The first of the three books was called just that, ‘The Beautiful Game’ by David Conn. The second was David Goldblatt’s ‘The Game of Our Lives’. And the third, which I read this summer, ‘And the Sun Shines Now’ by Adrian Tempany.
All three books give an account set within a socio-economic and
personal context of the history of football in England from the late 1980s
through to the year of publication. As my own ‘formative’ football years were
the 1970s, the period all three books describe is one I’ve lived through and
experienced along with the authors. Indeed, I feel a certain affinity to all
As a student in Manchester, if I couldn’t afford the train fare on a Saturday to go to see my own club, I’d stay in town and stand on the Kippax watching David Conn’s Manchester City. David Goldblatt is, like me, a supporter of a Bristol football club, albeit in his case the ‘wrong’ one! And Adrian Tempany clearly has the same admiration for many of the communal and socially inclusive aspects of the Bundesliga that likewise draw me to Berlin whenever possible to soak up life on the German terraces.
“Supporters were now making way for ‘customers’.”
“… the Establishment washed its hands of the Hillsborough disaster and tossed football to the four winds.”
“The national sport was now the ‘football industry’.”
While these quotes are all from ‘And the Sun Shines Now’, similar sentiments are found in all three books. All three authors have shared experiences of the era concerned. Experiences I too share. Yet, one of us sees this period in English football from a very unique perspective, which makes his book all the more compelling and which adds an extra gravitas to what he says about how the game and how English society have changed. It is the perspective of a Hillsborough survivor. Adrian Tempany was on the Leppings Lane terrace that fateful day in April 1989 and only just lived to tell the tale.
“Three men directly in front of me were going – slowly turning blue, their faces changing from a ghostly pallor to a pale violet, their lips almost trembling with cold. Some people were covered in vomit. Some were weeping. Others were gibbering, trying to black out what was happening.
I was losing strength; I knew I couldn’t survive much longer. My head was trapped in a channel, looking slightly to the left, to the North Stand, when into that channel walked a policeman. He stopped and looked into the terrace and straight into my eyes. I knew I had him, and I slowly, limply mouthed the words: ‘Help. Help me. Help.’ The police officer narrowed his eyes, looked at me keenly and paused for a few seconds. Then he screwed up his mouth and smiled, uncertainly, and he walked off.”
This perspective, this context, so chillingly described in the opening chapter of his book, makes Adrian Tempany’s account of football’s transformation since 1989 a very unique and personal one. There’s a bitterness there at the handling of the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster by the Thatcher government and a sadness at the way in which the beautiful game then fell into the clutches of all-powerful pay TV. There are wistful reminiscences of carefree childhood and the ease of access to live football, set against accounts of modern stadia in the post-Taylor era with ever-aging crowds. “… the price to be paid for all-seater stadiums is that young adults are disappearing from the match” notes Tempany with evident sorrow.
But there are rays of hope, too. And Tempany finds these in Germany.
He visits fans and supporters groups at Schalke 04, HSV and St Pauli and talks fondly of the community spirit and democratic values he finds there. He faultlessly describes the membership structure of German clubs and the 50+1 rule and, much more importantly, conveys well what it means to the fans he meets to be members of their clubs and not merely ‘customers’ or ‘stakeholders’.
And for the first time in over 20 years, he watches a football match standing up. At Schalke in Gelsenkirchen. And loves how the fans there look out for one another: “In front of me on the Nordkurve a woman in her 30s was stood with her little girl, perhaps eight or nine years old. People in front had stood apart slightly so the little girl could see. She was rapt in the game.” And she wasn’t the only one wholly absorbed by the communal experience. Tempany was accompanied on his visit to Gelsenkirchen by his brother Martin, a Forest fan. “It is one thing to be welcomed into the heart of a Champions League club, as I had been at Schalke,” he says at the end of this chapter, “but Martin did not accompany me behind the scenes: he simply went to the Schalke-Frankfurt match, stood on a terrace with some football supporters and drank a few beers. His, if anything was the more genuine football experience – and he felt more connected to football in one weekend in Gelsenkirchen than he had been in Nottingham for years.”
In England, Tempany clearly feels, the connection between fan and football has been lost.
In examining how that has happened over the last quarter of a century, he lays the blame squarely at the feet of the Premier League, Sky and the football authorities that allowed them to turn the people’s game into a much-hyped, over-priced consumer product. He speaks to experts in child behaviour about the way in which ‘angst’ in British society has led to children having much less freedom in their lives, which he sees reflected in the low numbers of young fans now going to football games on their own. He covers the good work done to try to check the loss of clubs as true assets to their community by the likes of Andy Burnham, the Football Task Force and community schemes at clubs like Orient, Charlton and Spurs. But in this section of his book he nevertheless concludes that many clubs “have largely ceased to function as a forum for socialisation. The people no longer have a claim on the clubs at the heart of their communities because they can no longer afford to support them.”
As a campaigner for the introduction of safe standing areas in all-seater stadia, I was naturally also very interested in Tempany’s views on the campaign. As he recounts his experience of standing at the game in Gelsenkirchen, he notes that it is gathering momentum. He notes, too, that the Hillsborough Family Support Group is opposed to a return to standing. And he adds: “While I understand their view, I disagree – primarily because their loved ones were not killed by terracing, and for the authorities to suggest that they were only allowed the real culprits to get away with the deaths of the 96.” Indeed, Tempany maintains, it was this “false narrative” that reshaped English football. This false message that “standing was a disaster waiting to happen”.
“It wasn’t,” says Tempany. “The clubs had merely to get their houses in order, and the authorities to admit their failings around Hillsborough.”
Writing the final pages of ‘And the Sun Shines Now’ in the spring of 2016, Tempany looks forward with cautious optimism to an era when perhaps the authorities would start to see things differently. He notes that The FA had provided Wembley as a venue for the year’s annual Supporters’ Summit put on by the Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct. But although he sees this as a welcome sign that the Association was now more willing to engage with supporters and listen to their concerns about the state of the game today, he still adds a note of caution, saying “it remains to be seen whether the truth about Hillsborough will encourage football’s governing body to acknowledge that so much of the modern game was built on a falsehood.”
You sense that he fears that just like that policeman who looked straight at him as he mouthed a cry for help from the Leppings Lane terrace, the authorities might likewise ignore the calls for greater dialogue from the fans and turn away.
As in the books by David Conn and David Goldblatt, a sense of melancholy thus also pervades much of ‘And the Sun Shines Now’. As his excellent book draws to a close, Tempany is not able to give us any definite hope that things will change, but in his final remarks he says it’s high time they should:
“It’s three years since Margaret Thatcher died. But the ‘mob’ that she and her henchmen once vilified, at Orgreave and at Hillsborough, are still here, and we have been cleared of all charges levelled against us.
Now, can we have our ball back, please?”
It’s a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree.
And the Sun Shines Now: How Hillsborough and the Premier League Changed Britain by Adrian Tempany is published by Faber & Faber and is a must-read for anyone with an interest in ‘how Hillsborough and the Premier League changed Britain’.
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