And the Sun Shines Now, the superb new book by Adrian Tempany, deconstructs the dramatic changes that have taken place in English football in the 25 years since the Hillsborough disaster. It takes its title from a poignant line delivered by the BBC radio commentator Peter Jones in summing up an April afternoon in 1989 during which he witnessed devastation and death rather than an FA Cup semi-final between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool.
Unlike many other journalists, Tempany has a unique perspective on the tragedy – he survived the crush in the terrace where 96 people lost their lives. Although the book starts at Hillsborough – and Tempany’s clinical dissection of the cover-up that began while Liverpool supporters were still dying on the pitch should be essential reading for every football fan – this is not a book about the worst disaster in the history of our national sport. It is a book about its legacy: one that has affected everyone associated with the game.
From Tempany and the rest of us on the Leppings Lane end that fateful day, to children kicking a ball about for fun (an increasingly rare sight) or wanting to go to the match with their dads, to Rupert Murdoch, who used football to save his floundering newspaper empire and then bought it outright, this is a story of what football has become, and what it has come to mean.
The themes will be familiar to many: spiralling ticket prices that arrived in the wake of the Taylor Report (the 1990 inquiry that made recommendations to prevent a similar incident happening again), the document responsible for transforming crumbling terraces into shiny, all-seater stands; the runaway commercialisation of the Premier League that has seen fans turned into customers; the gulf created between football and its traditional heartland. What, though, elevates Tempany’s polemic is his passion, the depth of his research and the clear-eyed presentation of his findings.
Amid his expert chronicling of the failure of successive governments to tackle the game’s pressing issues, or rein in the Premier League’s rampant greed, Tempany paints a series of depressing pictures. But there is hope, too. At home, the expression of fan power that began with the fanzine movement is now evident at clubs like Portsmouth, which is majority-owned by the Pompey Supporters Trust; abroad is the example of Germany, where football is for the fans, the majority of which are half the age of their match-going English counterparts.
The process of change began with the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Taking place little more than a year after Hillsborough, a combination of Gazza, the television pictures of those amazing stadia, and “Nessun Dorma” and New Order providing the soundtrack meant that that halcyon summer succeeded, somehow, in changing the script.
Italia ’90 also produced arguably the greatest football book ever written, All Played Out by Pete Davies. This spawned Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, which in turn inspired a golden age for football literature. Now, in Tempany’s And the Sun Shines Now, we have a book that deserves to take its place alongside such classics.
And the Sun Shines Now: How Hillsborough and the Premier League Changed Britain (Faber) is out now.