Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Hillsborough 1989 (& Football Fans not Criminals 2016)

Earlier this month the BBC broadcast Daniel Gordon's moving documentary 'Hillsborough' about the terrible events of 15 April 1989  at the Liverpool vs. Nottingham Forest FA Cup semi-final which led to the death of 96 people. The film - minus its updated conclusion - was actually made a couple of years ago, and had been shown in the US, but could not be shown on British TV because of new inquests into the deaths after the High Court quashed the original verdicts in 2012.

In April 2016  the jury in the new inquest ruled that the 96 Liverpool fans had been 'unlawfully killed' in Sheffield, in effect confirming the verdict of the documentary that the police and the stadium's owners were responsible for the tragedy, not the actions of the fans.

This is what the Hillsborough Justice campaign has been arguing since day one, and in that respect the documentary was not surprizing.  That senior police officers, the Police Federation, and much of the press seem to have deliberately mis-represented what happened on that day to try and shift the blame on to the victims is nothing new either.  Out of respect for the dead some of the footage had been pixrlated so viewers were not exposed to the full horror of some of the images I recall from the time. But still I was shocked by details of the level of callous treatment meted out to relatives of the dead on the weekend of the disaster and for many years afterwards.

 The focus was very much on specific decisions made by senior local officers on the day, but it is also important to consider the broader picture. It is quite right that individuals should be held accountable for their actions, but the simple fact is that however clueless these decisions may have been, 96 people wouldn't have died if they hadn't have been penned in by fences at the side and in front that made it impossible for people to move away from overcrowded areas. It was the punitive official culture of treating football fans as dangerous animals that helped created this danger, and this was fed into by senior politicians and sports administrators. 

In the lead up to the disaster, for instance, a major focus of Margaret Thatcher's government was on trying to bring in a compulsory Football Membership Scheme ('football ID cards' to opponents) despite warnings about the risks of bottlenecks of fans building up around entry points to grounds (Hansard, 25 January 1989). Sports minister Colin Moynihan was widely criticised by fans for spearheading this policy (he went on to be a key figure in the athletics establishment, chairing the British Olympic Association from 2005 to 2012).  

Prime Mnister Margaret Thatcher at Hillsborough immediately after the tragedy
with Home Secretary Douglas Hurd and Sports Minister Colin Moynihan
I went to Hillsborough in that fateful season, to see Luton Town play away at  Sheffield Wednesday in August 1988 - an uneventful match, with only 16,000 present.  Like most football fans in the aftermath of the disaster I found it both unbelievable that something so terrible could happen in such a place, but also not entirely surprizing in a period when people's safety seemed to be a low priority. This was the era of the Bradford City stadium fire (56 dead in 1985), the Kings Cross station fire (31 dead in 1987), the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry disaster (131 people unlawfully killed in 1987) and the Clapham Rail crash (35 deaths in 1988), among others.

When Saturday Comes 1989

I write this not with the benefit of nearly 30 years of hindsight. While it might have taken the BBC and much of the press many years to catch up, football fans were making these same points at the time of the Hillsborough disaster. Here's a few extracts of an article from football zine 'When Saturday Comes' in June 1989:

The Football Association, police and Prime Minister all agree 'it wasn't our fault'.
The fans respond 'Oh well it must be our fault again'
'Like you, we have read a hell of a lot about Hillsborough over the last couple of weeks. We quickly reached saturation point, partly because there are a limited number of ways in which the same points can be made without becoming repetitious and partly because so many stupid things have been said. One thing deserves to be re-iterated, however. The deaths of ninety people at a football ground in Sheffield were not just another tragic accident. Instead, they were a predictable consequence of the fact that the people who run English football have stumbled from one crisis to another without evolving a coherent, consistent, policy to deal with any specific problem.

...the attitudes are as entrenched as ever. The same policemen adopt the same aggressive attitude to football, insisting that it should be treated as a public order problem rather than a form of entertainment. The same prejudice is attached to all football fans, deemed to be passive accomplices to the sociopathic minority. The police see us as a mass entity, fuelled by drink and a single-minded resolve to wreak havoc by destroying property and attacking one another with murderous intent. Containment and damage limitation is at the core of the police strategy. Fans are treated with the utmost disrespect. We are herded, cajoled, pushed, and corralled into cramped spaces, and expected to submit passively to every new indignity.

The implication is that 'normal' people need to be protected from the football fan. But we are normal people. The Football Fan' is not an easily defined social stereotype, whatever the tabloid cartoonists may choose to believe. All manner of people go to football matches. A few of them are intent on unleashing aggressive instincts which are also manifested in wine bars on a Saturday night or in tourist hotels on the Costa Del Sol. Thuggish behaviour is rarely reported in any detail when it can't be directly linked to a football match. Football is being made the scapegoat for a society brutalised over the last decade...

Complaints about safety and comfort were ignored because they were being made by supporters. Official action will be taken now, because the same points previously raised by fans are now being made by the government and the media. Their stupidity and cowardice over a long period of time allowed Hillsborough to happen. Symptomatic of their paralysis is the frequency with which a certain phrase crops up in their public pronouncements. We are informed, with wearying regularity, that football needs to 'put its house in order'. This is, of course, a laughably imprecise phrase, intended to imply a commitment to resolute action. Needless to say, it means absolutely nothing. Clubs have to accept a proportion of the blame. They own the fences and turnstiles that helped to cause the disaster. Sheffield Wednesday officials seemed to believe that, in an emergency, it would be possible to evacuate a large number of people thorough a tiny gate in the perimeter fencing. They and their colleagues at other League grounds across the country insult loyal, put-upon customers with the pathetic standard of amenities on offer. They have failed to develop long term strategies that rely on anything beyond glib slogans about families and the importance of sponsors. The executive box holders get central heating and smoked glass but the huddled majority don't deserve even an unobstructed view and a roof. 

There is very little commonsense applied to football. In no other area of life is the victim treated with as much disrespect as the perpetrator, nor the majority held to be guilty of the crimes perpetrated by a minority. But, ultimately, what happens to us doesn't matter. It is our own fault for being football fans. That is why MPs always ignored pleas from supporters' organisations seeking to prevent the sort of disaster which has become a reality. Whatever they may say, few politicians gave any indication that they cared about football fans before Hillsborough happened. Suddenly everyone knows the answer. A fortnight ago, they didn't even hear the question. It didn't take very long for Hillsborough to become our fault. Indeed, initial reports pinned blame on supporters who were believed to have broken down a gate. Later, as the analysts set to work, blame was heaped upon the large number of fans who arrived without tickets. Then the police's press department piped up, revealing that many were drunk and generally doing all the things that fans are famous for. Had the television cameras not been present to record the disaster as it unfolded, many people would have unquestioningly accepted the garbage that has been pumped out by some of the tabloid hacks. Fans have been both the prophesiers and the victims of Hillsborough, but who believes that they will be invited to play an active part in solving the problems which it highlighted? We will be obliged to meekly accept the remedy offered.

....Identification of the real culprits is lost amid desperate, scurrying attempts to avoid blame. The same people who indignantly call for the fences to be torn down now are the same ones who demanded that they should be put up in the first place. Thanks were duly said for there not having been any perimeter fences at Bradford, but no long-term lessons were learned from that fire' ('Surveying the Damage', When Saturday Comes, June 1989)

Football Fans not Criminals 2016

Football has changed so much since 1989, but many argue that one thing that hasn't changed is how fans can be treated. In fact this week a new campaign 'Football Fans not Criminals' is being launched which argues:

'ordinary law-abiding football fans are being treated like criminals. For merely attending a match and supporting their team, fans are subject to a series of special controls and restrictions which do not apply to supporters of other sports. There are 11 laws which apply only to football fans, creating offences which would not be an offence in a rugby or cricket stadium.

It is an offence to carry alcohol into a football stadium, to drink in view of the pitch, to sell or give away tickets, or to throw any item in the air, however innocuous. Football fans are also subject to special powers. Under Football Banning Orders, they can be banned from attending matches or asked to surrender their passports when club and country play abroad. Police forces can control fans’ travel to away matches, in some cases creating ‘bubble’ match restrictions, which ban independent travel on public transport or in cars. This regulation exists at a time when football-related violence and disruption is at an all-time low'.

The new campaign will be launched on Thursday 2 June 2016  from 7 pm upstairs at the Yorkshire Grey, 2 Theobalds Road, London WC1X 8PN. Speakers will include Ken Meech (Grimsby fan ludicrously prosecuted for assault with an inflatable shark), Martin Cloake (Tottenham Hotspur Supporters' Trust), Amanda Jacks (Football Supporters Federation), Duleep Allirajah (Palace-loving Spiked columnist), Peter Lloyd (author of 'Criminalising Football Fans') and solicitor Sarah Ricca.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Southwark Park 10k, May 2016

267 of us took part in a 10k in Southwark Park on 14th May,  organised by PB Race Events. The park hosts a weekly 5k parkrun on Saturday mornings,  on this occasion it was cancelled but many of the regulars stepped up to race the longer distance. 

As discussed here before, Southwark Park has a long athletics history  - including being the birth place of Cambridge Harriers. I can't say my own performance was particularly historic in the recent race, I started at PB pace but soon fizzled out. The course, while flat, wasn't particularly PB friendly as there were two hairpin bends to negotiate on each of the three laps. But I don't think I can really blame my sluggish second half on that - it didn't stop others.

The race was won by David Henderson of Inverclyde AC, with Tilly Snow of Stragglers running club the first female finisher (full results here)

The finish line of a well organised race

Some of my fellow Hilly Fields parkrun and Kent AC regulars at Southwark Park 10k

I wandered over to nearby Canada Water afterwards, a watery remnant of the old Canada Dock which now has a Decathlon sports store next to it and waterfowl nesting on it, including this lovely swans nest.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Night of the 10,000m PBs 2016

Everyone in UK athletics is buzzing about last Saturday's
'Night of the 10,000m PBs' at Parliament Hill Track, home of Highgate Harriers, so I won't labour the point too much. Yes, it was just as exciting as everybody is saying it was, top quality racing, beer, music and a great crowd. Best of all seeing some of the country's best long distance runners at very close distance (the crowd was in lane three) as they competed not only for the British Championships but for a place on the squad for the Rio Olympics.
A pleasant late Spring evening on Parliament Hill - hard to believe that the hill in the background was the scene of winter cross country hell!
Kent AC's Owen Hind paces the men's B race - and outpaces the Lamborghini (OK it wasn't actually moving)
Kent AC's Chris Greenwood runs past the Samba band in one of the earlier races
The women's elite race goes past in a blur - pacer Helen Clitheroe in front followed at this stage by Jo Pavey and Kate Avery: I hope one of them gets to go to Rio with phenomenal first two UK finishers Jess Andrews and Beth Potter
Running legend David Bedford presents a medal to 3rd place Andy Vernon

See also:

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Ladywell track: Spike Milligan and some more vintage photos

Some more old photographs of the track at Ladywell Arena in Lewisham, home of Kent Athletic Club.

First picture was sent to me by club member Paul Crompton.  The track looks much as now, but without the high fence surrounding it or the floodlighting. The photo is is undated,  but I am guessing  some time in the 1970s. In the background you can see the old iron railway bridge for pedestrians crossing the track, which has been replaced with a concrete structure.


Similar view today

This Getty Image is captioned 'Cubs from the 23rd Lewisham North Pack in London train at Ladywell Park for their athletes Proficiency Badge' and is dated December 1955.

This newspaper clipping popped up on ebay, only information is that it's from 1955. Headlined 'Off to the track' it reads ' Dorothy Lamb, a Suffolk County sprint champion carries her starting blocks to the track ready for a spell of training at Ladywell Park'. I haven't found a Ladywell Park anywhere on google, nor is there another Ladywell track past or present listed at the UK running track directory - so assume this must be at our Ladywell track in Lewisham.

Here's a picture of the comedian Spike Milligan, who grew up in Lewisham.I can't find one of him at Ladywell unfortunately but he also used to hang out at the track.

'Prior to the war, I was a keep-fit addict. Every morning you could see people counting the bones in my skinny body at Ladywell Recreation Track, as I lifted barbells. Sometimes we were watched by admiring girls from Catford Labour Exchange'
('Adolf Hilter: my part in his downfall' by Spike Milligan, 1971)

See also:

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Running Haiku: Cherry Blossom

Through a pink shower
Running under the May trees
Cherry blossom boy

(photos from the former St John's churchyard, Fair Street, SE1 on my regular run commute route, except one below from Osaka in land of the cherry blossom, sent to me last week by my daughter who is visiting Japan)

Thursday, 12 May 2016

My (not so) brilliant junior career- 1970s Luton schools cross country

Among school reports and other memorabilia kept by my Mum I recently came across two stapled, duplicated sheets giving details of a cross country race I took part in way back in November 1975, when I was 12 years old.
The event was organised by Luton United Athletic Club at Stopsley, with a young boys race for the 'White Trophy', the 'Ninth annual colts cross country race' which I took part in over two miles, and the 'boys cross country relay race' (4 x 2 miles). Not sure of the age rages, the young boys is described as under 12s and I am guessing that the colts was 12-14s and the boys 14-16.
It seems to have been quite a big event. I ran for my school, Icknield High, but there were also clubs from across the country taking part such as Aldershot, Farnham & District AC,  Shaftesbury Harriers, Thames Valley Harriers, Hillingdon AC and Havering AC. Prizes were presented by Tony Simmons, the Luton runner who had won the 1975 National Cross Country Championships, also held in Luton at Stopsley, and was to go on the following summer to come 4th in the 10,000m at the 1976 Montreal Olympics (he now coaches the great Kate Avery).
'Betting in any form is strictly prohibited'
I've no idea how I did but I doubt if I set the town alight. In PE lessons I usually finished at or near the top in cross country runs around the playing fields and adjacent marshes - I like to think that this wasn't just due to not stopping for a smoke - and this led to me sometimes running for the school team. The only record I have of an actual result is from February 1977 when I wrote in my diary 'I ran in the Luton schools cross country championships at Stopsley. The snow covered course was 3 miles long. I came 79th out of 103, I was 4th out of 15 for our school'.  I also recorded that I had run the most laps for my class in 'a sponsored run for the school mini bus fund' doing '14 laps in 28.5 minutes', as well as coming to second to last in 800m on school sports day.
It was to be more than 30 years after leaving school before I took part in another race. I know some people who return to running in their middle age regret the lost years and wonder how well they could have done if they'd kept at it when they were younger. I've no doubt that if I'd trained as hard as I do now in my 20s and 30s I would have got some faster PBs than I am now ever likely to achieve, but in those days staying up dancing was my only endurance exercise.  My school record suggests in any case that I would probably have ended up at a similar level to where I am now. At school I was good enough to be picked for the team, but not good enough to finish near the front in competitive races. And today I am usually one of the first in age category at parkruns, but towards the back quarter in serious club competitions.  In fact I haven't made much progress since the mid-1970s - my 1500m PB when I was 14 was 5:52, last year I ran the slightly longer City of London Mile in 5:55. Perhaps I could just about take down my 14 year old self, but then again I am at least six inches taller!

(see previous post on Wardown parkrun and 140 years of Luton running history)


Posted on 'I was, or am a runner!' group on facebook this is a  preview of the 1975 English National Cross Country Championships mentioned above, held at Stopsley in Luton: 'Runners who believe in real cross country should have no complaints about the course in Luton today... The three miles lap takes in a very steep hill and a long section of plough as well as grassland. Conditions will be muddy'. Luton's Tony Simmons ('The Man to Beat') won this race, while Steve Ovett (described here as 'dark horse') won the Junior race.


Sunday, 8 May 2016

Reading Half Marathon 2016

Reading Half Marathon last month (April 3rd) was a big event, more than 15,000 runners starting out in the Green Park business park on the edge of the town and running a route that took in the University campus and the town centre before finishing in the Madejski Stadium (home to Reading FC and London Irish rugby club).
A runner at the start with a 'Be more Izzard' t-shirt
- Eddie Izzard had just completed 27 marathons in as many days
The men's winner was Robert Mbitha in 1.02.57 while first woman finisher was Jenny Nesbitt (Worcester AC), running her first half marathon in 1:12:54 (Jenny is a prolific running blogger at Run With a Smile) .

This was the 33rd Reading Half, and the race has clearly become a significant fixture in the town's calendar as well as for runners, including those preparing for Marathons later in the spring. There were big crowds in parts of the course - especially in the town centre - along with cheerleaders, bands, DJs and even free beer for runners during the race at the Nags Head pub.
Runners grab a beer
(picture from Get Readng's extensive coverage of race)
Towards the end of the course a band was playing Chic's Good Times and in my state of semi-exhaustion I understood for the first time that this song isn't a paean to Studio 54 disco hedonism after all but is in fact an exhortation to chase PBs! Sadly it wasn't to be for me, I finished 20 seconds outside PB.
I made the obvious mistake of charging off after a pacing group that was going much faster than my target time, it was great for the first 8 miles or so then there came a point where the route climbed up hill out of the town centre and I just started to flag. I tried to push hard in the final mile but it was too late. Just after finishing I collapsed with the worst attack of cramps I've had - it felt like all the muscle groups in both legs gave up a the same time. A sign that I hadn't really trained properly either - I think after running a Marathon last year I had a blasé attitude of 'well it's only a half'. I imagined that a vigorous winter of cross country with the odd longer run would be enough to carry me through.
So the lessons are keep to target pace and respect the distance - 13 miles at race pace is a long way!
At the finish - once I could stand again - with Kent AC colleagues Zuzana and Ted

Reading has a reputation for being a fast course, which it may well be, but don't let anyone tell you that it is flat!
The race is very well organised, one thing to note is that depending on your start position it can be quite a walk to the start from the baggage/toilet area.