Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have heard ad nauseum that April 15, 2012, is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RSS Titanic after striking an iceberg. What is more, you’ll probably have watched some of the many films, miniseries, documentaries, etc… about the disaster that are being broadcast on every TV channel right now. And in fact, I should have a review of the most recent Julian Fellowes’ miniseries coming on this blog in a couple of days.
But for now, let us remember the other disaster with a major loss of life that happened on a 15th of April. For April 15, 2012 is also the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, where 96 Liverpool football fans died after a deadly crush during the 1989 FA Cup semi-finals at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield.
I remember seeing footage of the Hillsborough disaster on the German TV news back in 1989. It was three days to my 16th birthday – the same age as many of the victims. But in the 1980s there seemed to be stadium disasters involving British football fans all the time. There was the Heysel Stadium disaster, the Bradford Stadium fire and the German media always blamed the disasters on British football hooligans, which is flat out wrong in the case of Hillsborough and Bradford, neither of which was caused by hooligans. And in retrospect, the coverage in the German media makes me angry.
Fast forward seven years. I’m a student doing my semester abroad at the University of Westminster. I’m very careful to stay away from British football fans, because everybody knows that they are horrible hooligans. Except that the football fans I saw on the tube or at the train station were no different from the football fans back at home and certainly no more violent.
I live in an attic in Harlesden not far from Kensal Green Cemetery. And because I like historic cemeteries I visit the cemetery and come across a grave that is bedecked with football memorablia for Liverpool FC. Curious, I investigate further and notice that it’s a double grave for two young men, brothers apparently, who died on the same day in 1989. At the time, I didn’t make the connection – I thought they must have died in a car accident or something like that.
Sometime later, in a sociology class at university, we discuss boycotts and why they’re so rarely successful and a student says, “Well, the boycott against The Sun is Liverpool is an example that was successful.”
“Why does Liverpool boycott the Sun?”, I ask the student sitting next to me.
“Because of their coverage about the Hillsborough Stadium disaster”, he answers.
“Which one was Hillsborough?”, I ask, “The one where the stands burned down?”
“No, the disaster where more than ninety Liverpool fans were crushed to death against the steel fences.”
“Oh yes, I remember seeing that in the news. It was horrible.”
This was the point where I realized that the German media reporting about the Hillsborough disaster had swallowed the Sun‘s lies unquestioned.
I didn’t really think about the Hillsborough disaster again until the 20th anniversary in 2009, when I chanced to see a list of those who had died and their photos posted online. And I thought, “Crap, those kids were my age. And they were the age of my students, many of whom are huge football fans.” This was also when I read up about the disaster and was shocked to discover that the families were still waiting for answers twenty years later.
I sometimes read a text about the Hillsborough disaster in class with my 8th and 9th grade students, because many of my students are football fans and the same age as many of the victims were. The Hillsborough text always leads to good discussions about the role of the media and the fact that human stampedes and mass crushes still happen (e.g. the Love Parade disaster in 2010).
So in addition to the 1514 people who died aboard the Titanic, let’s also remember the 96 people who died at the Hillsborough Stadium.