James Lawton: Fresh Hillsborough inquiry can finally end a scandal greater than Terry's fall
Saturday 06 February 2010
Fabio Capello has had some important issues to thrash around the last few days, no question, but if we are talking about trouble-shooting football scandal management he might agree he has been operating on a rather lower rung than the Rt Rev James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool.
Not in terms of exposure, of course not, but in the meaning of what he has been doing, in the potential scale of the righting of wrongs, unquestionably.
The Bishop has agreed to head a panel that for the next year or so will pour over every piece of documentation available on the Hillsborough tragedy and the prayer must be that he has the energy and the will and the political fearlessness to do a forensic job. And that in the end he will do what has not been done by coroners, courts of law, home secretaries.
He will, we can hope, say what Lord Taylor, the only truly independent adjudicator of the disaster, said so long ago, that the police operation was an outrage along with the fact that when the lives were lost the Hillsborough stadium was not in possession of a current safety certificate.
He may also say that the time has finally come for some definitive statement on failings, individual and collective, that first allowed the tragedy to progress, then grievously impaired the effort to save lives.
It is a huge and solemn assignment and its objective is poignantly defined by Trevor Hicks, who lost his daughters, Sarah and Vicky, in the Leppings Lane crush which claimed the lives of 96 innocent people 21 years ago. "We want to hear the whole story," he said. "We're still looking for answers."
Some, with astonishing impertinence, have already suggested that Mr Hicks and his allies in the Hillsborough Family Support Group are in error, that it is long past the time when they should have drawn a line against all the pain and the grief that came with their loss. Unfortunately, they cannot. And then, when you think about it, who really could?
Who could ever forget for a single day that a loved one had died needlessly, because of gross official incompetence, and in that terrible chasm left in your life there is not available even the smallest of consolations that might have been provided by something even hinting at apology?
You cannot forget if you were simply at Hillsborough that day, untouched personally by the grim, inevitable accumulation of death but near demented by the idea that something disastrous had been put in motion and could not stop.
You cannot forget the suspicion already forming that there would indeed be a cover-up when prime minister Margaret Thatcher arrived at the stadium the following day with flowers in her hands, and, it has to be said, platitudes on her lips.
Move on, the Hillsborough families have been told so often. Yet they refuse to budge – and they should be honoured and not scorned, in some time-worn way, by those who refuse for one reason or another to recognise the scale of the injustice that will always lay like a stone on their hearts.
You may strain to make the link between Hillsborough and the John Terry affair and at one level you are right. One is about something as fundamental as the need for recognition that those entrusted with the care of people are answerable when that duty is abandoned as shockingly as it was at Hillsborough. The other is a reflection of what happens when someone as crass as Terry abuses the privileges he has gained in a society where the dividing between right and wrong is not so much a matter of debate but a source of ridicule.
In precisely a week though there has been some closure on the Terry business. He has paid a price for his misjudgements, a financial one of some weight when you measure the systematic attempt of his advisers to drag from it every commercial possibility.
Twenty one years on, there is still no hint of closure in the matter of Hillsborough. Not in the vital matter of responsibility, of any acceptance that terrible mistakes, appalling negligence, made the tragedy and that someone should be answerable.
The Terry affair offended some sensibilities. The one of Hillsborough took 96 lives and shattered what was left of many others. The testaments of those required to live out the rest of their lives under such a shadow vary only in the degree of the pain expressed and the details of their peculiar horrors.
If Terry's behaviour was some kind of commentary on contemporary values, the refusal to acknowledge significantly the cry for justice over Hillsborough remains a direct and disturbing statement about the reluctance of official bodies to acknowledge honestly their own failures.
Fabio Capello was required to deal with one example of human frailty and impose upon it a degree of logic and discipline.
The Bishop of Liverpool must seek atonement for a catastrophe in a football ground that still holds up a mirror to the way our society is run. Capello acted with commendable swiftness.
The Bishop has more time but, we have to hope, no less a sense of urgency. He will never, after all, be involved in a more important game.
Can a chastened Woods find his redemption by hitting new heights?
Rumours are beginning to build around the possibility that the exile of Tiger Woods may be drawing to a close.
Some speculation says he will be playing before the end of the month. It is a necessary move if he is to return in some kind of touch and re-orientation in time for a reappearance at the US Masters in April where he made his first, indelible statement of greatness as a 21- year-old 13 years ago.
No doubt he will run some kind of gauntlet but whatever you think of Woods' conduct there is a deep fascination in the prospect of his return. He never claimed for himself, even if his sponsors did, the status of a paragon of good behaviour but he did something that has been missed by golf hugely in his absence.
He gave us the possibility of supreme sporting achievement, as his friend Roger Federer has continued to do from the apparent deep well of his personal contentment – and apparently unbreakable decorum.
The huge question now is whether Woods can return to the astonishing single-mindedness which separated him so profoundly so often from the rest of the field. The suspicion here is that he will indeed find his own way back to the top of the game. Chastened no doubt, perhaps even the subject of the fiercest reflection he has ever mustered in a once-charmed life, Woods must know more than anyone his best route to redemption.
It is to play golf better than anyone has ever done before or is likely to again. There are worst ways of stepping back from the abyss.
Rule book threatens Wales' attacking instincts
The new Six Nations Championship provokes the usual hope for competition of colour and personality, and perhaps an outstanding performance from the likes of Ireland and France, but it is idle to pretend that it does not come without a shadow.
Ireland's former captain and hooker Keith Wood touched on it graphically while previewing the England-Wales game at Twickenham today. He said he had a little fancy for an England team which had regained some of its old strength after recoveries from injury.
Another reason was that under the existing, catastrophic laws which handed such advantages to the defending team, the encouragement for the Welsh to produce the same levels of spell-binding rugby which was so much a factor in their revival over recent years is severely limited.
If this proves so, the whole game needs to take a little time out in front of the mirror.
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