The New Yorker, of all places, has a piece on Hillsborough — The Legacy of a Soccer Tragedy, by Ruth Margalit:
- it comes prefaced by one of the most poignant images (see above) and one I cannot recall seeing before;
- and, as befits The New Yorker, comes quite sophisticated with it.
After a predictable human-interest opener, Margalit attempts a swift survey of how we arrived at caging people at Hillsborough —
- the Heysel Stadium disaster, blamed here on:
rioting Liverpool supporters at a match in Brussels had triggered a stampede that caused the collapse of a stadium wall, leading to the death of thirty-nine people, most of them Italian fans of the soccer club Juventus.
Let us not bother to harp on whether a wall that collapsed was the fault of a “riot”, or whether a stadium should be organised to prevent such a “riot”, and not have walls that collapse.
- the baleful influence of Margaret Thatcher, concerned not essentially with human suffering but with public image:
“We have to get the game cleaned up from this hooliganism at home and then perhaps we shall be able to go overseas again.”
Luckily for those of us who love the “beautiful game,” the culture did change. The most immediate and lasting changes were prompted by the publication, a few months after Hillsborough, of a damning report by Lord Taylor of Gosforth, later England’s Lord Chief Justice, criticizing the soccer industry’s poor treatment of supporters. The report led to a complete overhaul of stadium-safety regulations, and to the requirement that every spectator have an assigned seat.
And with that came something else:
the new seating requirement also contributed to a change in demographics. A mostly working-class fan base gave way to a middle-class and upper-middle-class clientele, the only people still able to afford tickets: adjusting for inflation, ticket prices now cost at least three times what they did in 1989, and, increasingly, clubs offer perks like champagne-on-tap V.I.P. boxes to their most deep-pocketed fans. Money coming in from TV rights has also skyrocketed, from a revenue stream of about twenty million dollars a year in 1988 to more than five billion dollars a year in 2014. Next year, the English Premier League is expected to overtake the N.F.L. as the highest-earning sports league in the world.
Time for a small declaration of interest. My Pert Young Piece, saving for her gap year, had a good thing going. Alternate Saturdays, she was on the catering/waiting detail for those V.I.P. boxes at White Hart Lane (and its American Express black cards) for the football and Harlequins for the Rugby.
So what has happened to the mostly working-class fan base?
Those who have been priced out of those “safer” stadia now frequent sports bars. [Don’t get me started on these soul-less and depressing joints, fuelled by fizzy imported beers.] The numerous screens will, inevitably, be tuned to the Sky Sports feeds. This from 2013:
Pub landlords say the cost of screening top level sport is becoming so expensive it is making them switch off from showing the likes of Premier League football and the Ashes.
One pub and restaurant owner in Tunbridge Wells said he had to call time on the satellite service after Sky wanted a staggering £2,400 a month for him to show Sky Sports in his pub.
The cost of showing Sky Sports channels in public venues varies, but the national average is said to be around £400 a month for pubs.
I can easily spot what Jerry Hall sees in her octogenarian squeeze.