Hello everyone, hope all is well wherever you’re reading this from. Whatever you do or don’t celebrate this week I hope that you are at the very least in the company of good friends and family. Only once in a while do I feel homesick for London and Christmas plus a football match on Boxing Day is usually at the summit of that which I miss. New Years Eve was also usually good for a concert as well. Still…that was then and this is 2012.
What might turn into a long post today then and one that is my reaction to news that hopefully brought a very warm feeling yesterday to those who were paying attention. A little bit of background information if you’re not from the UK if you’ll forgive me.
From the time I can remember and especially when people bought lots (I mean huge amounts) of records, the quest for being number one/top of the charts at Christmas has been chased by many. It brings a lot of press and needless to say a lot of sales as (especially back in the 70s and 80s) a number one single at Christmas would outsell any other week of the year by huge margins. Over the years a series of obvious pop stars and divas have won the battle to be at the top December 25th and in more recent years the trend has been for very depressing X-Factor/Simon Cowell conveyor belt shit. Needless to say I think I stopped paying much attention to the charts around the last day I worked in a record shop (in another life it seems) although I’m happy to say I did often key in the catalogue numberby accident for the newest B.A.D. or Redskins single when I was there trying to bump the music I liked up the charts. There have been more Christmas number ones to cause pain than relief over the last 30 something years but in truth none stood out from the collective fog if you just look over this list.
So why am I mumbling on about hit singles in the UK at Christmas you might wonder? Cast your memory back to middle part of 2011 for the answer and even further back to April of 1989 for the reason.
The FA Cup Semi-Final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest took place on a neutral ground back in 1989 and the semis always did back in the day. The venue chosen that year was Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough in South Yorkshire. Those of my vintage will remember that more than 2/3 of those in attendance at most football matches back then were standing on concrete terraces versus those who sat in stands (I realise that last phrase makes little sense). The terraces varied depending on the stadium from vast expanses of concrete steps (terraces) that would be about 5-8 feet deep, gradually stacked down toward the pitch. At some grounds including the one in Sheffield the terraces were divided into separate pens, allowing for the crowd to be broken up and directed into smaller pockets that would hold a few thousand each. At my clubs home stadium one vast terrace had just an open expanse and you stood where you wanted, one end of the ground when full could hold in excess of 20,000 spectators. The only piece of ‘furniture’ on these terraces were steel crash barriers erected at chest height to slow the inevitable giant crowd surges during the ebb and flow of the match. At the most crowded games you often couldn’t raise your arms from your side and when exiting the stadium the mass of bodies could allow you to lift your feet from the ground and still keep moving. I remember that because that’s exactly what I’d experienced at games up and down the country throughout the 1980′s. Some stadiums such as Hillsborough also featured perimeter fencing around the pitch, designed to stop crowd trouble and pitch invasions. These also were made of steel.
If it sounds like your average football supporter were herded like cattle during those times that is because we were and it was accepted because that was the way it had always been.
You can read elsewhere in depth about what happened that day on April 15th, 1989 in Sheffield. It pains me to recall it and expand upon it but the short summary in Wikipedia is essentially what you need to know:
“The 1989 Hillsborough disaster was a human crush which occurred during the FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest football clubs on 15 April 1989 at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England. The crush resulted in the deaths of 96 people and injuries to 766 others. The incident remains the worst stadium-related disaster in British history and one of the world’s worst football disasters.”
If that wasn’t tragic enough, what happened in the days, weeks and months that followed was even more sickening. The crush happened due to poor allocation of police/stewarding resources in the minutes directly before and after kickoff. While there was sufficient space of all of the Liverpool supporters at that end of the stadium, hundreds and hundreds were allowed/directed into the central pens that were already above capacity. The sheer volume of people caused the crush and with the fences at the front of the terrace nobody could escape to the field to lessen the crisis that rapidly escalated.
Again, you don’t need me to explain in depth how the official agencies of the police, club and emergency workers released information. Nor how the media portrayed the information that was being circulated. Within hours the blame was being firmly attached to the behaviour of the fans and within days due in no small part to the outrageous headlines published in one of the countries biggest Newspapers The Sun, the public at large were being told that this tragic event was due to drunken supporters, rowdy supporters, supporters arriving without tickets or a combination of all three.
The following year a government funded report found that the root cause for the disaster was the decisions made by the police, poor crowd management had led to the overcrowding of the central pen. The report was never as explicit as it needed to be as the emphasis was how to make grounds safer rather than truly examine the depth of incompetence, the net result was all major football stadiums had to be converted to all-seating facilities.
The families of those who died and the supporters not just of Liverpool but throughout the country then began a journey seeking a full inquiry into the actual events of that day. In 2011 the Hillsborough Justice Campaign was still fighting for this, some 22 years after the event. Peter Hooton of The Farm enlisted the support of Pete Wylie and Mick Jones to play a benefit concert in Liverpool that summer for The Hillsborough Justice Campaign, the gig that subsequently led to the Justice Tonight tours that I’ve written about in so much detail on the blog.
The momentum for new findings reached a climax in September of this year when an independent panel released it’s deep findings that Liverpool fans were in no way accountable for the incident. Worse than that the most offensive news was the depths of systemic cover ups and altering of evidence by the police and an incomprehensible approach to the response both in terms of the disaster response itself but also the medical examiners reports. The findings were sickening to read but at last the first true step towards justice. Space doesn’t allow me to go into it but the official report is worthy of your time as is this article that appeared in The Guardian.
I’m not sure that justice can ever be properly served but the next steps involve the families looking for a process in place to see an official inquiry to overturn what has been said and perpetuated over so many years. My phrasing of that is probably poor but you get the picture, the fight does continue. The new inquiry is now going to happen.
To that aim a single was planned by the ‘Justice Collective’ to raise funds for the campaign and while it features box office names such as Paul McCartney and Robbie Williams it’s Mick Jones who appears for a guitar solo on both the record and video below. Paul Heaton (The Housemartins, The Beautiful South) another bloke I hold in high esteem also features. I don’t know why the both Peters (Wylie and Hooton) aren’t on the single but we all know that it was their work along with Mick that kept the momentum and awareness high over the last 18 months.
The song was confirmed yesterday as the Christmas number one in the UK, selling over 250,000 copies and showing that a charity single for a worthwhile cause can still trump X-Factor nonsense. Seeing as it took such a special cause to get Mick on stage playing Clash songs with the Justice Tonight band it really is lovely to see him involved at this next hurdle and almost be the quiet instigator. The announcement of Mick being ‘top of the charts’ just a day after the 10th anniversary of Joe Strummer passing has a sweet sound to it – and let’s not forget that the very essence of Justice Tonight and the fight for the Hillsborough families is a protest song. It also shows that music and musicians can bring about positive awareness and yes perhaps a bit of change. Joe would have loved that.
This article in the Guardian today is also worth a read, more nods to Strummer are within of course. The below is from the Guardian.
“Ultimately, people are neither stupid nor callous, no matter how much corporate money is invested in the attempt to render them so. Mick Jones has not only kept the faith over the years but wised up; the result has been good for the cultural and spiritual health of the nation as well as a tribute to those who lost their lives and to those who not only lost loved ones but saw their memories so cynically and dishonestly besmirched.
A lot of people will get justice – if not tonight, then hopefully very soon.
Now that’s what I call a Merry Christmas”
.Justice Collective – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (the mighty Paul Heaton at 0:28 and Mick Jones appears at 3:21)
Justice for the 96.
Goodnight and Happy Christmas, Tim