Christmas is a time for reflection, and at times searching the soul for levels of spirituality we manage to spend all year suppressing to the bottom of the care-pile. It is also a time for Twiglets, Trading Places and champagne for breakfast – regardless of how good or bad a year it has been, we don’t ever lose sight of these things, do we? No.
It is also a time for shameless consumerism and targeted marketing, playing on your hopes and aspirations, as well as your fears and concerns. Amid this maelstrom of messaging, is the sixteen-week, tediumthon that is the X-Factor. After nine long, phone-bill rinsing, bargain-bin-album-producing years, it is a format that is fast becoming not only a parody of itself, but is now in danger of finally fancying itself so much it doesn’t just want to eat itself with a spoon, but wants to have it’s final vertebrae removed in order to fellate itself. Like a dysfunctional Star Wars phaser gun, it is set to stun precisely in time to climax the weekend before Christmas – to ensure smooth passage to that once-coveted golden goose: the UK Christmas Number One.
This year’s production line of failures was overseen by the judging panel: Father Chewy Louis Walsh, pop manager and, er, ‘man’ responsible for some of the worst hate-crtimes committed to sound. Gary Baldnow, ever-chubbying frontman of retro man-band Take That who decided that Sherlock Holmes was the man to follow sartorially, whilst assuming the Cowell role of ‘bastard’. Tulisa Cuntistavros, talentless backing singer from ‘band’ N-Dubz (nope, me neither), and star of one of the least sexy homemade sex-tapes ever. And finally Nicole Shitsigner/Shirtlifter/Shwerzenegger, dater of F1 driver Lewis Hamilton and the one from Pussycat Dolls that wasn’t a stripper. Jesus.
However, that is as much as I can tell you about this year’s competition. Why? Because it is a monumental waste of everybody’s time and energy. The contestants are now becoming pawns in an almighty game of chess – on one side, Cowell and his legion of evil puppeteers trying to convince us that this is a genuine search for talent, in order to launch some nobody into super-stardom, via the medium of Saturday night ‘entertainment’. On the other, is the growing rebellion of an ever-increasingly cynical public, determined to undermine the process by hijacking the phone lines and ensuring that the least talented, most infuriating innocents remain on the show. Much to the disdain of the judges. And, thankfully, the worm has definitely turned. In 2009, a deliberate and calculated campaign was undertaken to rise up against the industry and overthrow the chart-topping monopoly that had been created. Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name Of’, with it’s radio-scaring, repeated refrain of “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” was the perfect antidote to the poisonous pop and won the battle, against the odds and all that the powers that be could throw at it.
This year, however, has proved even more rewarding. It was announced yesterday that the previously prestigious position atop the chart-tree was the Justice Collective’s cover version of the Hollies classic ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ – a song performed by numerous musicians and singers, in aid of charity. The proceeds of the single are to go towards the Justice For The 96 campaign, which has fought tirelessly in the search for the truth behind the events of April 15, 1989, when 96 fans of Liverpool FC were crushed to death at the decrepit Hillsborough stadium, attending a FA Cup semi-final.
I, like may others, watched the horrifying scenes unfold live on Grandstand. And, within moments of it happening, the media and police force of South Yorkshire began colluding to smear the innocent fans of one of the biggest football clubs in the World. There have been millions of words written, far more eloquently and passionately than your scribe can muster, detailing the catalogue of mismanagement by those responsible for the stadium safety, that led to the worst disaster in sports these shores have witnessed. As fans tried to save their brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, the Sun newspaper, under the stewardship of Kelvin Mackenzie – a man that has steadfastly refused to apologise for authorising the printing of such untruths – described in detail how these humans had acted as animals, by urinating on corpses, stealing their wallets, and abusing the police and ambulance staff. All under the front page headline of ‘The Truth’. These lies were concocted to ensure that the serial liars were protected – in actuality, the fans were trying to resuscitate their brethren as they couldn’t obtain medical attention. There were 40 ambulances outside, but only one got onto the pitch to aid the dead, dying and injured, as they were informed that there was fighting on the pitch between the fans of Liverpool and their opponents for the day, Nottingham Forest. And, even for the most cynical, I simply could not believe that mankind was capable of causing such atrocities. It couldn’t have been ‘the truth’.
I wasn’t there, and simply could not comprehend the sheer horror of what had happened. However, around the tenth anniversary of the disaster, I spent an evening with Tony Evans, football journalist and fiercely proud of both his club, and the identity his city had given him. Over several pints, he talked me through the day in such vivid detail, that it was apparent that the nightmares were still there, that the scarring would never heal. About how, having left the stadium, and trying to get back to Liverpool, there were noises unrecognisable from any other football match: people were nursing arms snapped the wrong way; people were vomiting in the street; occasionally the sound of sobbing was heard, then overcome by angry remonstrations with anyone in a uniform. About how, on the embankments of dual carriageways, cars were parked on the hard shoulders and people were sat on the verges with their heads in their hands, unable to process what they had been through. About the queues of people at the emergency phone boxes on the motorways reserved for breakdown recoveries, with lines of people trying to contact their families to let them know they had been lucky, or looking for news of those they travelled with that had been lost or left behind. About how the streets of the city were silent, and as every car turned into the quieter residential side streets, people came out of their front doors, expectant, hopeful that their loved ones had made it back safely. Remember, this was a time before mobile phones – remember those?
And all the time, those in government and those in positions of power ensured that their version of the truth was peddled to a believing public, thus tarnishing the reputation of not just Liverpool fans, but football fans everywhere. Another staggering conclusion was that the coroner declared that all the victims were dead by 3.15, nine minutes after the game was called off, and perhaps an hour after the main crushing had begun. That the police were asking about how much the victims had drunk, in order to project that the crush was caused by ticketless, drunken yobs forcing their way into the ground. However, this was also dispelled, and apparently of those 96 victims, 41 could have been saved if they had received the proper medical attention.
One of the founders of the campaign was Trevor Hicks, who lost his two daughters, aged 19 and 15. When the single ambulance made it onto the pitch, and was having both dead and dying bodies literally stacked into it, he had to choose which one of his daughters could go on, due to the fact that there was only one space. He chose to try and resuscitate one, hoping that the other would survive given the correct emergency attention she required. I, as a father, cannot possibly imagine having to make that decision. He said that for six months he could taste the vomit of his daughter, that he had tried to suck out of her lungs to keep her alive for minutes on the pitch. And these people were painted and tainted as animals, and not the heroes that they should have been hailed as.
In September this year, these lies were exposed, and the real truth began to come out. At last, the parents and friends of those that died, and those that were so deeply affected by the events of that day, could begin to believe that the fight they had undertaken, with such dignity for 23 years, was beginning to be won. And whilst the truth has now come out, the fight for justice, or bringing those responsible for the disaster to justice through the criminal courts, has just begun. And the proceeds of the single will help the cause dramatically.
This is the time of year for faith, hope and charity. Faith – in mankind, the truth, and justice. Hope – that justice will be brought to those that ruined the lives of those still breathing in the name of those that aren’t. And charity – not the donations, but the kindness and support that has been shown by fans of every team in the country – we should all understand that it could have been us, had our team been in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
And so, as we unwrap our presents tomorrow, settle in and look forward to the Christmas Day Top Of The Pops, I for one will be celebrating the achievements of what is symbolically an away win for the underdog – having raged against the machines of government, police forces and mass media, they are number one. With a bullet.
Dedicated to the 96. May you rest in peace. You’ll never walk alone.
Many thanks to EVERYONE that has read these pages in 2012, and I hope to do more in 2013. If you want to, please press the share button below, or re-post it through your social networks. Have a wonderful Christmas, and see you in the New Year. Ben @benopause