10 years on
The Hillsborough Boycott|
The following is an account of how and why the Boycott of Hillsborough on 8th May 1999 was organised, authored by the Hillsborough Justice Campaign
The idea of boycotting Hillsborough had been around since shortly after 96 Liverpool supporters were killed and over 400 injured in a so called 'Perfect Venue'. In 1989, Hillsborough Football Ground failed to meet several safety standards. Lepping lane end had inadequate turnstiles, weak crush barriers, and a capacity 22% greater than the pens could safely hold.
No-one from Sheffield Wednesday had ever faced criminal proceedings and many thought a Boycott was worth organising. As soon as the Hillsborough Justice Campaign had formed in February 1998, we made it known that we had formed to be more pro-active. Soon enough, Families, Survivors and Liverpool supporters agreed that a Boycott must be organised. The idea was proposed at one of our first meetings, and we had further reasons to back the Boycott 100%.
Back in 1997, the day after a huge Justice concert at Anfield, Liverpool Supporters travelled to Hillsborough on the last league game of the season. Many supporters took floral tributes but South Yorkshire Police confiscated these and Justice Banners from supporters and even bereaved families and friends. Many supporters were furious with talk of a Boycott doing the rounds soon after.
The following season 1998, the game at Hillsborough was on February 14th, once again flowers were taken off supporters, apparently a rose can be deemed an 'offensive weapon' by South Yorkshire Police whose behaviour and attitude was once again provocative. Worse still, the actual game was sponsored by the SCUM (Sun) 'Newspaper', a gutter rag which accused the supporters in 1989 of 'Killing their own; robbing the dead' and 'urinating on brave coppers'. A successful Boycott of that Paper since 1989 was proof to some that Boycotts can work.
By February 1998, the Hillsborough Justice Campaign had formed, and was to become instrumental in organising the Boycott. It is important to note that a Boycott of a football game by supporters had never been tried before, we were entering uncharted territory but nevertheless we backed the idea even though we knew we would encounter some difficulties.
Those in our group who were Liverpool supporters told us that a massive leafleting campaign would have to be initiated, we began to first leaflet about the Boycott months in advance, luckily the game at Hillsborough wasn't until the 8th of May 1999 and we first notified the local press and the local Fanzines of our intention to Boycott in the Autumn of 1998.
Leaflets were also distributed along with a batch of Boycott stickers outside every home and away game, the first 'Boycott Banner' (a spray painted bedsheet) appeared on an Away visit in Europe when it was paraded through the streets. We soon realised from the Liverpool supporters that a Boycott had a lot of support, it was obvious that those who said a Boycott was futile had no real inclination of the ordinary supporters opinion.
Publicity for the Boycott intensified as the New Year passed. We began to phone Radio shows, write to the Media and the leafleting Campaign was stepping up pace with different leaflets being issued each week, and the ever popular Boycott (stickers) being produced and distributed as fast as the printer could make them. Boycott posters began to appear in local pubs, shops and anywhere who'd have them and with two months to go to the Boycott things began to get hectic. Ten thousand leaflets were being given out every home game, and as many stickers. Boycott banners appeared in local pubs and shops, and flyposters and graffiti also made it clear that the message was popular.
The support by now was amazing, the Boycott was looking to be a success but we decided to stage an alternative venue to Hillsborough - a tactic which admittedly we never planned from the onset. We knew a picket at Hillsborough would, given to the previous years encounters, be likely to be extremely difficult to say the least. We arranged for local bands to perform on St George's Hall Plateau, an historical gathering point for protests in Liverpool.
The final games before the Boycott saw the Office/Shop become a hive of activity, with increasing numbers of supporters calling in to hand out leaflets and offering help in what ever way they could. Luckily we had enough finances by now to publicise the Boycott.
In February 1999 Sheffield Wednesday announced they would be building a memorial and the Boycott suffered a setback. The local press declared the proposed Memorial a Victory, and conveniently played down the Boycott. The Chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, Trevor Hicks (who had always opposed a Boycott) declared " The Boycott would serve no purpose now, it would be futile". The Hillsborough Justice Campaign had previously stated that the Boycott would happen "Memorial or no Memorial". We immediately drew up, printed and distributed 20,000 'Boycott still ON' leaflets. Liverpool Football Clubs official match program only gave a platform to some bereaved Families opposed to a Boycott, Families for the boycott got no opportunity to have their say Survivors were simply dismissed out of hand.
On May 1st, soon after the 10th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster, a survivor was ejected from the Kop for displaying a 'JUSTICE' banner. Supporters were furious, but it was at least a lesson in how much Liverpool Football Club supported the Boycott. The survivor was released without charge soon after a delegation of supporters protested at Half Time, the 'JUSTICE' Banner was flying again on the Kop on May 5th. Liverpool Football Club had grossly misread the level of feeling over the Boycott.
Finally, on the very eve of the Boycott, we had problems with Liverpool City Council who tried to cancel our booking of St. George's Hall. We sent a negotiating team who told the Council that thousands of people would be arriving, no matter what, luckily the Council saw sense but prevented our alternative event from being set up outdoors, but luckily St George's Hall is massive, and we were able to set up indoors. The actual Boycott was a massive success, with the most dismal away support ever, both in terms of numbers and actual vocal support! Out of an allocation of 7,242 tickets - only 1,072 Liverpool Supporters passed through the turnstiles, which is a great victory for everyone involved.
The Event at St. George's Hall went down well, with over 5,000 attending throughout the day. A properly organised Boycott is an effective way to gain concessions or simply voice your anger at what ever club related issue. The Hillsborough Justice Campaign is proud to have been the driving force behind this particular Boycott, and we thank all those who contributed in what ever way in making it a success. As one survivor of Hillsborough put it " We have made History today, not that it will make the Headline News".
This article is dedicated to memory of Joe Glover. A Hillsborough survivor and rescuer who tried in vain to save his brother Ian Glover's life at the disaster in 1989. Joe was killed in a tragic accident on the 12th of May 1999, four days after the Boycott. He died saving someone's life as a load of Marble fell, a true Working Class Hero. Joe was a founder member of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and only recently had begun to see a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. "Our fight for Justice goes on, which is what Joe would of wanted".
Hillsborough Justice Campaign. 134, Oakfield Road, Anfield Liverpool L4 0UG. Tel/Fax: (0151) 260 5262.
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