It really is no surprise that Jeff Powell thinks Margaret Thatcher, “rescued our game from tribal hooligans.”
After all, it was Powell who thought that the appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson in 2001 meant that England had, “sold our birthright down the fjord to a nation of 7m skiers and hammer throwers who spend half their time in darkness.”
Powell is one of the sport journalism industry’s legends, a man who has travelled the world with the England team for decades and who could have more efficiently updated his contacts book by simply picking up the new telephone directory and crossing out a few names. On this evidence however, he is as strong on history as he is international diplomacy.
Powell was offended because the Manchester clubs did not unite to send off Margaret Thatcher with a minute’s silence on Monday night.
A man as experienced as him should know that, short of standing behind every supporter with a shotgun, there was no way on earth that the stadium would have fallen silent for her memory.
They would have offered up a noise so incandescently bilious that it would have made Rafa Benitez’s ‘Welcome to Stamford Bridge’ party look as tender as the hug from your mum after your first day of school.
The fans would have roared until the Gods themselves were forced to peer over the clouds to find out what was going on. If that’s how Powell wanted his heroine waved off, then his is a very strange kind of reverence.
Thatcher didn’t save football, she almost destroyed it. It was Thatcher and her government who demonised football supporters to such a degree that legitimate safety concerns were ignored in the run-up to the Hillsborough tragedy of 1989.
Fans were treated like animals, herded into cages by baton-wielding police officers and penned in for the duration of the game. There was no right of reply for them.
When it all went so horribly wrong in Sheffield, a wall of lies went up to hide the truth. Even now, those brainwashed by certain newspapers continue to peddle the myth that Liverpool supporters killed their own.
Her government’s plan was that we should all carry compulsory ID cards, a witless, unworkable scheme that sought only to isolate and blacken the name of fans everywhere.
It was the Taylor Report of 1990 that mercifully prevented the policy and demanded the construction of all-seater stadia. Thatcher didn’t rescue the game from hooligans, it was Taylor’s decision to start treating supporters like human beings.
It was Thatcher’s government that wished to withdraw England from the 1990 World Cup, the tournament that went on to make football socially acceptable again.
It was Thatcher and her pint-sized Sports Minister Colin Moynihan who washed their hands of England’s supporters in that tournament, tacitly encouraging the Italian police to scoop anyone who looked a bit English off the street and deport them with such speed and such carelessness that they kept accidentally arresting baffled supporters of all nations.
If we’d played it Jeff Powell’s way, it would have been chaos. Instead, the night passed off peacefully. Over 75,000 people watched a football match without having to fear for their lives. They did that in spite of Thatcher, not because of her.
Read more from the marvellous Iain Macintosh