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Does Jeremy Hunt illustrate why class still matters?

11:11 am - June 29th 2010

by Paul Sagar    

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Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, recently revealed his vast ignorance of British footballing history whilst managing to insult thousands:

[A]s a Minister I was incredibly encouraged by the example set by the England fans, I mean not a single arrest for a football related offensive and the terrible problems that we had in Heysel and Hillsborough in the 1980s seem now to be behind us and I think, you know, there is small grounds for encouragement there even though obviously we are very disappointed about the result.

Anybody with even a basic knowledge of English football will know that what happened at Hillsborough had absolutely nothing to do with hooliganism.

That Hunt was shadow secretary for the same office during last year’s 20th anniversary Hillsborough memorial services is an even greater indictment of his callous ignorance.

But could there be something more going on?

Economists and psychologists frequently employ the concept of cognitive bias.

It’s worth asking whether any are at work here. I can think of 3 possibilities:

1. Not only is Hunt ignorant about the history of English football, but he is predisposed to think of football as a yob sport where trouble is usually caused by yobs. Given that 44-year-old Hunt would have become socially aware in the 1970s and 80s (when English hooliganism was rife), this explanation is very plausible.

2. Hunt, as a conservative, is predisposed to trust figures of institutions and authority over the masses in need of control. This means he is more likely to assume that fault lay with yob crowds than with police authorities.

3. Hunt is extremely privileged and has grown up and worked amongst similarly privileged people, likely to have low interest in football and low interest in a disaster that affected working class Liverpool fans. Accordingly, he’s never been in a social situation whereby 1. and 2. above could be adjusted, or his ignorance about Hillsborough corrected.

Number 3 will, of course, set the cat amongst the pigeons. But I suspect there’s something to it. Having grown up lower-middle class and attended a normal state comprehensive with lots of working class kids, it is unimaginable to me that someone could not know the truth about Hillsborough. Yes, I grew up on Merseyside. But in Southport there were as many Manchester United as Liverpool fans. And for crying out loud, by Mum knows what happened at Hillsborough and she’s French and doesn’t like football.

Of course, we musn’t be deterministic. Plenty of people have privileged backgrounds and manage to care about those less fortunate than they. Harriet Harman, for all her faults, stands as a good example.

Equally, sometimes people from working class backgrounds can’t wait to join the elites and dump on those they’ve left behind. Hello David Davis, hello Norman Tebbit.

And believe me, I know how irritating it can be to have your (perceived) class background used against you. Just ask Captain Swing.

But all that having been said, does Jeremy Hunt offer proof of what I and many others were saying about Double Dip Dave and Boy George before the election? That class matters; that being a millionaire Bullingdon Boy will affect the way politicians see – and attempt to influence – the world around them.

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About the author
Paul Sagar is a post-graduate student at the University of London and blogs at Bad Conscience.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Equality ,Sport

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Reader comments

Sunny, I think the headline needs sorting out…

You missed out option 4) he’s a crass insensitive prick with the emotional depth of a lizard.

And yeah, that headline needs sorting – all very “who was phone??” 😉

3. David Boothroyd

Rubbish. There’s less going on here than meets the eye. The news Jeremy Hunt was conveying (that no England fan was arrested for disorder in South Africa) is good and it is relevant to compare it to the 1980s when there was a lot of hooliganism. He was simply extemporising to think of football related trouble in the 1980s, and the word Hillsborough sprang wrongly to mind. It was a split second mistake, a simple accidental slip of the tongue, and simply not worth making any fuss about.

Can’t agree I’m afraid. No interest in football here at all, same age as Mr Hunt, and the details of which incident in the eighties was which totally pass me by. Lower-middle class background.

Of course, I probably wouldn’t have issued a statement referring to incidents by name (and would have expected a Sec of State’s aides to have prevented him making an idiot of himself in that way).

And previous comment shows I also have no aides, hadn’t realised it was said in an interview. Rest of comment stands, though!

Erm, having read the quote, although he elides poor behaviour and Hillsborough (and Heysel), Mr Hunt does not attribute this to hooliganism. Since the New Statesman only has a short extract, I do not know whether there was more to this, but the natural reading of the sentance (considering, as the original post points out Mr Hunt is quite posh, and he speaks proper) is that these are two different listed items – no bad behaviour, the big disasters are in the past, not two facets of one problem.

I could be wrong, and this was still bloody stupid considering the nerves that can be touched by mentioning Hillsborough, but can anyone point me to a fuller transcription so context can be seen? At least the original question is missing.

Is Hunt a football fan? (Compare the Evertonian leanings of Andy Burnham) Also, why would he compare hooliganism of domestic/European matches when he could have used the behaviour of England fans at international tournaments? Or is it becos they is Scousers (so to speak)?

Let’s nominate Jeremy Hunt for a new entry in the book of cockney rhyming slang. He deserves it.

9. Luis Enrique

Paul @1, I thought it was rhyming slang

10. Luis Enrique


I didn’t think it was that bad a thing to say. I didnt actually see the word hooligan above.

“terrible problems that we had in Heysel and Hillsborough in the 1980s seem now to be behind us”

This doesn’t tell us anything about the problem as he perceives it, its been left open to interpretation. Which obviously as a Conservative will be interperated badly here.

that was some serious grammar #fail on my part.

@8 – totally agree. Not that I held any other opinion before his latest gaffe.

“But in Southport there were as many Manchester United as Liverpool fans…”

Well, a greater percentage of the population of Southport are wankers, and most of them want nothing to do with Merseyside anyway.

Class absolutely matters – but it’s no excuse for being an ignorant shite.

I think you’re spot on with the sources of cognitive bias; I think the only logical conclusion to reach is that someone ‘suffering’ all three is required to make a monstrous effort just in order to not make a twat of themselves – evidently, Hunt failed, and offended thousands in the process.

So how did he even get to be Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport? Surely the role demands that he has some fucking clue about the recent history of the most popular sport in the country?

I was at a Polo match this weekend, which is stereotypically (and incorrectly) perceived to be for posh-boys, and at least half the audience were in the bar watching the football on a TV.

The roars when goals were scored seems to suggest that as a sport, football is classless.

Maybe you would be better off ditching the 1970s class war mentality and judging a person by what he says/does, not what school their parents sent them to?

I was at a Polo match this weekend…

The roars when goals were scored seems to suggest that as a sport, football is classless.

Alternatively it shows that Polo is mainly played by Germans!

(…sorry, couldn’t resist!)

16. the a&e charge nurse

The shameful facts surrounding Hillsborough have been established beyond reasonable doubt – for those not familiar with the full history here is a good starting point (Hillsborough for Dummies)

It would have been refreshing if this tory toff had noticed that it was no longer necessary for the authorities to treat fans so badly – or for the police to conduct on orchestrated cover up (backed by a hostile media) when such tragedies eschewed?
These are the real lessons after Hillsborough and have fuck all to do with ‘hooliganism’

As to the question WHY Hunt exhibit such ignorance and insensitivity – well I guess it may have something to do with the privileged few being far removed from everyday life on the terraces, and having virtually no insight into what the beautiful game is all about?

@14 – all very well, but I still remember lining up in year seven, at the start of each term, to be segregated for sports: the top set for rugby was almost exclusively public school educated kids (and / or fat kids), whilst next term – football – virtually none of the top set was either (public school educated and / or fat).

Besides which, (at least) I *am* judging Hunt for what he says / does – I’m just curious to understand the reasons why. I think class has something to do with it; or else, he’s a heartless bastard, or ignorant wee shite, or possibly both.

18. Brian Cheese

Hunt probably does think Hillsborough and Heysel were caused by the same things, but he doesn’t actually say it above. The Taylor Report was long overdue and should have come after Bradford…or even Ibrox. Maybe that’s what he meant, and the state of grounds and policing in the 80s needed to change both for reasons of safety and hooliganism. So, maybe he did mean that…I doubt it though.

Just because Hillsborough wasn’t the result of crowd violence doesn’t mean there wasn’t crowd violence in the 80s. As much as the police have learned the lessons of Hillsborough ther seems to be an astounding willingness to forget the very real violence of 70s and 80s football grounds.

This article is a typical reaction…ignore Heysel and concentrate on Hillsborough. The embarrassing scenes of Juventus fans turning their backs shows how little the lessons of one have been learned whilst the other is still the subject of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Is it only the Juve fans that need to move on?

19. margin4error


One of the worst aspects to the World Cup (aside from England’s repeatedly inept performances) for us football fans is the number of people who have no interest in it, no knowledge of it, and no commitment to it but who suddenly form strong opinions on it and staking their claim to it.

This has been a problem since about 1990 when the country was gripped by a stunningly good national side with arguably the most gifted young player in the world (Gazza).

Since then every four years (or eight if taylor is manager) a bunch of people from all backgrounds take an interest in something they don’t understand but that otherwise remains a largely working class sport in regards to those of us who got to games and play the sport ourselves.

So the bit about Hunt’s background making him oblivious is probably fair.

20. Sunder Katwala

I thought it was a mistake, perhaps simply a slip by Hunt, for which he was quick to apologise.

The thought can it only be 25 and 20 years ago that people could go to a football match and come back dead is a fair one, though the Heysel/Hillsborough conflation is very unfortunate. if the point was that there were no England fans arrested at the World Cup that is a massive development from the 1980s, when few people in their right mind could have thought they would enjoy going to watch their national team with all of the aggro, hassle and security.

Without denying at all the valid points made by famjlies and campaigners about why the remarks have very hurtful echoes, it is also the case in a different way that the shadow of hooliganism from that era (specifically the fear of hooliganism) did play a dangerous part in the Hillsborough disaster, in that both the general set-up and the initial emergency response (we saw pictures of people being kept from climbing over the barriers) were instinctively to treat it as a crowd control problem, and not to understand what was happening

All that said, its a bad mistake about Hillsborough. I was 15 and growing up in the northwest and football mad, so it had a big impact on me. If Hunt’s background was different, it may have not done so for him. I agree the point about his having shadowed the role at the time of the 20th anniversary ought to have put the issue on his radar. However, I think people should not be too tough on him over a mistake given his quick retraction, and instead might constructively suggest that he does something specific about the cooperation the families are looking for over the transparency of official information about the disaster.

Can we drop this football is working class stuff incidentally? Even if it was in 1950, social mobility means many descendents of working class supporters are still supporters, in different parts of the country and a different class. However, I doubt even in 1950 that football was all working class – talk to any old supporter about the range of people they met on the terraces.

22. margin4error

For those interested in the events of Hillsborough and the blame and bitterness surrounding it – This article from a year ago about the 1981 crush at the same venue may help clarify.

It just wasn’t like other incidents in football. It was nothing like reported. And it was entirely avoidable. Those to blame have never been punished. And any linking of it to violence and hooliganism is horrendously insensitive and ignorant.

23. margin4error


I’m not sure that social mobility holds true with what you are saying. After all, surely class is about where you come from, not where you are now?

But even so, there are more middle class fans now. It is just striking how rarely a working class MP or reporter comes out with something crass about Hillsborough these days, compared to upper class colleagues.

24. the a&e charge nurse

[20] “it is also the case in a different way that the shadow of hooliganism from that era (specifically the fear of hooliganism) did play a dangerous part in the Hillsborough disaster” – rubbish, do you have one shred of evidence to substantiate this claim?

Crushing had ALREADY occurred at Hillsborough in 1981 (when 38 Spurs fans were injured) resulting in the ground losing the FA Cup semi-final for the next 6 years.

On the day that 96 Liverpool fans died there was a criminal disregard for even the most rudimentary form of streaming (of fans) at the congested Leppings Lane end, with hundreds of fans being directed BY THE POLICE and ground officials to the already dangerously over crowded central pens.

Don’t forget on the day in question the police ALSO resorted to blaming fans, for example by claiming that those without tickets exacerbated the crush, a claim subsequently dismissed by Taylor and by the HSE who noted that the number of fans in the ground did not exceed the official allocation but had been SHOULD have been redirected once the central pens at the Leppings Lane End were full.

What do you say about the Police cover up or the missing CCTV tapes (eerily reminiscent of the Mendes execution)

It does not surprise when the Scum or the Fail churn out pro-establishment views about Hillsborough, hell I certainly don’t expect from much from a prawn sandwich like Hunt – but I do expect more from you Sunder.

“I’m not sure that social mobility holds true with what you are saying. After all, surely class is about where you come from, not where you are now? ”

So if I’m middle class and my dad was working class, how is that not social mobility?

26. margin4error

Dunno – I don’t know what makes you middle class and your dad working class.

I’m the same class as my dad for what it’s worth, despite having more money.

27. Brian Cheese

So who was to blame for Heysel then?

28. Sunder Katwala

. the a&e charge nurse @24

Sorry, I fully agree with the points you are making. I was not trying to make a controversial point at all.

Yes, there is shocking criminal negligence, and a total neglect of basic public safety.

I don’t think my point is incompatible with that at all. One of the drivers of this was an excessive obsession with crowd control which (while there were some issues in the period of course) also underpinned a neglect of the safety of the supporters, or an ability to think of them as anything other than a potential mob, even once the crush was happening. The (shocking and wrong) instinct to then blame the fans, and fuel the Sun’s lies and myth-making surely reflects that mentality too.

That’s all I was trying to say. I think the Taylor Report says the same about the approach which was taken, and the neglect of safety.

@27 – Those involved in violence, rioting, running or other activities at Heysel were responsible, alongside very bad negligence on the part of the authorities in terms of the shocking condition of the stadium being unfit to host a major event.

But please don’t try to link the two to say that’s why you might not get the safety you could expect if you go out to watch a football match, and might come back dead (because some idiots involved in a riot in Belgium four years before supported the same team). Any of us who watched football from a terrace in the 1980s know that could have been any of us.

29. the a&e charge nurse

[27] “So who was to blame for Heysel then” – well, perhaps, the implication given your earlier comment [18] is that the fans were to blame?

Yet according to Wiki, “Despite its status as Belgium’s national stadium, Heysel Stadium was not a suitable venue for a match such as the European Cup Final. The 55-year-old stadium had not been well maintained for several years, and large parts of the stadium were crumbling. Liverpool players and fans later said that they were shocked at the abject conditions of the ground, despite reports from Arsenal fans that the stadium was a “dump” when the Gunners played there a few years earlier. Liverpool CEO Peter Robinson urged UEFA to choose another venue, to no avail.

Amazingly, “UEFA, the organiser of the event, the owners of Heysel Stadium and the Belgian police were never investigated for culpability. There was NO official inquiry into the causes of the disaster. After an 18-month investigation, the dossier of top Belgian judge Mrs Marina Coppieters was finally published. In sharp contrast to the one-sided version of events on the UK side of the Channel, it concluded that perhaps blame should not rest solely with the English fans, but instead should be shared by the police and football authorities. Several top officials were incriminated by some of the dossier’s findings, including police captain Johan Mahieu, who had been in charge of security on May 29, 1985 and was now charged with involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to nine months suspended sentence and fine 30.000FB. Albert Roosens [president of the Belgian Football Association] was sentenced to six months suspended sentence and a fine 30.000FB”.

Can you a see a theme here, Brian – a general disregard for fans by the authorities (despite the humungus wads of cash generated by the game), inadequate stadia, ineffective policing, then an ostrich mentality when a disaster ensues.

Put another way, if anybody had learnt anything at all about crowd control during the decades before Heysel many of the problems caused by the few could easily have been contained by half decent policing – as belatedly applies to today’s big footie events.

The question is WHY did it take the authorities so long to arrive at the same conclusions – I think the short answer is that as long as the dosh was rolling in it really didn’t matter that much if one or two tragedies occurred along the way, especially as the those likely to suffer were probably ‘hooligans’ anyway?

30. Brian Cheese

@28 I’m not trying to link the two, but am pointing out that a lot more words are expended over Hillsborough than they are over Heysel, or any of the other violence related deaths and injuries.

I think the Taylor Report is a great example of what can happen when a fair and balance report is acted on. I’m glad watching football is no longer a dangerous passtime. But just because the Hillsborough victims were innocent it doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of incidents for football fans to be ashamed of, and we tend not to hear about them…in fact you can still hear some people refer to them as the glory days.

31. Brian Cheese

@29 And what reason could you have for omitting the the fans who were also charged and jailed?

Doesn’t Wikipedia mention them?

As I said above there were a lot of injustices, but there does seem to be an increasingly rose tinted view of the period, especially on Merseyside

32. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells


“or any of the other violence related deaths and injuries.”

True, the murders of Paul Nixon, Irene and Norman Roxby are completely forgotten, no minutes silence for them.

33. the a&e charge nurse

[31] a rose tinted view of what, exactly – please elaborate your views, if you have the bottle to do it.

Do YOU have a theory as to why a major European sporting event took place in a dilapidated stadium without adequate policing, or why nobody could be even arsed to hold a formal inquiry after 39 fans were killed – what does this tell us about the authorities attitude toward such dreadful incidents?

You seem rather reticent on these points – I wonder if it could it part of a long tradition, perpetuated again today, by you, that the poor old authorities (in 1985) were simply not up to the task of providing the sort of conditions that fans can almost take for granted at football games nowadays.

Was there a clash between fans in the ground, yes.
Could the fans have reasonably foreseen that Heysel stadium would actually collapse, and fatalities occur – well, if the authorities, the same ones later found culpable by a Belgium judge, had done their job, it’s probably a question we would not be asking today?

34. margin4error


A rose tinted view of what?

Of the horrendous deaths of 96 innocent people at a game of football?

Of the incompetence and vindictive nature of the police commanders responsible?

Of the willingness of the press to repeat unspeakable lies by the police about the dead?

Of the widespread immediate public belief that (because they were football fans) the worst of the accusations were probably true. (I won’t repeat them. They still sicken me today)

You really need to grow up, read about Hillsborough, and maybe stop commenting on a subject about which you seem only interested in antagonising people.

35. Charlieman

Paul Sagar, OP: “Given that 44-year-old Hunt would have become socially aware in the 1970s and 80s (when English hooliganism was rife), this explanation is very plausible.”

Interestingly, Hunt is roughly the same age as the average attendee at premiership games. Apparently, the average is 43 according to this article:

Hunt also earns enough money to be a casual season ticket holder. Alas the only thing that we can conclude from this story is that Hunt knows little about football.

Football was in a mess in 1997 (English national team, Premier League and dodgy deals, executives from whom you wouldn’t have purchased a second hand car) and New Labour promised to intervene. They should not have bothered, given the result (similar to 1996 but worse).

I’m claiming the right to be offended by the fact that Mr. Hunt has followed the current standard form, and only strictly apologised for any “offence” his statement may have caused…yadda yadda yadda.

When is a public figure going to have the decency to apologise directly for their own actions/ignorance/unfounded personal prejudice against people who wear light blue socks, etc,etc…?

Then again, since my feelings are my responsibility, then perhaps *I* should be the one apologising to Mr. Hunt for his inadequacies…?

Sorry Paul, this is a cheap bit of shrill pointscoring. Hillsborough may not have been the direct result of hooliganism, but ultimately, it was the pig-pen fences – a response to pig-pen behaviour – that made the Leppings Lane end so lethal, and it took a (imperfect) bit of policy-led culture shift to make football grounds safe in lots of ways. His conflation of Heysel and Hillsborough is quite understandable if a little bit clumsy and it’s something that you don’t need to be a ‘Tory toff’ to do.

I don’t know if you went to many away games with whoever you support in the 70s and 80s, but if you had have done, you’d have plenty memories that border on the surreal.

Those fences were a horrible stupid response to horrible and stupid behaviour in and around football grounds. It’s a good thing that it no longer dominates football culture and Jeremy Hunt is right to remark on it.

38. Dontmindme

Apparently class does still matter to some.

Are you seriously arguing that to be culture minister you must understand every single aspect of every part of culture? So Jeremy Hunt is at fault for not being a footy fan?

I am sure that there is some part of sport and culture you are not an expert on. That is true for every single person in the land. So who is entitled to do the job? Or is it that only working class heroes need apply?

It seems to me that despite your objections to the detail, his general point is sound. That over time violence associated with football has declined, and that is a good thing.

39. Rhys Williams

Those fences were a horrible stupid response to horrible and stupid behaviour in and around football grounds. It’s a good thing that it no longer dominates football culture and Jeremy Hunt is right to remark on it.
I don’t think he was talking about the pens.
Personally you take it as a backhand complement that football hooliganism has declined under labour.
Just aside
Although a left wing site most of the posters are tories.
Left wing apathy
Too many right wingers not working or e mailing in work time. Tut tut
No right wing sites, I can’t believe that.
Do the right wingers like an argument, a little like the Python sketch.
Fascinating and interesting

40. the a&e charge nurse

Even though Rafa Benitez was sacked this summer it still did not stop him donating £96,000 to the Hillsborough fund, £1,000 for every person killed at the game.

Rafa recognised that the injustices associated with this tragedy still meant a great deal, and not just to those those directly affected – I have no doubt he has joined the ranks of those who have become infuriated that the establishment continues to obfuscate some 20 odd years after the event.

Surely Hillsborough is a glaring example of the worse that can happen when the authorities and the media collude against any group deemed undesirable, in this case football fans.

So why did Hunt feel it necessary to perpetuate the association between Hillsborough and hooliganism, or looking at it another way, will he be making any statement about the police cover up, or the abuse of human rights that occurred, for example, the coroners decision to ignore any death after 15:15 when there are reports that not all fans had actually died by this time?

One or two posters are patting themselves on the back because the game is not blighted by hooligans in the same way that it was in the 80’s.
This is true of course, but surely we didn’t need the admiral’s son to inform us of this fact, any half-arsed footie fan who goes to the game could have worked it out for themselves?

The real question is why did it take so many deaths before the authorities finally got their act together – and why are the negative myths surrounding the likes of Hillsborough and Heysel still being perpetuated today?
The silence on these issues remains deafening.

41. the a&e charge nurse

For the aficionados may I commend Phi Scratton’s account – a piece probably overlooked by the, aherm, culture secretary?

“The Truth is already established as the definitive, unique account of the disaster – in which 96 men, women and children died, hundreds were injured and thousands traumatised – and its long-term aftermath. It reveals the contradictions between the Taylor Inquiry and the anachronistic and controversial inquest system, which returned verdicts of accidental death when negligence had been clearly established. It also exposes the appalling treatment endured by the bereaved and survivors in the immediate aftermath; the inhumanity of the identification process; problems concerning the emergency response and standards of medical care; and the systematic review and alteration of police statements by South Yorkshire police managers and their solicitors – evidently approved by the West Midlands police investigation team and Lord Justice Taylor. Powerful, disturbing and harrowing, Hillsborough: The Truth puts the disaster into the context of institutional complacency, which made a tragedy on this scale inevitable. It shows how the law fails to provide appropriate means of access, disclosure and redress for those facing the consequences of institutional neglect and personal negligence. And it tells how ordinary people can suffer when those in authority sacrifice truth and accountability to protect their reputations”.

Ahh, a mere 20 years ago – mustn’t rush into anything approaching rapprochement, must we Jeremy?

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Do Jeremy Hunt’s illustrate how class still matters?

  2. Jae Kay

    @LibCon seems to think you can't be a nice, intelligent progressive if you don't like football. Charming.

  3. Jae Kay

    .@LibCon seems to think you can't be a nice, intelligent progressive if you don't like football. Charming.

  4. Paul Evans

    .. and on the subject of football commentary, this is a bit of shrill pointscoring:

  5. ZOMG TEH GHEYS AR CUMING! « If You Tolerate This…

    […] it’s quite offensive and a ridiculous generalisation. But also, like Jeremy Hunt’s similarly offensive comments about the Hillsborough disaster they illustrate a wider point – just how out of touch our political class are. When they make […]

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