How I wish that the forthcoming release of information on the cruel and horrific Hillsborough disaster might bring some peace and release to all those poor people who so tragically lost their 96 relatives.
I can never forget the moving and astonishing scene in the San Siro stadium four days later when the massed fans of Milan on their terraces sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” It was impossible not to break down.
My younger boy Toby, by then a photographer in his early 20s, combined with a friend to hold an auction of photographs acquired from all over the world which brought in £12,000. A mere drop in the ocean, perhaps, but further evidence that the disaster had a profound effect in this country far beyond Liverpool itself.
That the dead Liverpool fans were wholly blameless has never seemed remotely in doubt, despite shameful attempts, allegedly engineered by guilt-ridden police, to blame them for the disaster. Yet evidence at the time convinced me that the truth behind what happened was plainly if horrifyingly simple.
The wrong man was in command of the stadium police. That man was David Duckenfield who was hugely condemned and criticised not least in the eventual report by Lord Justice Taylor. He had frozen, he had panicked, he had allowed a gate fatally to be opened; but then, why was he, such a plain inadequate, put in charge at all?
The explanation given at the time, though little or nothing has been heard about it of late, was that his predecessor, under whose aegis the same two teams, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, in the equivalent semi-final in the same stadium had managed to complete the semi-final with no ill effects, though some have related that, even then, there seemed a danger of overcrowding in some areas. In parenthesis, one has heard, it said that Liverpool’s fans who substantially outnumbered those of Forest, should ideally have been gathered at the other end of the stadium.
Duckenfield, one heard then, had been installed since his predecessor had been taken off the command, allegedly because he was held responsible for a breakdown of discipline in the force, resulting in incidents of what was termed horseplay. If this were true, and at the time the case seemed pretty strong, then it is surely a shocking indictment of those in charge of the Sheffield police.
Perhaps we shall see the charges proved and endorsed when the papers are at last released. If, in the event, the publication of these papers can bring some kind of consolation to the still grieving relatives, then one could only feel great satisfaction. But nothing, alas, can bring back the 96 who died and who God knows should not have died at all.
On a lesser, lighter note, how odd and erratic the things which have been going on at Queens Park Rangers. I myself saw three of their recent games in succession. At Molineux, they walked all over Wolves, scoring two early goals and beating them 3-0 in a canter. But at Fulham, who had yet to win a Premiership game, they were simply invertebrate, thrashed by a team which, long before the end, was scoring goals for fun. QPR were simply not competing.
When that dazzling eccentric, Adel Taarabt, was pulled off the field by his long suffering manager, Neil Warnock, he rushed not only off the field but out of the stadium, where QPR fans who had also walked out apparently conversed with him at a bus stop.
The same week Warnock announced that Taarabt could leave whenever he wanted, and subsequently, apparently with no humorous intent, declared that he knew he could do a good job as the England team manager!
Nor did he seem to be joking. In QPR’s next game, Taarabt was on the bench. When he eventually came on in the second half, he once broke through the centre of the Blackburn defence with typical dash and skill, only to fire hopelessly wide when a goal seemed sure.
What baffles me is that continuing exclusion of the Hungarian international “fantasista,” Akos Buzsaky. The word used to be that QPR could not afford two such virtuosi on the field together. But the gifted Hungarian didn’t come off the bench when Taarabt was taken off at Fulham, nor was he used at all against Blackburn. You wonder why he stays at Shepherds Bush.