Premier League Clubs Are Right Not to Honour Former PM Margaret Thatcher

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Premier League Clubs Are Right Not to Honour Former PM Margaret Thatcher
Michael Regan/Getty Images

The Premier League and the Football League will not be requesting their member clubs to mark the passing of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher with a minute of silence this weekend.

Baroness Thatcher passed away on Monday at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke. She governed the country as the head of the Conservative Party between 1979 and 1990.

These were particularly difficult times for football and supporters when hooliganism, especially with regard to the England national team playing across Europe.

Two footballing tragedies occurred in May 1985, which changed the mindset of those in power, particularly Thatcher, who appeared to view football fans with the same disdain she held the striking miners of the same period.

The fire at Bradford City's Valley Parade ground claimed the lives of 56 supporters during a league match against Lincoln City on May 11 (BBC News).

The exact cause of the fire remains unknown, although it is thought that a lit cigarette dropped on accumulated rubbish underneath the wooden stand was responsible (BBC News).

Just over two weeks later, a fans' riot at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium saw 39 people crushed to death before the European Cup Final between Liverpool and Juventus.

David Cannon/Getty Images
The scene on the Heysel Stadium terrace before the 1985 European Cup Final.

Liverpool supporters were blamed for charging at the Juventus fans, but that accusation misses the point that inadequate segregation, poor ticket distribution and a crumbling stadium also contributed to the deaths.

The response from the prime minister was unequivocal, and she told Football Association chairman Bert Millichip to withdraw English clubs from European competition (The Guardian).

Prior to those tragedies, football hooliganism during an FA Cup sixth-round tie between Luton Town and Millwall had lit Thatcher's desire for ID cards for football supporters.

Millwall fans invaded the pitch during the tie and 47 people were injured, including 33 police officers (BBC Sport).

Then Luton chairman David Evans, who became the Conservative MP for Welwyn Hatfield in 1987 and, as such, an underling to Thatcher, banned visiting supporters from Kenilworth Road.

Violence during the 1988 European Championships in West Germany afforded Thatcher another opportunity to round on the hooligans (The Glasgow Herald via Google News).

Thatcher and the government of the time brought in the Football Spectators Act in 1989, a draconian measure which would see supporters banned for attending matches without an ID card (via Henry Winter of the Daily Telegraph).

Thatcher backed the identity card idea, wanting it spread nationwide. It offered power over fans. Legislation for it was included in the Football Spectator Act, restricting access to grounds only to those who had signed up for the National Membership Scheme.

And then came something even worse before. Saturday 15 April, 1989 is a date which no football supporter will forget.

Ninety-six Liverpool supporters lost their lives in a deadly crush on the Leppings Lane terraces at Hillsborough, the home of Sheffield Wednesday.

On a visit to the stadium the following day, Thatcher was informed that drunk Liverpool supporters had caused the tragedy (The Guardian).

Local Tory MP Irvine Patnick and members of the South Yorkshire Police Federation told a local press agency that drunk Liverpool fans had stolen from the dead and urinated on police officers as the tragedy unfolded (The Independent), which lead to the infamous "The Truth" headline in The Sun.

Papers released in September 2012 showed that Thatcher had been informed that the South Yorkshire Police were "close to deceitful" (The Mirror) at the time of Lord Justice Taylor's report into the Hillsborough disaster.

The Taylor Report found that the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control and recommended that all major stadia convert to all-seater designs.

However, papers released in September last year revealed Thatcher's concern at criticism of the police in the Taylor Report (BBC News).

And after Thatcher's death was announced on Monday, Hillsborough campaigners insisted the former prime minister should have apologised (ITV News).

One online report claimed the lack of a minute of silence before the Manchester derby on Monday had been a "Shame on football for snubbing the lady who rescued our game from tribal hooligans" (Daily Mail), but that missed the point entirely.

It was Lord Justice Taylor who pointed the way to all-seater stadia. Fans themselves formed the pressure group, the Football Supporters Association, and improved policing and stadium conditions contributed to the rebuilding of the game.

One-minute tributes have their place in football, but leave them to those who have contributed something to the game.

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