Did Britain’s political establishment and the media deliberately frame the Hillsborough tragedy as hooligan-inspired and exploit this falsehood to transform football. Brendan Daly examines the evidence.

Adrian Tempany

Faber & Faber, €16.99

ON APRIL 26 last, an inquest into the Hillsborough disaster, in which a lethal crush left 96 Liverpool supporters dead at an FA Cup semi-final in 1989, recorded a verdict of unlawful killing.

Contravening the findings of the initial coroner’s investigation, this inquest into the most controversial tragedy in post-war Britain exonerated fans and blamed the police for a series of failures that contributed to the deaths.

Yet in the immediate aftermath of Hillsborough the political establishment and the media deliberately framed the disaster as hooligan-inspired and exploited this falsehood as a pretext to transform English football.

That’s the contention of Adrian Tempany’s authoritative and searing And the Sun Shines Now.

With a gimlet-eyed rigour, the book anatomises the forces that changed both England’s national sport and its society.

Tracing the foundations of today’s Premier League, the author argues that the billion-pound behemoth has severed the relationship between clubs and their traditional supporters. As Tempany is a Hillsborough survivor, And the Sun Shines Now is also charged with a deeply affecting personal perspective.

Commissioned by the British government, the 1990 Taylor Report into the Hillsborough tragedy stipulated that every club in England’s top two divisions had to convert its stadium into an all-seater venue and proposed that clubs agree more lucrative TV rights to meet the costs of this redevelopment.

Tempany suggests that Margaret Thatcher’s government eagerly adopted the Taylor Report with the intention of reshaping football’s clientele.

Eliminating terraces would invariably push up ticket prices and, consequently, would promote middle class match attendance to the exclusion of English football’s typical working-class audience.

Ironically, working-class supporters sustained English football during its 1980s nadir as English teams’ participation in continental competition was tattooed with hooligan violence.

When 39 Juventus fans died after a wall collapsed during battles between Juventus and Liverpool supporters at the European Cup final in the Heysel Stadium in 1985, the FA banned English clubs from Europe.

Redemption came in the form of the 1990 World Cup as England reached the semi-finals, only losing to West Germany after a penalty shootout.

Crucially, Italia ’90 was watched by a worldwide audience of 26.6 billion — almost 100 per cent more than the previous World Cup.

In England alone, 28 million viewers tuned in, many in their local pub, to watch their country’s semi-final.

The message for broadcasters was clear: not only had the game recovered its credibility, but watching football had become more important than attending football.

The Premier League was founded in 1992. In the same year, Rupert Murdoch’s Sky (then called BSkyB) acquired exclusive rights to broadcast the league’s matches live for the following five years.

When the satellite broadcaster emerged in 1989, Murdoch’s emphasis was firmly on Hollywood films, saying that “a small nominal charge — around 10p a week” might be applied to sport and news if income failed to meet expectations.

Yet Sky’s monopoly of Premier League football over the next 20 years transformed Murdoch: in 2011-12, Sky earned more than £3 billion — half of its entire revenue — from football.

This shift crowned Murdoch as Britain’s most powerful broadcaster and raised fraught questions about the country’s media plurality.

The dramatic swing in the cost of televising live matches highlights the changing landscape of English football.

In 1988, TV rights — the last before the arrival of the Premier League — for the top division were sold to ITV in a four-year deal for £44 million. For the 2016-19 seasons, the Premier League will receive around £8.2 billion for the TV rights to its matches.

In a bitter irony, Murdoch’s The Sun ran (in 1989) its notorious ‘The Truth’ story, claiming that violent, drunken Liverpool supporters at Hillsborough assaulted the emergency services attending the injured

and pick-pocketed the dead.

Although it was subsequently revealed that the story was completely baseless (the source was a Tory MP and the South Yorkshire police), at the time it underscored the public perception that the Hillsborough tragedy was hooligan-orchestrated.

If Tempany castigates Murdoch’s influence on the modern English game, he insists that its leading clubs have largely divorced themselves from their hinterland and original support base.

Between 1992 and 2010, footballers’ wages in the Premier League soared by 1,058%.

In the same period, the national average wage rose by 186%, while the increase in the average price of the cheapest tickets at Arsenal, Man Utd, and Liverpool was almost 900%.

While stadium occupancy rates at Premier League games are 95%, the average age of a season-ticket holder is 41. (In Germany, the average is 21.)

As ticket prices militate against young adults attending Premier League games, community bonds and club loyalties are eroded: a 2013 UK survey found that only 39% of football fans supported their local team.

This displacement reflects a broader identify crisis affecting football supporters since the sale of Premier League rights to satellite TV in 1992.

As TV audiences moved into the ascendancy for clubs, subscribers rather than supporters became their priority and the role of fans’ loyalty to their club is inevitably diminished.

But even in a globalised world, a prestigious professional club can represent the heartbeat of its community as Tempany illustrates when he travels to Schalke 04 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany.

Built by miners, Schalke is owned by club members and its allegiance to its local community is enshrined in its articles of association. Although it is ranked amongst the most financially successful clubs in Europe, standing tickets for Schalke home games start from €16.

A Liverpool supporter and football journalist, Tempany writes in polemical prose that blends extensive interviews with personal anecdote, potted social history, and detailed analysis of football research.

However, the book is overwritten (particularly the long scene-setting at the opening of each chapter) and more scrupulous editing would have lent clarity to Tempany’s occasionally cluttered arguments.

If the gentrification of English football reads more like a series of coincidences rather than the book’s thesis of a concerted effort, the results are essentially the same.

Caught in the devastating crush at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough, Tempany invests his recollections of the tragedy with chilling detail.

Amid the screaming, he remembers that the air was thick with the smell of excrement and urine as asphyxiated victims — turning blue around him — lost control of their bodily functions.

He saw the “dead on their feet…carried in the fitful surges like shop dummies” and believes that he had less than a minute to live when the police finally opened the perimeter gate to the pitch.

The book’s title is an excerpt from a BBC radio commentator at Hillsborough who contrasted the day’s bright conditions with the tragedy unfolding in front of him.

Originally due to appear in 2014, the publishers were warned to postpone the book’s publication or risk being in contempt of court when the latest Hillsborough inquest opened that year.

And the Sun Shines Now was worth the wait: it’s a bruising, riveting, and heartfelt exploration of how traditional football supporters were the ultimate losers in the wake of the biggest disaster in British sporting history.

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