The majority of our British readers will be unaware of the existence of Steve Cohen. Cohen is the host of a radio show based in Los Angeles called “World Soccer Daily”, and also appears on the Fox Soccer Channel. Last month, while the rest of the football world was paying its respect to the dead and reflecting on how it came to be that 96 people should die watching a football match, he was following his own agenda. Here is what he said:
“People showing up without tickets, hell bent in getting into somewhere where they shouldn’t be going because they don’t have tickets, is the root cause of [the Hillsborough Disaster].”
“I’m yet to read anybody write in this weekend’s Sunday papers in England, where they’re all doing big commemorations about the 96, and why we should never forget and how it’s changed the game, nobody discusses the 6-8,000 who showed up without tickets and my argument has always been, if those people don’t show up, this never happens.”
“[Hillsborough] is a stadium that week-in week-out, Sheffield Wednesday used without incident.”
It’s not worth spending too much time deconstructing the above, apart to say that every single one of the above statements is wrong. Very briefly, The Taylor report concluded that there were no more than 10,124 people in the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough that day, meaning that the terrace was only 24 people over its capacity at any stage that afternoon. Newspapers didn’t reflect on this for a pretty simple reason: it didn’t happen. His claim that Hillsborough was used “week-in-week-out without incident” is also simply untrue. Thirty-eight Spurs supporters were crushed on the same terrace during an FA Cup semi-final match against Wolverhampton Wanderers, and there was also crushing during the 1987 FA Cup semi-final between Coventry City and Leeds United, and during the 1988 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
Beyond the above, there’s not much more to say on the subject of what Cohen actually said. Should you wish to go into further details, there is more on EPL Talk. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he found himself bombarded with emails and messages expressing anger and disbelief at what had been said. Just as unsurprisingly, Cohen has stated that he received death threats amongst those messages. More on that later. He was offered the opportunity to retract on his statement in the following edition of “World Soccer Daily” but refused, partially retracting only on the number of people that he believed to be ticketless inside the stadium whilst still stating that, “there were people there who shouldn’t have been there because they didn’t have tickets and they were hell bent on getting in”.
The fallout from this has been substantial. Cohen has continued to argue that the death threats that he received justify the original comments that he made. No-one in their right mind would condone such threats, but the fact that he doesn’t even seem able to grasp (or chooses to ignore) that such statements would cause such anger and upset seem to give away more about him than his actual comments on the subject ever could. FourFourTwo magazine and Heineken severed their sponsorship deals with the show, whilst the manager of MLS side New England Revolution refused to participate in any further programmes featuring Cohen.
Leading American sports blog The Big Lead wrote this partial condemnation of Cohen, but their closing statement on the subject deserves closer inspection. “He is wrong. But, he has the right to be”. The whole point about the anger that Cohen has caused is not that he has offered an opinion. He could have stated that he thinks that Liverpool supporters were responsible for the Hillsborough disaster. That is an opinion – a pretty repugnant one, but an opinion nevertheless. What Cohen did, however, was not this. He stated events as facts that simply didn’t occur and asserted that these events directly attibuted to the deaths of ninety-six people. There’s a wealth of difference between the two.
It’s difficult to say for sure what Cohen’s agenda for all of this is. The link with Fox would seem to indicate that he is seeking to become the football equivalent of a shock jock. The problem is that Cohen has, in front of a massive audience – a global one – demonstrated himself to be wilfully ignorant and/or prejudiced to an extreme that even the most jaundiced of football supporters seldom are. It’s a pity, because a burgeoning market for football in the United States deserves better than this rubbish. Fortunately, the new, global media offers them plenty of alternatives.