Steven Cohen, co-host of the World Soccer Daily radio show, has been at it again.
While the rest of the world last week was paying tribute to the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough Tragedy, Cohen was complaining on his U.S. radio show that Liverpool fans failed to take responsibility for Hillsborough as well as claiming that if 6,000-8,000 ticketless fans had not shown up, the Hillsborough Disaster would never have happened.
The problem is, he’s wrong. Dead wrong.
Steven Cohen’s Statements About the Hillsborough Disaster
So what did Cohen say that was so wrong? Here are three statements that Cohen made about the Hillsborough Disaster on his Monday, April 13, 2009 episode of World Soccer Daily (note, you can listen to the entire audio clip at the bottom of this post):
“People showing up without ticket, 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.”
World Soccer Daily Playing With Fire
Hosted by Steven Cohen and Kenny Hassan, the Los Angeles-based show is broadcast nationwide each weekday on Sirius Satellite Radio and also available as a daily podcast, which is one of the top 10 most popular sports podcasts on iTunes.
Without a doubt, Cohen is the voice of soccer in America. Since the launch of his network in May 2002, Cohen has succeeded in growing World Soccer Daily into the must-listen show about soccer in the United States. Coupled with his weekly co-host slot on Fox Soccer Channel’s Fox Football Fone-In show, 46-year-old Cohen has built a sizeable following, many of whom are impressionable fans who are relatively new to the sport and hang on his every word.
That’s fine when it’s fun and games, but when Cohen (a Chelsea supporter) spews out misinformation about the Hillsborough Disaster, it’s dangerous. One, because his beliefs about Hillsborough are completely wrong. And two, because by making his beliefs public, he’s giving many newbie soccer fans false information and thereby spreading the wrong information about the cause of the disaster. With such a large audience on radio and television, he has a responsibility to educate listeners on what really happened on April 15, 1989.
The Facts About The Hillsborough Tragedy
To dispel his myths, here are the facts:
“The immediate cause of the gross overcrowding and hence the disaster was the failure, when gate C was opened, to cut off access to the central pens which were already overfull,” — The Interim Taylor Report, paragraph 265.
“Planning apart, however, it should have been clear in the control room where there was a view of the pens and of the crowd at the turnstiles that the tunnel had to be closed. If orders had been given to that effect when gate C was opened, the fans could have been directed to the empty areas of the wings and this disaster could still have been avoided. Failure to give that order was a blunder of the first magnitude,” — The Interim Taylor Report, paragraph 231.
“I have already found that there was not an abnormally large number of fans without tickets on this occasion. With one or two exceptions, the police witnesses themselves did not subscribe to the ‘conspiracy’ theory (of a large number of late-arriving ticketless supporters). I am satisfied that the large concentration at Leppings Lane from 2.30 pm to 2.50 pm did not arrive as a result of any concerted plan. There were, I accept, small groups without tickets who were willing to exploit any adventitious chance of getting into the ground. They, together with the minority who had drunk too much, certainly aggravated the problem faced by the police. But that main problem was simply one of large numbers packed into the small area outside the turnstiles,” The Interim Taylor Report, paragraph 208.
“The police witnesses who most impressed me did not consider the number of ticketless fans to be inordinately large. This accords with two other sources of evidence,” The Interim Taylor Report, paragraph 200.
“Sheffield Wednesday FC’s own admission count system showed the terrace did not exceed its 10,100 capacity (for the Leppings Lane end). As part of their analysis, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) counted the number of [Liverpool] supporters entering the ground, including those through the turnstiles, through Gate C and even those who climbed over the turnstiles. They gave three admission figures based on their analysis. Their first figure was 9,267, their ‘best estimate’ was 9,734, and their third figure was a ‘maximum estimate’ of 10,124. The HSE report stated it was unlikely that the terrace exceeded 10,124 and that total admissions were approximately equal to the designated capacity of 10,100 people. Taylor surmised there was no substance to the allegation that ticketless fans caused the Disaster,” The Hillsborough Football Disaster: Context And Consequences, page 17. Also watch video evidence of the fans walking through the turnstiles and walking into the tunnel.
The Taylor Report exonerated the Liverpool fans of any culpability. “The main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control,” The Interim Taylor Report, paragraph 278.
Leppings Lane stand was deemed unsuitable in 1981 after 38 Spurs fans suffered crush related injuries. Sheffield Wednesday never carried out the work required. In addition to the 1981 incident, crushes also occurred at Hillsborough in 1987 and 1988. In fact Liverpool played Nottingham Forest in the same stage of the tournament one year prior at the same ground where Liverpool fans were crushed. Liverpool filed an official complaint prior to the 1989 FA-Cup semi final to air their concerns about safety.
Cohen was absolutely wrong on his April 13th show regarding the statements he made about the Hillsborough Tragedy. There were not, as he claimed, 6,000-8,000 ticketless fans. Cohen was emphatically wrong when he claimed that Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium was used week-in week-out without incident. And the reason none of the English newspapers last Sunday discussed the “6-8,000 who showed up without tickets” is because they didn’t exist. The vast majority of English journalists and pundits know better because they’ve taken time to study the facts rather than to believe the lies told by The Sun and the South Yorkshire Police.
Sure, there were a very small minority of ticketless fans at the ground. And sure, some of the supporters were drunken (as at any football game or sporting event), but the fact of the matter is that Cohen is living in the 80s with the inaccurate statements he’s spewing out.
The Liverpool supporters were a victim of a combination of mistakes by the South Yorkshire Police (for failing to notice that the central pen was overcrowded while the pens to the left and right had room for more spectators, as well as not directing the Liverpool fans who came through the turnstiles away from the central pen), Sheffield Wednesday Football Club (Leppings Lane was ill-suited to admit the 10,100 fans, had too few turnstiles and the club failed to fix those and other issues between 1981-1989 even though they were well aware of them) and the Football Association (for deciding to play the semi-final match at Hillsborough despite previous crushing incidents).
Cohen’s History of Blaming Liverpool Fans For Hillsborough
Cohen’s comments last week aren’t the first time he’s created controversy on American airwaves regarding Hillsborough. On December 5, 2006, he appeared on the Fox Football Fone-In TV show on the U.S. network Fox Soccer Channel and claimed that Liverpool fans were responsible for Hillsborough. He then apologized on the December 12 episode of Fox Football Fone-In, but the damage was clearly already done.
In April, 2007, he again blamed the Liverpool fans for causing the Hillsborough Disaster, this time on his radio show.
He may have apologized on Fox Football Fone-In December 12, 2006, but his views haven’t changed one iota — rendering his 2006 apology virtually meaningless.
Comparisons to Kelvin MacKenzie
Cohen’s misinformed views about what caused the Hillsborough Disaster are similar in context to those of Kelvin MacKenzie.
On April 19, 1989, MacKenzie, the former editor of The Sun newspaper published a sensationalized account of what happened at Hillsborough. MacKenzie’s newspaper that day alleged that ticketless and drunken Liverpool F.C. fans were responsible for the disaster, having supposedly tried to fight their way into the stadium by rushing the turnstiles and attacking policemen outside the ground.
It’s taken 20 years of education in the United Kingdom to try to get the public to understand what was the real cause of the Hillsborough Disaster.
Then in November 2006, just days before Cohen said basically the same thing, MacKenzie again claimed that drunken Liverpool fans caused the disaster.
“I’m still reading the same old stuff about who’s responsible. And it’s the police, it’s the stadium, it’s whatever,” said Cohen in the April 13 radio episode. Cohen then inferred that the Liverpool fans don’t take responsibility for their own actions regarding the events that led up to the Hillsborough Tragedy. Despite his December, 2006 apology, he obviously hasn’t changed his controversial beliefs and he continues to appear on the Fox Football Fone-In show week-in week out.
It’s fitting that on the April 13 episode of the Fox show, it was co-host Nick Webster who paid tribute to the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster in a pre-recorded segment at the end of the show. Cohen wasn’t included.
Twenty years after the Hillsborough Disaster, we’re still hearing the same old lies about what happened on that fateful day. It’s time for people to educate themselves about what really happened and stand up against those who fabricate misinformation. For our current generation and future generations, we owe it to them and the 96 who died to tell the real truth of what transpired in Sheffield on April 15, 1989.
Also, read the follow-up article to this one entitled Steven Cohen Offers Liverpool Fans No Hillsborough Apology.
UPDATE: On May 18, 2009, Steven Cohen apologized on World Soccer Daily for his unfortunate and inaccurate statements he made about the Hillsborough Disaster.
UPDATE 2: The comments regarding the Steven Cohen controversy have been closed. It’s time to return the discussion to football.
UPDATE 3: Fox Soccer Channel announced on July 29, 2009 that Steven Cohen’s position on Fox Football Fone-In has been filled by Eric Wynalda.
UPDATE 4: Steven Cohen announced on August 21, 2009 that his World Soccer Daily show that day would be his last.