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April 27, 2016



One thing that has changed is that you hear this prejudiced, anti-working class sentiment at football grounds nowadays as well.

Dave Timoney

Spot on, Chris. I'd add a couple of thoughts.

The idea that football crowds have shifted in composition from working class to middle class since the early 90s is overplayed, in part by a media still wedded to homogenised caricatures (from thugs to prawn sandwich-eaters). As the evidence of the Hillsborough inquest made clear, the "animalistic" fans on the day included off-duty doctors and police officers who tried to help the injured. You can expect there were plenty of other less relevantly-skilled professionals there too.

All seater stadia, higher prices and football tourism have nudged attendance at grounds higher up the social scale since then, however I don't think this has been as significant as many people think. The idea that working class fans are to be found in pubs watching Sky while the grounds are full of bankers and lawyers is just another caricature, and one that still emphasises the boozing of the proles. If anything , class prejudice is less overt today. For most of the 80s, LFC fans were greeted at away grounds with the "In your Liverpool slums" chant.

The central scandal has not been the lying brutality of the police (as you note, that had already been established in court), but the reluctance of successive governments to show empathy towards the justice campaign while glibly associating with the sport as it became fashionable, from John Major enjoying the hospitality of Ken Bates, a man who wanted to erect electrified cattle-fences at Stamford Bridge, to Tony "keepy-uppy" Blair responding to the request to reopen the Hillborough case with "Why? What is the point?".

Today we have a PM who can't remember which claret and blue side he is supposed to support. Class matters.


Speaking as one of those shaped in the 1970's I think this article is utter tosh.


"Many younger lefties might have abandoned class in favour of the politics of micro-identities. For those of us shaped by the 80s, however, class matters. And I suspect this is as true for the Tories as it is for me."

That doesn't square with my experience of Tories at all. The really striking thing, to my mind, about Tories of any age is how LITTLE they think (or at least talk) about class. It's just not something that ever comes up in conversation.

That's the really odd thing about "class war": it's only really being fought from one side. The chief weapon of the upper class is indifference.

The reason football fans were mistreated is not because there was some agenda to crush the working class. It was because being a football fan wasn't part of the experience of the people in charge. And when you're not part of a group, and you don't spend much time thinking about that group, it's very easy to slip into thinking about that group as a homogeneous mass. So rather than thinking about football fans as ordinary people, some good, some bad, it was easy just to dismiss the lot of them as hooligans based on the actions of a few.

This is a great argument in favour of seeking diversity of background in one's elected representatives, but not a good argument in favour of encouraging class struggle.


Since we're on the subject of football, the rivalry between classes within Britain is a little bit like the rivalry between the English and German football teams.

For England fans, every game against the old enemy is a major event; victories are celebrated and losses mourned to a far greater extent than would normally be the case.

But to German fans, there is no rivalry. An England game is no more or less important than any other.

Maybe there's a general rule here: rivalries are more strongly experienced by the side that loses more often?


Good piece, Chris.

Class is the major issue.

Dave Timoney


One thing that many football fans were conscious of in the 70s and 80s was that they were indulging in a theatre of internecine warfare - i.e. attacking each other, even if only verbally - beneath the gaze of their class "betters" in the Chairman's box and the more expensive seats. The problem wasn't that the Tories were elsewhere, but that they were in the ground.

That's why there was a grassroots revulsion in the 80s against hooligans as provocateurs playing into the hands of authoritarians (naturally the media rarely reported crowds booing pitch-invasions or rucks), which led to the increasing politicisation of fans through supporters' groups and fanzines and a growing concern with material issues from safety to ownership and prices.

Tories don't talk about class in the same way that the Queen doesn't carry any money. Pretending that something is irrelevant (or quaintly harmless) is a way of avoiding challenge. Their studied indifference is the product of years of expensive education and repressive socialisation.

And for the record, Germans love playing England at football and are sufficiently rivalrous to have nicked the "Three Lions" song. You have mistaken the xenophobic shit pushed by British tabloids (which doesn't really have a German equivalent, even in Bild) for the mutual respect between fans in the two countries. See the recent Liverpool-Borussia Dortmund tie for ample evidence.

An Alien Visitor

Nearly spot on.

I was at Hillsborough on that fateful day. And it was a perfect storm in many ways.

It should be noted with bells and whistles on that the debate about how the police and authorities treated football fans preceded both Heysel and Hillsborough. We had campaign groups arguing that fences were an affront to our rights, that we were being treated like animals, which we were. The hooligan problem existed but it was over-hyped. I can say with all honesty that in 30 years attending games I have hardly seen a punch thrown in anger. Though racist comments were far more common back then!

So I think this story is one of class, can be linked to the miners strike, but also the more interesting questions for me are the corrupt relationships between the state, the police and the newspapers - which surely still persist to this day.

I remember watching the BBC TV drama State of Play and at the time thinking, they have been way to kind to the journalists!


An excellent analysis. Well done.

Phil Sealey

Interesting post. I think there is something in what you say. I've often wondered whether it's significant that most Public and Private schools (and grammar schools) in the UK don't play football,so it's always been seen as a working class sport. The middle and upper classes just don't understand the passion and enthusiasm for the sport among ordinary state-school kids. There isn't such a class divide in cricket, which is played in vitually all British schools.

Igor Belanov

You may have been right in the 1960s Phil. But almost all state schools and some independents play football now, while few state schools play cricket. It is a hard sport to organise and coach, requires decent, maintained facilities, and is dependent on the weather. This dearth of school cricket has also made things harder for the clubs.

As a result, at professional level cricket is increasingly dominated by the middle-classes and those who attended private schools, while working-class participation is declining even at the passive level of watching on TV. Among poorer people cricket is tending to be a pursuit for the Asian-origin population.

Phil Sealey

I stand corrected, Igor. Thanks.


I don't know Igor - my son goes to a comprehensive who's under 17 cricket team beat a prominent private school to win a national competition two years ago. Mind you, we live in Dorset!

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