By Kevin Koczwara
The Hillsborough Disaster of 1989 is a touchy subject for Liverpool fans, as it should be, and just about anyone who watches or researches anything about the club should know this. The death of 96 people at a match is no laughing matter, and the Reds fans take any type of negative talk about the incident as a personal assault on them and the club.
So, when Alex Beam wrote his column for Tuesday’s edition of the Boston Globe, one would have thought he might have cracked into a few books and got a better understanding of what he was writing about. He may have misjudged how his words would be interrupted, and just how far the global reach of Liverpool fans is.
The backlash has been strong and towards Beam and the Boston Globe, and it started in the very city he is suppose to report on, Boston.
I was lucky enough to speak with Tim Treacy, Chairman of LFC Boston, a Liverpool fan club, about the comments in Beam’s Tuesday column.
Treacy was born in Ireland in 1981, moved to Boston 2006 to earn a PhD in Community Music Therapy through the Music Education department at the College of Fine Arts. And he’s been a Liverpool fan since he can remember.
“I grew up a fan of LFC. My earliest memory of being a fan is watching Liverpool on Irish TV back in the 80’s. Irish TV showed Liverpool nearly every week. Back then, all the games were at 3 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon,” says Treacy.
“I got my first jersey in 1987 for my sixth birthday, and still have it today, although it would barely fit my leg now. I was one of these kids that had the four walls in my room, along with the ceiling, plastered in Liverpool posters, flags and scarves. I had Liverpool bedspreads, Liverpool carpet, LFC school bag … You name I had it.”
Treacy’s love for Liverpool is undying, and it comes as no surprise that he was upset about Beam’s comments. As the LFC Boston chairman he was responsible for getting the message out about the column on Twitter and Facebook. It didn’t take long for word to spread through the Internet.
Here is what he had to say about the Beam situation.
The Soccer Guys: What were you first thoughts when reading Beam’s Column on Tuesday morning?
Tim Treacy: I was pretty upset and outraged. To denigrate the memory of the 96 and their families and friends, as well as the people of Liverpool, in such a manner, is disgusting. I had to read the article three times to make sure what I was reading was actually on the page in front of me. I immediately googled Alex Beam to research his biography and see if he was a fan of another club or something. It turns out he is not even a sports writer. His ugly comments about Hillsborough, and the people and city of Liverpool came from nowhere. It’s astonishing, really.
TSG: LFC Boston was quick to get the word out about Beam’s comments, what was the reaction by the other members when they heard that the hometown paper was saying these things about Hillsborough?
TT: I got the word out as soon as I read the article. Just as I got the word out, I started receiving texts, calls, and email from people here. Their reactions were the same as mine. I received over 70 emails and messages yesterday from our members here in Boston. Even some local Manchester United, Arsenal and Everton supporters emailed me to offer support.
I was also copied in on many other emails that were sent to Alex Beam, and Anne Nelson and Douglas Most – editors at the Boston Globe.
TSG: What would you like to say to Mr. Beam about his comments?
TT: First, I would like him to apologize. It’s that simple. Just apologize to the families and friends of the 96 that he deeply upset. He needlessly opened up 21-year-old wounds for the families and friends of the 96.
The 96 were loved, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, son, daughters, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents and friends. To write libelous accounts of their memory is just wrong. These are real people and just because you are in Boston, does not mean you can libel their names in such a way.
Secondly, I would ask him to research articles in the future. It is clear he had done little to no research for this article. He even talked about why David Beckham would not play for Liverpool because the city is, I quote ‘doggy.’ I mean, come on Mr. Beam. That comment alone shows that he is clueless about the Liverpool/Manchester United rivalry. Has he ever even been to Liverpool? The city was European Capital of Culture in 2008. It is far from grotty, it is full of culture and history.
TSG: Some of the Boston Globe’s readers might not understand why this is such a big deal, what would you tell them about Hillsborough that could help them understand?
TT: The Hillsborough Disaster remains the single greatest football tragedy in the UK, and one of the worst in the entire world. Imagine sending your husband, or wife, or brother, or sister, off to a Red Sox or Patriots game only for them to never return. In fact, just as the game kicked off, they were crushed to death because of an overcrowded Fenway or Foxborough.
No matter where you live in the world, to lose your life a sporting event is a truly tragic event and difficult for us as humans to fully grasp the magnitude of.
The Hillsborough tragedy did not happen in Liverpool. Liverpool was playing an FA Cup semifinal that day against Nottingham Forest – the FA Cup being England’s flagship cup competition. (The FA Cup final today reaches an audience of around one billion people). As part of the rules for the FA Cup, a neutral venue was picked for the game; the same as what the NFL does for the Super Bowl, and that venue was Sheffield Wednesday’s home ground, Hillsborough.
The game was abandoned after six minutes, as it was clear something was very wrong in the end of the ground where the Liverpool fans were. Ninety-six people died that day and another 766 were injured. Simply put, too many people were allowed into a pen in the stand. The pen was railed in by fences. People had nowhere to go and were suffocated or crushed to death. The official inquiry into the disaster, the Taylor Report, found that poor policing was the main cause of the tragedy. The official cause of the disaster, according to the Taylor Report, was the failure of police control.
The disaster happened because many of the fans entering the terraces headed for the central pens three and four as directed by the large notice pointing them that way. Usually, a police officer or steward would direct fans away from pens that were already full, but on April 15, 1989, this did not happen. The report found that there were no stewards in that area at all. The official capacity of these pens was around 2,000, but the Health and Safety Executive later found out that the capacity should have been reduced to approximately 1,600 as the crush barriers did not conform to the standard of the day. It is estimated that over 3,000 people were in these pens shortly after kick off at 3 p.m.
This overcrowding caused the fatal crush and has since caused heartache for LFC fans in Liverpool and beyond.
The tragedy led to nationwide changes in stadium design in the UK. From that moment on, all new stadiums built in the UK, were to be all seated, and strict safety standards were and are constantly enforced. UEFA … also adopted this stance and regulates that any football team which operates under UEFA must play at an all-seated stadium. If a part of a stadium is not all seated, it may not be used and must be closed off to supporters during the football game.
TSG: What would you like the Globe to do about Beam and his comments?
TT: Mr. Beam seems to be quite the accomplished author. His father, Jacob was a diplomat. He is also a father. In keeping with his family traditions of integrity and decency, all I ask, and all anyone affected by his comments asks, is for him to offer a written apology in the Boston Globe.
TSG: Beam’s comments aren’t the first negative words I’ve heard about John Henry buying Liverpool, why do you think Red Sox fans have been quick to shun Henry for buying LFC?
TT: I think they were fearful that Henry would not invest in the Red Sox as he has done in the past. But just this week, he has spent more money than ever, some $296 milliom US or £188 million on just two players. Red Sox fans have nothing to fear. Both enterprises are completely separate, Henry said this himself.
NESV are not going to sell Liverpool players to purchase baseball players and vice-versa. I think the spending of the Red Sox this week will quell any fears that Sox fans have.
TSG: Is there anyway you could explain to Red Sox fans just how much Liverpool means to you and how you feel about Henry purchasing the club?
TT: I can. I am a massive Sox fan myself. I’ve been to opening day at Fenway for the past four years. I go to as many games as I can each year.
I love the Sox, although I am only supporting them five years myself. I moved to Boston from Ireland in 2006 and my love of sports led me to take the Sox to heart. From April to September/October, the Sox go on TV at 7 p.m. each evening in my house.
I think Sox fans and Liverpool fans have many similarities. Both are internationally known sports brands. Both are very successful clubs. Both sets of fans are die hard. You just don’t half support either team, when you support the Sox or Liverpool, you support them 110 percent. It consumes you. The first thing you do each day is check your team’s website, or read the sports news. When your team wins, you mood is great, when they lose or under-perform, you get frustrated and maybe a bit down. As a fan, you don’t just support Liverpool or support the Sox, you are Liverpool, you are the Boston Red Sox. You are completely consumed by them. Sox fans are that way. So are Liverpool fans. We will fight tooth and nail for our respective clubs’ causes.
Sox and Liverpool fans understand their respective sports. They understand the history, the legacy of past players and managers, the traditions and importance for each club to be at the very top of their sport.
Years ago, and even before Tom and George bought Liverpool, I would explain to Bostonians who asked me about Liverpool, that comparing the Yankees to Manchester United, and the Red Sox to Liverpool is about as an accurate description of each sporting franchise you can get. I have brought some Red Sox fans who ‘hate’ soccer or who have ‘no interest’ in it to the home of LFC Boston, the Phoenix Landing for games. They all have the same reaction. Wow. They are mesmerized by our singing and chanting, or shouting and roaring, our knowledge of the game.
I would love, and extend an invite to any Sox fan in Boston who has ‘no interest in soccer,’ to come down to the Phoenix Landing in Central Square when Liverpool are playing a game. I hesitate to say that you won’t come back.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.