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Birth of a fan's voice Birth of a fan's voice
by Asa Butcher
Issue 4
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One of the first national fan-produced magazines emerged from Birmingham, entitled Off The Ball. Editor Adrian Goldberg wrote in his opening paragraph: We won’t be treated like idiots anymore. We being “ordinary” supporters of mainly ordinary clubs, who are sick of being portrayed as morons in the press, tired of being patronised by television’s lifeless coverage of a great sport, and most of all angry at being manipulated by tyrannical directors and administrators who, in their eagerness to “modernise” our game, show all the rationality of headless chickens.

Within its sixteen A4 pages was an interview with Rogan Taylor, who had just founded the Football Supporters Association (FSA). On the back cover, there was a membership form for anybody wishing to join, describing itself as a “democratic organization” and stated its aim of “REPRESENTATION for ordinary supporters on football’s ruling bodies.” The FSA was formed in Liverpool, following the Heysel tragedy, as a radical pressure group, chaired by Rogan.

The zines gave football fans a universal soccer forum and began to unite supporters from all corners of the divisions. One Rotherham supporter joked, “I never thought I’d have anything in common with a Chelsea fan, but it just shows, things aren’t always what they seem.” The police began to listen to the editors of the zines and one Superintendent admitted to being genuinely surprised that supporters felt so strongly and could express themselves so articulately about their experiences with the police at matches.

Between March 1986 and April 1989 over 140 different football zines were available. While the zine phenomenon grew, so did the Government’s and media’s obsession with hooliganism at football matches. The press were amplifying the moral panic and pressurising the Sports Minister Colin Moynihan into tighter controls and regulations. Moynihan proposed to make supporters carry an identity card that they must show in order to gain entry into grounds, if they were arrested for violence then the card would be confiscated, effectively barring them from future games.

Opposition to this scheme came from fans, clubs, the police and even some Tory MPs, all of whom believed that the issue of spectator safety was far more important. During a debate on the Football Spectators Bill, one peer pointed out that there was more chance of being attacked on the streets of Windsor than at a match.

Arguments against the I.D. card not only included the economics in setting up the scheme, but the fact that the majority of violence occurred outside the ground. Police tactics, segregation and cameras had reduced anti-social behaviour inside the grounds to virtually zero. Many zines also pointed to an increased camaraderie between rival fans since the formation of the FSA and tried to warn of the danger that cards could bring by delaying entry into grounds even further, increasing the rush to get onto the terraces before kick-off.

Following a cup game in February 1988, between Q.P.R. and West Ham, WSC published a two-page report reviewing the dangerous overcrowding it witnessed in the away end and underlined their fears of a potential disaster, which a card scheme could bring. The writers, Paul Caulfield and Mike Ticher, voiced their concerns by quoting a paragraph from an inquiry into the 1946 disaster at Burnden Park:

How easy it is for a dangerous situation to arise in a crowded enclosure. It happens again and again without fatal, or even injurious consequences. But its danger is that it requires so little influence - an involuntary sway, an exciting moment, a comparatively small addition to the crowd, the failure of one part of one barrier - to translate the danger in terms of death and injuries.

They ended with the question, “What if there had been fences in front of the terraces?”

Within 15 months, they had an answer when 94 Liverpool fans were crushed to death at Hillsborough. Quickly labelled a disaster by the press, Government and the general public, but many football zine writers preferred to describe it as a ‘predictable consequence’ caused by a system they had been campaigning to change since Heysel and Bradford. In the aftermath, fans were symbolised as ‘drunken yobs’ and ‘violent hooligans’ by the media and coarse football culture became a scapegoat.

Headlines such as ‘Shut the terraces NOW’ (Daily Star), ‘Gates of Hell’ (The Sun) and ‘Cage of Death’ (Today) fuelled the public outrage and the Government responded by promising a full inquiry, which was treated with contempt by the majority of fans. However, the reports produced by Lord Justice Taylor were insightful and even received input from the FSA bringing a balanced approach to the proceedings. His preliminary report relinquished Liverpool supporters of the responsibility and blamed the police.

Their approach to football was more of a public order problem rather than a form of entertainment, while their tactics involved merely containment and damage limitation. Taylor blamed poor access into the ground and the fences enclosing the terraces, his final report recommended:

As for the clubs, in some instances it is legitimate to wonder whether directors are genuinely interested in the welfare of their grassroots supporters...until recently, very few clubs consulted to any significant extent with supporters or their organizations. (Hillsborough Stadium Disaster, 15/4/89, Final report, para. 53, 1990)

Taylor suggested that football directors should enlist the goodwill and help of the decent majority, which was pivotal in providing the FSA and other Independent Supporters Association’s equal representation with the FA, clubs and police. The zines gave unrelenting support to the FSA, championing the cause by promoting its aims and objectives throughout their issues. The network of supporters across England allowed the FSA to amass over 250,000 signatures on a petition against Moynihan’s proposed membership scheme and to also receive public support from Lord Justice Taylor.

The Taylor report not only offered prestige to official fan organisations but also began to change the public’s perception of the football fan. They were no longer a single entity, intoxicated by alcohol and determined to unleash chaos wherever they went. It was recognised that they were normal individuals, united in support of a club. They were articulate, intelligent and passionate enough to create zines and other publications to vocalise their grievances because, as Bill Shankly, Scottish footballer and club manager, once famously stated, “Some people think football is a matter of life and death...I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”

   
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