Liverpool Supporters Can Never Forgive Brian Clough Over Hillsborough Slur

Jamie O'Keeffe@jamie_okeeffe1Contributor IIISeptember 22, 2012

Kenny Dalglish, left, and Brian Clough leave the Hillsborough pitch during the 1989 disaster. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Getty Images
Kenny Dalglish, left, and Brian Clough leave the Hillsborough pitch during the 1989 disaster. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Getty Images

Steven Gerrard’s 2006 autobiography ended with the dedication, “I play for Jon-Paul.”

It’s a reference to his 10-year-old cousin—surname Gilhooley—who was crushed to death in the Hillsborough tragedy. The boy would have been a man of 33 now, a little bit older than the Liverpool captain.

Some things are impossible to forget; others are even harder to forgive. The late Brian Clough wasn’t all bad. As a manager he straddled the categories of genius/egomaniac, but he was never the charming character some posthumous revisionism would suggest.

When his death was announced over the tannoy at the meeting of Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford, eight years ago this weekend (September 20), a vast number of visiting supporters booed.

The reason? They remembered this heartless, callous contention in Clough’s eponymous 1994 memoir: “I will always remain convinced that those Liverpool fans who died were killed by Liverpool people.”

Hillsborough was a despicable disaster. Few ever accepted it was an accident waiting to happen, regardless of the dilapidated state of the Sheffield Wednesday stadium and the infamous fencing in of supporters.

But only a cretin—or Kelvin McKenzie—could have believed it was the cold-blooded manslaughter Clough made it out to be, adding a credibility of sorts to claims made by The Sun, establishment spin doctors and the police.

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Everyone knew long before the recent damning revelations by the British Government that Liverpool supporters weren’t to blame.

As well as traducing the deceased in his book, “Old Big ’Ead” (Clough’s pet name for himself) again blamed allegedly inebriated fans during a book-plugging appearance on Clive Anderson’s BBC chat show.

“They were drunk. They killed their own,” Clough maintained, cold as ice. How hypocritical was that given what we knew, and know, of his struggle with alcoholism?; an addiction that precipitated his passing at the age of 69.

What made it worse, of course, is that Clough was manager of fellow FA Cup semi-finalists Nottingham Forrest, whom Liverpool were playing that day.

His views gave credence to pro-police sentiment and damaged the campaign for justice.

A statement at the time by three local councillors, who were members of the Hillsborough Working Group, unreservedly condemned Clough’s comments, which they branded a cynical attempt by the publishers to exploit the catastrophe.

They added that the remarks in question revealed Clough’s “total and pitiful factual ignorance of the real causes of the disaster.”

These, they said, were “the comprehensive failure of the Police control operation on the day, allied to the winder organisational failures.”

Unfortunately, it took another 18 years to have that version declared as fact.

In late 2001, after years of bereaved families begging him to say sorry and support their search for justice, Clough said he’d been “misinformed … I wasn’t trying to be vindictive or unsympathetic, but my opinion has altered over the years. It was never my intention to hurt anyone.”

Yet this belated retraction was only forthcoming after a threatened cross-Liverpool boycott of UK soccer magazine Four-Four-Two, which had just signed Clough as a star columnist.

Under intense pressure, its editor requested he publicly apologise; hence his printed desire to “make peace” with the Liverpool fans, stating: “I now accept that I went too far in giving my opinions about Hillsborough.”

Most Reds followers regarded his words as worthless. John Aldridge, the Merseyside-born Liverpool striker who contemplated quitting the game following the calamity, responded in the Liverpool Echo:

“Brian Clough waited far too long before apologising for his outrageous comments…Not only was it a scandalous, sickening suggestion, he also managed to cause further unnecessary pain and hurt.”

Aldridge added: “The pain his comments caused was magnified because of his stature in the game. He should have kept his mouth shut. Instead, he demonstrated a shocking lack of compassion and a complete failure to understand what really happened that day.

“He plummeted in my estimation after those comments. He may have apologised now, but it is far too late,” Aldridge asserted.

Indeed, it tells you a lot about the man—of whom former Spurs chief, Lord Alan Sugar of The Apprentice fame, said in court: “Cloughie likes a bung”—that he eventually bowed to professional pressures, rather than the heartfelt pleas on behalf of 96 utterly innocent victims.

Admittedly, he can’t defend himself. But Brian Clough didn’t spare Liverpool’s dead when it suited him.