The Premier League has become the most popular domestic competition in the world, in part, because of its backdrop — modern stadiums, packed with fans — and its atmosphere: certainly, compared to what came before, more family-friendly, comfortable and safe. An unforeseen consequence of the Taylor Report was to make English soccer telegenic.
That has proved to be the key to the virtuous circle that has propelled the league to its current status as a global sporting phenomenon, one that draws in controversial Russian oligarchs and oil-drenched Emirates and ruthless American venture capitalists.
The better the product looks on television, the more fans come to the stadiums — paying ever-higher prices — and the more watch on TV. That sends broadcast revenues spiraling, enabling clubs to pay for better players, who entice yet more fans to the stadiums and yet greater audiences on TV. The legacy of Hillsborough, the changes made to ensure it could not happen again, is not the only factor behind such trends, but it is no exaggeration to say that the Premier League only exists as one of Britain’s greatest cultural exports because of the 96 who died there.
What is perhaps less appreciated is the legacy of Hillsborough on British society — and not just in Liverpool, a city that spent much of the 1980s feeling alienated and ostracized by Margaret Thatcher’s government; it emerged, in 2011, that the government had talked of the city’s “managed decline.”
Liverpool has long moved in a slightly different current than much of the rest of Britain does; that is, in part, a consequence of Hillsborough. One study found that the city’s high “Remain” vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum might partly be attributed to the longstanding boycott of The Sun newspaper, which was among the outlets that published reports supporting the narrative that the fans themselves were to blame.
But the effect extends beyond the Mersey basin. In two weeks, Britain goes to the polls for a general election that has been brought about by chronic distrust not just in both major parties, but in the country’s institutions as a whole. The suspicion is marked by a willingness — on all sides — to believe that the system is arrayed against the general public.