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And the Sun Shines Now: How Hillsborough and the Premier League Changed Britain by Adrian Tempany, book review
The impact on the country of Hillsborough and the sanitisation of its favourite sport
There is an oft-repeated line that Gazza's tears that night in Turin in 1990 baptised modern English football. A game that was previously the property of working-class men whose hard drinking would often cause them to fight one another, was suddenly opened to new audiences – women, for a start. And, smelling opportunity – quite rightly as it turned out – the big fish arrived, led by Rupert Murdoch.
Adrian Tempany thinks the story starts a little bit earlier. Specifically, the day in 1989 that he stood on the Leppings Lane terrace at Hillsborough as his arms and legs and chest went numb and he watched the faces of those around him turn blue, but "literally couldn't lift a finger to help".
A Liverpool fan and a journalist, in The Sun Shines Now, Tempany tells the story of the changing face of Britain in the 25 years since Hillsborough through the prism of football. When 96 people died (almost all young men below the age of 30) on that terrace in Sheffield, the nation was told it had been the fault of drunk Liverpool fans. We now know we were lied to, but at the time it was enough to turn people's affections away from the game. Youngsters were suddenly more into ecstasy and the Happy Mondays than drink and football.
It was an all-but-written-off England team's emotionally-charged success in Italia '90 that brought it roaring back and, with perfect timing, it would land in a footballing pasture newly sanitised by all the changes Hillsborough would bring. It's polemical prose. The Hillsborough disaster, the Zebrugge ferry, The King's Cross fire and the Clapham rail crash are all roundly blamed on Margaret Thatcher and the spirit of deregulation (even though the Kings Cross fire was caused by debris below stairs that the author admits "hadn't been cleaned for 40 years".)
Those who have followed the recent uncovering of the Hillsborough cover-up and the phone hacking scandal or England's progress in Italia '90 as they emerged in real time will have little need for Tempany's potted history of them and probably even less so the threads he weaves between them, which at times feel like the work of a conspiracy theorist; that The Sun denigrating Liverpool fans at Hillsborough was somehow part of Rupert Murdoch's masterplan to buy up the game.
Now, football feels like it belongs to everybody and Tempany, as one "sustained football in its darkest days" is among many fans who doesn't really want that to be so.
He writes of the anger among fans who "object to their passion being counterfeited and sold overseas" and notes how the FA Cup Final kick-off last year was timed for foreign television audiences, meaning empty seats at Wembley and not enough trains back to Manchester and Wigan for the fans.
Recently a growing movement for the return of standing to stadiums has had some success and Tempany hopes "standing culture" will return with it. For those who love football, his trips to German matches are depressingly illuminating – standing on terraces, drinking a pint: "I had the sense, for the first time since I was a teenager, that nothing else really existed outside of the stadium."
As with any non-fiction tale that uses a particular vehicle to guide us through a period of time, there are always doubts over the powers of causation – the story can only be seen once it is fully formed and plausability is not the same as truth. But given the Germans are again back to beating England, even its Premier League teams, there is much in And the Sun Shines Now by way of prescription for how real English football fans could and should demand better.
And anyone who remembers Hillsborough, (I do, as it happens. It is the first news event I can remember), can't fail to be moved, frustrated and deeply angered, by this fan's first hand account. Like Ian McEwan's evacuation of Dunkirk in Atonement, except this has been remembered, not imagined. It is worth buying the book just for that.
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