Monday, April 15, 2013

Hillsborough and the Boston Marathon

April 15, 1989: A terrible mistake in opening the wrong gate leads to the deaths of 96 people and injuries to 600 at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, at the start of an FA Cup Semifinal, on neutral ground, between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Most of those hurt were Liverpool fans.

Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, who had fought in the army of his native Rhodesia as a majority-black population won a civil war and made it into the nation of Zimbabwe, felt his soldier's training kick in, and ran to help -- but the police stopped him. They wouldn't let him be a hero.

The tragedy haunts Merseyside to this day. But, what's worse, the British government covered it up, and even used the national media to smear the Liverpool fans, saying that they caused the deaths of their compatriots. It was only late last year that the government officially apologized.

April 15, 2013: Two explosions go off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, held annually on Patriot's Day, the 3rd Monday in April, in commemoration of the Battle of Lexington & Concord that began the War of the American Revolution, on April 19, 1775.
Here's what I know at the moment: Two people are confirmed dead. Many others, an indeterminate number, are injured. Between Boston Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Tufts Medical Center, and Brigham and Women's Hospital, at least 71 people are being treated.

Two explosions went off. A third explosive device was found, unexploded, and disarmed.

As Grobbelaar tried to do, 24 years ago today, runners came across the finish line, and, seeing what had happened, ran to help -- after running over 26 miles. Some even went to the hospitals to donate blood.
There was also a fire at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, across town, but it was quickly put out, no one was hurt, and it appears not to have been connected.
This morning, a fire was reported at Citi Field in New York, but it was also quickly put out, no one was hurt, and no areas that are accessible by fans were affected. It is very unlikely that this fire was connected to what has happened in Boston.
So far, no one is known to have claimed responsibility.


There are some reasons why Boston and Liverpool are comparable as cities. Both have maritime traditions. Both were major centers of the 19th Century Industrial Revolution, including the textile industry. Both have large and insular Irish communities. The biggest sports team in town means "everything" to the people -- and now, both the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool Football Club are owned by the same people. Each city has an influence in its respective country that far surpasses its size. (Boston: 625,000, metro area 7.6 million; Liverpool: 465,000, metro area 1.4 million.) But, as far as I know, Liverpool has no connection to any of England's revolutions, successful or otherwise.

Not being British, I saw ABC News' coverage of the Hillsborough Disaster that Saturday evening, April 15, 1989, and then forgot about it until I got interested in English soccer, nearly 20 years after the fact.

This happened 6 months before the Loma Prieta Earthquake interrupted the 1989 World Series in San Francisco; the much-maligned Candlestick Park held, protecting 60,000 people, although nearly a hundred people died elsewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area.

There were stadium accidents in America early in the 20th Century, but nothing like Hillsborough has happened here since then.
The closest analog to what just happened in Boston was the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996. That also killed 2 people, and injured 111. This appears to be roughly a match for that. It took 2 years, including one man falsely accused, and some other killings before Eric Rudolph was identified as the bomber, 7 years, until 2003, before he was arrested. He is in a "supermax" federal prison in Colorado, and the only way he's ever getting out is in a coffin.
So should it be with whoever left the explosives at the Boston Marathon.

Those explosions, and the Hillsborough Disaster, are linked by date and by the fact that they were at sporting events.

But at Hillsborough, the crime was in the authorities covering their asses and blaming the victims. It was cruel, and it was cowardly.


In America, we cringe at the thought of April 15, as it is the deadline day for our federal taxes.  But, as sports fans, we celebrate April 15 as the anniversary of the Major League Baseball debut of Jackie Robinson, and the reintegration of the game.

Britain treats April 15 -- or "15 April," as they would write it -- with great solemnity, with moments of silence, with calls for "Justice for the 96" (often abbreviated to "JFT96"), and with the singing of a song which had already become an anthem of joy for Liverpool Football Club, but in 1989 became an anthem of sorrow, comfort, and recovery, the signature song from Rodgers & Hammerstein's Broadway musical Carousel: "You'll Never Walk Alone."
We don't yet know the extent of the harm done on Boylston Street. More could end up dying from their injuries. We don't know who did it. But, as President Obama just said in his first public statement on the attack, we will find out who did this, and we will punish them.
In the first game at Fenway Park after the 9/11 attacks, a pair of fans held up a banner saying, "TODAY, WE (HEART) NY."

At this time, all of us in this country, including in the New York Tri-State Area, stand with the people of Boston. What we think of the area's teams is, for the time being, irrelevant.  All that matters is finding the guilty, and tending to the innocent.

Boston is a great American city, and we should all be with them now.

1 comment:

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