The Taylor report unpicked: Class bias

Liverpool fans desperately try to climb the fe...

Liverpool fans climbing on to the pitch to escape the crush at Hillsborough (Image via Wikipedia)

Motivated by my recent trip to watch German football matches, and my long-term interest in Football Stadia and Football culture, I have been taking a historical look at the pivotal Taylor report into the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. I’m starting with a look at the class bias of the report, and following on with a look at hooliganism, the terracing debate, and stadium architecture.

On 15 April 1989 a crush at an FA Cup Semi Final at Hillsborough resulted in the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans. The subsequent report into the disaster, the Taylor Report, led to all major football stadiums being all-seater. This meant the end of terracing at football stadiums, and along with the introduction of Sky TV at around the same time, has probably done more to shape English football than any other development.

Although the report was supposed to be focussed on the Hillsborough Disaster, the recent history of football in England had a chequered past. The 1985 Bradford Fire had led to the Popplewell Report into Fire Safety at Football Grounds. In the 1970′s and 1980′s crowd disorder had culminated in English clubs being banned from European Football after the Heysel Disaster in 1985.

Yet, reading the Taylor Report, you do not have the feeling of a Lord Justice trying to investigate the causes of 96 deaths. Taylor goes much further, almost as if he has been given a tacit remit by the Thatcher Government to ‘sort out’ English football, even elements that had nothing to do with Hillsborough and didn’t need ‘sorting out’. In short, was the Taylor Report a sledgehammer to crack a walnut?

Taylors remit from the Home Secretary was as follows:

“To inquire into the events at Sheffield Wednesday Football Ground on 15 April 1989 and to make recommendations about the needs of crowd control and safety at sports events”

The ‘and’ is important. Previous inquiries had looked into the specifics of a disaster. The Hillsborough inquiry was different – Taylor was instructed by Douglas Hurd to go further than the events of 15 April 1989, and to report on the state of the game in general. The inquiry took place from 15 May to 29 June 1989, and heard evidence from 174 witnesses, as well as much written evidence. 31 sports ground were visited, including in Holland and France, and other sports grounds such as Rugby, Cricket, tennis and golf. Part I considers Hillsborough; Part II wider safety at sports grounds; Part III crowd control and dealing with Hooligans; and Part IV the proposed national membership scheme.

The Taylor report was the NINTH such report into saftey at football grounds. In 1973 the first Green Guide on safety at sports grounds was published, largely prompted by the 1970 Ibrox disaster. That Hillsborough happened, after such scrutiny, does suggest that the Government, football authorities and clubs had failed to take safety seriously enough. Measures that would have prevented Hillsborough had been proposed as early as 1924. This was due to a combination of cost, a laissez-faire attitude, and a pre-occupation with dealing with hooliganism. Taylor stated that ‘there is no point in holding inquiries or publishing guidance unless the recommendations are followed diligently’.

Taylor states that when touring grounds after Hillsborough, the inquiry encountered an attitude amongst football clubs that ‘it could not have happened here’ – this was exactly the kind of complacency that allowed disasters to happen in the first place. What is most sobering, is that Hillsborough was regarded as one of the best and safest stadiums in the country. These are all sobering and salient points.

Yet in his section ‘A Blight on Football’, Taylor belies his intentions:

“Football is our national game. We gave it to the world. But its image in our country has been much tarnished”.

There was indeed a malaise amongst football clubs before 1989. Ground improvements were minimal, as there was no pressing need to improve. In the 1980′s most clubs occupied the same grounds as they had at the turn of the century, and many stands were almost just as old. Any changes were half-hearted or not motivated by safety. In this respect, Taylor DID bring about a change in focus on the part of football clubs, and a willingness to demolish, build and improve that was not there before.

In terms of facilities, Taylor laments the poor condition of football grounds, from a spectators point of view. He describes the terraces as ‘squalid’, yet I doubt that many people who stood on the terraces in 1989 thought of it that way. Going to the football on the saturday afternoon was different to going to the Opera. In classic victorian terms of social control, Taylor states that ‘it directly lowers standards of conduct’. Unbelievably, Taylor sees fit to comment on the quality of the Burgers available to fans – ‘on sale from shoddy sheds’ – as if that really mattered. Was he comparing football to a day at the races or a night at the theatre, one wonders? The classic line, however, has to be ‘there is a prevailing stench of stewed onions’. How about if fans liked having onions in their burgers? I hardly think that stewed onions caused Hillsborough.

Taylor also mentions the lack of quality pre-match entertainment, which is pertinent. However, it is difficult to imagine what the football clubs could have organised – even nowadays, the usual pre-match and half-time entertainment is best filed under ‘cheese’ and is widely ignored by most fans. Taylor had clearly failed to grasp the attitude and background of the average football supporter.

Taylor recognised in his report that ‘football created special problems’ not to be found at other sports grounds – namely, the numbers in attendance and the atmosphere. Within two pages, football was being singled out for special treatment. Amongst the sports listed, it is noticeable that Football is predominantly the most working class sport, and the one that generates the most visible passion and support.

Conclusion

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Taylor Report was a part of wider class issues in 1980′s Britain – the report is couched in ‘top-down’ class semantics. Clearly, Taylor was no football fan. The language is evocative of a victorian philanthropist investigating inner-city slums, holding firm to pre-conceived agendas and prejudices. Not just from a personal perspective, but we cannot expect a Lord Justice – instructed by a hard-line conservative Government – to be too bothered about understanding the culture of Football, THE working class sport. Thatcher had shown a willigness to ‘take on’ football earlier in the 80′s – it is believed that pressure from Thatcher herself led to UEFA banning English clubs after Heysel. For Thatcher and her Government, was Hillsborough part of the wider class struggle, much the same as the miners strike and the Poll Tax riots? It is hard to come to any conclusion other than that Taylor and the Government used Hillsborough - and the deaths of 96 people – as cover for gentrifying football and firing another shot across the bows of ordinary working people.

 

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10 Comments

Filed under debate, social history, Uncategorized

10 responses to “The Taylor report unpicked: Class bias

  1. John Erickson

    If I may put you on the spot, do you think it was solely the scale of the Hillsborough tragedy that triggered the attempts at reform, or was Hillsborough simply “the straw that broke the camel’s back”? I don’t mean to sound callous – the loss of 96 lives IS a tragedy. I’m just curious, as the (admittedly VERY limited) amount of news coverage on British football over here seemed to always contain stories of fighting, very unruly mobs, and the fairly frequent large number of injured and (occasionally) a few fatalities. From my removed point of observation (and from your post), it seems like the actions taken after the report had already been planned, or at least discussed, and were in search of a justification, which was handily provided by the incident and subsequent report. Or am I just being paranoid? (Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they AREN’T really after you!) :)

  2. James Daly

    You do notice, looking at the various football disasters (Burnden Park, Ibrox, Bradford, Heysel), that each time there was a feeling of ‘something must be done’, then a report, then nothing was done. Each time more lives were lost, until it got to the point where almost a hundred people were killed. I do think the scale of the disaster had an effect, but also you notice, looking back, that the outpouring over Hillsborough was so emotive. In the main though, I think Hillsborough gave the authorities a convenient excuse to take a big axe to football, and deal with issues that had been lingering for some time.

    • John Erickson

      It’s a pity that the old saying “Safety regulations are written in blood” is so true. Unfortunately, it seems sports organisations the world over are far too prone to overlong inertia, then swing wildly in the opposite direction and try to rule out ANY form of danger. Far too often has the world of auto racing turned a blind eye to safety, then overreacted in a fit of excessive regulation to some incident which, with just a touch of common sense, could have been fixed for little cost and inconvenience. Then again, the same holds true for most of our regulated lives. Seatbelts were known about for decades before manufacturers were required to install them. Air travel is rife with similar situations. It’s a pity that business sense and common sense seem to be so mutually exclusive. Ah, the evils of capitalism! (Will that serve as my inaugural speech for my Communist party membership?) ;)

  3. I shall keep this Short, to the Point, & True…..

    This Disaster, would NOT have happened, if the POLICE on that fateful day had,

    a) Done there Job Properly..

    b) Not Opened the gate, a few minutes after 3pm…

    c) Told The Truth.

    The Police Lied, about this Awful tragedy, with NO Compassion to the People/Fans/Families/ & Player’s of both Clubs, & the holders of That Football Ground.

    The Police Lied to cover there backs, they lied to stop themselves getting Prosecuted, & they LIED so that the Families of these Liverpool Supports, could NOT grieve properly for the ones they LOST.

    NOW, if the People who “Carried Out” this report, weren’t paid to cover-up the truth, who weren’t Ordered to Lie, who were put on a “HIT-LIST” if they didn’t cover up & told the truth to the Press, so that the Families could put their lost ones to rest, maybe Football- Fan’s- & Families, could once again enjoy “The Beautiful Game”…..

    This STINK’S of “COVER-UP”……this is like saying something so stupid like there’s a Prince, But his real name should be, Harry Hewitt…
    (Just Google that name, the Evidence is there, not my doing)
    Anyway……
    The Establishment need to tell the Truth…..

    The Police, NEED to tell the TRUTH about 15/04/89.

    The Families Need to tell the Truth..

  4. Pingback: The Taylor Report unpicked: the shadow of hooliganism « Daly History Blog

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