Trauma informed fans

Date: 21st October 2022

This week’s first blog from our Donald.

Trauma informed fans

There was a banner at the Rangers v Liverpool game at Ibrox which highlighted common ground between them. It was not a shared event but a shared experience. Both sets of supporters have contributed, tragically, to the cliché that fans should always come home after a game.

Rangers – Ibrox 1971, which led to the stadium becoming the first majority seated ground in the UK and Liverpool – Hillsborough 1989 which followed with a report which saw the rest of the UK catch up and all major stadia have seated regulation.

Clichés are clichés because they hold universal truths.

We are fortunate that we have not to add Paris 2021 to that cannon of tragedy. UEFA had inadequately prepared, disastrously managed the event and are now disgracefully part of the aftermath.

Liverpool managed to get to the Champions League Cup Final in Paris. It was a massive event.

Of course, it is for any football fan – your team attempting to become the best in Europe. The final against Real Madrid saw two of the most successful European clubs pitted against each other in a showcase event that would be beamed across the world. As always, the quality of the sport was on a pedestal for all to see.

Liverpool fans were giddy as Jurgen Klopp had taken them to a third European final. It was their 10th such flirtation with the contest. You can imagine the anticipation.

English football was on a high with Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal seen to be amongst the elite. Even Manchester United were able to win a European trophy during a stuttering domestic record.

But then the event unfolded. Now remember that for many fans, they were veterans of Hillsborough. There, the organisers of the security made fatal decisions which led to a crush injuring some and killing many, many others – 97. The police were culpable on the day and then afterwards both the organisers and the media castigated the fans for their behaviour. Decades later the truth emerged of collusion on a scale never seen before within the police service.

And so, survivors of that tragedy with a club who had suffered at the hands of authorities who should know better, behave better and just be better arrived once again trusting that what happened to them before was never, ever to happen again.

Paris 2021.

The turnstiles were chaos. Supporters were allowed in without tickets. Like a gate opening for a flood of bodies, some were ushered through. Unlike Hillsborough though they were met with tear gas, batons and physical assaults by the police.

There came a warning in the stadium that the kickoff would be delayed due to the late arrival of Liverpool fans. They had been standing outside for hours. There was the narrative put out of forged tickets. There is scant evidence if any at all of this – the lies had begun.

But why?

Perhaps it is because the Paris police were planning for the event using a report which highlighted the hooligan nature of Liverpool supporters due to Hillsborough. A thoroughly discredited report which was shown to simply be – a lie.

Upon leaving the ground, to compound physical injury to mental anguish, Liverpool supporters were attacked by marauding gangs, some with machetes. Their call for assistance seems to have gone unheeded to the police on the ground, perhaps due to some form of prejudice against them?

And so, the crush on the way in, the manhandling by the police, the lies in the media and now the lack of a credible investigation…

I was not at Hillsborough. I was six when the Ibrox disaster happened. I have no friends or family who have experienced either event but know of one guy who was at Hillsborough on the day it all happened, and he stands at Somerset Park fortnightly to support his hometown team – Liverpool, I suppose are his wee team. But I can remember – vividly – the day Hillsborough unfolded. I remember how I was swayed by The Sun and the media reports. I then saw an interview with him in the local paper and my view radically changed. It took years but it takes minutes for me to think that UEFA have a lot to answer for. So too, do the Paris Police force. Trauma is a significant factor in so much these days that I cannot see the name UEFA without feeling a trauma of my own – and a fear that one day, unless the arrogance of authority is brought to heel that there shall be another banner, at another ground with a third disaster linked to those from which others have simply refused to learn.

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