Hillsborough nearly prompted pull-out

13 September 2012 06:47

Ministers considered pulling England out of the 1990 World Cup in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, government papers reveal.

Former deputy prime minister Geoffrey Howe said the tournament would provide a "natural focus for hooligan activity" and the possibility of withdrawing the team was discussed in a government committee, files released show.

In a letter to then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher on September 27 1989, Howe wrote: "The World Cup in June next year provides a natural focus for hooligan activity. And every individual match carries the potential for confrontation. The committee also looked at the possibility of our seeking the abandonment of the England v Scotland match at Wembley next spring and the withdrawal of England from the World Cup."

The letter went on: "They felt it would be premature to reach a firm view on either.

"It appears that the Scottish Football Association privately favours cancelling the England v Scotland match, especially if both countries are in the World Cup. So this issue may resolve itself, to everyone's satisfaction.

"Withdrawal from the World Cup is an altogether larger issue. If England withdrew, the likelihood is that the determined hooligans will make their way to Italy anyway and find a different cause to champion."

The documents also reveal Mrs Thatcher was told by her press secretary Bernard Ingham that the Football Association was behaving "extraordinarily stupidly" for wanting to go ahead with a friendly against Holland in December of that year.

In a letter dated September 5 Mr Ingham wrote: "You will recall the after the European Championships you asked the FA to consider whether to go ahead with European friendly matches and they cancelled a fixture with Italy at Wembley.

"However, they have inconceivably gone ahead with the Dutch fixture in the middle of December notwithstanding that Holland has probably the worst soccer hooligan problem in Europe after ourselves. The FA do seem to be behaving extraordinarily stupidly in organising a friendly with Holland at a time when, apart from anything else, they should, in their own interest, be cultivating their return to European football proper."

The December fixture was eventually cancelled at sports minister Colin Moynihan's request, the files state.

Source: PA