"OF STEREOTYPES AND PREJUDICES – A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE" by Owen Sargeant
Posted by royhendo on October 1, 2012, 02:35:07 PM
Owen Sargeant, a Red based in the USA, was kind enough to get in touch via a friend and ask if we could post this up. As you'll see below, it's a pleasure to help give it a wider audience.
Over the past couple of weeks there have been some outstanding and very powerful articles written about Hillsborough and its aftermath. Two especially caught my eye in the sense that I really could relate to them at a very personal level. These articles referred to the relationship between Liverpool and Manchester and the vilification of the City of Liverpool and its people over the past 20 year or so. Of course these matters pale into what has been experienced by the Hillsborough families and other more directly affected by the tragedy. I would never presume to articulate how they may feel, or even put my own experiences and feelings in anyway compared to theirs.
With a basic pass at English O Level and apart from a letter to the “Pink” Echo back in the 80s writing is not my skill or pastime. So I’ve never done this before but with some support I’m giving it a go since I feel so passionately about the subject matter. As I said to open, the two articles resonated with me.
The second one re Manchester and Liverpool and our mutual dislike gave me a bit of a chuckle. Two cities 30 miles apart, the same in many cultural ways but very different as well. Houston Texas, (where I live now) is about 36 miles across. People here can't understand the rivalries across such short distances when they go longer for a pint of milk and a loaf of bread. Back in 1999 I was being transferred with work back from the US (Ohio) to Leeds. My wife and I had moved from the UK (Liverpool) to USA twice and were quite matter of fact about it, but to return to Leeds!!! Bloody ‘ell, we were aghast, terrified... 75 miles from home, but it was, well, it was Leeds... we were mortified by the thought. All those horrible memories of Elland Rd came flooding back, I recall there was even bother with Scousers when Bruce Springstein played at Roundhay Park many years ago. We need not have worried though. We ended up living in Leeds for 7 years and the thing that we had in common was the hatred of the Mancs. My wife started work in Leeds City Centre, and when she told her colleagues she was a Scouser, supported Everton etc, she was embraced "you must hate the Scum, then"... she had no idea what they meant. She nodded politely and was now "one of them". Rivalry is good, in fact its great, should be encouraged, but the line drawn before it leads to something that all parties regret.
The first article though was deep in its thinking and very thought provoking. As a Scouser who has lived overseas for many years I've faced the stereotypes that were described in the article. Fortunately working for a US company and living in the US so long it's not really been an issue over here as it has been in the UK or other parts of the world I’ve travelled to. In many respects I've been very lucky, reached a good position, but had I worked for an equivalent UK company... with my accent, working class background and attending a red brick university, it would have been a lot more of a challenge. I travel a lot with work, always have... started work back in 81, and as I travelled the talk with strangers was for the most part about the Footy, Beatles, Cilla, Tarby etc. Jovial and for the most part funny and innocent. It started to change a bit though after Boys from the Blackstuff... a series that should have been regaled as Writing/Acting of the highest order, instead added to some people's views of the Northern dolite, scally, robber etc. It was exactly I think what Thatcher needed (along with other things happening at the time). It played to her audience, and while never overtly referenced you could feel it. I felt it as I travelled. The chats on the Beatles were gone, the comments on Scousers became more barbed, the Scouser jokes become more prevalent. “Militant” added to the perception (not a comment on them, just how it played on stereotypes, growing prejudices and perceptions), then along came Carla with Bread and the die was cast.
As concluded in the article, the damage was done. The Scouse stereotype was in place. Then in the midst of us being socially ostracized by large swathes of the nation, our darkest day, Hillsborough happened on April 15th, 1989... It was very easy for the establishment to create their version of the "Truth". The foundation had already been laid. “It was clearly obvious it was those out of control Scousers, just look at how they behave and have behaved, its well documented”. There was no doubt that "Angry from Tunbridge Wells" believed it, and the Footy terraces (not in general the most thoughtful of places) responded accordingly... we were pariahs... Then to rub salt in, along came Harry Enfield... I'd stopped laughing at the Scouser jokes by then and became the classic defensive (according to some) Scouser with a chip on his shoulder and can you believe it "no sense of humour"... I became hugely protective of my City and LFC, and God forbid any of these Scouser jokes being said in ear shot of me. No sense of humor. F**K me, no, not when it came to the stereotypical Scouser jokes. Frankly by then I had become offended. The jokes and innuendos were built on lies, fabrications, hidden agendas and worse of all, helped protect the Hillsborough guilty from facing up to their crimes, and the brave families from getting the Justice they deserve, and perhaps helping to bring some level of closure in their lives.
Now when I was traveling back then in the late 80's, 90's... the talks with strangers of the great things about Liverpool and LFC had well gone, we were well and truly the 4th Division by then. Not only did we mourn the loss of 96 lives (and that truly is the pain we feel), but the lies that were built on the disaster dragged a City and its people into and through the dirt. A true tragedy... on a very, very personal basis for those affected by Hillsborough and socially for a City and its people that were then besmirched for years. Who knows what Liverpool could have done in the interim years had it not been the target for the lies and antipathy shown to it for over two decades by governments and the establishment. Fortunately though the strength shown by the families, their supporters and the City has won in the end. The community spirit that for years has been seen and written as “Self Pity” by some has overcome the odds, and for that I will always be proud to be Scouse.
I was not at Hillsborough in 89, but was in 88. By 89 I was living in US. I recall I was uncomfortable with the conditions in 88 but accepted it as we all did as the norm. We were footy fans, uncared for, unloved and to add, we were Scousers, the “Worst of the Worst”. In 89, I was sitting in my house in Ohio. Around 10.30 am the news started to break. Within hours and the following days it was reported in the US as a “Soccer Riot”. The headlines from the UK, the lies, the commentaries, the infamous headlines etc all confirmed that. It was awful being over here at that time... I had lots of friends and family at the game that day. No internet or mobiles, it was a couple of days before all were accounted for. Safe and well thankfully.
I was then on a Crusade in work in the US and with friends to give people here the real version of the “Truth”. That was what my mates were telling me and that was confirmed for the world a couple of weeks ago as the Truth. People here didn't believe what I was saying back then. It was just more of the same. It was what Soccer fans did, right, and of course those Liverpool fans were the real baddies. It was incredible how the lies became facts and for that the apologies over the past week or so mean nothing to me personally, they only serve to highlight the depth and the extent of the lies for all to see. This is how I feel, I can not imagine the grief and the pain the families and others more deeply involved went through and have gone through since.
Then along came Athens. Here I was in my mid 40's paying an arm and a leg to go. Getting wacked with a truncheon and pepper sprayed... the week before I was in my comfy office, now getting beat up by police! My mate Paul not getting in despite a legit ticket in hand. What the F**K was going on? I've watched Liverpool for years, been in the odd scrape... nothing to serious, too much of a wimp really to be a proper scall. Now in Athens, one of the worlds seats of culture, I'm deep in the midst of it. Blinded by the spray, head hurting from the biff off the truncheon, upset to see Paul now on the other side of the police line with no hope of getting in. Apparently we got beat as well.
Thursday night though saw Scousers at their best. Still dancing in the squares of Athens. We caused no trouble at all... then the headlines. I recall travelling back from Heysel. Regardless of ticketing, the condition of the ground etc, we had to accept our culpability for that disaster and we did. Coming home from there, I had my head down and like most of us was deeply distressed at events. Getting back to Heathrow from Athens, we were faced with more of the institutional lies. This time from the UEFA establishment headed up by the infamous Monsieur Gaillard. Who could forget his 20 point dossier on LFC fans' behavior. Who though actually ever got to see it. I wrote at the time to Reade, Barrett, anybody who would listen to what I (and others) experienced. With a group of others we tried to sue UEFA... ever tried that? it lasted a few short weeks. We had no chance. After all, we had a reputation didn’t we? The FA/UEFA/Govt etc... Remember Heysel, Remember Hillsborough, Remember countless other incidents involving those Scousers, “I’ve got a dossier to prove it” said Gaillard... Self Pity City, Never Accept Responsibility, Never Your Fault etc that's what the media said or insinuated... we were an easy target, like Hillsborough, now Athens... used by people who were our custodians to hide their own inadequacies, who were charged to serve us, but in reality let bereaved families and a whole City down.
This is what is on Wikepedia to this day on Athens... unbelievable...
At the 2007 UEFA Champions League Final trouble occurred after thousands of ticketless Liverpool supporters stormed the turnstiles, meaning some 2000 fans with genuine tickets were denied entry. Gaillard said that the problems in Greece were typical of the behaviour of some Liverpool supporters during the past four years, branding them the worst in Europe; despite earlier saying that both sets of supporters 'have a tradition of good behaviour'. He accused Liverpool supporters of stealing tickets "out of the hands of children" and said "we know what happened in Athens and Liverpool fans were the cause of most of the trouble there". This was seen by some as UEFA attempting to avoid the blame for the disorganisation of the final, and they were accused by Richard Cabornas entering into the blame game. This also resulted in Gaillard being heavily criticised by Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks. British Sports Minister Richard Caborn, on June 5, 2007 met with UEFA president Michel Platini, after which the Frenchman denied that Liverpool supporters are the worst in Europe.
And, my letter at the time of Athens to the Guardian, it was never responded to or printed.
Myself and a friend (ages 47 and 50) paid a great deal of money to attend the match last week, and we were caught up in the melee outside the stadium. I have a different view to Mr. Wilson (journalist). Please share this with him. My friend never got in, I did... only because I was incapacitated by tear gas and the police ignored me as they laid in with batons to fathers and sons etc. I pay for a season ticket each year but did not qualify for a ticket. My friend did, but gave his ticket to his son. We are both professional people. That is not to say we deserve any better treatment than any other supporter or more consideration than other fans, we absolutely do not. But it is just to emphasize and to argue against, the insinuation by UEFA's Mr. Gaillard that outside the stadium was a bunch of uncontrollable hooligans who stormed the gates. Absolutely not the case!
In my job in Oil and Gas Production, I have travelled the world to some very difficult and un-hospitable countries. In some of these I have witnessed some very poor organization and lack of control (at times) of large crowds etc – some of it quite scary. But it’s hard to remember anything worse that I witnessed last week. To be kind you would say this organization was naïve, but most would consider it incompetent. I would suggest further root causes that I would come to later. The same press that have lauded Liverpool fans over the past few years, and those UEFA officials who did the same after Istanbul, Dortmund etc, now see us as a quick and easy target... the Scally Scouse Stereotype. Ok, we are not stupid, there were some in Athens that behaved in a fashion that none of us would like, but there were 40,000 of us there, and over three days there was hardly an issue (beyond what happened at the stadium)... what does that say?
The reality is a lot got in without tickets, but they did not even have the try... this was not the stereotype blag artist who could walk into Buckingham Palace, many were normal blokes who were able to walk easily through security cordons. Why... is it their fault to trying to watch a huge game and a team that they have massive emotional ties to... or is it the authorities for making it so easy. Were they bragging about this the next day... maybe some, but most were laughing at the ineptitude of the officials. All the authorities needed to do was to be organized correctly, think through their approach (we call it a Failure Mode Analysis in our business) and exercise a “Duty of Care” for the public in the area at the time. Had that happened and the authorities stopped people at the appropriate point and told them they could not enter the stadium, most would have laughed it off, and returned to the nearest bar. Very few would have hung around to exert pressure on the stadium. This did not happen... instead there was an “open house” policy to allow anybody in, except of course many others that had good tickets.
Of course Mr. Gaillards, pomposity strikes through... it did not happen in the Milan end... of course not... do the math... they did not even sell their allocation. But blaming the Liverpool fans deflects criticism from where it should be levied – the easy way out and Mr Wilson’s article falls into that trap. And there by lies the root cause... it was not Scouse hooligans (a view easily put to bed), it was not out of their depth young Greek policeman, but it was UEFA’s (a) choice of stadium (b) their planning and (c) the allocation of tickets that were the root causes.
The bottom line is football fans are just fodder... we are not considered as consumers... what other product would treat its customers this way. I’m not one to expect luxury. I’ve had a season ticket for the Kop from standing up days to now. I have never been one on the “prawn sandwich brigade”, all’s I expect is some respect for me and many other Liverpudlians who show huge amounts of loyalty each week and year in handing over hard earned cash to the sport and team that we love.
But its not just Liverpudlians who suffer, fans all over the country do... witness Man U and Spurs this year. How do we stop this arrogance on the part of the establishment? Don’t go any more... hardly likely... we are born to it.
Let's just get the message across to those it authorities to fix this once and for all. Having pepper spray, sprayed in my eyes was not part of my package deal... let’s stop this. Your article just falls onto the bandwagon. You got a bit miffed with signs of lack of respect for authority shown on the Thursday. Who on earth would have any respect for the authority and officials that were charged with organizing last week’s event?
These of course are very personal thoughts, borne of my own experiences over a number of years. Everything I have spoken of is from direct personal experience. Like most Scousers, I'm as far removed from the over-emotional stereotype is its possible to be, but I've seen and heard what has happened to the reputation of a City and its people since Hillsborough. I'm not scared to say how much that has upset me. Liverpool has its loons and its dark side; that's no different from where I live today, or any other City in the UK or elswhere. Most of us are good people though - yet for so many in the UK, the events of the 80s have clouded their view of us, and sullied the name of the people and the City I love. Was that part of some great conspiracy? Was it the alignment of a sequence of events that allowed the media and establishment to do what it did... who knows, but what's certain is that the outcome is the same. What really matters most at the end of the day, is that for far too many years bereaved families didn't just mourn the loss of their loved ones; they also had to endure the slurs and innuendo surrounding their deaths. Numerous other people that day had life-changing experiences that have affected them and will affect them forever. Heroes were turned into villains; innocents who died that terrible afternoon were being portrayed as drunks who contributed to the disaster. And in the smoke-filled rooms of SYP, people charged with our safety plotted with their government and media friends to exploit the Scouse stereotype and the prejudices already formed by many in the country. They had one goal in mind - to protect their own self interests, and do anything that was needed to fulfil that objective. It did not matter who or what was in the way, or the where or how, and the methods to be used. They thought they could get away with it. But they didn't count on the strength and resilience of the Hillsborough families, their supporters and the people of the City of Liverpool. In the end, it was the very thing that was being attacked, besmirched and ridiculed - the character of our City - that ensured that, in the end, The Truth will out. For all those involved in the fight for Truth and Justice we should all be eternally grateful and humbled by what they did and what they have now achieved.
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