Doves are released during the 27th, and last, annual memorial service for the 96 people who died during a crush at Hillsborough football stadium in Sheffield © Reuters

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In the first substantial memoir from a survivor of Britain’s worst sporting disaster, Adrian Tempany answers the question so often asked over the past 27 years: “What is it you’re after? What do you want when you chant ‘Justice for the 96’?”

What he wanted was the truth. The denial of truth, writes Tempany in And the Sun Shines Now, dishonoured the memory of the 96 Liverpool fans who died at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, packed into an already overcrowded terrace at Sheffield’s Hillsborough stadium and penned in by iron railings designed to combat pitch invasions; it also stained the reputation and wrecked the mental health of many of those who escaped the murderous crush.

It’s taken the best part of three decades, a public inquiry, a private prosecution, an independent review panel and an unprecedented second round of inquests to establish this year what the survivors knew all along: that the victims were unlawfully killed by the negligence of those whose duty it was to keep them safe.

Just as the policing of the game was botched, so investigations into what happened further buried that truth. Tempany recalls how two officers came to his home and informed the traumatised 19-year-old he was mistaken: he hadn’t in fact witnessed the horrors that would fuel his nightmares and scar his adult life.

The detectives from the West Midlands were ostensibly investigating their South Yorkshire colleagues whose blunders in crowd management had created catastrophe. To Tempany, the detectives seemed determined that he and others who had been at Hillsborough couldn’t have a story worth hearing.

In the absence of their testimony, swathes of the wider population swallowed the alternative “truth”: the lie that drunkenness and hooliganism were to blame. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun, Britain’s best-selling newspaper, had “set the terms of the national debate” with lurid falsehoods about bestial fans. It darkened the anguish of some survivors “who — decades later — hanged themselves in the garage or jumped in front of a train”.

With his own terrifying experience so long denied — and there’s an extended passage in which the author explains exactly what happens when life is being squeezed from you — Tempany, now a journalist, tries to make sense of it all by examining the subsequent transformation in the game that so nearly killed him. Hence the subtitle: “How Hillsborough and the Premier League Changed Britain”.

From the desolate terrace at Hillsborough, football and its followers were left stranded. Decades of under-investment by boneheaded leadership had left decaying stadiums where crowd safety was limited to controlling the unruly. The working man’s ballet, like the working class, was out of fashion and politically friendless.

Clubs, compelled to replace the old, standing terraces with all-seater stadiums, raised the cost of admission and rebranded the product. Customers of the inaugural Premier League could expect to pay a lot more than fans of the erstwhile First Division.

Tempany sees Murdoch as a key figure. The media owner’s BSkyB, with UK broadcasting rights to the Premier League, turned supporters into subscribers, selling the game back to those who’d stayed loyal through the grim 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Priced out of attendance at a live match, they’d now have to watch on Sky.

The argument that football has grown rich by taking the game from its traditional support is a familiar one. But seldom has it been so passionately lodged. In Tempany’s view, Hillsborough was exploited by opportunists who spied a sport on its knees and ripe for plunder. It was force-fed TV gold and ravaged.

Tempany shoehorns everything from punk rock to phone-hacking into his polemic. But the statistics are so startling you’ll repeatedly double-take: in 1992-97 the Premier League was making £50.7m a year from TV revenue; by 2010-13 the figure was £1.1bn. In 1992 top players’ salaries stood at four times the national average; in 2009 it was 35.

While clubs look to a global audience that stumps up 40 per cent of the TV cash, local communities feel abandoned. Anfield, the home of Liverpool FC, is one of Britain’s poorest districts. In the 20 years to 2011, inflation was 77 per cent; a Liverpool season ticket went up 1,108 per cent.

Older teenagers — those who’d have stood on the Hillsborough terrace back in 1989 — are all but gone. With tickets of more than £50 now commonplace at the top Premier League clubs, the average matchgoer is a man in his forties. Tempany notes that while women and ethnic minorities are newly welcome, “the problem demographic”, the white working class, is shut out. What’s lost, he says, is the passion. The spirit of football is now cynically repackaged as fans learn to mug for the cameras in jester hats.

Alienated by the monetisation of the Premier League, Tempany finds the spirit of English football has migrated to Germany, where ticket prices are low and you can stand in safety behind the goal. There he meets a small group of erstwhile fans of Manchester United, Gillingham and Oldham. At FC Schalke in Gelsenkirchen, the English turn up for 10 or 12 games a season, he says, adding deadpan: “Someone wonders if Yorkshire Schalke are here today — or Sheep Schalke, as they are known affectionately in these parts.”

In Germany the local community is legally recognised and given a say in the running of clubs, shutting out the foreign billionaires who’ve bought up most of the Premier League. In England, even before the market took over, it was never like that.

We’re left haunted by Hillsborough’s great lie. Those who survived the crush were never the lumpen thugs of the Sun’s monstrous caricature. The author describes his friends, teenagers then, now middle-aged. There’s a pensions administrator, a consultant neuropsychologist, a man who became the UK government’s chief digital executive and a former Scotland Yard detective who’s now a solicitor.

Tempany writes movingly of how they wept together in a court annexe on hearing the new inquests’ jury conclusions: the fans were blameless, the police were culpable. Truth at last. They’d waited most of their lives.

Peter Marshall is a broadcaster and writer who was at Hillsborough in 1989. He presented the documentary ‘Hillsborough: How They Buried The Truth’ for BBC Panorama

And the Sun Shines Now: How Hillsborough and the Premier League Changed Britain, by Adrian Tempany, Faber, RRP£14.99, 448 pages

Photograph: Reuters

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