chapter  3
Interpreting Hillsborough
Pages 20

Introduction Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield was selected by the Football Association (FA) as a neutral venue for the 1988-89 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest. Football grounds, which were not all-seater, had steel fencing segregating fans and to prevent pitch-invasions. Liverpool fans were allocated to the Leppings Lane stand accessed by seven turnstiles. In response to substantial overcrowding before kick-off, police ordered an exit gate be opened. This led to an influx of spectators into two already crowded pens. After six minutes the game was stopped. A barrier broke and spectators began to fall over each other; panic spread as fans tried to escape the developing crush. Ninety-six people died and 766 were injured in Britain’s, and one of the world’s, worst stadium disasters. The dominant narrative was that these fatalities were the result of ticketless, drunken Liverpool fans rushing the gate causing the fatal crush. The bereaved families challenged this narrative, as did an official inquiry in 1990, triggering a process that culminated in the formation of the Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) to collect, review and report on the disaster in the light of the assembled evidence. The HIP’s September 2012 report rejected the dominant narrative – the standard story – that Liverpool fans were responsible and that the authorities, notably South Yorkshire Police (SYP), attempted to conceal the disaster’s real causes. Hillsborough has become part of a wider critique of a scandal-prone SYP and symptomatic of a range of cover-ups involving ‘the Establishment’. Actors explain social life using narratives or stories (Holstein and Gubrium, 2009). What Tilly describes as standard stories have a distinct structure: ‘selfmotivated actors in delimited time and space, conscious actions that cause most or all of the significant effects’ (2002: 28). A story can provide a compelling account of why something happened in the way it did but still fail to ‘adequately represent causes and effects as they unfold in social processes’ because ‘cause-effect relations are indirect, incremental, interactive, unintended, collective, or mediated by the nonhuman environment rather than being direct, willed consequences or individual actions’ (Tilly, 2002: 29, 32). The value of interpretivism is its focus on meanings and beliefs, which means that events are best understood as narratives or stories, constructed by actors responding to dilemmas.