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Soup of This Day #313: For You 6 Lungs, For Me Not Even A Few Fish Gills

May 28, 2013

Michelle Wie
Iron. Lady. Michelle Wie demonstrating her follow-through at the LPGA Championship in Bulle Rock – Photo: Keith Allison, 2009. Keith Allison is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72

I wasn’t a fan of Margaret Thatcher.

Maybe I should have prefaced that declaration with a disclaimer: I’m not from the UK or any of its territories. I’ve never actually been to the United Kingdom or any of its territories. I was just 4 when Thatcher became the 1st female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and 15 when she lost power. During that time I lived in in rural Western Australia, where the closest brush I had with the leader of Britain was via the brilliant television experience that was Yes, Prime Minister.

I’d have engaged better with the fictional Jim Hacker from that series than I did with the real Iron Lady.

And no, it’s not the ‘Lady’ part of that nickname that grates. It’s the ‘Iron’ bit.

I’m not altogether against your average Iron people. Because it’s ok to be an Ironman, both the fictional armoured hero and the class of Australian surf lifesavers. It’s also cool to be the female counterpart of the latter, an Ironwomen. In those contexts the word ‘Iron’ implies a hardness, a toughness that is both compelling and reassuring, particularly if you’re struggling in the surf and awaiting rescue. Because then, you want a person of iron will heading your way.

Not an actual person made of iron – They’d probably sink.

And rust.

Meanwhile on land, having an iron will is ok, but only if it is balanced by compassion. Margaret Thatcher wasn’t big on compassion for all. She wasn’t really that big on ‘all’ to be honest, disdaining community and society, instead preferring an almost Darwinistic approach to individualism. She once said:

‘There is no such thing as society: there are men and women, and there are families.’

That’d not seem to be an inclusive way to view the world. It would instead look like the kind of ethos that could easily lead to divisiveness. Maybe she should have been the ‘Irony Lady’ instead.

Because she wanted a United Kingdom of individuals.

Fortunately there is a better vision though and it’s 1 that is emphasised by 1 of this blog’s sporting teams.

Actually it’s less about the team and more about the society that underpins that great club, Liverpool FC.

For you see, April 15th this year marked the 24th anniversary of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster, a tragedy that took the lives of 96 LFC fans and irrevocably damaged those of their families, friends and fellow football fans of every stripe and hue. Compounding this loss of life was the apparent cover-up from authorities that immediately followed the disaster – Statements from emergency services personnel were altered and a fiction was spun that all of the deaths happened within a set time.

For many of the families of the dead, this fantasy of disorderly fans and orderly police was too much. They commenced a campaign, ‘Justice For The 96’, that aimed to get to the truth of what happened that Saturday afternoon in 1989.

It’s not been a quick or easy. There’s a kind of fog that clouds views of disasters and sometimes there are people looking to add to that, maybe to hide their own sins.

That’s pretty much what happened post- Hillsborough.

The haze of disaster has overlayed the wraith-like spectres of responsibility and the whole is just 1 pea-souper of unaccountability. It’s best to avoid that kind of thing, and for the most part the authorities have done just that, preferring to occasionally tut and hmm around the edges, where you can mostly see the safe areas to tread.

That’s not helped the victims though, not the dead and definitely not the living. The latter are as stuck in the mire as the former, only they are in a position to fight their way clear.

It is in fact an ongoing battle to this day. Progress has been made though of late, with fresh investigations and inquests. There is a now-universal acceptance that there were wrongs wrought by the authorities, on the day and later as they suppressed or distorted the truth.

Some of those authorities were close to Margaret Thatcher.

Bernard Ingham was Thatcher’s chief press secretary throughout her premiership. In the aftermath of the Hillsborough deaths he blamed the disaster entirely on a ‘tanked-up mob’.

It’s a view he restated in 1996, claiming in a letter:

‘After all, who if not the tanked up yobs, who turned up late determined to get into the ground caused the disaster? To blame the police, even though they may have made mistakes, is contemptible.’

Unfortunately for Bernard, and Margaret Thatcher, who never corrected such views, that version of events has been thoroughly discredited. There was no mob of ‘tanked up yobs’ – It was an occasion entirely lacking in malice – A day fuelled by good will and honest intentions – A day at the football.

That was forever tarnished by a series of grievous errors by senior police that led quite distinctly to the horrible tragedy that claimed those 96 souls.

But then those 96 were part of a community and that kind of thing doesn’t sit well in Thatcher’s Britain. Football clubs, often founded by working folk, from factories and fields, from mines and milliners, are the antithesis of the individual – They are about community and yes, a kind of socialism. This from Bill Shankly, Liverpool FC’s most revered gaffer:

‘The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life.’

It’s hard to imagine Shanks and Thatch sitting down for a companionable chat, even if you give the PM a cool nickname like ‘Thatch’. Bill Shankly would surely have had his heart broken by Hillsborough, and then he would have put it back together and gone after anybody and everybody in search of the truth. Even an Iron Lady of a Prime Minister.

He would have been in good company too, for the community that the Scotsman became an intrinsic part of has had it’s hearts rent asunder but it has got back in the game and taken the fight to the top. At their forefront have been the families – People who have born the losses hardest of all.

People like Anne Williams, whose son Kevin will forever be 15 after he died that fateful Saturday in 1989. The original official version told her that Kevin was gone by 3:15pm, that he couldn’t have been saved. Yet that wasn’t true – A female police officer had cradled Kevin at 4:00pm, when he opened his eyes 1 last time and said 1 final word:


At the recent 24th anniversary memorial, Bill Kenwright, the chairman of Liverpool’s local rivals Everton FC was asked to speak. What he had to say was a tribute to community and the likes of Anne Williams:

You’ve got class mate…

And that’s where I’ll leave off this post except to say that there was a death 10 days after Margaret Thatcher’s. Anne Williams could beat the likes of the Iron Lady any day but cancer was too much for her.

In turns out that Prime Ministerial Iron Ladies can rust even when they don’t get in the water. The Anne Williams of this world though don’t lose their lustre – They shine on forever.


For You 6 Lungs, For Me Not Even A Few Fish Gills

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  1. Soup of This Day #363: Bring It Back | Longworth72

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