewhat bemused horror--"We love our NFL and NBA and such, but who are these people, and why would they die over their team?" And rather than follow that question to logical conclusion (most people would not; something is amiss) we moved on to the next thing, and so did most people in England. They were acquainted with hooliganism by then, and it wasn't much of a stretch to see it that way.

To their credit, Liverpool FC, the club that those fans died attempting to see, has never forgotten, and they have made their belief in who was to blame quite clear: "24,000 tickets, 23 turnstiles, two criminally overcrowded pens, 96 dead and 766 people injured - numbers alone don't even begin to tell half the story of a disaster that has shaped Liverpool Football Club and the fans that will forever follow it."

But the investigations had always come up short--those people were just frenzied, or stupid, or what have you. We have known for awhile that the logistics of the game were terribly considered. That part is not news.  While the educated public has known for a while that the victims of Hillsborough were not drunken rioters (the photos alone should have put that one to bed) there was always the suggestion that the fans, coupled with bad logistics and poorly thought out barriers, did it to themselves.

The report out yesterday destroys that premise. What that report states is very much like what a movie conspiracy looks like. I did not know it was possible to cover up this level of malfeasance against one's own citizens for as long as the Sheffield police (and others) had managed. Quite simply, the families of the victims have been lied to, over and over again, for more than two decades.

From the BBC: "The families have always challenged the original inquest, which concluded that all the victims had been dead or brain dead 15 minutes after the game had kicked off at 15:00. By analysing post-mortem test results, the Hilsborough panel found 28 of the 96 victims had had no 'obstruction of blood circulation' and there was 'separate evidence that, in 31, the heart and lungs had continued to function after the crush'."

The report also states that the police ran background checks and blood tests on every victim, no matter how old or young they were, in the hopes of painting them as drunk or with a history of violence. Even if you were a dead ten year old girl, the report says, the police tested your blood. If that doesn't disgust you, I don't know what will.

The police and others provided sourcing to an article that was published by The Sun, titled "The Truth About Hillsborough" that blamed Liverpool fans, and described them as drunken, thieving louts who fought the police that were there to help them. The Sun apologized yesterday. It may hard to imagine for kids today who have video cameras in their pockets, but there was a time when a public disaster could be reported by a paper with no visual evidence, and that account would be taken as the truth.

[update] English footballer Steven Gerrard, who lost a cousin in the disaster, weighs in.

full report here.
video of the event, as it happened.

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