I know the truth, and I know what you're thinking

Football can be cruel, can't it. Another woeful refereeing performance at Port Vale did us no favours, and we're clinging on to safety by our fingernails. It's going to be a gruelling few weeks to the end of the season. Events off the pitch were even more worrying, with several fans stating on social media that the police were using pepper spray and hitting people with batons. Some people identified one officer in particular as being excessively heavy-handed, and I believe a formal complaint has been made. One Latics fan tweeted to say he'd been pepper sprayed, then when he stopped walking because he couldn't see, the police hit him for not moving on. Staffordshire Police posted a quite frankly pathetic tweet condemning the "appalling" behaviour of a minority of fans, ending with "Expect repercussions" and an emoji, like a schoolchild might post. It's an all too familiar story to those of us who have been going to the match for a long time, and it's incredibly disappointing that this kind of thing still happens.


Sadly, they'll get away with it, because the police treating football fans as criminals is nothing new, and they've got away with far, far worse. Thirty-three years ago today, 97 people were unlawfully killed at an FA Cup semi final. Not one police officer has been held criminally accountable for those 97 unlawful killings. The only person to have been convicted of a criminal offence in relation to the Hillsborough disaster was Graham Mackrell, the Sheffield Wednesday club secretary at the time. He was found guilty of failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act. He was fined £6500.


I had just turned 8 at the time of the Hillsborough disaster, and I can't go into too much detail as it's not my story to tell, but I had close family at the game, and it was both the worst day of my life and the most formative. You're taught to trust the police as a kid, aren't you? "If you're lost, find a policeman. If you're in trouble, find a policeman." So it was quite an eye-opener to watch the horror unfold on TV, to hear on Grandstand that Liverpool fans were ripping the hoardings down and using them as stretchers to carry the injured, then to hear, first hand, that night, that the police actively obstructed fans who were pleading for help. That they responded to fans who told them "there's people dying in there, do something!" with "Get off the pitch or I'm going to arrest you".


The cover up started before the news of the disaster broke. David Duckinfield's lie that 'the fans broke down the gate' went around the world despite Des Lynam and Jimmy Hill saying on Grandstand and on Match of the Day that they'd spoken to numerous witnesses who said that didn't happen and the police opened the gate without closing the tunnel to the already full pens. And then the real smear campaign started. The Sun, vile as it was, was just the worst of a bad bunch in terms of the media coverage. There's some dark comedy in the utter absurdity of the police statements - many of them altered to the point of totally changing their meaning. My favourite, which was highlighted in the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel report, claimed that "fans were drinking a combination of everything, barring heavy spirits, from beer, cider, wine, big bottles, cans, carafes of wine.” CARAFES OF WINE?!? If you're too young to remember the 1980s, children, let me tell you, then, as now, no fucker was walking to the game drinking from a fucking carafe of wine. "Care for a drop of Chateau Neuf du Pape, Terry?" "nah you're alright Tarquin I'll stick to me Skol ta kid."


It worked, though. To this day, people argue "well they weren't totally innocent, were they?", despite a jury who have seen far more evidence than them answering the question "Was there any behaviour on the part of the football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?" with a resounding "No". And this is the root of the culture that allows police to pepper spray people, to hit them with batons, to think they're above the law, and some people will respond on twitter with "good for you, never mind this human rights nonsense". I can't tell you how draining it is to spend decades correcting lies about Hillsborough. But this is why we have to. Because we still - STILL! - have to fight to be treated as full citizens by the police, some of whom clearly still think we're animals to be contained, or vermin to be removed.


One of the good things about modern technology is that it's easier to highlight when the police behave like they're above the law, it's easier to network and organise, and lots of people have cameras and the means to share the footage. If you have any footage of what happened at Port Vale, or if you were attacked by the police, please contact Faircop and/or the club safety officer at Safety.Officer@oldhamathletic.co.uk. We're not criminals, we're not animals, and it's unacceptable that some police think we can be treated like this. They need to be held accountable.




Written by Arlene Finnigan


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